No Political Gods

Some brief comments concerning Doug Bandow’s post, A Liberal God at the Daily Caller. I find many typically make the mistake of associating Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” with “The Wealth of Nations,” and not with the actual work, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” where Smith actually introduced his famous metaphorical term. Smith was not interested in rooting morality in the supernatural or any god. Rather he was interested in rooting it in sociology, and his theory of moral sentiments attempts to explain sympathy/empathy(i.e., humans as “other-regarding”) as emergent properties of self-regarding(i.e., egoist) agent interaction. This is “the invisible hand.”

Theologians, or evangelicals, or whatever type of religious creatures like Jim Wallis, when they mutter such things as:

Emphasizing individual rights at the expense of others violates the common good.

They are not liberals. They are not even remotely left wing or of the left. Rather they are the descendants of a long line of priestly authoritarians who root morality in the authority of a Church-State ruling class.

Recently, Cato Unbound had a topic on Darwin and Liberalism. The whole thing, to me, was a conflation of “the Invisible Hand” with Neoclassical Perfect Competition. No, Darwin, or evolutionary psychology, or whatever, does not provide any scientific basis for the notion that spontaneous order obviates the need for dispute resolution(perfect competition equilibrium implies no firms, and hence, the absence of dispute resolution) or collective action. However, the Darwin model provides a considerable scientific paradigm that backs up Smith’s original work on moral sentiments. Morality can be rooted in liberty, and not in political or religious authority. This is liberalism. And this was a topic I discussed in a previous post, Markets and Fairness, at Freedom Democrats.

I also understand that at the recent FreedomFest, Doug Casey debated Dinesh D’Souza over the positive role of religion from a liberal or libertarian perspective. Apparently, the debate audience overwhelmingly sided with D’Souza, which, I suppose, indicates the conservative tilt of FreedomFest.

Bandow’s case was against a “liberal god” condemnation of the “Tea Party.” Well, that’s an easy enough case to make. I would just add, however, that the bigger issue is likely the specter of a right-wing Jesus leading the movement.

I don’t have much good to say about either left-wing or right-wing Christianity. Fuck Jim Wallis and Fuck Michele Bachmann and fuck their political Jesuses. Heaven is for the politicos; hell is for those of us who have to bear the burden of the outcomes…

4 thoughts on “No Political Gods

  1. It is important to get the facts straight on claims about my position on religion and libertarianism.

    I attended FreedomFest and spoke on foreign policy. I did not debate Dinesh D’Souza, with whom I agreed and who won his debate overwhelmingly. Years ago I wrote a book on the subject of libertarianism and Christianity entitled Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics.

    • Hi, Doug:

      I am not sure where I am getting my facts wrong. I wrote that Doug Casey debated D’Souza, not you. In my post, I didn’t criticize your position on religion and libertarianism. My only implied criticism of you was tangential in the following two-fold way:

      1) the sin of omission: omitting any references to right-wing Christianity and the problems a “Conservative God” pose to the libertarian movement

      2) a particularly implied criticism of using the Bible as a source of authority to debate liberalism and the proper role of government

      The original post was a sort of stream-of-conscious rant. Let me clarify what i was saying.

      Wallis’ assertion can paraphrased: “Liberty is inimical to the common good.” Or in a more modern parlance, “more choices is contrary to the common good.” This sentiment is not liberalism, whether the “classical” or “modern” variant. And I’m not particularly interested in the authority of Jesus or the Apostle Paul regarding this matter. Having read the New Testament, I can say neither had much to say regarding politics other than to obey the state(btw, I am not all interested in debating this point).

      I’m interested in the sociological basis of morality(i.e., humans being “other regarding”). This is why I brought up Adam Smith. Both liberalism and libertarianism are rooted in, I believe, social orders based on reason and empiricism and not authority. And this is why I also brought up the Cato Unbound recent topic, “Darwin and Liberalism.” The sentiment over there was to disparage any Darwinian interpretation of a classical political economy. That to me, that tilt of the debate was sort of beside the point. I think science has quite a bit to say about morality. In particular, I think the modern evolutionary psychological model validates Smith’s treatment of morality. I was trying support this by point by referencing an old post, Markets and Fairness, at Freedom Democrats. That post made reference to an exhaustive 15 year study published in science that explored the evolutionary underpinnings of the societal complexity of large, unrelated groups. The findings demonstrated an “invisible hand” or sorts that worked as a selector of institutions and norms that facilitated successful exchange and interaction in a larger society beyond disjointed sociopathical tribal local networks. In other words, markets universalize values across cultures and groups. Put in another way, markets are a mechanism of extending human other-regarding sense of morality beyond a self-contained moral “other regarding” limited to the local network of durable kin and reciprocity-based relationships.

      To be fair, In the Science study, (World) Religion was another primary factor that had some positive covariance with universalization of values. However, I find the rise of both Christian and Islamic fundamentalism disturbing. I am perplexed how someone like D’Souza–who I consider to be more or less a fundamentalist, who holds intelligent design views, who criticizes separation of church and state, who holds neoconservative positions on war, and who blames the rise of Islamic fundamentalism on the “cultural left”–is taken seriously by libertarians.

      I have a particularly low opinion of the positive role of religion these days. And, I ascribe to a “power elite analysis,” a type of libertarian class theory to explain the rise of fundamentalism. I think the West, after the post WW I ending of the Ottoman Empire, is largely responsible for the flaming up of islamic fundamentalism. The attempt of political-economic domination of oil resource rich regions, the covert support of islamic religious fundamentalism as a means to counter the “strategic threat” of an “atheist” Soviet Union in the region; not to mention, using the “Old Testament” as a rationale to steal people’s property to politically re-create a Biblical Israel. Nor I should mention, historically, it was not the muslims who persecuted the Jews, it was Christian Europe.

      In the United States, as a result of 60s radicalism, we have had an ongoing communitarian culture war. This cultural war created a revival of Christian fundamentalism, particularly in politics. This right-wing communitarianism, as I call it, merged with “libertarian economics,” made a powerful political force. But it is the conservative cultural side, merged with nationalism and exceptionalism, as a political attack on the communitarian cultural left, that underlies the unaccountable growth of the National Security State.

      From a libertarian class analysis, I see the State, the Ruling Classes, flaming religious fundamentalism and using it to sustain the Permanent War Economy(I should note, I don’t view using religious fundamentalism by the State as some type of original grand conspiratorial plan; I see it more in terms of an emergent property of a lineage of consequences and decisions by a class of people who are not burdened with bearing the consequences of the outcomes).

      I don’t think there is much of an argument for the positive role of religion these days, at least not in terms of any political analysis. It is an opiate of the Permanent War Economy.

  2. dl, did I ever tell you how much I love the phrase “sociopathy of the tribe”? It’s got a ring that is right up there with “cult of the omnipotent state”, but I think it is much more understandable.

    • “Sociopathy of the Tribe” is more succinct way to say to Human empathy restricted to local networks of durable kin and reciprocity-based relationships. But it is also meant to convey, in the modern context, that there is an institutional component to morality. Exclusive institutions are sociopathic. Nationalism is an easy example. Most political institutions, particularly those that are centralized, are sociopathic. I could go on.

      Sociopathy, which is an institutional problem should be distinct from psychopathy, which is a neurological problem that afflicts a tiny percentage of humans. There is no institutional solution to handle lack of empathy in psychopaths. But then again, psychopathy would never be any dominant phenotype in any human environment as a result of natural selection.

      I wrote a previous criticism of the likes of Brad Delong on this matter, who conflated the “invisible Hand” with pyschopathy. They don’t have a clue what they are talking about. I think “the Sociopathy of the Tribe” is a nice conceptual rebuttal against the ignorant drivel criticism of “the invisible hand.”

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