Capitalism or socialism? What do? It is a strange feature of current western society that this debate continues to rage with such ferocity. It seems that all political divisions in Western nations today come down to this question, and both sides have their fervent adherents. Indeed, commitment to either side has taken on the flavor of religious devotion in some circles. How to explain this?
It has been argued by some scholars, accurately in my opinion, that hardcore Marxist socialism is a sort of secular, atheistic revamping of millennial Christianity. There is the myth of the golden age, followed by the fall, the judgement and redemption and finally the Kingdom of God and Heaven on Earth. We can track analogous phases in Marxist ideology to the pre-industrial era, the industrial revolution, the inevitable socialist revolution, with grandfather Marx playing the part of Christ (or Santa Claus), and then the socialist state and its final withering away to a perfect society as the Kingdom of God on Earth.
In recent years free market advocates have re-written this standard mythology for their own favored economic system with a few replacements. Mises, Rothbard or Friedman replace Marx as messiah and the perfect market, free from any coercive intervention by the state (Satan) replaces the socialist state as the Kingdom of God. My own intellectual movement away from this absolutist free market ideology came when I began to realize that it was just a rewriting of the Marxist and Christian myths to suit my own preferences. I realized I was going to have to start thinking a little harder about things.
I don’t think that economics is useless and I vastly prefer capitalism and a relatively free market to a centrally planned state-run economy. But this conclusion seems trivial to me now in comparison to the importance it once seemed to have. It is just the result of an empirical look at the evidence of history and a basic understanding of human incentives. It’s not that big a deal. Markets are a social default. They are just how people do shit. They sell stuff to each other. This is how most goods and services ought to be delivered in a society that wants to enjoy productivity and comfort above subsistence level. So why the religious fervor?
It’s because there is nothing else to believe in western society. Whether happy or dissatisfied with the status quo, people tend to point to the one institution that is actually visible in our culture, and that is capitalism or the market economy. It is the defining social institution, when it should just be what is going in on the background as a part of everyday life. The pervasiveness of anti-capitalist malcontents in the west is due to the fact that they feel empty and abandoned by society and culture, yet see nothing to attack but malls and big box retail stores. The revulsion to these types then leads more conservative and socially adaptable people to worship what the enemy claims is the devil. When I became a hardcore “anarcho-capitalist” it was a direct reaction to my revulsion for the “anarcho-communist” movement that I had been involved with in my teens and early twenties.
Liberalism and postmodernism have managed to deconstruct all other institutions that may give people a sense of belonging and comfort in society. Religion is moribund. Masculinity has been recast as evil, if not directly equivalent to rape. Traditional families are characterized as instruments of patriarchal oppression rather than social stability. White children are taught in government schools that their ancestors were evil genocidal maniacs and the “privileges” they enjoy today are nothing but the result of racist theft from more noble and deserving minorities. They are taught that they must forever sacrifice themselves to make up for the historical crimes of the white race. Any sort of group loyalty or group identity for white people is ruled out a-priori as equivalent to National Socialist barbarism. Meanwhile non-whites are taught that simple group membership in an “oppressed” category is a social achievement unto itself, so no need to strive for any actual accomplishments in life.
People feel unhinged, adrift and at sea because of this social deconstruction. There is nothing to hold onto to give ourselves meaning anymore. Given this it is not a surprise that many seek refuge in absolutist economic ideologies. We either all must be a part of one big happy group with no differences between any of us, or groups do not exist at all and we are just atomistic individuals who only relate to each other through trade and commerce.
Economics is just the gears, the nuts and bolts of a society, not its highest purpose or most important institution. But what else is there that has not been thoroughly deconstructed? While it is true that capitalist economics have been “deconstructed” in elitist academic circles, these ridiculous and turgid theories are not taken very seriously outside of their own echo chamber and are really just another example of people taking on an economic theory with religious devotion.
A belief in absolutist socialism or communism gives one the sense of group belonging and working together for a common goal that is lacking for so many that feel alienated by empty consumerist culture. A belief in absolutist capitalism gives the sense of individualism and superiority that the more intelligent and creative long for. Business leadership provides the only outlet for leadership skills and superiority that is still socially acceptable. In the end though, our society needs a better unifying value system at its core than simply “I voluntarily sell you something, and you do the same for me.” or “We all share everything equally.”