Scholars 2010

2010 Past - March Towards Democracy

Leshem Dotan

Personal Details:
Tel Aviv University, Minerva Center for the Humanities
Title of Research:
"Genealogy of the Contemporary Economy and its Relation to Politics, Philosophical Life and the Law"

I am a postdoctoral fellow at Minerva Humanities center, Tel Aviv university.

My current research is designed to pursue the following goal: proposing a redefinition of the modern economy by introducing the Christian concept of 'economy' into the existing accounts of how contemporary economy is configured.

The original meaning of the term 'economy' (οἰκονομία), grounded in the Classical moment, refers to the activity of the organization and management (νέμειν) of a household (οἰκος). In the Imperial moment, the economy surpassed the confines of the household, as people began to be regarded as economizing in all spheres of life, from the sphere that links a person to his self and body, through the household and the polis, to the cosmological sphere. The meaning of the word 'economy' in the Christian moment stemmed from the interpretation given by the Church Fathers to the term's appearance in the Pauline epistles: it referred to the realization of God's plan of salvation, from the beginning of the world to the fullness of ages. At the heart of this plan is the incarnation of the Son of God in the son of man in what came to be known as "the economy of the incarnation." Even though the word 'economy' appears in ecclesiastical writings thousands of times and with various meanings, in the great majority of cases the term appears in the context of the "economy [οἰκονομίαν] suitable to the fullness of the ages, that is, the recapitulation of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth" (Ephesians 1:10).

In my research I attempt to describe how (if at all) the 'economic trinity' of excess, prudence, and surplus is configured in modernity. My initial hypothesis is that these three concepts appear in contemporary economics in the following three complementary claims. First, economic theory situates the condition of excess in man himself, conceptualized as a creature whose desire for more of the same thing regardless of the nature of that thing cannot by definition reach saturation. Second, economic theory models man as a prudent (i.e. "rational") actor who, faced with his excessive desires, strives to achieve maximum satisfaction; Contemporary economic theory suggests that this type of rationality can be inferred from man's revealed preferences. Third, this theory conceives of man's prudent actions as the primary source of surplus. Moreover, the ideal, the end to which the political sovereign is recruited, is what economic theorists term "Pareto optimality," obtained under the following circumstances: faced with the human condition of excessive desires, the prudent actions of all individuals converge so as to generate the maximum possible aggregate surplus given the initial allocation of resources. If this hypothesis is correct, then in the Classical, Christian and Contemporary moments man is an economic creature who, faced with excess, acquires a practical and theoretical disposition of prudence in order to generate surplus. In each moment, man, as a being in the world, is faced with excess that surpasses his rationality, but nevertheless chooses to engage rationally with this excess. This encounter between man's rationality and that which surpasses it generates a surplus whose designation man is able to control. My assumption is that the element that underwent change over the years is the origin of excess, and that this change also brought about a change in the nature of the thing economized, as well as in the designation of the surplus. In each moment, man chose to attribute the excess he was bound to face throughout his life to a different origin. In the Classical moment it was attributed to the circularity of nature; in the Christian moment – to divinity; and in the Contemporary moment excess is thought to be located within man himself, in his desires that know no limit. In all three moments, man is assumed to acquire a prudent disposition when faced with excess. As for the changes in the designation of the surplus generated, in the Classical moment it is a surplus of leisure that allows the master/citizen to participate in politics and engage in philosophy; in the Christian moment the surplus is to be found within the economic domain, in the divinization of the world, which will culminate in the fullness of ages; while in the Contemporary moment it is also to be found in the economic domain, but this time in unlimited economic growth.