Capitalism’s Roots May Lie in Religion. And That’s Not a Bad Thing

In his book Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Benjamin M. Friedman demonstrates the influence of theology on the origins and development of modern economic thought, and most importantly on the ideas of Adam Smith. Tal Fortgang finds much to learn “from this richly detailed work of intellectual history,” but also notes some strange gaps, and, more importantly, faulty presuppositions:

Friedman’s premise, the unstated assumption that gives his findings their supposed punch, is that it is somehow surprising that theology and economics should have ever been so intertwined. . . . Having found traces of anti-predestinarian theology in Smith’s work, Friedman proceeds as if Smith’s defense of capitalism should now appear more provincial, something like a byproduct of an unlikely religious milieu that stuck around by historical accident. . . . If this is so, then American free-market mythology has been exposed as an article of faith masquerading as a reasonable political view.

But economic arguments are always bound up in religious arguments, . . . because how we conduct our human affairs always depends on how we view humanity and human nature—a question that theology and religion have always sought to illuminate. By no means is such reflection limited to the free-market right. When activists today demand “economic justice” or redistribution, they are making a claim about what economic arrangements provide a standard of living due to individuals by their nature.

In his haste to explain the endurance of capitalist superstition, Friedman thus overlooks the problem posed by Smith’s continued resonance: maybe free-market ideology endures because the system it encourages—one of “capitalist acts between consenting adults,” as Robert Nozick put it, where free people may pursue happiness as they see fit—is precisely what centuries of immigrants came to America for. Or maybe market economies endure because they achieve the most progress we can hope to gain in a fallen world, by producing historically unimaginable living standards for the average worker.

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Read more at Commentary

More about: Adam Smith, Capitalism, Religion

 

Is the Attempt on Salman Rushdie’s Life Part of a Broader Iranian Strategy?

Aug. 18 2022

While there is not yet any definitive evidence that Hadi Matar, the man who repeatedly stabbed the novelist Salman Rushdie at a public talk last week, was acting on direct orders from Iranian authorities, he has made clear that he was inspired by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s call for Rushdie’s murder, and his social-media accounts express admiration for the Islamic Republic. The attack also follows on the heels of other Iranian attempts on the lives of Americans, including the dissident activist Masih Alinejad, the former national security advisor John Bolton, and the former secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was held hostage by the mullahs for over two years, sees a deliberate effort at play:

It is no coincidence this flurry of Iranian activity comes at a crucial moment for the hitherto-moribund [nuclear] negotiations. Iranian hardliners have long opposed reviving the 2015 deal, and the Iranians have made a series of unrealistic and seemingly ever-shifting demands which has led many to conclude that they are not negotiating in good faith. Among these is requiring the U.S. to delist the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its entirety from the State Department’s list of terror organizations.

The Biden administration and its European partners’ willingness to make concessions are viewed in Tehran as signals of weakness. The lack of a firm response in the shocking attack on Salman Rushdie will similarly indicate to Tehran that there is little to be lost and much to be gained in pursuing dissidents like Alinejad or so-called blasphemers like Sir Salman on U.S. soil.

If we don’t stand up for our values when under attack we can hardly blame our adversaries for assuming that we have none. Likewise, if we don’t erect and maintain firm red lines in negotiations our adversaries will perhaps also assume that we have none.

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Read more at iNews

More about: Iran, Terrorism, U.S. Foreign policy