Religious Left and Right Quibble Over Human Carnage, But Agree to Keep Hating Capitalism

by | Feb 13, 2021

For religious reasons, mainly, conservatives like Dennis Prager are unable to defend capitalism. They share more premises with socialists-fascists than they admit, yet rightly recognize them as fellow religionists. 

More than ever, freedom lovers today should reject the false choice between religious-mystical (conservative) capitalism and so-called “secular socialism.”[1] The only rational and viable alternative is secular capitalism. The three best constitutional capitalists who are also secular are novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand, political economist James Buchanan, and political theorist Robert Nozick. Going farther back in time, it is also worth studying the works of John Locke, Alexander Hamilton, and Jean-Baptiste Say,[2] as they too were rational pro-capitalists. Reading them all – and their best intellectual allies and descendants – will bring you a long way toward becoming a genuine pro-capitalist, able to promote it against foes who share more (false) premises than not.

It is an odd yet common phenomenon these days to observe religious conservatives deriding their alleged foes for being dogmatic-religious in their beliefs.  The foes are accused (rightly) of ignoring facts and/or refusing to “follow the science.” But this is precisely what religionists also fail to do, to the extent they resort to mere faith, believe in unreal things, and extoll human sacrifice. We hear from many a conservative today that “socialism is a religion” or “environmentalism is a religion.” Yes, but is the conservative thereby endorsing the approach – or eschewing religion? Neither? He cannot have it both ways – unless he eschews reason (as he does whenever he wishes).

Religionist Dennis Prager, founder of PragerU and a darling of today’s most-followed conservatives (Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, Tucker Carlson, etc.), recently condemned socialists for being more dogmatic than . . . religionists.  It is a common theme also of his many acolytes.  Apparently, Prager does not like the “competition.”  In his recent podcast (February 11, 2021), he implicitly condoned “fanaticism” and “extinguishing human life,” so long as they emanate from “real” religion and are slightly less lethal:

“My entire life I have called leftism a substitute for religion. It is a secular religion, and secular religions in the modern era are far more fanatical than God-based religions. No religion – including even Islamic terrorism – has come close, in the modern era, to extinguishing life, as communism and Nazism, two secular movements.”

Notice how Prager limits his account to “the modern era” (the past century only?) when socialism-fascism impoverished and killed multi-millions of people.[3]  Yes, those ideologies have been evil and lethal; they still dominate political regimes in North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela. But Prager’s much-preferred and much-touted “God-based religions” impoverished and killed multi-millions of people in the pre-modern (Medieval) era, which lasted a thousand years. The religion-dominated millennia before the 14th century Renaissance (a “rebirth” of reason) was barbaric, violent, and poor.[4] Where religion is still taken seriously today – meaning an anti-modernist, Dark Ages form (e.g., Iran) – it is no less evil, lethal, or impoverishing.

Why does Prager quibble with leftists about degrees of fanaticism (irrationality) and the number of body bags generated by dogmatism? Why not reject fanaticism and dogmatism per se? Why not preclude human misery and body counts by rejecting the false ideologies and lethal political systems that cause them? Both “sides” here – the religious left and religious right alike – still believe and promulgate the creed that human sacrifice is “noble,” “moral,” “ideal.” Why the surprise, then, when each “side” contributes to human misery and bloodshed? Sacrifice requires it. If altruism – i.e., other-ism and self-sacrifice – is the dominant moral code, there will be blood. There must be. But no one is obliged, in reason, to accept this false and fatal choice. If any prayer is worth uttering, it is: “God, please save us from those who believe in you.”[5]

For religious reasons, mainly, conservatives like Mr. Prager are unable (and/or unwilling) to defend (let alone extoll) capitalism.[6]  They share more premises with socialists-fascists than they admit, yet rightly recognize them as fellow religionists.

Mr. Prager should be bothered that religion, which he champions, provides a model for the “modern-era” secular anti-humanists. Religion itself, whether adopted by the left or the right, harms humans, the species that can live and flourish only by a moral code of rational egoism.  It is no coincidence that the best era for general peace and prosperity on Earth – lasting roughly two centuries – occurred during the pro-reason, pro-individualist, pro-capitalist Enlightenment (1700s) and its aftermath (1800s). Watch closely how the two sets of dogmatists today, who only seem to differ and fight, in fact generally agree that the secular-capitalist model must be denied or destroyed.

 

References:

[1] To be clear on terminology, “secular” simply means non-religious, which itself does not specify how one views metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, or politics. One may reject religion by embracing materialism (Karl Marx) or skepticism (David Hume), but neither position is pro-reason; the latter position is secular but also consonant with the facts of reality (including human nature) and with the necessary intellectual foundation of capitalism.

[2] Apropos these thinkers, see related works of mine: “Economics in Atlas Shrugged,” Chapter 6 in Edward W. Younkins (editor), Perspectives on Ayn Rand’s Contributions to Economic and Business Thought (Lexington Books, 2018), pp. 99-136; “America at Her Best Is Hamiltonian.” The Objective Standard 12(1) Spring 2017, pp. 12-42; “Best Case for Capitalism,” The Capitalist Standard, October 10, 2017; “Say’s Law versus Keynesian Economics,” American Institute for Economic Research, February 9, 2020; and “The Basic Truths of Saysian Economics and Their Contemporary Relevance,” Foundation for Economic Education,” July 1, 2020.

[3] See The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Harvard University Press, 1999), Atrocities: The 100 Deadliest Episodes in Human History (2012), and Death by Government: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900 (Transaction Publishers, 1994).

[4] Harvard psychologist Stephen Pinker ably recounts the steep decline in violence that occurred globally due to the lesser dominance of religion and the spread of reason during the Renaissance and Enlightenment: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011). Note, however, that Pinker – who elsewhere extolls reason and science – here uses a religious metaphor to “explain” the phenomenon. In fact, violence did not decline much until men began to reject belief in “angels,” “devils,” “demons,” “ghosts,” and “witches.”

[5] Alternatively, per French Enlightenment atheist Voltaire: “I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it.” (Letter to Letter to Étienne Noël Damilaville, May 16, 1767). Voltaire also was wont to say that “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest,” which relates to the two types of dogmatists (of force and faith) I discuss above.

[6] Richard M. Salsman, “Why Conservatives Won’t Defend Capitalism,” Capitalism Magazine, May 12, 2019.

 

Dr. Salsman is president of InterMarket Forecasting, Inc., an assistant professor of political economy at Duke University and a senior fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research. Previously he was an economist at Wainwright Economics, Inc. and a banker at the Bank of New York and Citibank. Dr. Salsman has authored three books: Breaking the Banks: Central Banking Problems and Free Banking Solutions (AIER, 1990), Gold and Liberty (AIER, 1995), and The Political Economy of Public Debt: Three Centuries of Theory and Evidence (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2017). In 2021 his fourth book – Where Have all the Capitalist Gone? – will be published by the American Institute for Economic Research. He is also author of a dozen chapters and scores of articles. His work has appeared in the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy, Reason Papers, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Forbes, the Economist, the Financial Post, the Intellectual Activist, and The Objective Standard. Dr. Salsman earned his B.A. in economics from Bowdoin College (1981), his M.A. in economics from New York University (1988), and his Ph.D. in political economy from Duke University (2012). His personal website is richardsalsman.com.

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