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.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Commentary

More about: Adam Smith, Capitalism, Religion

 

Iran’s Responsibility for West Bank Terror

On Friday, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli police officer and was then shot by another officer after trying to grab his rifle. Commenting on the many similar instances of West Bank-based terror during the past several months, Amit Saar, a senior IDF intelligence officer, predicted that the violence will likely grow worse in the coming year. Yoni Ben Menachem explains the Islamic Republic’s role in fueling this wave of terrorism:

The escape of six terrorists from Gilboa prison in September 2021 was the catalyst for the establishment of new terrorist groups in the northern West Bank, according to senior Islamic Jihad officials. The initiative to establish new armed groups was undertaken by Palestinian Islamic Jihad in coordination with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, implementing the strategy of Qassem Suleimani—the commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards who was assassinated in Iraq by the U.S.—of using proxies to achieve the goals of expansion of the Iranian regime.

After arming Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Iran moved in the last year to support the new terrorist groups in the northern West Bank. Iran has been pouring money into the Islamic Jihad organization, which began to establish new armed groups under the name of “Battalions,” which also include terrorists from other organizations such as Fatah, Hamas, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. First, the “Jenin Battalion” was established in the city of Jenin, followed the “Nablus Battalion.”

Despite large-scale arrest operation by the IDF and the Shin Bet in the West Bank, Islamic Jihad continues to form new terrorist groups, including the “Tulkarem Battalion,” the “Tubas Battalion,” and the “Balata Battalion” in the Balata refugee camp.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Palestinian terror, West Bank