Reflecting on the current crisis: an invitation

Posted on March 11th, 2009 by

Last Sunday morning, while driving to Minneapolis, I happened to catch a radio program on which eight prominent intellectuals–ethicists and environmentalists, theologians and historians, scientists and artists–spoke about the current economic crisis. Well, sort of. They weren’t talking about subprime mortgages or TARP or whether or not to nationalize the banks. Instead, they were considering these questions: do you consider this economic moment to be a moral or spiritual crisis? What does this crisis teach us about matters to us? What sustains us in such a time?

In the midst of a stimulating set of interviews, religious historian Martin Marty made a remark that caught me. In his efforts to think about this current crisis Marty has been reaching for his favorite philosophers–including everyone from Marcus Aurelius to Adam Smith, Aristotle to James Madison. These great thinkers teach him, in secular ways a truth that he identifies with the Apostle Paul:¬† “we are all members, one of another.”

Prompted by these eight thinkers, ¬†all of whom agreed this is a moral crisis every bit as much as it is an economic crisis, and prodded by Martin Marty’s observation that philosophy can be a tremendous resource in such times, I am inspired to turn to our philosophy alumni, to learn from you about how to think about this tumultuous moment in history.

How do you “make sense” for yourself in these times? Is it about hope? About self? About trust? Compassion?Where do you seek inspiration and insight? What ideas sustain you? And what insights do you have for philosophy students who will soon leave college and enter a “real world” that has gotten a whole lot shakier, a whole lot scarier?

Please share your thoughts  in the comments box.



  1. Paul Hoff says:

    This article on Marx can only add to the discussion of the current crisis by pointing to some of the warning signals Marx had imbedded in Capital. It isn’t something I looked into much at GAC; George Jones was helping us end the Vietnam War and Simon Spencer came on the scene from Oxford to make us think more about language.

    I read in an editorial in an international newspaper that Marx had warned of the extension of credit to the degree that one end looses sight of the other. From Maldoff to Fannie May that was what was happening.

  2. John G. Hallsten Ph.D says:

    Andrew Bacevich, in his book entitled, “The Limits of Power”, I think, rather powerfully spells out some of the moral dimensions of the present national crisis. “Profligacy” is a favorite term he uses to describe a kind of creeping extension of our reach –over several generations & government administrations –that is now generally extended far beyond reasonable limits in the lives of many individuals, families, communities and the nation as a whole, and accounts in no small measure for the present crisis. His answer is almost “unamerican” in tone –relearning in all phases of our lives to accept realistic limits & live realistically within our means. He quotes Niebuhr at length, and reads much like Martin Marty’s quote from Ephesians, “We are all members one of another….” Thanks for the provacative blog!