You may have heard an ominous phrase echo around the digital ether recently: “The Great Reset.”
Klaus Schwab, chairman of the World Economic Forum, called for “a Great Reset” in 2014—“we must build entirely new foundations for our economic and social systems.” While Schwab’s proposal was couched in the dullest Davos terms of homo economicus, it was hard for critics to avoid likening Schwab to a Bond villain aiming at world domination. Yet Schwab was missing something crucial. He had a vision for transforming every industry, society, and nation. He had access to the world’s most elite decision-makers, but he lacked the perfect opportunity.
COVID-19 changed all that.
Here was a crisis that seemed tailor-made for the reset dreamed up by unelected technocrats at Davos. So this past June, Schwab seized his chance: “The pandemic,” he wrote, “represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world to create a healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous future.” A global transformation is not “some impossible dream,” Schwab insisted. The “silver lining of the pandemic” is that we have learned just how quickly “we can make radical changes to our lifestyles.” What was once considered “essential,” he averred, is now viewed as superfluous. “All aspects of our societies and economies . . . from education to social contracts and working conditions,” must be transformed.
On the surface, Schwab’s global reset is a proposal for a new green economy not unlike the “New Green Deal” outlined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which re-orders all aspects of government to the vague and endless end of “protecting the planet.” For Schwab, this means “digital health passports” for every person in the world, and a whole new array of “crisis-relevant tech” designed to solve “the digital trust problem.” The specifics of the proposals are less important than the euphemisms of control they use to attract elites to the cause. Take a look at the corporations and heads of state lining up behind the Great Reset: It’s clear that this is not about social justice, but about expanding the power of capital via the pseudo-religious impetus of progressive aims.
“Nothing will ever return to the ‘broken’ sense of normalcy that prevailed prior to the crisis,” Schwab wrote in his book COVID-19: The Great Reset, because “the coronavirus pandemic marks a fundamental inflection point in our global trajectory.” While he is avowedly “secular,” Schwab clearly has an almost religious sense that humans have broken something, and that they must now, through extraordinary effort and sacrifice, “render what is due.”
For Schwab, humans themselves are the enemy. Recognizing climate change is never enough. We must recognize that we are the sinister source of degradation. The would-be caliphs of the Great Reset wield salvific power: In the name of science, they promise to save us from ourselves, and to deliver us from our “broken normalcy” to a new godlikeness, by dint of our own technological ingenuity. What could go wrong?
Great Resets in human societies are not new. But they are always intrinsically religious. Like other ancient near eastern societies, ancient Israel practiced what the anthropologists of religion call “clean slate decrees.” Israel’s Jubilee Years, like our own Great Reset, were about rather mundane, secular things such as land, debt, and capital. Yet Israel’s Jubilee was different. It was announced by the blast of a trumpet, the shofar, during Yom Kippur. Jubilee had theological context.
Yom Kippur—or “the Day of Atonement”—is the holiest day in Israel’s year because it concerns the cleansing of Israel’s sins. It is a time of fasting and confession, ritual sacrifice, and the hope that God will exchange sacrifice for salvation. In the Book of Leviticus, we read:
On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. You shall make the fiftieth year holy, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee to you; and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee to you. In it you shall not sow, neither reap that which grows of itself, nor gather from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you (Lev. 25:10-12).
The joyful blast of the Jubilee shofar every 49 years was a theological confession about where we find the key to a truly “prosperous future”: in the recognition that we owe everything to God. The land, the property, the workers: All must be set free so that we see that nothing is solely our own possession. Israel’s Jubilee, unlike Schwab’s “Great Reset,” was the recognition of the principle of right order: YHWH is the only true King.
Israel’s theology of Jubilee is fundamental to the Christian understanding of how God unites flesh to himself in a new way in Jesus Christ. Pope Pius XI concluded the Jubilee Year of 1925 by introducing, in Quas Primas, the Feast of Christ the King—so that the whole world, in all its tumult, would turn to the “ineffable hypostatic union” as the Feast of the Nativity drew near. At the heart of the Pian Jubilee is the dramatic confession that Jesus is our Jubilee. Jesus Christ is the only “Great Reset” possible, not only for personal liberty, but for social and political order as well. It is only the God-Man who can truly set every captive free.
What Pius XI taught the world in 1925 is true today as well. Christ is coming, and he is the author of happiness itself: happiness for every person, and every nation. As St. Augustine writes to Macedonius, “a nation is happy when its citizens are happy.” Yet happiness is not to be found where the powerful attempt to reset the world and create a progressive paradise. Rather, it is found where the powerful and the weak alike revere and worship the very author of happiness, who rules from a manger as well as on his heavenly throne.
The directive principle of the cosmos, and the love that sets our souls in motion, and aflame, is coming. Advent proclaims that true freedom and happiness, for persons and polities alike, is found only in Jesus Christ, our Jubilee, our only Great Reset.
C. C. Pecknold is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at The Catholic University of America.
First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.
Click here to make a donation.
Click here to subscribe to First Things.