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Wouldn’t Know It If It Bit Them on the Nose

April 9th, 2009 by Bill Brown · 3 Comments · Culture

A recent poll by the Rasmussen Reports indicates that support for “capitalism” has dropped to 53% of those surveyed. Given the pillorying the “free market” has endured by President Obama, I am honestly surprised that that many Americans would admit to believing in capitalism.

The problem with this survey is that most Americans haven’t the faintest notion of what “capitalism” means. When Obama can say “I strongly believe in a free-market system” and no one disputes that, I think it’s safe to say that the definition of capitalism has become too inclusive.

Capitalism is the political system that protects the individual’s rights to life, liberty, and property. That definition is sufficient to distinguish it from all the other political systems that ever were or ever will be. Capitalism is not “the political system that has markets” or “the political system where lots of industries are private” or the tautologous “the political system of the United States.” European socialism fits many of those descriptions, and that’s what the leftists are counting on.

Words and definitions are important. We defenders of freedom have let “liberalism” and “progressive” slip out of our grasp, but we must not let them take “capitalism.” It gives statists the guise of respectability, of being descended from a tradition of freedom, individualism, and independence that made this country great. They know that and they use it at every opportunity. We must call them on it.

[UPDATE: Added definition paragraph as an obvious oversight.]

3 Comments so far ↓

  • Burgess Laughlin

    I applaud your definition of capitalism as a political system that protects individual rights. That is the cause. The effect is a free market.

    Your definition is a definition by essential (causal) characteristics.

    Being able to and desiring to define concepts objectively is even more rare than a proper definition of capitalism. Learning better thinking skills must come before political change can come. There is a long road ahead for changing the culture.

  • Jim May

    I agree, despite the fact that “capitalism” appears to have originated as the first anti-concept, coined by the 19th century Marxists in order to derogate “the system of natural liberty” by reducing its meaning from the all-encompassing “system of natural liberty” to merely an economic system. The goal was to introduce the false dichotomy between “economic” and “political” freedom, so that they could then attack the Enlightenment politics at its weakest point — property rights — while still posing as defenders of “political” freedom.

    I think it is crucial, in the defense of freedom, to insist that freedom is indivisible. Capitalism == freedom; one is the other. They are not merely corollaries, or interdependent, or interconnected — they are the same damn thing.

    Freedom is not contingent upon whether a particular choice or action is deemed “economic”. Individual rights do not cease to exist when a dollar changes hands.

    It is my as yet unresearched expectation that ALL of so-called political “science” and most economic theories, exist for the sole purpose of rationalizing government intervention into economic matters — and that the false distinction between “economic” and “political” freedom is the linchpin, without which they all fall down.

  • madmax

    Things economic are always granted less legal protections than things non-economic. Take for example political speech vs “commercial” speech. If it is commercial it is materialistic and therefore of lesser value. My guess is that this line of reasoning goes back to Christianity and its Platonic conception of the good. The good is an essence in a perfect, ideal realm. This earth is just a flawed reflection of the ideal or, in the Christian version, its outright base and depraved. Therefor anything material, like capitalism, can never be really good or moral. That’s reserved for things which are abstract and “transcendent”, things supposedly noble.

    I think this is why Conservatives can never really defend capitalism. As Christians (or Judeo-Christian sympathizers) they can never defend this lowly earth. Christianity’s (and Plato’s) dual metaphysics is killing mankind. In ways I don’t fully understand as yet, this attitude was secularized and has been adopted by the Left. Even if the Left would reject the mystical version, they still accept the essence of the belief that this earth is wicked.