I have faith, in things I can see and buy and deregulate. Capitalism is my religion.
- Jack Donaghy
The above quote is from the Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning television series 30 Rock. The character, Jack Donaghy, is an extremely wealthy and powerful executive of the GE Corporation, and an avowed capitalist. The show portrays his free market beliefs as antithetical to faith and, even moreso, religion. Here is part of a letter from Ayn Rand to Barry Goldwater, written in 1960:
The Communists claim that they are the champions of reason and science. If the Conservatives concede that claim and retreat into the realm of religion, it will be an act of intellectual abdication, the kind of intellectual surrender that the Communists’ irrational ideology could never have won on its own merits.
The conflict between Capitalism and Communism is a philosophical and moral conflict, which must be fought and won in men’s minds, in the realm of ideas; without that victory, no victory in the political realm is possible. But one cannot win men’s minds by telling them not to think; one cannot win an intellectual battle by renouncing the intellect; one cannot convince anybody by appealing to faith.
Capitalism is perishing by default. The historical cause of its destruction is the failure of its philosophical advocates to present a full, consistent case and to offer a moral justification for their stand. Yet reason is on the side of Capitalism; an irrefutable rational case can be, and must be, offered by its defenders. The philosophical default of the Conservatives will become final, if Capitalism—the one and only rational way of life—is reduced to the status of a mystic doctrine.
I am not suggesting that you should take a stand against religion. I am saying that Capitalism and religion are two separate issues, which should not be united into one “package deal” or one common cause. This does not mean that religious persons cannot crusade for Capitalism; but it does mean that nonreligious persons, like myself, cannot crusade for religion.
Granted, some of this letter is dated. Capitalism (a necessary component of freedom) is no longer at war with communism, per se. Individual rights now faces the much broader threat of collectivism. However, most of what Rand said still rings true today. The collectivists largely control academia, so they have been able to convince many that “progress” and “reason” are on their side. While conservatives (those mediocre champions of individual rights) frequently take up causes backed only by a subjective morality, or faith. For all the reasons stated in the letter above, this approach will lead to the victory of the collective over the individual.
It has been made clear by brilliant individuals (Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, Adam Smith, F.A. Hayek) that free market capitalism is the political system that is consonant with man’s nature and the system that is supported by reason. But it is often asked whether or not a person of faith can also be a supporter of the free market. As both a Christian and an ardent proponent of capitalism, I believe that capitalism and faith are absolutely compatible. In fact, I would go so far as to say that free market capitalism is the only system compatible with the Christian religion. If one holds man to be created in the image of God, then it must follow that the individual is the highest object in the temporal realm. It is at this point that the atheist, agnostic, and deist alike come to the same conclusion: man is supreme on this earth. Any system of government must therefore be centered around man. As man’s nature is that of an individual and not as a collective, any system of government must be centered around the individual. As free market capitalism is the only political system built around individual rights, it is the only moral political system.
Let me be clear, I completely agree with Ayn Rand that capitalism can and should be argued by reason, not faith. However, many people of faith seem to believe that capitalism, because it requires at least a degree of selfishness, is incompatible with their religion. I would remind those readers that capitalism does not prohibit sacrifice in any way. The important point is that it does not enforce it. A collectivist society forces selflessness on its members, at which point sacrifice is no longer moral because it was not done by choice. Capitalism, on the other hand, leaves every individual free to pursue their own goals – allowing disparate beliefs to thrive without the violation of individual rights.
Side note: for anyone interested the American Enterprise Institute is holding an event on faith and capitalism called “Can Christians Be Capitalists?” on September 30th in Washington, D.C.