Possessive Individualism and Human Flourishing: A Christian Theological Response to Globalizing Capitalism Open Access

Persaud, Winston (Summer 2018)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/gx41mh887?locale=en


In this study I seek to develop a Christian theological and social-ethical critique of capitalism organized around the framework of “possessive individualism. For the purposes of this project, I define “possessive individualism” as a proprietary and acquisitive orientation towards self, world, and the divine.

To carry out my critique, I articulate a boundary between the capitalist imaginary, on the one hand, and Christian understandings of the good and human flourishing, on the other. By drawing this boundary, I argue, we are able to see how Christian understandings of God, God’s relationship to the world, and human beings’ lived responses to God can challenge – and thereby interrupt – the background image of the possessive individual and the wider vision of the good and human flourishing it licenses and normalizes.

My project thus shares concerns found within liberationist and postcolonial theologies, Radical Orthodoxy, and works by Stanley Hauerwas and his disciples. Nevertheless, this study seeks to update the societal analysis pioneered by liberation theologians beginning in the 1970’s, as well as develop a more robust and explicit account of rights indexed to concerns about the global economy. In addition, unlike many postcolonial theologies, the vision of human flourishing I foreground is linked to a notion of the triune God who is wholly otherwise to creation and to the human creature. Finally, in contrast to Radical Orthodoxy as well as the positions of Hauerwas and his followers, I have sought to develop a vision of human flourishing and the life of Christian communities that is attentive to the dynamics of “possession” of Christ and the neighbor within those very same communities, as well as an affirmation of rights as a genuine good of modernity.

By interrupting capitalist practice and its moral and social imaginary, I believe Christian thought and practice has the potential both to recognize the value of and to renew modern commitments, especially human rights, within the contemporary world in a manner consistent with its own Christian witness. In accordance with this belief, I seek to affirm human rights discourse theologically and reclaim it from capitalist practice and its moral and social imaginary so that Christian communities may be enriched by the saeculum, even as the saeculum might receive a helpful critique from those same communities.

Table of Contents

Introduction                                                                                          1       

Chapter 1: Possessive Individualism and Human Flourishing in Globalizing Capitalism   17

I. What is Capitalism?                                                                                    17

II. The Possessive Individualist Moral and Social Imaginary of

Capitalist Practice                                                                                           28

III. Possessive Individualism in Fordism and Post-Fordist Finance

Capitalism                                                                                                      41

Conclusion                                                                                                     56

Chapter 2: Interrupting Possessive Individualism: The Triune God, the World, and Human Flourishing   59

I. The Trinity: Ground of Interruption                                                     61

II. Creation as Interruption of Human Dignity Based on Self-Generated Merit  68

           III. Creation as Interruption of Absolute, Ontological Independence 70

           IV. Human Beings: Created to Flourish through Communion with the Triune God      75

V. Human Sinfulness and God’s Unbending Commitment to Human Flourishing     82

Conclusion                                                                                                     90

Chapter 3: Possessive Individualism, Human Flourishing, and Christian Redemption   92

I. The Contours of Redemption                                                                  94                                                                   

II. Implications for Possessive Individualism                                     108

Conclusion                                                                                                     126

Chapter 4: Possessive Individualism, Human Flourishing, and the New Monasticism 128                                                                                       

I. The Benedict Option                                                                                129                                                                 

II. Urban Monasticism                                                                                 139

Conclusion                                                                                                     148

Chapter 5: Possessive Individualism, Politics, and Human Rights    151

I. Basic Definitions and the Historical Critique of Rights                     152

II. Thomas Hobbes and Rights                                                                      155

III. John Locke and Rights                                                                             164

IV. Interrupting a Possessive Individualist Notion of Rights: A Christian Theological Account   173

           Conclusion                                                                                              190

Conclusion                                                                                            192

Bibliography                                                                                          201

About this Dissertation

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
Subfield / Discipline
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files