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.
An excerpt from Jonah Goldberg‘s latest column on health care nationalization:
But here’s the kicker: The more life expectancy improves, the more we will spend on health care. Despite his professed outrage over charges of “death panels” and whatnot, Obama admits this. In an interview with the New York Times last spring, he acknowledged that oldsters are a “huge driver of cost.” The “chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health-care bill out here,” Obama explained. Which is why he advocated an advisory panel of experts to offer “guidance” on end-of-life care and costs. But don’t you dare call it a “death panel.”
Now, I don’t think Soylent Green-style solutions are coming down the pike. (Government cheese is people!) But every nationalized health-care system to one degree or another rations care based on the quality of life and number of “life years” a procedure will yield. That’s perfectly reasonable. If you put me in charge of everyone’s health care, I would do that, too. That’s a really good argument for not giving me — or anyone else — that power.
When it comes to civil liberties, liberals are often distrustful of government power. But, for reasons that baffle me, they are quite comfortable with Uncle Sam getting into the business of deciding, or providing “guidance” on, which lives are more valuable than others. A government charged with extending life expectancy must meddle not just with our health care, but with what we eat, how we drive, how we live. A government determined to cut costs must meddle not just with how we live, but how we die.
Make no mistake, President Obama, his Cabinet, and many of the Democrats (and, surely, a few Republicans) in Congress are not pushing for nationalization of the banking, health care, and automotive industries (to name a few) in a mere effort to amass power. Our current government’s agenda is about more than power, it is about control. This fight is between the individual and the collective. Fighting against President’s Obama’s health care “reform” is not merely a fight against policy, it is a fight for the right of every individual to live his own life as he sees fit.
Anyone who visits this blog on a regular basis has a sense for how much we respect the Wall Street Journal, particularly, the opinion pages. To explain why, here is the “About Us” from the op-ed home page:
We speak for free markets and free people, the principles, if you will, marked in the watershed year of 1776 by Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations.” So over the past century and into the next, the Journal stands for free trade and sound money; against confiscatory taxation and the ukases of kings and other collectivists; and for individual autonomy against dictators, bullies and even the tempers of momentary majorities.
Most Americans will, at least, pay lip service to the Freedom of Religion. It is the first right guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and very few Americans would openly oppose it. But many U.S. citizens either do not apply it consistently to their political beliefs or they construe it far too narrowly. The first case is easy to find examples for – the most glaring being conservatives with their opposition to gay marriage and their use of religion-based pro-life arguments. The second type of inconsistency (construing freedom of religion too narrowly) is, in my opinion, not as recognized but just as fatal.
Terms such as “freedom of religion” and “separation of church and state” are somewhat outdated. They come from a time when religion and morality were seen to be inseparable. The terms we should be using – to more accurately describe the application of individual rights to the moral, philosophical, and spiritual aspects of our lives – are “freedom of conscience” and “separation of morality and state”. For the former, I must thank Eric Rassbach, who recently went to court to defend his client’s right to sacrifice goats. He also penned an excellent WSJ op-ed on the topic.
Some people just give me a funny look and say nothing. Others say, “Goat sacrifice?,” laugh nervously, and look for the nearest exit. Only the most forthright ask me directly: Why in the world would I go to court to defend my client José Merced’s religious practice of killing goats in his home in the Dallas suburbs? I then explain, often to dubious ears, that Mr. Merced is a priest of the Santería religion and must sacrifice goats in order to ordain new priests. Without goat sacrifice, his religion would die out. Sometimes my questioners nod in agreement, sometimes they don’t.
The simple fact is that freedom of religion doesn’t mean much if it protects only those beliefs that the government, or the general populace, decides it likes. It is first and foremost unpopular beliefs that need the protections afforded by the First Amendment and international human rights treaties like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
No student of history could disagree. A constant in world history has been the marriage of despotism and the suppression of conscience. Pharaoh forbade the Jews to worship God in their own way. Socrates was executed for supposedly not believing in Athens’ gods. The Romans called Christians “atheists” and threw them to the lions for failing to worship Caesar. Heretics of one sort or the other–including agnostics and atheists–were executed during Europe’s religious wars. Hitler killed Jews as well as ministers like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who rejected his crimes against humanity. Stalin persecuted Jews, Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and many others. Mao closed almost every house of worship in China.
From the very beginning, the United States has taken freedom of conscience far more seriously than many other countries, making it the first principle in our Bill of Rights, coming before even freedom of speech. But the United States has had its fair share of government suppression of religion, from the hanging of Quaker ministers in Puritan Massachusetts, to the anti-Catholic laws of the 19th Century. And many modern Americans–from both the right and the left–would choose a coerced moral conformity over the individual conscience. Religious freedom will remain at risk, even in the United States, for as long as one group of people is tempted to employ state power to suppress another group’s peaceful attempts to act on conscience [emphasis mine] .
Which brings us back to Mr. Merced. Last week the federal Court of Appeals in New Orleans put itself on the side of freedom of conscience, ruling for Mr. Merced and telling the city he lives in–Euless, Texas–to let him start sacrificing goats again. The Court did not decide whether Mr. Merced’s beliefs were right or wrong, orthodox or unorthodox. It simply held that as long as he is not endangering public health or safety, the government had to leave those beliefs up to him and his gods.
It is a small victory for religious freedom in this country, not just for Mr. Merced, but for everyone who believes the human conscience is a precious gift to be protected. Of course, Christians, Jews, Muslims, or others may want to convince Mr. Merced that his beliefs are in error, and the same religious liberty will protect their right to try to persuade him. That’s the point: Persuasion, not state coercion, is the way all of us should engage our fellow citizens as they seek to obey the “still small voice” of conscience.
So ask not why I defend goat sacrifice. Ask me how you can too.
The most important point made by Mr. Rassbach is that we must broadly define the First Amendment. Many in this country (liberals, in particular) believe in the absurd concept of the “common good”. I won’t attempt to argue against it here, for the purposes of this post we’ll assume that it is, in fact, moral for society to pursue the “common good”. Does this then give the government (or a majority of citizens) to enforce this morality of the “common good” on a minority? Absolutely not. Just as Christians or Muslims cannot, in accordance with the natural rights of man, coerce their fellow man to follow their religious dictates (even if the Christians or Muslims comprise a majority), society cannot coerce individuals to sacrifice themselves for the collective. Freedom is a black/white issue. There is no area of gray. True, some oppressive governments are more severe in attacking freedom than others, but that is only a difference in degree, not principle. A benevolent dictator is still a dictator. And a violation of an individual’s rights for the sake of the “common good” is still a violation of that individual’s rights.
“Freedom (i.e. individual liberty) and democracy (i.e. unlimited majority rule over the individual) are entirely different and incompatible things, the second being an enemy of the first.”
~ Yaron Brook
Peter Berkowitz writing in the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review:
Both the quest for purity and the quest for unity [among conservatives] are misguided. This is because modern conservatism in general and certainly American conservatism in particular is a paradoxical orientation. The central paradox pervades the writing of Edmund Burke. Rightly recognized as having informally and unofficially but powerfully launched modern conservatism in 1790 with his Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke cherished two fundamental goods, liberty and tradition, that do not obviously cohere and sometimes obviously conflict. Constitutional government in America intensifies the paradox. Insofar as American conservatism involves the conservation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—and how could it not?—it puts a revolutionary doctrine and a founding document, forged by men in the heat of the political moment and constructed with numerous painful compromises, at the heart of the conservative mission.
I think this phenomenon is, in large part, a symptom of the problem that many conservatives – though claiming to advocate individual liberty – have not rejected certain collectivist principles. Many still argue for free market capitalism on practical grounds (i.e. it produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people). Conservatives must return to a principled stance in defense of the individual rights, for the sake of the individual (no practical arguments for the “common good” needed). Only when conservatives once again stand on principle, can the various factions of the conservative movement be reconciled and their policy conflicts resolved.