August 31, 2015 by Liberty
I was recently accused of having a religious devotion to the free market. I found this to be a really fascinating argument. On the surface, I could completely understand where the argument was coming from. I am an absolute perfect source if you want to accuse someone of being religiously devoted to the free market.
This blog is written specifically for libertarians. That means many of the topics don’t go specifically into how the free market works. I’m not trying to convince my audience of that point. I’m just trying to bring up some tangentially related subject that comes up in the assumption you already are a libertarian. So, for a non-libertarian to read it, it sounds like those beliefs were faith based when to the audience they’re just generally accepted.
(In other words: A historian doesn’t need to cite sources when mentioning that Lincoln got assassinated particularly when discussing it with other historians. If that historian did list sources, his knowledgeable audience would roll their eyes and stop listening. To an observant listener that was clueless about American history, the historian might sound religious skipping sources and evidence.)
I do not agree that I’m religiously devoted but assuming I am religiously devoted, I’m sure as hell not religiously devoted to capitalism or the free market. Those would just be consequences of a devotion to the non-aggression principle. Given the option between a violent solution and a non-violent solution, (without overwhelming proof,) I will always lean towards the non-violent one. I will assume non-violence is better than violence.
That being said, that’s the same as saying, I deal with violence on a case by case basis. Assuming you’re not a fan of the non-aggression principle (or perhaps the all-aggression principle,) you probably do that too. The only key difference is the “without overwhelming proof,” or definition of it. If I were religious, proof wouldn’t matter. Perhaps overwhelming proof is another means of saying, “without unprovable proof.” (In the same way believers in god used to have god live in the clouds but once we saw he wasn’t there it was clarified as a metaphor. God will forever be what we don’t know.)
Maybe you think that’s the case with me. Alright then I’m a hopeless case. This proves absolutely nothing about the ideas behind libertarianism in general. It’s not even a scratch relevant that it’s possible to have religious devotions to a belief.
Religious Devotion To Evolution
Accusing libertarians of being devoted to the religion of the free market (or capitalism etc.) comes off kind of like a Catholic person accusing a believer in evolution of being religious towards evolution. The catholic person offers evidence of evolution’s flaws and says that the believer in evolution can’t accept those flaws because of their religious devotion to evolution. (I particularly love this because it’s an ad hominem attack saying “you’re just like me!”)
This is silly though. I’m sure we all appreciate the high standards of evidence required to get these catholic people to believe but it would be nice if they held that high standard of evidence for their own belief in god.
There is a fundamental difference between evolution and religion. Evolution can be proven wrong. (In fact, as with everything in science, eventually evolution as we see it today will look naive to the even better opinion we will have then.) Religion can never be proven wrong. Most religious people don’t even try to hide this fact. They take pride in their “faith.”
Some evolutionary theorists may be religious about their beliefs in evolution. Some will never change their minds. As the paraphrased corpse of Max Planck might say, “science advances one funeral at a time.” Scientists aren’t even good at changing their mind. Most of the time the old ones just die off leaving the new ones that were raised with the new ideas.
This is not something that most people are proud of. Religion, on the other hand, is proud of it. When everything in the world is making it look like religion isn’t true, a good believer in religion doubles down with more faith. (I respect the honesty.)
Libertarianism in general is not a faith based exercise. In most cases, opponents use the softer phrase “some libertarians” but “some” means absolutely nothing; some evolutionary theorists are faithful in it; some of the greatest scientists in history had faith in god. Libertarianism has piles and piles of supporters that didn’t and don’t use faith based arguments.
Mises, Rothbard, Friedman, and more have written books and books of well received academic pieces using the same standards of evidence as their opponents. Quite frankly, I’m willing to bet I’ve read more well cited sources than 90% of the person claiming that I am religious about libertarianism. (That doesn’t prove anything but it’s just to illustrate my feelings about this more clearly.)
To accuse libertarianism of being based on faith is to put yourself in a very tough position trying to prove that what you believe is based on something else. If all the evidence I have is religious material and all the evidence you have is fact then you have to be able to define why. (If you’re going to do that there are plenty of skilled academics that would gladly discuss it with you. I don’t even pretend to be in that category.)
The Free Market As God
This is the most fun point to debunk. When people suggest that the free market (or capitalism) is the god of libertarianism, this just tickles me a little.
The free market is the independent actions of billions of human beings (not being coerced.) This definition may not please every libertarian completely but it’s the general idea behind the free market as defined by libertarians. Dictionary definitions are pretty much variations on this focusing on economic systems.
The independent actions of billions of people are not the same thing as god. It’s kind of the opposite. God is an all-powerful entity or something supernatural. The actions of billions of people is not all-powerful or supernatural. It’s called nature. It’s what we can observe when we look out our windows. It’s life.
I don’t need faith to believe in free market competition. I can see it in grocery flyers every week. I can see it in classified ads. Supply and demand is all around me. My observations of it lead to virtually everything I choose to do. (“Eggs are getting expensive. Maybe it’s time to cut back. Maybe I’ll just work more.”)
What About Belief In Government?
How often does a politician live up to their promises? How often does a political program actually do what it promises to do (did welfare reduce poverty? did the money trickle down to you?) How often in history did governments do what they promised to do? How many “good” governments were there through history versus bad ones? And how good were the good ones versus how bad the bad ones were?
I’m not going to try to make a case to prove what I think because if you agree with me you already know. If you don’t agree with me and don’t find yourself curious enough to answer the questions yourself then I’d just be wasting my time.
Are some libertarians religiously devoted to libertarianism? Sure, in the same way some statists are religiously devoted to statism. (In the same way some scientists are religious about their disproved theories. In the same way virtually everyone never changes their mind when presented with contrary facts.)
Just like with a historian that doesn’t cite his sources for Lincoln’s assassination, you can’t assume that the decision was came to on faith (particularly if he wasn’t talking to you.) It could be faith based or it could be evidence based where the sources aren’t cited. To accidentally assume is to show exactly the framework you are thinking from.
If I try to make a logical argument against religion, it would be like me saying I had no idea what religion was. I would be coming from a evidence based position while the people in faith-land would be saying, “What the hell are you talking about?”
If I assume that a statist came to their conclusions based on their religious devotion to government then I’d be thinking from a faith based mindset. Evidence focused statists would naturally be saying, “What the hell are you talking about?”
Consider this article my subtle, slow, and slightly over complicated way of saying:
What the hell are you talking about?
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