MANN TALK: The Correlation Between Capitalism and Corruption

by Perry Mann
Perry Mann
Perry Mann

 It has been said that power tends to corrupt and  that absolute power tends to  corrupt absolutely.  It’s just as true that wealth tends to corrupt and great wealth tends  to corrupt greatly.  One can cite as authorities Lord Acton and Jesus Christ.

A great nation and a successful family begin in a state of relative poverty. But  by  work, discipline, frugality, cooperation,  courage and sacrifice, they build one generation’s gains upon another’s  until they have achieved material  success and acquired wealth. It is then that as more generations come and go, the wealth insidiously subverts and dilutes  their  work ethic, discipline, frugality, cooperation,  courage, sacrifice and humility, resulting in a society and family that is fastidious, effete, egoistic, prodigal, permissive, promiscuous and proud. Corruption sets in; and generation by generation  they  decline and  are succeeded by another society and family  that  have their  origins in circumstances common to the ones that they succeed.  One can cite as authority  the history of man, in which there  is  no end of examples relating  similar  tales of the beginnings and ends of   nations and families. 

Today’s bare sufficiency and  tomorrow’s uncertain needs  spur  the will to survival and  cause societies and families willy-nilly  to harness themselves with  discipline and  sacrifice and to work single-mindedly and prayerfully   toward  the  harvest of their efforts. But once wealth is acquired and tomorrow is secured eyes once on  heaven look to earth  and  the harness of discipline is discarded  and is replaced with incipient dissoluteness that in time become pervasive corruption. Rome comes to mind.  

Further, great wealth juxtaposed with abject poverty tends  to cause the poor  to question the disparate  distribution of wealth, the unevenness of power and the hopelessness of their conditions. Thus demoralized, they turn to the escape of drink and  drugs , the abuse of which is the slick slope to endless human  misery.

Saints and sages through the ages have contemplated man’s dilemma of being an  animal harboring  a infinite spark  that is  forever at odds with  man’s  primal nature and have concluded that  the end of life is to cultivate the  eternal image within man at the expense of his animal self.  Confucius so concluded, as did Buddha, Lao-tse, Epictetus,  Moses,  and Christ. The animal, they say,  is  insatiable and mortal but that the divine image is  an immortal seed  of  a peace, which in flower is bliss  beyond what man imagines. Thus,  feasting  the former is tantamount to starving the latter.  Heaven, said the sages, is  victory of God’s image within oneself over appetites and desires for wealth and power and consequently over the pride born of  power.  Hell is the rule of the animal.

The humble carpenter from Galilee, who harbored a phenomenal image of God,  taught  from the mount that the Kingdom of God was within one and that  its cultivation and realization required doing good for evil, turning the other cheek,  shunning the acquisition of wealth, doing for the poor, confining sex to procreation, loving ones enemies and forgiving wrongs done to one seven times seventy.

 The mother of paradoxes is that this nation is chiefly Christian in belief and totally capitalist  in worship.  Christ taught that a camel has a better chance of passing through the eye of needle than a rich man has  of  entering the kingdom of God. Yet, this  nation’s economic engine is capitalism, a system  designed specifically  to  create   great wealth, to  produce  in mass all manner of creature comforts and to bring into the hands of the busy and acquisitive  enormous profits that are  often locked in trusts for the 

 What does a parent tell a child who begins to notice the contradictions of the ends of Christ and the ends of  capitalism? He learns from the church that he is not to store up material  treasures  and from the state he learns that success is precisely to do the opposite; that is,   to store up such things in such quantities that they would serve him a thousand lifetimes. Few,  if any, tell him that  God’s end and the state’s end are mutually exclusive; that is, if one  enters Christ’s strait gate and  treads  the narrow way he cannot  at the same time  walk the wide way of acquisition of worldly things.  For wealth tends to corrupt and great wealth  to corrupt greatly.

There, then,  is within one the same moral division and conflict  that is without one. Within one  the spark of  God  competes with the animal  for rulership and without the small voice of God is as a whisper in a wind storm of   getting and spending and    acquiring  and storing up. A nation whose  children are habituated to luxury is lost  because its children have had the spark of God smothered by  consumption and comfort.  

So history repeats, because it is not  studied and taken to heart.  The republic becomes the empire and the log cabin the manor house. Then, ease and luxury and the escalation of  pleasures beset success, subvert character, and corrupt the soul, leading to an ignominious  denouement  and the  finish to empire and manor.

Capitalism and its agents cunningly cater and pander for profit  to man’s animal self, larding it up with a mountain of sweets and goodies and in the process all but extinguishing the only aspect of man that is unique and worthy of cultivation and preservation. Christianity has become ritual, effectively eliminating Christ therefrom.  Thus, it bodes ill for this nation: For the correlation between wealth and corruption is in a range that  allows prophets to gain credence.  

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Perry Mann is a former teacher, a lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a columnist for Huntington News Network. He lives in Hinton, WV. He turned 90 this year; he was born in Charleston, WV in 1921.

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