In Supercapitalism, Robert Reich argues that there's a growing conflict between democracy and capitalism. As citizens, we have ideals, but as consumers, we have needs. We abhor child labor, for instance, but we want a cheap pair of jeans. And we might be dismayed over Main Street's demise, but we still look for bargains at Wal-Mart.
Capitalism versus Democracy? Which side is winning? Economic Freedom is winning, in the sense of monopolies, cartels, tongs, and insiders. Liberty is losing, in the sense of fairness and political regard for ordinary people. Ownership society is winning. The public life and public goods are losing. In my personal reading, I am dipping back into the Hellenistic philosophers, including the Epicureans, Stoics and the Cynics, not only because they provide good role models for engaging powerful people in an unequal conversation about meaning, identity, virtue and community, but also because these were the philosophers, who like Jesus, worked in a public way under increasingly heavy handed rule by imperial powers, first Macedonia and then Rome. Corporations rule us as they must, per Milton Friedman. American Greatness is upon us. We had better learn to tend our garden and possess our souls in patience. "My Kingdom, " said Jesus, eying the Roman soldiers monitoring his conversations, "is not of this world." Still, Rome fell, as if it had collapsed into the Catacombs. Maybe we should keep digging. At the very least we can create a Necropolis as the mirror image of Empire. Underground or hidden in plain sight, we can maintain the highest traditions of the America that was once a light for the world. When Jesus returns with a bloody sword to Rapture the Faithful, I suspect he will drop by the Catacombs for a good laugh with Diogenes. At least they could discuss advanced tools of the meaning trade.