From Publishers Weekly
In this challenging essay, Smith, a professor emeritus at UC-Santa Cruz, argues that Christianity over the centuries has been a tireless critic of capitalism, rather than its handmaiden. He believes that St. Augustine's inspiring vision of a "city of God" has kept alive the hope of equality, democracy and world unity. He contends that Protestantism, far from undergirding modern capitalism (as German sociologist Max Weber maintained) actually resisted the rising tide of capitalist exploitation and competitiveness. In 19th-century America, socialists, utopians, women's rights advocates, populists and abolitionists--many driven by Christian convictions--fought the injustices of capitalism. Smith characterizes Roosevelt's New Deal as an odd alliance between Christian reformers and Marxists, noting that prominent New Dealers (e.g., FDR's cabinet members Henry Wallace and Frances Perkins) were fervent Christians. To those who rejoice over the current "triumph of capitalism" and the collapse of state socialism, Smith's inquiry serves as a strong antidote to complacency.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
One of the persistent themes of conservatives, particularly of the Christian variety, is that liberalism, like its farther-left cousin, Marxism, is as inimical to Christianity as to democracy. But here comes Smith, one of the most liberal U.S. historians going, demonstrating connections between Christianity and American notions of justice, freedom, and equality under law that go back to, most obviously, St. Augustine and even the Gospels. Augustine's City of God
was an inspiration to many a Protestant, beginning with Wyclif and including Luther, Calvin, and in America, the Pilgrims and Puritans, who aimed in their New World communities to create, Smith avers, "true egalitarian Christian democracy." And in the word egalitarian
there is a hint of Smith's other main endeavor, "to disentangle Christianity--and democracy--from capitalism." So the enlightenment Smith imparts (about such usually ignored things as the animating deep Christian faith of the Founding Fathers and the political radicalism of nineteenth-century American fundamentalist-evangelical Protestantism) disturbs the complacent "received wisdom" of both the Left and the Right. For on the evidence Smith presents, the U.S. really and not at all accidentally is
a Christian nation and
Christianity and capitalism mix much more like oil and water than sugar and water. Topflight intellectual history. Ray Olson