Private Property in Post-Secular Law: An Introductory Foray

By Babie, Paul | University of Queensland Law Journal, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Private Property in Post-Secular Law: An Introductory Foray


Babie, Paul, University of Queensland Law Journal


I INTRODUCTION

In 2008, the global community witnessed a financial crisis paralleled only by the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression which followed. This took place against the backdrop of frenetic domestic and international political debate about the sources of and solutions for the global climate crisis, which culminated in the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009. Explicitly and implicitly, both events raised questions about and produced many critiques of capitalism and markets, naming these twin-pillars of the modern global economy as the culprits underlying the political and legal order which permits market transactions and private and public use of resources that cause climate change and caused the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). From this momentary introspectiveness emerged a rich and varied analysis of the nature and role of capitalism and markets and the ways in which we might reassess those institutions in the light of the GFC. (1) In a few instances, some have suggested the potential for religion to play a transformative role in that reassessment.

A religious response to these global problems, and their possible origins in capitalism and markets, might begin with Reinhard Marx's Das Kapital. Reinhard Marx is the former Roman Catholic Bishop of Trier, the 1818 birthplace of Karl Marx, who wrote the 19th century Das Kapital on political economy. (2) Now Archbishop of Munich and Friesing, R Marx borrows the title of the much more famous book and writes in the form of a letter to Karl rejecting Marxist solutions to the current state of the global economy.

Juxtaposed against Karl Marx, whose views on religion are summarised in one pithy statement: 'religion ... is the opium of the people[]', (3) R Marx's conclusion is that today's troubled economy needs to reconnect with fundamental Christian values if it is to be restored to health. (4) Reinhard Marx surveys the global financial system and the growing insecurity of ordinary people, and wonders: 'Was Marx's critique of capitalism wrong after all? 'It lasted longer than you expected back in the 19th century,' [R Marx] writes hypothetically to K Marx, 'but could it be that capitalism is just an episode of history that will end at some point because the system will collapse as a result of its internal contradictions?'5 Karl Marx predicted that.

Assessing Karl's claim that capitalism will collapse as a result of internal contradictions, though, is clearly beyond the scope of this article--there are scholars far more accomplished in assessing whether, when, and how that might happen. (6) But what seems absent from the dialogue, whatever shape it is currently taking, is a similar analysis of the nature and role of private property--a foundational component of capitalism and markets--either from a secular or non-secular perspective. The focus of this article, then is that aspect of Reinhard's thesis that argues for the usefulness of religious values as the key to correcting global dilemmas such as finance and climate change. And it does so through a consideration of private property, a part of the supporting structure of capitalism that allows it to operate, but which is far less understood, and very infrequently mentioned, in discussions about its future.

While much could be said about private property, this article offers a religious perspective that follows from R Marx's assessment, which may be of some assistance as we re-think the nature of capitalism in the face of global challenges like finance and climate change. Specifically, do religious values contain any lessons for the operation of private property, as a concept, that may allow it more appropriately to take account not merely of the desires and preferences of those who hold it, but of the needs and concerns of those who do not? In doing so, the article briefly touches on a larger issue--how the world's religious traditions might work together, rather than divide, on the future of private property and capitalism. …

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