Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Can Conservatives Save Capitalism?

Since I was a small child, I have been struck by the fact that each individual's view of the nature of God represents only one view among many. What makes one view better than another? How can one individual or religion assume the power to tell the rest of mankind “the truth” about the fundamental questions of the universe – while offering only “belief” as an argument? Is it not better, in the political arena, to remove all of these opinions from the debate and leave men free to decide for themselves? Is this not what our Founders intended when they declared a separation of religion and government while at the same time acknowledging that, statistically, we were a Christian nation?

I have been watching with interest recent episodes of Glenn Beck’s Fox News Telecast. Beck has done some amazing research identifying the many connections between communist radicals and the billionaire octogenarian George Soros. In fact, were it not for Mr. Beck, it is likely that few people would have identified these connections and the terrible power which Mr. Soros wields. It takes courage to take on a person like Soros because, frankly, it’s not nice to fool with rich billionaires who have invested heavily in taking over the world.

Most of us are aware that Glenn Beck’s late afternoon time slot on the Fox News Network will come to an end before the end of the year. Beck informs his radio and television fans that he will continue to work for Fox and produce documentaries and Internet media. He promises to be just as visible as in the past…and even more so. Yet, you have to wonder about the forces that have pounced on News Corp. from several directions; the advertising boycotts and the obvious anger of Mr. Soros are probably only a small part of the picture. I wonder if Mr. Beck’s life has been seriously threatened.

I think Beck has been good for America. His astute journalism reminds us of what real fact-finding is – and that we have few voices telling us the truth today. The result of too few truth tellers is that our nation stands over a precipice. The values and principles that should guide us through the onslaught of the left seem mute. All we have is Mr. Beck’s singular voice and that isn’t enough.

But we must also have a sense of history. Don’t forget that it was Glenn Beck who had an evangelical moment just two weeks before a scheduled “annual” Tea Party protest in Washington, DC last year. Beck’s vigil, so near in time to the Tea Party date, attracted many people who might otherwise have been at the Tea Party event. I attended both Tea Party protests (2009 and 2010) and the crowd after Beck’s event was much smaller.

Yet, Beck’s event was not about government spending but religion.

Glenn Beck often mentions Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” as a major influence on his thinking. He has even said that Ayn Rand changed how he evaluated events in the world. How he reconciles Rand’s atheism with his own Christianity is an interesting question. Apparently, like many on the right who have come to admire Rand’s ideas, he separates her economic and political influences from her metaphysical. He and many in the Tea Party movement prefer to discuss Rand’s powerful arguments for capitalism while ignoring her views on religion.

Yet, even Ronald Reagan once said that Rand’s views had influenced him and it seems that this question does not bother the right even today. I think it is because conservatives are desperate to find the best arguments so they can stop the tide toward progressive devastation. Rand would say that you can’t hold contradictions; your political and ethical views proceed from your metaphysical and epistemological views. Conservatives like Beck and Reagan grounded their political views on religion rather than Rand’s “reason” and created an eclectic mix of religion and free market theory. Unfortunately, it won’t work. The left will win if the right keeps coming at the issues on anything other than a rock solid foundation. And the issue is too important; if we don’t get it right, our children will suffer greatly.

Dr. Leonard Peikoff reminded us in his speech on the New Right, (“Religion versus America”) that: “Religion means orienting one's existence around faith, God, and a life of service--and correspondingly downgrading or condemning four key elements: reason, nature, the self, and man. Religion cannot be equated with values or morality or even philosophy as such; it represents a specific approach to philosophic issues, including a specific code of morality.”[1]

And if you think I should not use an atheist to describe religion, I would remind you that Fox News contributor, Father Jonathan Morris has just written a book to help you, among other things, “(w)ork through the Faith-Hope-Love Cure to rid yourself of self-destructive and self-limiting habits…”[2]

Yet, both Dr. Peikoff and Father Morris have put their fingers on a basic set of ideas that, in a number of forms, you will find everywhere. They tell us that religion comes down to three basic concepts: faith, God and a life of service or love. Recognize here the connection between Glenn Beck’s tripartite philosophy, faith, hope and charity. Faith for Beck starts the thinking process; you have to start with the existence of God. Hope is the result of that belief and a life of service, charity is the moral outcome.

  • Religion:---------Faith------------God----------A Life of Service/Love

  • Beck:--------------Faith------------Hope--------Charity

These three condensations of religious fundamentals (faith, hope and charity) are also part of the Reagan Revolution. You may recall the “swing to the right” that took place during the Presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan during the late '70s. Many knew that Reagan was seeking the support of evangelicals across the country. They were his base. But many also supported Reagan because of his strong defense of capitalism. He seemed to speak the language of capitalism and he declared free markets to be a major part of his vision for America. Yet, a major influence on Reagan was George Gilder. Who is he?

“George F. Gilder (born November 29, 1939, in New York City) is an American writer, techno-utopian intellectual, Republican Party activist, and co-founder of the Discovery Institute. His 1981 bestseller Wealth and Poverty advanced a practical and moral case for capitalism during the early months of the Reagan Administration.”[3]

Gilder’s book became a clarion call for a new version of capitalism. Gilder’s form of capitalism was not based upon utilitarianism, it was not based on rugged individualism or individual rights. Gilder’s capitalism was based on altruism.

“One of the chief critiques of capitalism over the years by socialists, liberals, clergymen, and--most notably--the poor has not been of its practical achievements, but rather the perception of its moral character. Most of them have got the idea that the source of wealth comes from sinful, anti-Judeo-Christian avarice. Wealth, they often assert, comes from "taking," and therefore the way to combat poverty is to "take" it back and redistribute it. But as Gilder explains, the essence of capitalism is "giving."”[4] (italics mine)

This post, taken from an review of Gilder’s book, reveals the essence of Gilder’s effort to ground capitalism not on individual rights but on religion. Peter Schwartz, in his article ("The New Right") in The Intellectual Activist quotes Mr. Gilder:

“”When faith dies, so does enterprise. It is impossible to create through the mechanism of rational self-interest a system of collective regulation and safety that does not finally deaden the moral sources of the willingness to face danger and fight…Without faith and love, self-concern brings an obsession with security, an envy of wealth and an aversion to risk that destroy the gifts of creative capitalism…. Capitalism can be summed up in the language of Scripture: ‘Give and you will be given unto, search and you shall find…. Cast your bread upon the waters and it will return to you many fold….’ The deepest truth is faith, hope and love.””[5]

  • Religion: --Faith------God----------A Life of Service/Love

  • Beck: ------Faith-------Hope--------Charity

  • Gilder: ----Faith-------Hope--------Love

Gilder’s ideas took the steam out of the “swing to the right” in the early ‘80s. This grounding of capitalism on religion did not catch on. Most advocates of capitalism knew that it could not work and it tempered their enthusiasm for conservative thought. Even many religious people saw it as a cynical effort to smuggle "ruthless" capitalism into their beloved religious principles which were certainly the opposite of ruthlessness. Yet, Gilder and other “moral majority” Christians continued to be influential and the religious right slowly gained strength until George Bush killed the movement through his “compassionate conservativism”, another form of the same ideas. Certainly, Beck knows Gilder because he has mentioned him on his radio show as an important thinker and Gilder has been interviewed on Fox. He is considered to be a prominent voice for capitalism even today.

What Gilder tried to do for capitalist argumentation is provide an opening to help conservatives become more vocal about defending capitalism. With altruism as their base, they felt, it was ok to be proud to be a capitalist. Yet, as with Gilder, who minimized the value of the utilitarian argument for capitalism, you’ll find a lot of utilitarianism even today. Check some of his youTube videos to see.

Notice, that each of the three principles so far discussed are meant to be loose condensations of more fundamental arguments known in philosophy as Epistemology, Metaphysics and Ethics. Epistemology is the study of how man gains and validates knowledge; Metaphysics is the study of the nature of reality; and ethics is the application of these two principles to the realm of human choice and action. It is only in our age when reason is lacking, when understanding reality is supposed to be impossible, that the same concepts can be expressed so loosely, yet mean the exact same thing when translated clearly. Modern philosophy has kept from us the realization that sometimes we are talking about the same ideas, thinking we are deadly enemies, polarizing our debates and refusing to understand each other - when in fact, many of us agree fundamentally. This is true of conservatives and, as we will see, of progressives as well.

  • Source-----Epistemology----- Metaphysics----- Ethics/Morality

  • Religion:--Faith-----------------God----------------A Life of Service/Love

  • Beck:-------Faith-----------------Hope--------------Charity

  • Gilder:-----Faith-----------------Hope--------------Love

It would not be difficult to apply this philosophical foundation to something with which secular progressives might agree. For instance, progressives would never say that their philosophy rests on the principles of mysticism, hope and re-distribution. Some progressives would say “reason” rather than “mysticism” but I beg to differ.

Although many secular thinkers claim to advocate reason, implicit in their views is an epistemology that essentially relies on faith or a secular form of mysticism. Hegel promoted as “elements of truth” his view that a dialectical process governed both human history and the history of philosophy. This process was based upon a convergence of two principles that he called "thesis" and "anti-thesis" which combined to create a synthesis of their principles, the next phase of human development. He postulated a sort of cosmic struggle between these two principles but provided no proof for the existence of such a struggle. Taking his cue from Heraclitus, who postulated that the basic principle of the universe is “change,” Hegel concluded that change was foundational in the universe. Yet, even Heraclitus provided no logical foundation for the fundamentality of his premises.

Of Hegel’s marriage of philosophy with history, Windelband wrote: “The fundamental thought, right in itself, thus led to the mistake of a construction of the history of philosophy under the control of (Hegel’s) philosophical system.”[6] (Parentheses mine) The result was a history of thought dependent upon Hegel’s singular interpretations and nothing more.

Upon Hegel’s foundation, a more virulent form of mysticism was developed by Karl Marx. Marx’s mysticism consisted of positing the economic class struggle as the fundamental principle that moved thesis and anti-thesis toward synthesis. For Marx, the historical process was a struggle between economic systems (or classes) where the thesis, the existing system at any particular point in time, was opposed by its anti-thesis, the next stage of history. Marx held that the thesis, capitalism, was being opposed by the anti-thesis socialism. In his view, this class struggle was inexorable; the process was a fixed system, as certain as a scientific fact that no man could change. Capitalism was doomed by this historical materialism and would be defeated by socialism. It was just a matter of time.

By making capitalism the inevitable loser of this imaginary historical struggle, Marx succeeded in justifying any act of violence, hatred, prejudice and legal plunder against capitalism and capitalists. If you did not adhere to the principle of socialism, which was nothing more than sacrifice of the rich to the poor (the same altruism countenanced by religion), then you were old-fashioned, out-of-date, reactionary and evil. And because socialism was “just,” Marx countenanced violent revolution in order to hasten the inexorable movement of history. Though Marx claimed to be a champion of science and atheism, a more sinister form of mysticism than Marxism has not been attempted. Today, the “certainty” and moral fervor of progressives and other revolutionaries against capitalism is founded on this secular form of “religion.”

In many respects, Marxists and their philosophical apologists created a cottage industry that helped them to dominate the universities while incorrectly interpreting everything from history to psychology to anthropology and even modern societies. All they had to do is talk about the class struggle and (supposedly) this made them intelligent and scientific. Upon the basis of this fictitious class struggle some of the most atrocious lies could be spouted and given the imprimatur of “science.” The result was the death of millions of "spies" and "enemies of the people" who were guilty of merely wanting to live productive lives. The Marxist assumption that this “dialectical” struggle will result in the eventual victory of socialism is one of the biggest scams of modern philosophy and economics. There simply is no proof that this struggle exists. It amounts to a bluff, a con man’s effort to wish a false idea into existence; to create a self-fulfilling prophecy through a mystical incantation.

Anyone who accepted Marxist views of history merely accepted them on faith. One cannot prove the future. Today, progressives consider themselves to be more educated than conservatives because Marx said that his intellectual constructs were science. This added power to his ideas and encouraged more people to accept them. Yet, there is no science in Marxism; only pseudo-science; and this false idea led to a whole continent that took a bold and deadly leap into socialism. If this isn’t ignorance, I don’t know what is.

Upon this foundation, Marx postulated socialism as the only hope for mankind. His re-distributionist foundation is supposed to provide for man a shining, prosperous and happy future. All that men have to do is sacrifice now so that their children will experience that shining future. So once again, we end with the ethics and the politics of altruism, the same place where Glenn Beck, George Gilder, Ronald Reagan and the Pope wind up.

  • Source-----Epistemology----- Metaphysics-------------Ethics/Morality

  • Religion:--Faith-----------------God----------------------------A Life of Service/Love

  • Beck:-------Faith-----------------Hope--------------------------Charity

  • Gilder:-----Faith-----------------Hope--------------------------Love

  • Marx:------Faith/Marxism----Prosperous Future------Altruism

Yet, we need not go all the way to Hegel or Marx to identify what a modern progressive, eager for power might say. How about President Obama? He has made every effort to express his deep religious principles and although he holds the Marxist critique of capitalism, his view of collective salvation and his re-distributionist philosophy essentially matches that of the entire group under discussion.

  • Source--------------Epistemology----- Metaphysics------------Ethics/Morality

  • Religion:------------Faith-----------------God-------------------------A Life of Service/Love

  • Beck:----------------Faith-----------------Hope------------------------Charity

  • Gilder:--------------Faith-----------------Hope------------------------Love

  • Marx:---------------Faith/Marxism----Prosperous Future----Altruism

  • President Obama: Faith-----------------Hope--------------------Altruism

You may be surprized to see that the ideas of progressives and conservatives, in terms of fundamentals, are so closely related. The reason for this is that Kant, one of the most dominant thinkers of our modern age, admitted that he had developed his philosophy in order to protect religion from the Enlightenment (from reason). This means that one of the people who is intellectually responsible for Marxism and progressivism, was also a deeply religious person who wanted to keep, as the field of philosophy moved into secularism, all the premises of religion.

Regarding hope, this concept is used by all of these thinkers as a metaphysical principle. For religion, God, residing in heaven, was manifest to man as hope of salvation in heaven by practicing virtue on earth. Some Christians extend that hope into the real world in order to expand the scope and power of the God principle--God's intervention into the affairs of men means that God "governs" men, the kind of government that our Founders warned about.

If you really advocate capitalism, you must first develop the correct fundamentals that support capitalism logically, the right philosophy. These are reason, free will and the pursuit of happiness.

  • Source--------------Epistemology----- Metaphysics-----------Ethics/Morality

  • Religion:------------Faith-----------------God-------------------------A Life of Service/Love

  • Beck:----------------Faith-----------------Hope------------------------Charity

  • Gilder:--------------Faith-----------------Hope------------------------Love

  • Marx:---------------Faith/Marxism----Prosperous Future----Altruism

  • President Obama: Faith-----------------Hope--------------------Altruism

  • Objectivism:-------Reason--------------Free Will----------------The Pursuit of Happiness

This last is the philosophy of Ayn Rand. You will notice that each of these principles is the opposite of those provided by our religious leaders and progressives. Reason holds that reality is accessible to the senses; it accepts nothing on faith and looks for answers in the real world. Reason also implies free will, not in the religious sense, but in the metaphysical sense; that man must choose to think if he is to have a life worth living on earth; it is his choice – and, rather than asking him to sacrifice for others, his morality must be based on his rational self-interest, on the pursuit of happiness.

These principles of Ayn Rand, I submit, are the foundation for capitalism; they make it possible for us to actually argue for the right type of society – with vigor, certainty and moral certitude.

One key difference between all the views we have discussed above and those of Objectivism is that religious views fundamentally oppose the pursuit of happiness and self-interest. This is because they are animated by altruism which requires that man give up his mind to faith, that man is owned by the collective and that his only proper moral action is to sacrifice for others. The advocacy of altruism actually destroys hope and reason as it is an outgrowth of unreason and faith. It leads eventually to nihilism and dictatorship. For details on the causes of nihilism and dictatorship, I refer you to Ayn Rand’s writings.

Reason is the faculty that seeks to answer man’s most fundamental questions regarding the nature of existence (metaphysics), how man should use his mind (epistemology) and what he should pursue in life (ethics) as well as what kind of society will best enable him to live successfully on earth (politics).

Nature is the base upon which man lives. Reason, not a supernatural being, must be the metaphysical base from which he makes judgements about what is proper (good). In fact, life is the only standard for proper action. The good, in essence, is man-made.

Reality is what it is and it is possible to flourish and thrive on earth if we use reason to understand nature. Nature gives us the possibility of happiness but it does not give us happiness. Happiness can only come from choice, reason, a moral code and a way of seeing the world that yields understanding and knowledge.

Free will is not about mindless choice but about the capacity of man to focus his attention, to use reason, or not. The idea of faith then relegates choice solely to the question of rationalistic deduction from the existence of God, a point that is philosophically debatable at best. It removes man from thinking about the daily and long-term choices he must make if he is to accomplish his basic material and value needs. Faith makes sacrifice into man’s only real choice; a choice demanded by God – which is really not a choice. This is not the stuff upon which to base a social order or a “social contract.”

If we are going to be successful in winning back our free society, we must stand for ideas that can be defended on this earth, ideas that can help us drive home the message: “I want to be free” with an unrelenting force of argument. We need to stand, again and again, for individual rights, property rights, the freedom of choice and limited government. We need to be moral agents for freedom, true radicals for capitalism standing firm upon what we know, standing firm on arguments that could change the minds of people who are not swayed by conservative ideas such as faith, hope and charity. We need to insist on our rights, especially among those who are not swayed by conservative ideas.

Can conservatives save capitalism? The answer is “No.” We cannot save capitalism without standing up for individual rights. We must proudly declare man’s right to be affluent, his right to capital accumulation, his right to earn massive amounts of money (if he chooses to be highly productive), and his right to pursue happiness in any way that his rational mind decides.

We cannot save capitalism without also recognizing the role of reason in man’s life and in his ethics. We cannot save capitalism by declaring that we really seek the same goals as the collectivists (charity) and that we merely take issue with the means of reaching that goal. We will lose that argument every time.

Compassionate conservativism is not something people can cheer about. Not only does it not appeal to those who want a rational foundation for capitalism, it cannot change the minds of those honest people who have mistakenly accepted on faith a progressive’s view of history.

One does not have to dive into the depths of the ineffable in order to provide a foundation for principles that are effable. Man is here, on earth, he lives on earth, thinks on earth, his nature functions on earth and his mind is fully capable of understanding, learning and thriving…on earth. If you want to understand how to support arguments for capitalism, look at the facts.

You must ask yourself, with the basic premises of the right and the left today, who would support dismantling the welfare state? Neither the progressives nor the conservatives can do it. Who would have the courage to say that we aren’t going to take care of people (who really don't need to be taken care of)? Who would not slump into nothingness under an onslaught of leftist rhetoric that blames the right for hating the poor, wanting to kill the poor, wanting to destroy our (socialist) values and being in the pay of capitalists? Would Beck?

He could only say that he too wants to help the poor, but he would prefer that such help be offered voluntarily. The left and the right would laugh and tell Mr. Beck that you can’t help that many people with private charity. And, the left, with full righteousness and conviction, would scream that you can’t help the "helpless" when everyone is out for themselves and stealing from the poor. As long as altruism is considered the “practical” way to run society, you’ll never be able to make a change that will “work.”

So who’s going to save capitalism?

  • Source--------------Epistemology-------Metaphysics------------Ethics/Morality

  • Religion:-----------Faith------------------Hope-----------------------Altruism

  • Beck:----------------Faith------------------Hope----------------------Altruism

  • Gilder:--------------Faith-----------------Hope-----------------------Altruism

  • Marx:---------------Faith-----------------Hope-----------------------Altruism

  • President Obama: Faith--------------Hope------------------------Altruism

  • Objectivism:-------Reason--------------Free Will-------------The Pursuit of Happiness

[1] Religion versus America, Ford Hall Forum Speech, Dr. Leonard Peikoff,



[4] review by johnthirdearl of George Gilder’s Wealth and Poverty:

[5] “The New Right” by Peter Schwartz, The Intellectual Activist, quoted by Ayn Rand in her Ford Hall Forum speech, The Age of Mediocrity.

[6] A History of Philosophy” by Wilhelm Windelband, Googlebooks version.

Final note: I would like to state explicitly that I am not a spokesperson for the philosophy and ideas of Objectivism and Ayn Rand. My understanding of her philosophy is strictly my own and I should not to be taken as a spokesperson for her ideas.

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