This idea that power should be very cautiously entrusted to fallible human beings became the basis of the modern liberal idea of laws. The people choose the government, but the American system imposes “separation of powers” and “checks and balances” as internal mechanisms to keep the government honest and accountable. The American founders devised a structure that deliberately fostered economic and political rivalries in order to prevent unhealthy concentrations of power. In The Federalist 51, Publius describes such measures collectively as “supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives.” Moreover, in the West we insist that the people who make the laws be subject to them and to the recall of the people on whose behalf they are making them.Christianity enhanced the notion of political and social accountability by providing a new model: that of servant leadership. In ancient Greece and Rome no one would have dreamed of considering political leaders anyone’s servants. The job of the leader was to lead. But Christ invented the notion that the way to lead is by serving the needs of others, especially those who are the most needy. Mark 10:43 quotes Christ: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant … for even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.” And in Luke 22:27 we hear Jesus say, “Who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” In the new Christian framework, leaders are judged by how well they respond to the concerns and welfare of the people. Over time, people once known as “followers” or “subjects” become “customers” and “constituents.” As a consequence of the new ideal, the job of the political leader, the merchant, and the priest becomes serving the people by attending to their political, material, and spiritual needs.

The system of modern capitalism arose in the West. To some it is surprising that capitalism developed so easily in conjunction with a Christian ethic. But capitalism satisfied the Christian demand for an institution that channels selfish human desire toward the betterment of society. Some critics accuse capitalism of being a selfish system, but the selfishness is not in capitalism—it is in human nature. As Adam Smith put it in The Wealth of Nations, the desire to better our condition “comes with us from the womb, and never leaves us till we go into the grave.” Selfishness, like lust, is part of the human condition. It is hopeless to try to root it out, although some zealous utopians have certainly tried. Over the centuries, Christianity came up with a much better solution. The Bible is often quoted to say that money is the root of all evil, but the relevant passage actually says that “love of money is the root of all evil.” This is a condemnation of a certain human attitude to wealth, not a condemnation of either wealth or commerce.