Patrick Deneen can always be trusted to give acute insights on seemingly settled topics. This week's Hobby Lobby case at the Supreme Court is just that sort of thing, as most Christians (including us) have rallied behind a family-friendly business in its effort to stare down the government, and an unjust coercion to participate in moral evil.

But where do the stakes in this game really lie? And even if Hobby Lobby wins, do we all—as a society—still lose?

According to Deneen:

[T]he effort to secure an exemption [from the HHS contraceptive mandate] is itself already a concession to the very culture and economy of autonomy.

Most ironically, its entire business model is premised upon the conception of the disembedded self. Its stores are located generally in the middle of nowhere, in a sea of asphalt, providing the simulacra of ancient craft with goods produced by Chinese and transported by massive container ships, accessible only by automobiles generally by people living in suburbs. They have contributed to the displacing of smaller, local businesses with the extensive assistance of government, especially in the form of free-trade agreements, military-protected fossil-fuel production and transportation along with international shipping corridors, state-sponsored infrastructure that give major advantages to businesses that rely heavily on economies of scale based on trucking, and zoning laws that encourage the evisceration of downtowns in favor of national chains. Purchases in these chain stores result in a net outflow of money from these communities into the coffers of distant and absentee owners. [...]

I hope Hobby Lobby wins its case. But we should not deceive ourselves for a minute that what we are seeing is the contestation between a religious corporation and a secular State. We are seeing, rather, the culminating absurdity of what Polanyi called the “utopia” of our modern economic disembedding—the absurdity of a chain store representing the voice of religion in the defense of life amid an economy and polity that values turning people and nature into things. Our entire economy is an education in how to be “pro-choice.” What it most certainly is not in any way, shape or form, is about helping us to understand our true condition as embedded human beings.


Deneen makes a strong case, and one that will demand our attention well past this summer's verdict, whichever way it goes.

Andrew M. Haines is the editor and founder of Ethika Politika, and co-founder and chief operating officer at Fiat Insight.