Most Americans who self-identify as conservatives similarly identify themselves as ardent capitalists. It’s simply the American way. Capitalism is what has (supposedly) made America great, and what will save her from imminent economic collapse brought about by ever-encroaching socialism. Gary North has gone so far as to say that capital markets are, in essence, “what keep us alive.”1 I also considered myself to be more or less a capitalist until my Kinist enlightenment opened my eyes to more traditional ways of thinking. While I still believe that capitalists have made logical and coherent critiques of Marxist collectivism, I believe that capitalism itself is rooted in incorrect and unchristian presuppositions about human behavior and the nature of economics.
Before I go any further, it is necessary to define what I mean by capitalism. In his essay, “Capitalism and Distributism: Definitions and Contrasts,” Thomas Storck addresses the difficulties in defining capitalism. Many people – indeed, most Americans – are stuck in a frame of mind in which there are only really two different philosophies of economics. Marxist collectivism is predicated upon the ownership of property by the state, while capitalism is predicated upon the private ownership of property by individuals. This is true as far as it goes, but it is also overly simplistic. Defining capitalism as simply the private ownership of property or the means of production ignores the fact that private property has existed from time immemorial, while capitalism with its distinctive features and ideas is far more recent. Most definitions of capitalism acknowledge it as a relatively recent development. Many trace the origins of capitalism back to late-eighteenth-century England, with its development occurring in nations colonized by England during this time, America chief among them. These descriptive definitions often lack explanations for the cause of the ascendancy of capitalism in England and America during this time.
The factor which most distinguishes capitalism from earlier thought in Europe is Adam Smith’s idea that the primary engine for economic growth and prosperity is self-interested acquisitiveness. Smith argues that self-interest motivates a man to make the most of his talent and abilities in a way that will benefit him. In marketing his talents and the fruit of his labor, a man indirectly contributes to the general prosperity of society in general. Smith writes in the Wealth of Nations: “By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.”2 For Smith, the “invisible hand” of the market guided by individuals pursuing their own self-interest will make the most use of the means of production and efficiently appropriate resources. Smith’s theories were adopted and expanded in post-Enlightenment Britain and America, and eventually have come to encompass the thought of much of the Western world in the last couple of centuries. Smith’s ideas have undergone some revision as capitalism has been incorporated into the standard libertarian ethos, but the basic idea that individual self-interest drives the market for the good of society in general remains a distinguishing hallmark of capitalist thought.
To begin with, there are many aspects of capitalism that are true and inoffensive to Christian sensibilities. Smith and his successors have made valuable contributions in critiquing economics based upon government-based central planning. Furthermore, Smith recognized that the government does indeed have a role to play in administering justice, and that this role is vital to the success of the free market in contradistinction to contemporary anarcho-libertarian thought. Smith writes, “Commerce and manufactures can seldom flourish long in any state which does not enjoy a regular administration of justice, in which the people do not feel themselves secure in the possession of their property, in which the faith of contracts is not supported by law, and in which the authority of the state is not supposed to be regularly employed in enforcing the payment of debts from all those who are able to pay. Commerce and manufactures, in short, can seldom flourish in any state in which there is not a certain degree of confidence in the justice of government.”3
Smith also understood the corrosive effects of debt on the national economy, correctly predicting that national debt would lead to the downfall of the economies of the nations of Europe. Smith writes, “Nations, like private men, have generally begun to borrow upon what may be called personal credit.” These “enormous debts . . . at present oppress, and will in the long-run probably ruin all the great nations of Europe.”4 Therefore, while I believe that capitalism has contributed to many of the economic woes currently plaguing the world and especially European countries, these problems cannot directly and entirely be attributed to a lack of foresight in Adam Smith. Smith’s capitalism was a classical liberal position anchored to a defined and limited role for the government, a repudiation of crippling debt both public and private, and a modest use of means such as tariffs and import quotas to aid the domestic economy. The suicidal individualism typifying contemporary capitalism is not the capitalism of Adam Smith. Nevertheless, Smith’s view of economics defined by individual self-interest was inevitably set on its present trajectory by the individualist and libertarian spirit of the Enlightenment. Capitalism became the dominant economic paradigm throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with the corresponding ascendancy of Great Britain and America. Capitalism was carried with the tide of the Enlightenment through nineteenth century utilitarian thought by the likes of Jeremy Bentham, who taught that the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain are the primary motivators and norms for individual activity.5 Since the Second World War, capitalism has been altered to accommodate certain elements of socialism.
My aim is to critique the corrosive effects of capitalism from a traditionalist perspective. As a traditionalist I believe in the right to the ownership of private property as established in the commandment, “thou shalt not steal” (Ex. 20:15, Deut. 5:19). The critical difference between the capitalist and what I consider the traditional Christian understanding of private property ownership is that Christian thought anchors private ownership of property in the context of the trustee family. R.J. Rushdoony describes the trustee family thusly: “The trustee family has the most power and scope. It is called the trustee family because its living members see themselves as trustees of the family blood, rights, property, name, and position for their lifetime. They have an inheritance from the past to be preserved and developed for the future. The trustee family is the basic social power. . . . The head of the family is not the head in any personal sense but as family head and as a trustee of powers.”6
Rushdoony defines the trustee family against what he refers to as the atomistic family, which views family and the responsibilities that accompany family as a hindrance, and the domestic family, in which focus is placed on what is commonly called the nuclear family as opposed to the intergenerational family. Capitalism, which is defined by private property ownership and management rooted in individual self-interest, is distinguished from the traditional position primarily by its support for the trustee family in which property is owned, cared for, and inherited by families over multiple generations.
Capitalism Is a “Bread Alone” Philosophy
I begin my critique of capitalism by noting that capitalism is in essence a “bread alone” philosophy that discounts the necessity for social cohesion. Capitalism is often touted by its supporters as the natural antithesis to socialism. It is true that capitalism is opposed to socialism in its primary focus. Capitalism is rooted in the primacy of the individual, while socialism is rooted in the primacy of the collective. The problem is that both of these competing philosophies attempt to organize society based primarily on economic considerations while ignoring essential characteristics of healthy communities and by extension a healthy economy. Consequently, many economists have reduced economics to a science of number-crunching analyses of productive output without asking deeper questions about the impact of different business policies on the community or society as a whole. Wilhelm Röpke’s classic work, The Humane Economy, provides a devastating critique of this aspect of contemporary economics.
Röpke demonstrates that healthy economies exist only in healthy societies in which there is family cohesion, social trust, and a strong sense of moral decency. To ignore these “unbought graces of life,” as Röpke called them, would undermine the foundation necessary for maintaining the free market. Röpke describes how the deracination of society leads to what he terms “enmassment”:
Mass man is individualistic because of the loosening of the social fabric and the disintegration of community. One of the least well understood aspects of the process of enmassment is that it detaches the individual from his natural social fabric and leaves him to his own resources. . . . [Individualism] also became one of the most corrosive of spiritual acids, dissolving the organic structure of society and thereby contributing to the formation of mass society and mass democracy.7
The end result of this transformation into mass society ultimately dehumanizes workers by reducing them to mere “human resources.” Large multinational corporations move workers around the country, or in some cases around the world, uprooting families from their communities and creating a shifting society that lack the bonds vital to traditional communities. Businesses and factories never close, forcing employees to work long shifts which adds stress to their families and detracts from the workforce’s quality of life. Men work hours at meaningless desk jobs pushing papers instead of doing work that they find fulfilling and rewarding. (This was satirized by the movie Office Space.) Women are also driven into the workforce by a real or perceived need for more income for the family as inflation drives up the cost of living. Culture likewise erodes as society is no longer oriented towards the pursuit of godliness and what is truly permanent. Instead of high culture in the form of literature, artwork, and architecture, capitalism mass produces kitsch and cheap, mindless entertainment in the pursuit of comfort.
Perhaps it can be argued that capitalism is merely concerned with economic efficiency, and that cultural issues aren’t the concern of economics. This only reinforces the critical problem with the perspective with most capitalist economists. Because capitalism is a “bread alone” philosophy of economics, capitalists view the economy as a mathematical, quantifiable expression of human activity. Capitalist economists examine prices, stock values, dividends, and bottom lines while typically being oblivious to the social factors that lead to healthy economic output. Economists are stuck in “economic stork” theory whereby good workers and just employers simply fall from the sky leading to meaningful employment, fair wages, and sustainable consumption. In fact there are many social factors that capitalist economists ignore in their analysis. Healthy traditional families living in safe neighborhoods and in thriving communities are essential to economic flourishing. This leads us into a discussion of other problems of capitalism.
Capitalism Is Rooted in Debt-Based Consumption
Many believe that capitalism is simply the application of free market principles, but in actuality capitalism has distorted the market by allowing and supporting practices such as usury and currency debasement. A free market in which goods and services can be exchanged requires sound and honest currency. The rise of capitalism has corresponded to the acceptance of practices that are harmful to the long-term health of the economy. An example of this is usury, commonly called interest. Usury or interest is clearly condemned by the Bible8 as well as the Council of Nicaea.9 Some try to skirt around the issue of lending on interest by suggesting that the biblical prohibition is simply against exorbitant interest, or interest charged for loans to the poor. This can be answered by observing that the anti-usury passages in Deuteronomy and Psalm 15, for example, condemn the practice without qualification. Additionally, the underlying assumption in the biblical text is that the poor are the only ones who are desperate enough to accept loans with interest. In other circumstances of exemptions for the poor in the Law, those who are poor are specifically identified for the purposes of the particular law in question.
An example of this is in the law for the cleansing of the leper in Leviticus 14. After prescribing the manner in which a leper is to be cleansed and the offering that should customarily be given in thanksgiving, an exception is made for those who are poor and cannot provide the offering (Lev. 14:21). In their case, they are allowed a lesser, more affordable offering. Poverty in the sense of the law of the cleansing of the leper is defined as one who cannot afford to make the customary offering. In verses which prohibit usury to the poor, no specification is made about who is poor, and we therefore cannot conclude that there are exceptions to the laws prohibiting usury.
Other examples include the valuation of individuals for the redemption of a vow made to the Lord in Lev. 27:13, and the exemption of the poor from holding a pledge on a loan during the night in Deut. 24:10-13. The latter offers an additional detail of interest. Normally someone could keep a pledge for a loan overnight, but if the borrower is poor and must use something essential to his welfare as his pledge, such as a cloak, then the pledge must be returned before night. This is especially helpful to examining usury since this precept also deals with loans. In this case the Law grants that loans can be given to the rich as well as the poor, but a specific exemption is allowed for the poor in the manner of pledges. If an exemption from the anti-usury precepts could be granted in loans to the rich, then we would expect that the exemption would be stated just as it is in the manner of taking pledges on loans. Yet no exemption is stated, because none exists.
Scott C. Mooney summarizes the issue clearly and succinctly:
1) The idea of “poor” is essentially subjective and relative; it defies objective definition. 2) God’s law makes special allowances for the poor in certain cases. 3) These cases are characterized by a normal requirement followed by the special allowance. 4) The ‘poor’ are identified, for the purpose of the particular law, in terms of the difference between the normal and special requirement of the law. 5) The usury law does not have this structure. It does not give a normal requirement followed by a special requirement to be observed in the case of the poor, and thus it is not possible to treat it as though it did, since there would be no way of knowing who is ‘poor’ in that particular sense.10
There are also passages stating that the poor are not exempt from what is required. Exodus 30:11-16 is a law for atonement money in which everyone was to pay a ransom of a half shekel. We are told that the rich were not to pay more and the poor not to pay less. Exodus 23:3 and Leviticus 19:15 likewise forbid showing partiality to the poor in judgment. An excellent parallel to the anti-usury laws is found in Deuteronomy 24:14-15. This law prohibits the withholding of wages from the poor. The structure is nearly identical to the anti-usury precepts found in Exodus 22:25 and Leviticus 25:35-37. Is it valid to infer that one can withhold the wages of “rich” workers overnight? No, no such inference is either necessary or valid. Instead we see the general prohibition against withholding wages stated in Leviticus 19:13, with the passage in Deuteronomy simply restating the prohibition with special emphasis on the poor, for whom the law is principally (but not solely) intended.
There is no need to judge who is or is not poor for the purpose of this law, since this law is simply a general condemnation of withholding wages. We can no more infer unstated exceptions to these precepts than we can in a verse like Exodus 22:22 (placed right before the prohibition of usury), which states that we cannot afflict widows or fatherless children. We obviously cannot infer that because the law specifically forbids afflicting widows and fatherless children, we are therefore at liberty to afflict married women and children with fathers.11
The result of the prevalence of usury or interest in society is that prices soar when money becomes more available through interest-bearing loans. The permissibility of interest encourages people, banks, or other lending institutions to make loans that they otherwise would not be willing to make. This can be seen in the dramatic increase in the costs of things such as housing and college tuition.12 Initially loans are made under the auspices of helping people afford what they otherwise could not. As more and more people are able to procure loans (with interest, of course), demand increases and prices rise according to the increased demand. Eventually people who could afford goods or services without going into debt are no longer able to do so, with the end result being that more and more people become dependent upon loans until we can no longer imagine what society would be like without interest-based loans to facilitate our consumption.
Another problem associated with capitalist finance is currency debasement through practices such as fractional reserve banking. Investopedia defines fractional reserve banking as “a banking system in which only a fraction of bank deposits are backed by actual cash-on-hand and are available for withdrawal.” This is done so that banks have more money to loan out to borrowers. This is thought to improve the economy by increasing the supply of money available for financial transactions. But it doesn’t take a PhD in economics to understand why this is problematic. The increase in the supply of money in circulation that is not backed by hard currency such as gold, silver, or something else of objective value results in the decrease in the value of that circulated money. Those who benefit from this system are the banks themselves. The banks are allowed to create currency backed by nothing more than their own fiat, and to use it as though it was valuable. The influx of currency in circulation ends up devaluing the hard-earned currency that consumers use in their daily transactions.
Currency debasement is a form of unjust weights and measures, which are condemned in the Bible.13 The laws concerning just weights and measures regulate commercial transactions as they transpired in the ancient world. A measure of currency would be exchanged for a certain quantity of something to be bought in return. This would be accomplished by weighing the currency in comparison to whatever was to be purchased. Some might try to cheat the system by using a rigged balance to make it seem as though the money of a buyer was less than it actually was, or as though their own money was more valuable. While we no longer use this system of exchange, the underlying principle of the laws prohibiting unjust weights and measures still apply to us today. When banks lend out more money than has been deposited, they are essentially “creating” more money than they actually have. This is essentially no different from someone who used unjust weights and measures to fool someone into thinking that they possessed more gold or silver than they actually did. The fact that the government allows or even encourages banks to “create” currency this way makes no difference, no matter what excuses are used as justification. It is still wrong, and this currency debasement will ultimately have disastrous consequences.
Scott C. Mooney argues persuasively that mankind naturally values gold and silver because God has created gold and silver, along with precious metals and jewels, to be valuable. The creation narrative in Genesis 2 states the relation of Eden to other geographic areas by identifying neighboring rivers and areas in which gold can be found (vv. 11-12, cf. Ezek. 28:13). Mooney states, “There is placed within the heart of man an innate yearning and longing for first, God Himself, the Creator, and next, those things of the earth upon which God has placed particular value. Bearing God’s image in his created being, it is natural that man should value innately that which God values.”14 This explains why mankind innately values gold, silver, precious metals, and jewels. They are sufficiently rare enough to be precious and they are created by God to be valuable. By contrast paper currency, or at least paper currency that is not backed by gold or something of objective value, is only considered to be valued by the fiat of the government. This is naturally problematic, as this allows the government to print money from paper, which is not intrinsically valuable in the way that gold or silver is valuable.
Now financial transactions often occur electronically with money existing solely in the digital realm in many cases. This makes the currency debasement process even easier and more efficient. Today we often justify the actions of the government (or its proxy, the Federal Reserve banking system) by suggesting that the manipulation of the money supply is done for the benefit of the entire economy. We are told that the economy will be stimulated when the Fed “increases the money supply” by inventing currency by government fiat. The reality is that this only serves to devalue the currency already in circulation and rob the average American of his purchasing power while lining the pockets of the bankers and their partners in corporate America.
Some critics of the Federal Reserve and advocates of the gold standard have certainly overestimated the devaluation of the dollar under the tenure of the Fed. These men have noted that the dollar buys significantly less gold than it did when the Fed was created in 1913. This conveniently ignores the fact that average incomes have also risen to compensate (though not entirely) for the rise in prices. So the overall purchasing power has not declined by the 95 to 98%, as is sometimes asserted. However, this does not mean that the Fed is off the hook. The United States went off the gold standard in 1914, just after the creation of the Fed, but the gold-exchange standard, whereby American dollars could be converted into the currency of countries still on the gold standard, did not end until 1971. The gold-exchange standard kept American currency on relatively sound footing until recent decades.
The supply of dollars in circulation has increased enormously since the tenure of Alan Greenspan. This is the same Alan Greenspan who insists, “The United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print money to do that. So there is zero probability of default.” As you read this quote, bear in mind that this was the chairman of the Federal Reserve for two decades, spanning several administrations. This has caused the major recent devaluation of the dollar, the effects of which have not yet fully rippled through the economy.
Usury or interest encourages debt-based consumption, and drives up prices by artificially increasing demand beyond what people can afford to pay. Currency devaluation robs us of our purchasing power. The net result is that goods and services become more expensive while our currency becomes less valuable. Both usury and currency debasement are expressly forbidden by Scripture and have historically been condemned by the Church. The Enlightenment has brought about a rejection of Christian ethical principles, and it should not surprise us that capitalism, with its promotion of self-interest, came to prominence during the same period. While capitalism is founded on the principle of the free market, capitalists have historically championed practices that are destructive to the free market.15
Capitalists Support Big Government and Marxism as a Means of Control
Capitalism and Marxism are viewed as existing on a continuum with individual freedom (upon which America was supposedly founded) on one end and Marxist collectivism on the other. Many capitalists believe that they are defending liberty and freedom in the marketplace when they defend large businesses against the intrusions of the government. It is precisely because of its emphasis on individual autonomy that capitalism is often extolled as the only viable alternative to Marxist collectivism. This is especially true of the conservative and libertarian establishments in America. What is odd about this position is that the major corporations themselves are often champions of big government, through their lobbying and campaign contributions unto politicians who support the policies of big government.
In seeking to create a world of mass consumers, capitalists have played and continue to play a prominent role in promoting Marxism during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This might ostensibly seem to be a ridiculous assertion, even to the point of contradicting common sense. But far from being supportive of true freedom in the marketplace, these corporations often support the bloated state, as well as internationalist political organizations such as the United Nations. Why is this? Are corporations really so oblivious to their own welfare that they support policies many defenders of capitalism would argue are not in their best interest? Or perhaps these corporations really do understand how they became wealthy and how they can maintain their wealth. Major businesses, academia, and entertainment and financial institutions, who are the real beneficiaries of capitalism as practiced in the West, are the primary contributors to the established political parties.16 We can easily infer from this that they are supportive of the policies enacted by the political establishment.
The reason for this is that big businesses and multinational corporations benefit from their collusion with big government. While the intrusions of big government do adversely affect the free market and prevent entrepreneurs from becoming competitors in the marketplace, this precisely helps big business owners and corporations secure their share of the market. Multinational corporations aren’t interested in competition. As far as they are concerned, they have already won. What motivates large businesses and corporations is gaining and securing a monopoly. Given the natural desire of major corporations to achieve monopoly status, their support for government intrusion into business in order to help them maintain this monopoly makes sense. This is explained by businessman and Bolshevik sympathizer Frederick Howe:
These are the rules of big business. They have superseded the teachings of our parents and are reducible to a simple maxim: Get a monopoly; let Society work for you: and remember that the best of all business is politics, for a legislative grant, franchise, subsidy or tax exemption is worth more than a Kimberly or Comstock lode, since it does not require any labor, either mental or physical, for its exploitation.17
Historian Antony Sutton explains the somewhat counterintuitive support for government regulation and oversight by big businesses:
There has been a continuing, albeit concealed, alliance between international political capitalists and international revolutionary socialists—to their mutual benefit. . . . [M]onopoly capitalists are the bitter enemies of laissez-faire entrepreneurs; and, given the weaknesses of socialist central planning, the totalitarian socialist state is a perfect captive market for monopoly capitalists, if an alliance can be made with the socialist powerbrokers. Suppose . . . that American monopoly capitalists were able to reduce a planned socialist Russia to the status of a captive technical colony? Would not this be the logical twentieth-century internationalist extension of the Morgan railroad monopolies and the Rockefeller petroleum trust of the late nineteenth century?18
As John Médaille explains, capitalism is not sustainable because capitalist owners use “the law to raise barriers to competition and to limit liability.”19 These arrangements between major corporations and government lead G.K. Chesterton to quip, “Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.”
This ought to force us to reevaluate the idea that individualism and collectivism are at opposite ends on a spectrum. Perhaps individualism and collectivism are complementary in some way. As Mickey Henry explains, individualism is not opposed to collectivism: “Atomistic individualism and centralized totalitarianism are not in tension, but are necessary corollaries. . . . The rise of rationalism has led to the simultaneous rise of an impersonal and rootless man and a unitary, technocratic state. . . . Man inherently desires association and a sense of belonging, and that, in the absence of human-scale associations, will substitute the sense of belonging offered by the total state.”20 This succinctly describes the issue at the heart of capitalism. The problem of statism in government described by Mickey is analogous to the problem of large, multinational corporations in business. The atomized individual is conditioned to accept the intrusions of the leviathan state and to do business with the multinational corporations that have no roots in his local community and no interest in his welfare beyond his immediate consumption.
Capitalists Seek to Create a World of Mass Consumers
American conservatives often fail to realize the role that big business has played in the decline and destruction of America’s culture and wholesome values. Watch any political debate involving mainstream conservatives, and a ubiquitous talking point is that “big government” is the source of our nation’s problems, and helping businesses is a big part of the solution. This pro-business stance ignores the role that big businesses play in championing policies harmful to the traditional American people. Corporations are a part of what could accurately be called the Establishment which includes the two major political parties (Republicans and Democrats), academia, and the sports and entertainment industries. The Establishment is often on the front lines of defending entrenched anti-white policies, including mass non-white immigration, affirmative action, boycotts against white symbols such as the Confederate flag, and anti-white revisionist history. Why is this?
The great Sam Francis offers a superb answer to this question in his essay “Why the American Ruling Class Betrays Its Race and Civilization.” Francis provides excellent commentary on the work of James Burnham in describing what he calls “the managerial revolution.” There is no need to reiterate everything that Francis explains in his complete and excellent essay, but in brief, the managerial revolution occurred as a result of the management of capital and resources becoming divorced from ownership. Traditional elites tended to favor institutions that fostered their strong sense of identity and secured the future of their children, because their children and future generations would inherit their wealth and property. Consequently, traditional elites were rooted in traditional social institutions such as the family, the church, the local community, the craft guilds, the aristocracy, and so on.
Not so with the emerging managerial elite. The emergence of large corporately-owned businesses has corresponded with the emergence of the managerial class, or technocrats, who control policy decisions and organize production on behalf of an owner, or often a group of owners in the form of stockholders. This paradigm has allowed for and encouraged the displacement of traditional elites with managerial elites, and thus created what Francis terms “the managerial disengagement.” The specialized technical skills that the managerial class possesses cannot be passed on to children and descendants the same way that property and social position can be passed on by traditional elites. As inheritance diminishes in prominence, the importance of marriage and the family diminishes as well.
Managers tend to depend on families far less than the older elite and therefore to value the family and the moral codes that reflect and reinforce it far less also. The culture the managers seek to build places more value on individual achievement and ‘merit’ (defined largely as the ability to acquire and exercise managerial and technical skills) than on family inheritance, on sexual fulfillment than postponement of gratification and the breeding and rearing of children, on social mobility and advancement rather than identification with family, community, race, and nation.
Not only has the managerial revolution rendered traditional institutions obsolete, but traditional institutions are actually a hindrance and restraint on the influence and power of managerial elites. Francis continues,
In addition to the family, the managerial class simply does not need other traditional institutional structures to maintain its power— not the local community, not religion, not traditional cultural and moral codes, not ethnic and racial identities, and not even the nation-state itself. Indeed, such institutions merely get in the way of managerial power. They represent barriers against which the managerial state, corporations, and other mass organizations are always bumping, and the sooner such barriers are leveled, the more reach and power the organizations, and the managerial elites that run them, will acquire. Corporations depending on mass production and mass consumption need a mass market with uniform tastes, values, and living standards that will buy what consumers are told to buy; diverse local, regional, class, and ethnic identities impede the required degree of uniformity. The same is true for the state and the mass obedience it requires and seeks to instill into the population it governs and for the mass cultural organizations and the audiences they manipulate.
Francis also cites former Harvard professor Samuel Huntington to the effect that the emergent transnational elites “abandon commitment to their nation and their fellow citizens and argue the moral superiority of identifying with humanity at large.”
The reason that the new capitalist/managerial elite are motivated to actively dissolve national and cultural distinctions is that this creates a homogenized world full of mass consumers. Capitalists who own and operate multinational corporations would prefer that people consume that which can be easily mass produced as opposed to that which is locally manufactured, grown, or crafted. This is true whether we are discussing food, drink, cars, electronics, clothing, or produce. An example of this attitude is easily discernible in the classic Coca-Cola commercial from 1971, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,” in which young people from all over the world are gathered together on a hill to sing about how wonderful it would be if everyone could sit down together and enjoy a Coke. This is not to say that exports through trade cannot be enriching, but the mass production of products for mass consumption ends up stifling the natural creativity that accompanies the world’s unique cultural differences. To accomplish this goal the Establishment promotes pseudo-morals such as anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-discrimination, anti-bigotry, and tolerance. The goal isn’t to bring peace between hostile nations and tribes, seeing as warfare has actually increased substantially under the ascendancy of capitalism. The goal is to create a world suited for mass consumption.
Capitalists Glorify Freedom in the Abstract
Capitalists have a penchant for glorifying personal freedom in the abstract owing to their devotion to the primacy of the individual. Consequently capitalists (and philosophical libertarians) often champion the cause of freedom for the sake of freedom. A good illustration of this is Walter Block’s book, Defending the Undefendable. Block, a self-described anarcho-capitalist, defends grossly immoral practices all in the name of freedom. Dan C. Heldman in his review for Universitas complains, “Not only does he [Block] defend prostitutes, pimps, counterfeiters, ticket scalpers, slumlords, blackmailers, libelors, stripminers, letterers, and scabs (among others), he actually has the temerity to call them heroes!” Thus we see arch-capitalists like Block defending the notion that women should be allowed to sell their bodies for casual sex if they decide to do so. Who are we to object to a woman marketing her body in a way that she chooses?
This problem is also perceptible in regards to the issue of abortion. Many anarcho-libertarian capitalists believe that abortion is perfectly ethical and permissible. Ayn Rand, the popularizer of “Objectivist” ideology which so many American capitalists claim to admire, stated that the idea that “an embryo has a ‘right to life’” is “vicious nonsense,” concluding that a “piece of protoplasm has no rights.” Rand argues that rights “do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born.” Murray Rothbard, another man admired by many libertarian capitalists, believed that “no being has a right to live, unbidden, as a parasite within or upon some person’s body.” Rothbard did not believe that children possessed the right of “self-ownership”21 until the baby was out of his mother’s womb. Likewise, Walter Block argues that babies which cannot survive outside the womb can be aborted without any moral qualms, while babies which can survive outside the womb can be “evicted” from the womb even if it leads to the probable death of the child.
The aptly named Capitalism Magazine states, “A fetus does not have a right to be in the womb of any woman, but is there by her permission. This permission may be revoked by the woman at any time, because her womb is part of her body… There is no such thing as the right to live inside the body of another, i.e., there is no right to enslave…a woman is not a breeding pig owned by the state (or church). Even if a fetus were developed to the point of surviving as an independent being outside the pregnant woman’s womb, the fetus would still not have the right to be inside the woman’s womb.”22
Furthermore, Murray Rothbard argues that the problem to abused or neglected children is a “free market in children” in which children can be bought and sold for profit! Rothbard argues that parents should “be able to sell their trustee-rights in children to anyone who wished to buy them at any mutually agreed price.” Rothbard even argues in a footnote, “Some years ago, the New York City authorities proudly announced that they had broken up an ‘illegal baby ring.’ Babies were being imported for a price from Greece by enterprising merchants, and then sold to eager parents in New York. No one seemed to realize that everyone involved in this supposedly barbaric transaction benefited: the poverty-stricken Greek parents gained money, as well as the satisfaction of knowing that their babies would be brought up in far more affluent homes; the new parents gained their heart’s desire of having babies; and the babies were transferred to a far happier environment. And the merchants earned their profits as middlemen. Everyone gained; who lost?”
By glorifying “freedom” in the abstract, the libertarian capitalist has destroyed any sense of real freedom worth possessing. Nothing is sacred; everything can be bought and sold for a price according to libertarian capitalism. The chief proponents of libertarian capitalism have sought to justify horrendous practices under the auspices of the free market. Under this ideology, children are not a sacred trust from God that parents have a duty to bring up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Instead children are a mere asset to be bought and sold for a price! The same flawed logic is also applied to sex. Sexuality is not considered to be a gift from God given to married couples for the purpose of uniting them together in a sacred bond and for the procreation of children. The doctrinaire capitalist is committed to the idea of a free market in sex whereby people (mostly women but also men) can sell their bodies for a price. These principles do not lead to freedom in any meaningful sense, but instead lead to a perverse kind of negotiated enslavement.
Towards a Humane Economy
The capitalist idea of the economy is opposed to the truly humane economy. No concept of the economy is devoid of presuppositions about society, culture, and justice. If the centerpiece of a capitalist economy is the pursuit of individual self-interest, we should not be surprised when successful capitalists cooperate with the socialized state in order to maintain their monopoly and prevent competition from small business entrepreneurs. It also makes sense that successful capitalists would not be as naturally concerned about the long-term success of their business ventures or the future welfare of their countries. As Sam Francis explained, the emergent managerial elite did not gain their power, wealth, or influence because of their family. Consequently they are not as concerned with social or economic trends that will prove to be detrimental to their future descendants. As far as they are concerned, their place in the world wasn’t handed to them, and their children and grandchildren will have to carve out their own place in the world of multinational corporations and intrusive government.
Some might consider my critique to be an overreach. In response I would point out that my critique is aimed at capitalism as it has been historically practiced since the time of Adam Smith. Many Americans consider themselves capitalists under the false belief that capitalism is simply the belief in a free market in the trade of goods and services or a belief in the rights of private property.23 This definition is inadequate to describe the distinct character of the capitalist paradigm, since capitalism is not the only theory of economics that defends the concept of the free market or private property. Both free market exchange and private property predate capitalism. Capitalism emerged amidst the milieu of Enlightenment rationalism, with Adam Smith being an original formulator who suggested that individual self-interest ought to be the engine that propels the economy. My critique of capitalism stands against this particular economic theory as it has historically been applied and practiced in the West. Capitalism has often been credited with making the nations of Europe and North America so prosperous. In reality several defining characteristics of capitalism, such as free trade and the economic pursuit of individual self-interest, are relatively recent developments, and the growth and development of these characteristics actually corresponds with the West’s recent economic decline.
Capitalism has devolved beyond its initial commendable defense of a free market of goods and services by extending the concept of the free market to all human relationships and interactions. This is the logical conclusion of the libertarian idea of “self-ownership,” which posits that we possess an absolute autonomy over ourselves without obligations that extend beyond the false “non-aggression principle.”24 This is the inevitable consequence of trying to erect a foundation of ethics apart from God and the moral principles He has revealed to man in His Word. Capitalism is predicated upon the pursuit of individual self-interest, and we are promised that this selfish approach to existence is the true path to human happiness. Far from bringing us the happiness we were promised, this path has taken us to our present depersonalized and inhuman society. There are several principles that we must acknowledge as being essential to the truly humane economy envisioned by Röpke.
First, just as Jesus stated that the Sabbath was made for man, rather than man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27), we must also understand that the economy needs to serve the nation, not the nation the economy. Many advocates of capitalism argue as though the market or the wealth that can be acquired through the market were an end unto itself. Consequently the “sophisters, economists, and calculators” that Edmund Burke so despised have succeeded in formulating policies which turn us men into mere “human resources” who can be managed and manipulated as though we were mere commodities. The goal of the economy should be to facilitate the material conditions necessary for us to live in safe and peaceful communities with a wholesome Christian culture. Secondly, the free market in the exchange of goods and services is a good and efficient means for establishing prices based upon the principle of supply and demand. However, we must limit the concept of the free market to that which can be bought and sold. The old adage that money cannot buy happiness is true. True happiness comes from a life lived in harmony with our Creator, and true liberty is derived from the work of the Holy Spirit freeing us from the sinful inclinations of our natures (2 Cor. 3:17). Freedom to pursue that which is perverse and harmful, such as prostitution or Rothbard’s “free market in children,” is not genuine freedom, but rather a covert form of slavery.
The free market can thrive only within the framework of what Burke sagely called “the unbought grace of life.” This famous phrase coined by Burke in his “Reflections on the Revolution in France” is described thus by Russell Kirk: “I mean by the phrase ‘the unbought grace of life’ those intricate and subtle and delicate elements in the culture of the mind and in the constitution of society which are produced by a continuing tradition of prescriptive establishments, reflective leisure, and political order. I mean also the sense of duty, the feeling of honor, the concept of ordination and subordination, and the adherence to the classical definition of justice which grow out of the spirit of a gentleman.”25 Flourishing economies exist only in nations with a healthy sense of their own identity, a strong commitment to justice, and a robust culture.
The family in a capitalist paradigm is an atomized family, in which people marry to gratify their own immediate and often transient desires (partly explaining our high divorce rates). Living amongst extended family is viewed as a hindrance to freedom, so people move about the world as much as possible, seeking opportunities for advancement up the corporate ladder. This paradigm needs to be replaced with the biblical trustee family. A healthy economy requires strong, large families which are supported by traditional gender roles and which raise children in the virtues of hard work and self-reliance. The breakdown of the family under capitalism, with its resultant juvenile delinquency and self-centered decadence, will inevitably lead to economic decline. As the family declines, people’s perspective becomes myopic. No longer are people concerned with carrying forward the traditions of their forebears or with the welfare of their descendants. Family dysfunctionality is a major economic as well as a social problem, so efforts must be taken to restore the family to its rightful place in society. The key to a healthy and truly humane economy is to ensure that society provides a stable environment in which families can flourish.
Finally, with regards to specifically economic policies, we must understand that the free market can successfully operate only in a just society as defined by God’s law. We must understand that certain long-accepted economic practices such as usury or interest-based debt and fractional reserve banking or currency debasement are immoral. These practices are clearly condemned by the Bible and can clearly be demonstrated to have an adverse effect on the economy. Our present-oriented society is conditioned to want everything now, and this leads us to accept usurious debt as a means to subsidize our over-consumption. Furthermore, we allow our government to debase our fiat currency by its system of unjust weights and measures. These practices assure us that capitalism is not a sustainable paradigm. We can see the foundations of capitalism beginning to crumble in our own time, as capitalist corporations and firms are becoming more and more reliant upon socialistic measures, like government bailouts, to save them for the time being. This is a mere stopgap measure that cannot be sustained in the long term. Sooner or later the house of cards will collapse.
Since the days of Adam Smith and the Industrial Revolution, several competitors to capitalism have emerged which attempt to preserve traditional values. I believe that the general principles of distributism are far superior to capitalism. Like capitalism, distributism is predicated upon the free market and in the sanctity of private property. Unlike capitalism, which is grounded in libertarian social theory, distributism is grounded in traditional Christian beliefs about society. Distributists are committed to local traditions, family-based economics, and self-sufficiency. The goal of a distributist economy is for small businesses to flourish by owning their means of production. Farmers would own the land they work, craftsmen would own their tools, and so forth. Distributists such as Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton also emphasized the beneficial role that medieval guilds played in society prior to the ascendancy of capitalism. Like distributism, the Southern Agrarians represent a viable alternative to industrial capitalism. Agrarianism (or physiocracy) emphasizes the value of land and other natural resources, as well as the importance of rural and country life. Implementing these systems would certainly represent a step in the right direction.
In closing, I will quote from Mickey Henry’s proposed solution for the twin evils of atomistic individualism and collectivism: “Man inherently desires association and a sense of belonging, and that, in the absence of human-scale associations, will substitute the sense of belonging offered by the total state. . . . The cure for collectivism is not individualism, but rather to increase human-scale associations, principally in the primal community of the family, but also in multitudinous local social institutions, such as the church, civic organizations, and trade associations.” The resurgence of the trustee family is essential for a vital economy. Removing practices like usury and currency debasement would allow families to live off of one income again, freeing up mothers to stay at home and raise children (Titus 2:5). Fathers would both find meaningful employment and retain time to be active in the lives of their children. Large families would once again be an economic boon rather than a burden. Strong families would produce hard, self-reliant workers who would leave an inheritance for their children and children’s children (Prov. 13:22). All of this can happen only if we embrace God’s Law as normative for society and turn away from unbiblical economic and social practices.
- North, Gary. “The Source of All Blessings (And Curses)”. September 18, 2004. ↩
- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book IV. Chapter 2, Paragraph 9 ↩
- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book V. Chapter 3, Paragraph 7. ↩
- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book V. Chapter 3, Paragraph 10. ↩
- For a critique of utilitarianism in the Benthamite vein, see “Why Utilitarianism is Useless” by Dwight Longenecker. For information on the more nuanced position of John Stuart Mill, see “John Stuart Mill Reconsidered” by Michael Davis. ↩
- “The Trustee Family,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction: Symposium on the Family, Vol. IV, No. 2, Winter 1977-78, pp. 11-12. ↩
- Wilhelm Röpke, A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market, ISI Books , 3rd ed. (1999), p. 70. ↩
- Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-37; Deuteronomy 15:7-11, 23:19-20; Psalm 15:5, 112:5-6; Proverbs 28:8; Nehemiah 5:1-13; Ezekiel 18:8-17, 22:12; see also Ecclesiasticus 21:8. ↩
- Canon 17 of the First Council of Nicaea (AD 325) only specifically forbids clergy from lending money on usury, but this is directed at clergy since they are said to “have forgotten the divine Scripture” which forbids usury. There is no indication that the Council approved of lending on usury if practiced by laymen. The purpose clearly was to exact a greater punishment in those held to a higher standard for an act that would be sinful by anyone. ↩
- S.C. Mooney, Usury: Destroyer of Nations (Warsaw, OH: Theopolis, 1988), p. 127. I am especially indebted to Mr. Mooney for his excellent book on the immorality and danger of usury. I highly recommend it to everyone. ↩
- This argument was made by seventeenth-century English clergyman Roger Fenton, A Treatise of Usurie (1611; Norwood: Walter J. Johnson, Inc., 1975), p. 41. Cited in Mooney, Usury, p. 129. ↩
- Of course there are many other problems with the current academic climate in Western colleges and universities that go beyond the expense of tuition, and other problems inflating the price of tuition besides usury. ↩
- Leviticus 19:35-36; Deuteronomy 25:13-15; Job 31:6; Proverbs 11:1, 16:11, 20:10; Hosea 12:7; Amos 8:4-6; Micah 6:11; see also Ecclesiasticus 42:1-4. ↩
- S.C. Mooney, Money: Symbol & Substance (Warsaw, OH: Theopolis, 1990), p. 20. This work is an excellent treatment of the subject of money from a Christian perspective. ↩
- Another issue with capitalism is the emergence of limited liability law, which emerged in the mid-nineteenth century and facilitated the emergence of modern corporations. Limited liability allowed stock holders to purchase an ownership stake in a company without assuming all the liability involved with operating the company. I recommend Ian Hodge’s excellent commentary on Rushdoony’s critique of limited liability laws. ↩
- Forbes explains that contrary to popular opinion, the Democratic Party is actually the party of the rich. Regardless, both political parties are beholden to rich donors. For information on political contributions, see this Forbes list of the most influential political donors. ↩
- Frederick C. Howe, Confessions of a Monopolist (Chicago: Public Publishing, 1906), p. 157. Quoted in Antony C. Sutton, Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution, (Clairview Books, 2011), p. 16. ↩
- Antony C. Sutton, Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution (Clairview Books, 2011), p. 17. ↩
- John Médaille. “An Introduction to Distributism,” The Distributist Review (January 12, 2006). ↩
- Mickey Henry, “What is Kinism?,” on Tribal Theocrat ↩
- “Literature of liberty,” Cato Institute, v. 4, p. 12, 1981. ↩
- See also “Abortion Rights are Pro-Life” by Leonard Peikoff at Capitalism Magazine. ↩
- For more information on how capitalism should be defined in contrast to alternative perspectives, see Thomas Storck, “Capitalism and Distributism: Definitions and Contrasts,” Faith & Reason, vol. 27, nos. 2/3/4, summer/autumn/winter 2002. ↩
- For a refutation of the non-aggression principle (NAP), see Nil Desperandum’s critique of Doug Wilson’s “Open Borders but No Freebies.” ↩
- Russell Kirk, “The Unbought Grace of Life,” Northern Review 7 (October-November 1954): 9-22. p. 12. ↩