One of the more famous quotes of Harry Emerson Fosdick has to do with beginning and ending points. “He who chooses the beginning of the road,” said the renowned preacher, “chooses the place it leads to.” It is an important point to keep in mind as theologians and political economists alike confront issues of public policy.
Determinations regarding what ends we seek as well as what means we choose to achieve those ends often flow, whether acknowledged or not, from understandings of human nature. In order to fully grasp how such determinations come about, it is important to begin at the beginning.
From the theological perspective, Stanley Hauerwas and Ted Peters present very different views of human nature. At the risk of over-generalizing complicated thinkers, Hauerwas leans toward seeing humans as fundamentally good, while Peters tends to see humanity as primarily a fallen species. Their conclusions and prescriptions flow from these views.
Experience would seem to call such extreme positions into question. Two figures from the field of political economy – Lord Acton and Adam Smith – offer an alternative vision, as well as alternative approaches to public policy. Both viewed human beings as more complex – subject to aspects of their nature that draw them toward evil, but also blessed with inner goodness granting them the capacity to escape the clutches of that evil.
While there would no doubt be significant disagreements among them, it is interesting to note that commonalities appear between Smith and Acton and early Quaker figures. Several key personalities – Barclay, Fox, Penn and Pennington – all seem to share this more balanced view of human nature and, to some extent, its implications for public policy as well.
II. THE CALL TO BE OURSELVES
In The Peaceable Kingdom, Stanley Hauerwas presents readers with his understanding of how Christians are to live ethically in the world. In order to arrive at his conclusions, though, he first establishes the underlying view of human nature that leads him there. Hauerwas defines sin as “unbelief”–“our distrust that we are creatures of a gracious creator known only to the extent we accept the invitation to become part of his kingdom.” Sin, for Hauerwas, is not a “universal tendency of humankind,” or the “general human condition.” Rather, sin is a lack of faith.
As a result, Christians “cannot be content with a morality that accepts sin as a given,” but must instead seek redemption by becoming “part of God’s kingdom, a kingdom through which we acquire a character befitting one who has heard God’s call.” Redemption for Hauerwas lies not in shedding our fallen nature, but in embracing our divine invitation. The call for Christians is simply to “be true to ourselves,” because “we know that by nature we are not violent, by nature we are not liars, by nature we seek not injustice.”
From this position, Hauerwas develops a view that – while not necessarily hostile outright to political engagement and social reform – shifts the focus of Christian ethics to the Church and not the world. Indeed, his view is that being a faithful Christian essentially involves addressing social problems by living an ethical life. “By not trying to do everything,” he states, “but to do one thing that applies to ourselves and alters our lives, we are led further into God’s peaceable kingdom.”
Elsewhere, he uses as an example the early Quakers, “who, in speaking against slavery, first spoke to their slave-owning brothers and sisters” before confronting the injustice of slavery in the rest of the world. Speaking more bluntly, while Christians may point the way toward transformation through a type of leadership by example, he nonetheless challenges “the very idea that Christian social ethics is primarily an attempt to make the world more peaceable or just.”
Addressing Christians in the U.S., Hauerwas urges avoidance of placing state before God. “Christians,” he states, “… are at home in no nation. Our true home is the church itself.” In his book A Better Hope, he takes the evils of consumerism and the entire capitalist economic system as a given. He cautions against complete withdrawal from social, economic and political spheres, however, and instead suggests what he terms “selective service.”“This means at times and in some circumstances Christians will find it impossible to participate in government, in aspects of the economy, or in the educational system.”
Thus, for Hauerwas human nature is essentially good and the prescription he develops to redeem humankind flows from this. Assuming a good nature, it would seem to follow that the most effective way for Christians to transform the world is to provide a model of right relationships and ethical life. That which is good at the core will respond to this model and gravitate toward it. Indeed, the implication appears to be that stressing a concern with law and social order, peace and justice, etc., in the secular realm would by necessity involve compromise and thereby undermine the success of the project.
III. ATTEMPTING TO KEEP ANARCHY AT BAY
In his Sin: Radical Evil and Soul in Society, Ted Peters takes what amounts to a polar opposite position regarding human nature. Peters defines sin in similar terms as Hauerwas to the extent that it is an unwillingness to acknowledge God, with the clarification that while for Hauerwas this is an unwillingness to acknowledge our invitation to God’s kingdom, for Peters it is an unwillingness to acknowledge our dependence upon God. From here, the language they use to describe sin parts ways.
For Peters, we as humans are “drawn into sin by forces that surround us,” and are entrapped in a tendency toward sin. Sin is “inescapable” according to Peters, “it is rooted in the humanwill (emphasis original).” Peters sees the existence of psychopaths and sociopaths as evidence that conscience “does not require an internal identification with the good.” Indeed, our original nature is brutality, which always lies just beneath the surface ready at any moment to “actualize its potential.”
As a result of this radically different view of human nature, Peters takes a stand against attempts to embody ethical living as Hauerwas proposes, claiming that to do so is akin to replaying out the sin of Adam and Eve. “If we are to be moral people, we should try to make ourselves good and stamp out evil, right? It seems right,” says Peters, “But the Adam and Eve story says just the opposite…the subtle nature of the mechanism of self-justification…blinds us…[and] distorts the truth.” We cannot see clearly enough to pursue the good through eyes clouded by a sinful nature. Religious participation, and by extension participation in efforts to be a model religious community, is fraught with danger according to Peters. Such participation increases the likelihood of succumbing to the temptation of finding justification through “membership in the ‘in’ moral or cultural group,” and not in God.
What are Christians to do then? Like Hauerwas, Peters condemns consumerism and capitalism, going as far as to suggest the entire discipline of economics is evil by association. But for Peters this is merely an extension of inherent sinfulness playing itself out in the world. The way to rein this and any other deviation from the good is through social control. Good laws will protect us from ourselves, and to prove this he contrasts his own experience of discipline at home with a supposed lack of one insociety generally through the example of Roger Anderson, a teenager who acts out in violence:
It is unfortunate that the larger American community does not have the astuteness of the mothers on North Waverly Street [where Peters grew up]. If it did, we might be living with a law that says, Thou shalt not drive around with a loaded Uzi in your car. Such a law might have made the difference between life and death for Roger Anderson.
Peters sees civil society as “only a thin veneer covering a substrate of rapacious violence.” Thus, if humanity is sinful by nature, the example of a “good Christian community” cannot transform the world because there is no essential goodness within humans to be drawn toward that example. Further, the sinful nature of humanity precludes the possibility of Christians being able to provide such an example in the first place. From this perspective, we must by all means seek to prevent the veneer of civil society from wearing away. Grace is what keeps “total anarchy” at bay, and “law and the order to which it aspires is also a gift of grace” that bestows internalized “self-discipline.”
IV. LORD ACTON’S CONSCIENCE
The question remains, however, whether we must choose between these two extremes in terms of human nature and their corresponding policy responses. Neither seems to offer an adequate explanation for the complexity of human behavior. As Christopher O’Donnell comments in his essay “Listening to God Within,”“A whole view of the human person is one in which good and evil are both recognized as present.”
Victorian Catholic thinker Lord Acton provides a similar viewpoint. According to Acton, conscience is not merely an internal compass which can point either toward good or evil, as Peters would suggest, but remains fixed on the good and points towards liberty. “Conscience [is] the means of emancipation from the servitude of sin,” states Acton, “It exists in each of us….It is the law of self-government.” Indeed, Acton sees that in the Quaker doctrine of inner light “the theory of conscience was full grown....Penn drew the consequences in the Constitution of Pennsylvania. It was the standard of a new party and a new world.”
That is not the end of the story, however. While conscience can be a means of emancipation from sin, its mere existence does not entirely negate sin’s effects. “We contemplate our ideas in the sunlight of heaven,” Acton cautions, “and apply them in the darkness of earth.” Conscience, for Acton, is a tool that requires sharpening and religion itself is insufficient to accomplish this task.
We have to live and deal with men of diverse religions and of no religion – of different philosophy and of different combination of philosophy and religion. With men whose knowledge of religion and philosophy is second hand, inaccurate, loose, uncertain, vague. For this situation we require a system of ethics.
Acton’s concern about applying ideas in the darkness of earth is important to keep in mind. It is neither prudent to rely solely on conscience nor the law. In what is perhaps his most famous line, Acton warns that while conscience directs us toward the good, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Thus “The state does not perform the function of conscience,” for “Men cannot be made good by the state, but they can easily be made bad. Morality depends upon liberty.”
V. OF MORALS AND MARKETS
18th century Scottish economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith elaborated a method for achieving the development of conscience through the very means Hauerwas and Peters both decry: the market. While not denying “the present depraved state of mankind,” Smith argued that humanity nonetheless loves “what is honourable and noble,” and that both qualities – the good and the bad – can be directed toward positive ends. For Smith, each human possesses what he terms an “impartial spectator” or “great demigod within the breast.” This allows us to “humble the arrogance of [our] self-love, and bring it down to something which other men can go along with.” But, Smith sees the potential for good even in our arrogance, for our love of praise “makes us take into account the judgments of those around us.”
But every part of nature, when attentively surveyed, equally demonstrates the providential care of its Author, and we may admire the wisdom and goodness of God even in the weakness and folly of man.
Moreover, once we internalize this desire for praise, once we seek praiseworthy endeavors, we can begin to follow conscience even in the face of society. This signals a shift from “the affectation of virtue, and…the concealment of vice,” to “the real love of virtue, and the real abhorrence of vice.”
For Smith, humanity may not be naturally good but it is capable of disciplining its passions.“Smith was skeptical about the possibility of making everyone virtuous,” states author Jerry Muller, “but he was optimistic about lifting people to higher levels of morality.” Mere knowledge of right does not translate into right actions, though. An element of discipline is necessary to facilitate virtuous living. As with Acton, however, Smith was wary of achieving this discipline through force.
Instead, he turns to the mutual dependence and sympathy created by engaging in market transactions. Basic moral codes “facilitate market transactions” and market transactions in turn facilitate the development of sympathy for others. As economist James Halteman explains, “Smith’s notion of self-interest is not expressed as the isolated preference of an independent economic agent but, rather, as the conditioned response of an interdependent participant in a social process.” Markets foster mutual respect and honesty through repeated interaction and erode traditional barriers of class, creed or nationality. Coming on the heels of the feudal era, Smith saw “every man [as]…a merchant rather than a slave, retainer, serf or servant.”
“The great advantage of the market is that it is able to use the strength of self-interest to offset the weakness and partiality of benevolence,” explains economist Ronald Coase, “so that those who are unknown, unattractive, or unimportant, will have their wants served.” Or, as Muller states, economic exchange “makes the differences between individuals useful to one another (emphasis original).”
Ultimately, Smith works to foster the best outcome given the situation humanity finds itself in – cursed with evil but also blessed with good. While he did not rule out government control of behavior, his effort was to limit that necessity to the degree possible through the growth and flourishing of “social control and individual conscience.”
The “liberty” Smith advocated was not “freedom” from all control, but freedom to control one’s own passions. That freedom would be learned from and encouraged by such social institutions as the market, the family, religious communities, and the law.
Thus, given Acton and Smith’s original assumption of both good and evil working within humanity, together they present an alternative to the views of Hauerwas and Peters, as well as a vision that encompasses both of the latter’s partial answers to the goal of cultivating a moral society. A layered system comes into vision in which stability through the rule of law (Peters) allows for free markets to increase mutual dependence and civility (Smith and Acton) whereupon the church acting in the world can work over and above the law and markets to provide a model of virtuous living (Hauerwas).
VII. FRIENDLY PERSUASION
The writings of early Friends indicate an affinity with just such an approach. Not only were Friends perceptive to both the positive and negative aspects of humankind, but their experience with hostile governments and their optimism regarding appeals to that of God in everyone led to a wariness of top-down prescriptions for moral improvement.
The attention Lord Acton places on Quakers and conscience is not without just cause. Isaac Penington talks of a seed from God “to guide man from evil unto good,”“an holy seed, sown by God,” a “holy will” sunk inward into our roots, and a “pure principle of life in the heart from whence all good springs.” George Fox refers to “the hidden man of the heart,” and declares that “God doth write his law in the true Christians’ hearts.” Likewise, William Penn states that “a measure of divine light is in every transgressor,” and that “This great God hath written his law in our hearts, by which we are taught and commanded to love, and help, and do good to one another.”
At the same time, it would be a mischaracterization to see Quakers as classifying humans as primarily good. Douglas Gwyn points out that “Fox speaks of the law of God that exists to expose sin in the conscience.” Penn claims that “The soul must submit to the will of God, though contrary to its own inclinations.” Douglas Steere comments that Penn’s view of humanity was that “the Seed of the Sprit within him [was] to be drawn out and nurtured.” Robert Barclay states that “conscience is an excellent thing, where it is rightly informed and enlightened.” Elton Trueblood, speaking of Barclay in general, says that he holds a “balanced view, with its emphasis on both the sinfulness of man and the universality of the divine effort to reach him.”
For Fox, government has a legitimate function to “limit lust,” but goes too far when it “meddle[s] with the Righteous.” Indeed, early Quakers held a “deep-seated suspicion of power and obedience” and therefore “viewed the Puritan effort to legislate morality as an activity undertaken in vain.” It is out of this view that Penn declares “Force makes hypocrites, ‘tis persuasion only that makes converts.”
This suspicion meant that Friends did not shrink from confronting those who would allow power to corrupt their decisions. While not focusing all of their energies on public policy, the early Quakers were politically active in their own way. This took the form of challenging customs and accepted practices indirectly through their own actions on a community level, as Hauerwas referred to with regard to slavery. But it took the form of more direct action, as well. Indeed, many regularly broke the law when they felt that laws of the world violated the laws laid upon their hearts.
VIII. CONCLUSION – BACK TO THE FUTURE
Is human nature essentially good, essentially bad, or does it lay somewhere in between? As Fosdick suggests, once one answers that question, one chooses the beginning of a road. The proceeding answers to questions of fostering virtue in light of that first step seem to fall into place.
It follows that those wrestling with these questions today must ask themselves whether their own behavior and that of the polity as a whole squares with their conclusion regarding human nature. If either is askew, then realignment may be in order.
For Friends in particular, do the views of early Quakers still hold true today? If so, then do the positions of present-day Friends reflect the balance early Friends sought between recognizing both the good and evil aspects within human nature, and between challenging corruption in society through their actions and a reluctance to impose their moral views on others by means of public policy?
The modern era witnessed attempts to outlaw war, eliminate poverty, and other grand and sweeping efforts to once and for all resolve the failings of humankind. The postmodern era afflicts us with a certain degree of paralysis regarding how to proceed given the failure of humanity to accomplish these goals. To the extent that present-day authors engage in reviving metanarratives, however, history suggests their attempts will end in failure.
A more humble and far more effective approach does exist. “The doctrine of self-interest properly understood,” explains Alexis de Tocqueville, the astute French observer of American culture in the 19th Century, “by itself it cannot make a man virtuous, but its discipline…establishes habits which unconsciously turn it that way.”
Perhaps it is time to take a cue, therefore, from earlier writers who carefully considered the virtues and vices within us all. Instead of forging ahead with a reliance solely on human goodness or the force of law, a more circumspect view holds that a balance of law, social institutions, and the church working together encourage virtue and the molding of a civil society.
 Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 48. While there was some attempt made to reference other sources, given the volume of work by Hauerwas broad statements based primarily on this text alone are not likely as fair to him as they might be given significant further study.
 Ibid., 31.
 Ibid., 128 and 33, respectively.
 Ibid., 128. It is interesting to note that Hauerwas seems to undermine this very argument earlier in the text. On p. 56, he attacks Timothy O’Connell’s advice to “be what we are” with a reference to Mark Twain’s view that “the worst advice you can give anyone is to be himself.”
 Ibid., 150.
 Hauerwas, “On Being a Church Capable of Addressing a World at War: A Pacifist Response to the United Methodist Bishops’ Pastoral In Defense of Creation,” in The Hauerwas Reader, eds. John Berkman and Michael Cartwright, 426-458 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press), 429.
 Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom, 99.
 Ibid., 102.
 Hauerwas, A Better Hope: Resources For a Church Confronting Capitalism, Democracy, and Postmodernity (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2000). While not giving this as thorough a read as it demands, it was difficult to find the rationale for his contempt of capitalism in this text. It would appear as though he makes the assumption either that readers take this for granted as well or that they are joining him in this book after having followed him through his others and therefore are familiar with his arguments along these lines from the start.
 Hauerwas, “Why the ‘Sectarian Temptation’ Is a Misrepresentation: A Response to James Gustafson,” 90-110, The Hauerwas Reader, 106.
 Ted Peters, Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 8. This view of Peters as stated is essentially a direct quote from Reinhold Niebuhr, which he acknowledges.
 Ibid., 24 and 31, respectively. The latter reference is from a quote he pulls from Roger Haight in a discussion of original sin.
 Ibid., 192 and 263, respectively.
 Ibid., 209.
 Ibid., 80.
 Ibid., 162.
 Ibid., 178.
 Ibid., 133.
 Ibid., 81.
 Ibid., 135.
 Ibid., 80-81.
 Christopher O’Donnell, “Listening to God Within,” in Spirituality and Morality: Integrating Prayer and Action, eds. Dennis J. Billy and Donna Lynn Orsuto, 67-79. (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1996), 76.
 John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, Selected Writings of Lord Acton, Volume III: Essays in Religion, Politics and Morality, ed. J. Rufus Fears (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Classics, 1988), 504.
 Ibid., 508.
 Ibid., 656.
 Ibid., 502.
 Ibid., 652.
 Ibid., 519.
 Ibid., 511-12.
 R. H. Coase, “Adam Smith’s View of Man," Journal of Law and Economics 19 (October 1976): 536, 531 and 543, respectively.
 John Dwyer, “Ethics and Economics: Bridging Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations,”Journal of British Studies 44 (October 2005): 662-687.
 Jerry Z. Muller, Adam Smith in His Time and Ours: Designing the Decent Society (New York, NY: The Free Press, 1993), 102-3.
 Ibid., 104.
 Ibid., 106.
 Ibid., 112.
 Ibid., 8.
 Ibid., 103.
 Coase, p. 545. This stands in stark contrast to a common portrayal among theologians of a defender of unlimited self-interest that bears more resemblance to Ayn Rand than Adam Smith. Sallie McFague states for example that “contemporary neoclassical economists…generally deny that economics is about values….By neoclassical economics we mean market capitalism as conceived by Adam Smith.” McFague, “God’s Household: Christianity, Economics, and Planetary Living,” in Subverting Greed: Religious Perspectives on the Global Economy, ed. Paul F. Knitter and Chandra Muzaffar, 119-136. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002), 125. McFague here echoes Peters on what they perceive as a dichotomy between ecology and economics, judging the latter an instrument of evil. In a more subtle manner, Lonnie Valentine sees Smith as having his heart in the right place, but thinks that “Smith was mistaken in believing that human nature was a structure in which moral sentiment was a given.” Valentine, “Small Socialism and Human Sympathy,”Peace Review 9 (1997): 87. This view overlooks Smith’s questions about human nature and his attempts to encourage institutions designed to bring out the best while suppressing the worst of humanity.
 James Halteman, “Is Adam Smith’s Moral Philosophy an Adequate Foundation for the Market Economy?,”Journal of Markets and Morality 6 (Fall 2003): 459.
 Jerry Z. Muller, “The Neglected Moral Benefits of the Market,”Society 43 (January/February 2006): 13. Hauerwas does address Smith’s views on markets engaging in this process, and actually agrees. He sees in the process of creating sympathy for others, however, an erosion of ties to family and so, of course, blames capitalism. Only shortly thereafter, though, he proceeds to attack American idolatry of the family. Hauerwas, “The Radical Hope in the Annunciation: Why Both Single and Married Christians Welcome Children,” 505-518, The Hauerwas Reader, 508-9.
 Muller, Adam Smith in His Time and Ours, 72.
 Coase, 544.
 Muller, Adam Smith in His Time and Ours, 70.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 203.
 Ibid., 2.
 Isaac Penington, “…According as the Spirit Teaches,” in The Quaker Reader, ed. Jessamyn West, 209-11 (Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill Publications, 1992), 209-10.
 Penington, “To S.W.,” in Quaker Spirituality: Selected Writings, ed. Douglas V. Steere, 149 (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1984), 149.
 Penington, “To The Lady Conway,” in Knowing the Mystery of Life Within: Selected Writings of Isaac Penington in their Historical and Theological Context, eds. R. Melvin Keiser and Rosemary Moore, 157 (London, England: Quaker Books, 2005), 157.
 Penington, “To a Parent,”Quaker Spirituality, 151.
 George Fox, Passages From the Life and Writings of George Fox, Taken From His Journal(Philadelphia, PA: Undated), 329.
 Ibid., 336.
 William Penn, “The Book of Cookery Has Outgrown the Bible,”212-215, The Quaker Reader, 212.
 Penn, “I Am Your Loving Friend,” 215-16, The Quaker Reader, 215.
 Douglas Gwyn, The Covenant Crucified: Quakers and the Rise of Capitalism (Wallingford, PA:
Pendle Hill Publications, 1995), 143.
 Penn, No Cross, No Crown, ed. Ronald Selleck (Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1981), 20.
 Douglas V. Steere, “Introduction,” 3-53, Quaker Spirituality, 49.
 Robert Barclay, “Turn Thy Mind to the Light,” 228-239, The Quaker Reader, 237.
 D. Elton Trueblood, Robert Barclay (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1968), 14.
 Gwyn, p. 143. Interestingly enough, Smith was a proponent of religious freedom for many of the same reasons he was a proponent of markets. He felt that competition would restrain passions. “The relative weakness of each denomination,” explains Muller, “would prompt it to seek the tolerance of others and would thus create a disposition toward tolerance in society at large.” Muller, Adam Smith in His Time and Ours, 157.
 Stephen A. Kent and James V. Spickard, “The ‘Other’ Civil Religion and the Tradition of Radical Quaker Politics,”Journal of Church and State 36 (Spring 1994): 373-87.
 Penn, “The Book of Cookery…,” The Quaker Reader, 215.
 David Boulton, “Public Policy and Politics in Fox’s Thought: The Un-militant Tendency in Early Quakerism,” in New Light on George Fox: 1624-1691, ed. Michael Mullet, 144-152 (York, England: The Ebor Press, 1991), 150-1.
 Kent and Spickard, 5.
 The debate over this issue centers around the same issues now as it did at the time these earlier figures were writing. Given the apparent lack of a satisfactory answer in the modern writers, it is necessary to engage writers from previous generations to gain a fully adequate vision of human nature.
 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, ed. J.P. Mayer (New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1988), 527.