LEVITICUS

From the Industrial Revolution to the Dotcom Revolution, intellectual, social and economic history was dominated by the struggle between Communism and Capitalism. Faintly but persistently, that great debate was punctuated with calls for a “Third Way”…a socio-economic alternative that might capture the most attractive features of both systems while discarding the undesirable elements of each.

Proponents of a Third Way are typically looking to combine the egalitarian and communitarian virtues of Communism with productivity and personal liberty, the strengths of Capitalism.

It turns out that just such a Third Way was proposed over 2500 years ago…in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. The socio-economic blueprint laid out there embodies just those positive elements that we have come to associate with the best aspects of both Capitalism and Communism.

At first glance, it might appear that a socio-economic program written over two millennia ago for an agrarian economy could not possibly be implemented in a modern industrial society. But that would be incorrect. Upon deeper reflection, it is clear that the Levitican program could be implemented today and, if implemented, would have enormous positive implications, both for social justice and for economic productivity.

In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, first published in 1848, Karl Marx famously wrote: “…The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.” That single sentence became the rallying cry for a movement which in many respects dominated a 150 year period of world history.

At the other end of the ideological see-saw, of course, was the 18th century theory of Capitalism. These two great economic philosophies battled over one issue above all others: Who should own (control) society’s “means of production”?

We have Marx to thank for the concept. He correctly understood that each society, each social epoch, is characterized by its means of production, i.e. by the way in which it generates wealth, and by the ownership of those means of production. Control over the means of production leads to concentration of wealth which translates into social power and often entails the power to exploit or even enslave.

In Marx’ 19th century, means of production consisted of factories and machines, augmented by the labor of “wage slaves”. The bourgeoisie owned these means of production, either de jure as in the case of factories or de facto as in the case of labor.

Marx did not decry the Industrial Revolution; he was no Green! He saw factories and machines as precisely the instruments that would create the wealth needed to free the workers of the world from their chains. He decried the fact that ownership of the means of production was centralized in the hands of a few capitalists, who by and large did no work but accumulated wealth and power at the expense of the proletariat, merely because they owned society’s productive assets.

Marx’s solution was to abolish the institution of private property (as it relates to productive assets), to collectivize productive property under the common ownership of the workers and to entrust the management of that property to institutions representing those workers (e.g. soviets, the Communist Party or the state).

Two great challenges confront every economic system: the generation of wealth and the distribution of that wealth. The success of every economic system must be measured according to these two criteria.

Evaluating the generation of wealth is easy; it’s basically a matter of arithmetic. Evaluating the distribution of wealth is much more difficult; it’s more a matter of ethics. Values enter the discussion at every turn:

  • Should wealth be distributed among members of society in proportion to the contribution of each toward the production of that wealth?
  • Should wealth be distributed among members of society in proportion to the needs of each member?
  • Should wealth be distributed equally among all members of society, regardless of the contribution or the need of any particular member?

There is no immediately obvious, universally correct set of answers to these questions. Plus there is another question which cuts diagonally across all three:

  • If the production of wealth is in any way a function of the way in which that wealth is to be distributed, should the value of maximizing wealth influence in any way the decisions we make regarding its distribution?

In his Theory of Justice, John Rawls proposed a solution to this enigma. He suggested that the optimum distribution of wealth was the distribution that would lead to the maximum production of wealth consistent with the provision of basic economic security to every member society. His rationale: this is what an objective member of society would choose provided that that member of society had no advance idea whether she would be at top or the bottom end of the economic ladder. This state of ‘disinformation’ is what Rousseau called “the State of Nature”.

The ideologies of Communism and Capitalism have both been well tested in the laboratory of real life; how did each fare?

Communism did a reasonably good job of leveling economic (and therefore social) inequality; but it did an absolutely horrible job of maximizing the production. Capitalism, on the other hand, did an astoundingly good job of maximizing the production but a poor job managing social and economic inequality and providing basic economic security.

After 65 years of real life experimentation, the “workers of the world” did indeed unite. They voted with their feet: Yes to Capitalism, No to Communism! Apparently applying Rawls’ calculus, they decided it was better to risk being at the bottom of a Capitalist heap than to languish hopelessly in the middle of a Communist one.

But this does not solve the dilemma: social justice is not an option, it is an imperative! Just as no man can validly sell himself into slavery, neither can he bargain away his natural right to a basic share of society’s goods. Capitalism cannot celebrate its triumph until it fulfills Rawls’ condition of providing basic economic security to every member of society.

Of course, folks will disagree, and rightly so, about what constitutes basic economic security; but most will agree that it has not yet been universally achieved. It certainly includes a decent place to live, decent clothing and enough to eat; but it’s more than that. It must include a safe environment, a healthy diet, health care and education. But it’s even more than that; it must also include the opportunity for economic, social and intellectual advancement…the right to “be all that you can be”.

Clearly, the Capitalist world has a ways to go to meet John Rawls’ standards. Most if not all Capitalist societies have made some effort to construct a safety net. In some countries, the net is weak and full of holes; in other countries, it is stronger but tends to rob initiative and the sense of self-worth from those who rely on it. Can we do better?

Yes…but we need to look back 2500 years to learn how!

“You shall count seven weeks of years – seven times seven years – such that the seven weeks of years amounts to forty-nine years…You shall treat this fiftieth year as sacred. You shall proclaim liberty in the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you…In this year of Jubilee, then, each of you shall return to your own property…The land shall not be sold irrevocably; for the land is mine and you are but resident aliens and under my authority.” — Leviticus

The social system outlined in Leviticus is based on the theory that every tribe of Israel began its career in Canaan with an equal share of productive property (i.e. land) and that every family within each tribe likewise began with an equal share.

At the time of the Exodus from Egypt, land was the fundamental means of production, the primary source of all wealth, augmented by flocks and by labor. In theory at least, every family in the new society started out with an equal stake in the means of production.

In some ways, this notion anticipates the “state of nature” concept found in writings of John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau (e.g. Social Contract). But while the state of nature in their writings was essentially an intellectual fiction, the original division of productive property in Canaan may actually reflect some historical reality.

But the egalitarian social code of the Israelites did not envision economic relations remaining static. Rather, it anticipated that some families would grow wealthier, others poorer. The authors of Leviticus understood that some would ultimately be forced to sell their land, and even their labor, in order to survive. Leviticus did not forbid such economic activity…but it did limit its impact with a social safety net and, more radically, with a program to redistribute wealth.

Leviticus calls for the total redistribution (or “restoration”) of productive wealth (i.e. the means of production) every 50 years. “…On the tenth day of the seventh month let the ram’s horn resound; on this, the Day of Atonement…each of you shall return to your own property.”

Every 50 years, there’s a do-over. According to Leviticus, the State of Nature is “renewable”.

Compare this “primitive” social system with the more sophisticated Capitalist and Communist systems. Under capitalism, there are generally no do-overs; the sins (or mere mistakes) of the fathers are most definitely visited on their sons and daughters for many generations to come.

Communist societies, on the other hand, have a different problem. Here the means of production are owned in common. This at least theoretically solves the problem of inequality but it does nothing to motivate production. Without a system of economic incentives, labor languishes and there is little in the way of innovation or investment.

The economic system offered by Leviticus solves this conundrum. All productive property is private! There are few restrictions on amassing wealth. Incentives for labor and commerce abound. Yet every 50 years, all productive property is redistributed so every 2nd generation gets a fresh start. It seems like the best of both worlds, a perfect solution.

The New Testament also incorporates the Levitcan program, at least symbolically. In the Gospel of Luke, we read that Jesus fed 5000 people on 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. He seated them in groups of 50 (the Jubilee number) and when they had finished eating, the “scraps” filled 12 baskets.

The “groups of 50” refer to Leviticus’ 50 year Jubilee period. 5000 is 50 x 100. Multiplying by 100 or 1000 is a common technique used in Biblical literature to suggest an infinite or at least indeterminable quantity.

12 the number of ‘complete completeness’ in the Bible. It is 3x 4, 3 representing God (Trinity?) and 4 representing Earth (4 corners?). It is also the number of the signs of the Zodiac, the tribes of Israel and even Jesus’ apolstles.

So at one level at least, Luke is telling us that a return to the Levitcan program could feed the whole world indefinitely…and still produce an unlimited surplus.

But you say, “It’s impractical; there’s simply no way that the productive property of the United States could be totally reallocated; and even if it were economically possible, the advantaged interests would never stand for it.”

Jesus encountered similar resistance. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus begah his ministry by proclaiming an “acceptable year” (i.e. Jubilee) in a local synagogue. The worshipers chased him out of town and nearly threw him off a cliff. Clearly, 1st century Gallileans were no more eager to share their wealth than 21st century ‘one percenters’.

But there may be another way to skin this cat: What is the difference between reallocating 100% of ownership every 50 years and reallocating 2% of ownership every year? (2% x 50 years = 100%)

It is perfectly possible, both economically and politically, to follow Leviticus’ socio-economic blueprint today. The key is understanding what is meant, both in Leviticus and in Marx, by “productive property”. We’re not talking about someone’s primary residence (at least not up to a certain value). We’re not talking about clothes, cars, toys or jewels (again, at least up to a certain value). We’re talking cash, stocks and bonds, rental property, etc… We talking about property that generates property.

To implement Leviticus’ socio-economic program, we simply need to tweak our tax code to impose a 2% per annum tax on all productive assets (aka “capital”), 100% of the proceeds to be “redistributed” as follows:

Revenue should first go to fund the benefit costs (not admin costs) of all entitlement and social welfare programs. (No funding for national defense, bureaucracy, or infrastructure from this new revenue source.) Remaining revenue should be directed to a special economic development bank (think ‘national private equity fund’) designed to bank roll economic opportunities for disadvantaged individuals and families, just as Leviticus intended.

Such a program would do a lot to level the socio-economic playing field but it would also stimulate the production of additional wealth. Once the cost of entitlement and social welfare benefits has been transferred to this new revenue source, taxes on labor (income tax) and investment (capital gains tax) can be significantly reduced. In turn, productivity will soar.

Enhanced social justice, broadened economic opportunity, increased productivity…these are the first order consequences of the Levitican program. But there are second order consequences as well:

  1. The newly created economic opportunities will immediately generate new income, eventually new wealth, and ultimately even more tax revenue.
  2. The success of these new economic enterprises will reduce the burden on entitlement programs, thereby freeing-up even more revenue for economic development.
  3. The imposition of a 2% tax on capital will discourage people from leaving their wealth idle. They will seek more aggressive investment opportunities in order to protect their principle…and this in turn will generate further economic growth.

The Levitican program is a “virtuous cycle”. Do we dare to talk of third order consequences?

Leviticus imagined a permanently sustainable economic system in which wealth was progressively accumulated and redistributed. Marx envisioned a similar Utopia. Could the implementation of the Levitican program actually turn these visions into reality?

WHITEHEAD – THE PLAY

(Text from Process and Reality, “God and the World”, by Alfred North Whitehead.)

Characters

F – A father, well educated, possibly in a teaching profession, late 40’s

S1 – Son #1, college graduate, early 20’s, academic temperament

S2 – Son #2, high school junior/senior, 16 to 18, the “romantic”

S3 – Son #3, middle schooler, 11 to 13 years old, smart but mischievous

Setting

The three brothers and their father are on a camping trip.

 

Act I
 

Opens with a camp fire burning low center stage. Slightly off center and behind the fire is a tent with its flaps closed. The inside of the tent is well lit, perhaps with Coleman Lantern(s). We can see shadows moving on the canvass and we can hear animated conversation but we cannot make out the words.

The flaps open and the father emerges, followed by S3, S2 and S1 in that order. Throughout Act I, the four move around the fire, alternately warming their hands and drawing back from the heat.

F: When the Western world accepted Christianity, Caesar conquered…The code of Justinian and the theology of Justinian are two volumes expressing one movement of the human spirit.

S2: The brief Galilean vision of humility flickered throughout the ages (slight pause) uncertainly.

S1: The church gave unto God the attributes that belonged exclusively to Caesar.

S2 (Insistently): There is however in the Galilean origin of Christianity yet another suggestion…It does not emphasize the ruling Caesar…It dwells upon the tender elements in the world which slowly and in quietness operate by love.

S1: It finds purpose in the present immediacy of a kingdom not of this world.

S2: Love neither rules (thoughtfully) nor is it unmoved.

S3 (Snickering at the repeated mention of ‘love’): …It is a little oblivious as to morals.

S2 (Ignoring S3 disdainfully): It does not look to the future for it finds its own reward in the immediate present.

There is a long pause before the father begins again.

F: God is not to be treated as an exception to all metaphysical principles, invoked to save their collapse.

S1: He is their chief exemplification.

S2: He is not before all creation but with all creation

S1: He is the unlimited conceptual realization of…potentiality.

S2: He is the unconditioned actuality of conceptual feeling at the base of things.

S3 (Eagerly): So that there is an order?

All nod approvingly.

S2: He is the lure for feeling, the eternal urge of desire.

S1: …the initial object of desire…the initial phase of each subjective aim.

S3 (Snickering again and speaking with a sing-song lit): “…Object of desire…”

F (Visibly annoyed now with S3 but ignoring him and moving on): There is another side to the nature of God…we have been considering the primary action of God upon the world…But God, as well as being primordial, is also consequent.

S3 (Seeking to recover his lost approval and dignity speaks derisively…as if to say “Speak English”… and with a dismissive shrug): He is the beginning and the end!

All stop, a little amazed.

F: (Pleased that S3 is joining in but gently correcting): He is not the beginning in the sense of being in the past of all members…He is…in unison of becoming with every other creative act.

S1 (A bit surprised at his father’s implication): …There is a reaction of the world on God?

F: …The objectification of the world in God.

S2: He shares with every new creation its actual world…

F: …And the concrescent creature is objectified in God as a novel element in God’s objectification of that actual world.

S1 (Getting it now): God’s conceptual nature is unchanged…But his derivative nature is consequent on the creative advance of the world.

S3 (Confused and trying to catch up): He has a primordial nature…and a consequent nature?

S1 (Nodding to S3): The consequent nature of God is conscious; and it is the realization of the actual world in the unity of his nature and through the transformation of his wisdom.

F (Explaining to S3): One side of God’s nature is…free, complete, primordial, eternal…and unconscious. The other side… (he gestures palm up to S3)

S3 (Haltingly): …Determined?…incomplete…consequent…….everlasting?…and conscious!

They all give high fives to S3 and nod approvingly.

F (Clarifying further): His necessary goodness expresses the determination of his consequent nature…The perfection of God’s subjective aim issues into the character of his consequent nature. In it there is no loss…!

S2: The world is felt in a unison of immediacy.

S1: …Combining creative advance with the retention of mutual immediacy.

F: The wisdom of subjective aim prehends every actuality for what it can be in such a perfected system – its sufferings, its sorrows, its triumphs…moving onward…

S3 (Astonished): …And never perishing?

S2 (Trying to explain in simpler terms): … A tender care that nothing be lost.

S3 (Proposing an alternate, more traditional vision): The consequent nature of God is his judgment on the world!

They pat S3 on the shoulder but gently correct him.

S1 (Addressing S3): He saves the world as it passes into the immediacy of his own life.

F: (Pensively and wanting to respect S3’s viewpoint) It is the judgment…(pause) of a tenderness which loses nothing that can be saved.

S2: (Expanding) It is also the judgment of a wisdom which uses what in the temporal world is mere wreckage.

S1: Another image…required to understand his consequent nature is that of his infinite patience.

F: …the patient operation…of his conceptual harmonization.

S3 (Still struggling): He does not create the world, he saves it?

They all consider S3’s point momentarily

S2: …More accurately, he is the poet of the world…with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty and goodness.

 

Act II
 

Next day, the four are floating out on the lake in two row boats, fishing. In one boat, F and S3, in the other S1 and S2. The boats remain close together; after a few casts they resume their dialog.

F: Greek, Hebrew and Christian thought have alike embodied…notions of a static God condescending to the world.

S2: The consequent nature of God is the fluent world become everlasting by its objective immortality in God.

S1 (Wanting to balance S2’s vision): …The objective immortality of actual occasions requires the primordial permanence of God.

F: The everlastingness of passing experience…is the temporal world perfected by its reception and its reformation, as a fulfillment of the primordial appetition which is the basis of all…(pointing to P3)

S3: …Order?

Everyone laughs lightly but gestures approvingly.

F: In this way God is completed by the individual…and the temporal occasions are completed by their everlasting union with their transformed selves, purged into conformation with the eternal order which is the final, absolute…(pointing to P3)

This time S3 shrugs, silently.

S2 (Taking the mantle from S3): …Wisdom!

There is a bit of a pause and the four return to their fishing. Finally, F breaks the silence.

F: It is as true to say that God is permanent and the World fluent, as that…

He pauses hoping that one of the boys will finish his thought. No luck; so he repeats himself but this time with more emphasis.

F: It is as true to say that God is permanent and the World fluent…

S1 (Breaking in): …as that the World is permanent and God is fluent.

Satisfied, F continues

F: It is as true to say that the World is immanent in God (pointing to S2)…

S2: …as that God is immanent in the World?

F nods approvingly.

F: It is as true to say that God transcends the World…

S1 & S2 (In unison): …As that the World transcends God.

F: It is as true to say that God creates the World as that…(tapping S3 on the shoulder emphatically)

S3: …the World creates God?

F (Looking toward the other boat): …Each temporal occasion embodies God…(F waits disgustedly for P1 or P2 to weigh in)

P3: …(Jumping in) and is embodied in God?

F gives S3 a high five.

F: In God’s nature, permanence is primordial and flux is derivative from the World; in the World’s nature…

S2 (Regaining composure and looking disdainfully at S3): …Flux is primordial and permanence is derivative from God.

F: …The World’s nature is a primordial datum for God; and…

S1: …God’s nature is a primordial datum for the world!

F: God is…unity of vision seeking physical multiplicity.

S1: The World is the multiplicity of…actualities seeking a perfected unity.

F: Neither God, nor the World, reaches static completion. Both are in the grip of…the creative advance into novelty. Either of them, God and the World, is the instrument of novelty for the other.

S1: In every respect God and the World move conversely to each other…God is primordially one…he acquires a consequent multiplicity… The World is primordially many…it acquires a concrescent unity which is a novel occasion and is absorbed into the multiplicity…

F: The theme of Cosmology, which is the basis of all religions, is the story of the…World passing into everlasting unity and of the static majesty of God’s vision, accomplishing its purpose…by absorption of the World’s multiplicity….

 

Act III
 

Back on dry land, still daylight, taking down the tent and beginning to pack up their belongings. Everyone is quiet, tired from the physical exertion of the trip and the intellectual exhaustion of the conversation, until S3, still a bit confused, breaks the silence.

S3: The consequent nature of God is…God as really actual…?

Everyone looks up, surprised.

F (Pensively): …This discordant multiplicity of actual things (he gestures all around him with arm and hand out-stretched) requiring each other and neglecting each other, utilizing and discarding, perishing and yet claiming life as an obstinate matter of fact…are one actuality…

S2: …And the one actuality is many actualities.

S1: Each actuality has its present life and its immediate passage…

S3 (Interrupting to reassure himself that he is starting to follow): But its passage is not its death!

All gesture concurrence.

F: This final phase of passage in God’s nature…is the final end of creation.

S2: The sense of worth beyond itself…

They return to work but soon Father picks the conversation back up.

F: The universe is to be conceived as…the active self-expression of its own…opposites.

S1: …Its own freedom and its own necessity…

S2: …Its own multiplicity and its own unity…

S1: …Its own imperfection and its own perfection…

F: …All the opposites are elements in the nature of things and are incorrigibly there.

S1: …The concept of God is the way in which we understand…

S2 (Interrupting): …that what cannot be…

They all look to S3.

S3 (Nonchalantly but emphatically and triumphantly): …is!

Brief pause

F: The consequent nature of God is composed of a multiplicity of elements with individual self-realization.

S2 (Agreeing): It is just as much a multiplicity as it is a unity.

S1 (Taking things a step further): It is just as much one immediate fact as it is an unresting advance beyond itself.

S2: …The actuality of God must be understood as a multiplicity of actual components in the process of creation.

F: This is God in his function of the kingdom of heaven.

They go back to breaking down the camp site. Again, it’s Father who breaks in.

F: Each actuality in the temporal world has its reception into God’s nature. The corresponding element in God’s nature is not temporal actuality but is the transmutation of that temporal actuality into a living ever-present fact.

S1: …God’s nature is…a chain of elements for which succession does not mean loss…

S2: God’s nature inherits from the temporal counterpart according to the same principle as in the temporal world the future inherits from the past.

S3: …so the counterpart in God is…that person in God?

All nod. Now the work stops and F motions the boys to join him upstage. They look out at the wondrous nature before them, the vast sky, the snow-capped mountains, the dark forest, and as if addressing it (or the audience) they continue.

F: But the principle of universal relativity is not to be stopped at the consequent nature of God. This nature itself passes into the temporal world…There are…four creative phases in which the universe accomplishes its actuality.

F waits for his sons to pick up ball.

S1: …First the phase of conceptual origination.

S2: Secondly, there is the temporal phase of physical origination with its multiplicity of actualities…

F: …But there is deficiency in the solidarity of individuals with each other.

S1: Thirdly, there is the phase of perfected actuality in which the many are one everlastingly, without…any loss either of individual identity or of completeness of unity…immediacy is reconciled with objective immortality…

S2: …In the fourth phase, the creative action completes itself. For the perfected actuality passes back into the temporal world…so that each temporal actuality includes it as an immediate fact of relevant experience.

S3 (Joyously): …The kingdom of heaven is with us (now with great emphasis) today!

S2 (Pondering and speaking somewhat wistfully): …The love of God for the world!

F: What is done in the world is transformed into a reality in heaven and the reality in heaven passes back into the world.

S2: …The love in the world passes into the love in heaven…

S1 (Interrupting): …and floods back into the world.

F: In this sense God is the great companion –

S2: …the fellow-sufferer

S3 (Triumphantly): …who understands!

F: We find here the final application…of objective immortality…

S1: …The ever-present, unfading importance of our immediate actions…

S2: …Which perish…

S3: …And yet live for evermore!