Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 May 2006
Many of the debates that have preoccupied the public generally and Christian ethics specifically with regard to business are in desperate need of modulation - especially by recalling and recasting the deeper theological resources, now widely forgotten, that have shaped contemporary economic life.Without understanding the roots of what we have, the dynamics of the present will not be accurately grasped and the capacity to direct the present towards a humane and just future will be limited. The problem is that theological and ethical assessments of economic life have largely accepted secular, materialist and political views of our past. That perception has distorted our moral vision.
In the long, slow process of ‘modernisation’, the nation-state gradually asserted its dominance over the household-based economy of feudal society. Both traditional households and governments were later threatened by the rise of an industrial economy, but only the nation-state was understood to have the wherewithal to control it. The socially and politically short twentieth century, which lasted basically from the outbreak of World War I in 1914 until the fall of the Wall in 1989, was thus a century dominated by issues of political economy, especially of tensions between the haves and the havenots. The struggles between and within nations about economic matters had essentially to do with the role of government in guiding industrial development and controlling its consequences. Most modern conventional understandings of business and economic ethics are shaped by these issues
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