To Attack Capitalism Is To Attack Human Nature

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Never letting a crisis go to waste has become a progressive credo for transformative change. While one hand fans the fires, the other provides momentum for change heretofore unfathomable. The current economic maelstrom has provided the opportunistic left with the perfect excuse to pin blame for our economic problems on the inherent flaws of capitalism.

Enter Humanities professor Eugene McCarraher and his tendentious article The End of Capitalism and the Wellsprings of Radical Hope where he declares ex cathedra the need to destroy capitalism in favor of a yet another ill-defined progressive utopia. McCarraher rolls out the usual leftist arguments mischaracterizing capitalism followed by vague references to ideals and lofty goals. In the end, the reader is left with elusive platitudes without any clear understanding of what exactly McCarraher is proposing, other than more government control and the ever-popular hope.

Not to disappoint, McCarraher presents his opening salvo against capitalism with the de rigueur reference to Marx, which serves as a reminder that although Marxism has been thoroughly discredited in practice it still thrives in the rarified academic ranks of the left. McCarraher's argument against capitalism is that it is "unjust as a political economy and rapacious in its relationship to the natural world." And, of course, no progressive critique of capitalism would be complete without the obligatory indictment of how capitalism "compels us to be greedy, callous and petty."

McCarraher's denunciation of capitalism is in fact an attack on human nature disguised as political discourse. The "pernicious" traits he attributes to capitalism are, in fact, traits globally present in every political/social order-in many cases far worse in non-capitalistic societies-because they are traits of humanity itself.

His entire argument against capitalism consists of nothing more than an elaborate correlation-proves-causation fallacy (cum hoc ergo propter hoc - "with this, therefore because of this"). He wants us to believe that since capitalism contains greed it causes greed. Furthermore, McCarraher seems content to overlook the fact that capitalism is an organic economic system not created as much as evolving naturally as a consequence of free individuals interacting with other free individuals. Private property and the production of goods may be a part of capitalism, but its most essential virtue is as a guardian of man's freedom.

Criticizing capitalism for its avarice is not unlike condemning representative democracy for its failure to elect the wisest of men - each may occur, but it is not relevant to their fundamental purpose. Both capitalism and representative democracy maximize freedom by diffusing power and responsibility across the broadest spectrum of society. Rigid control is antithetical to freedom and it is this that most vexes the liberal intellectual.

What McCarraher is unwilling to come to terms with is that his inherent criticism of capitalism is not so much an indictment of capitalism but rather a revealing supposition he is making about humanity itself. His attack on capitalism masks a general contempt for a free people who in his worldview will inevitably choose a path of greed and avarice unless a coercive political order prevents it. Therefore, any liberal political/economic system proposed to replace capitalism must have at its core a process through which the masses are controlled and coerced to overcome the human attributes so abhorred by the liberal intellectual that he wrongly attributes to capitalism rather than people.

McCarraher presents the reader with a moral crusade cleverly cloaked as political theory. He sees the Deadly Sins ever present in modern capitalism, and like the fourth century ascetic Evagrius Ponticus, McCarraher seems particularly obsessed with man's rapacious gluttony. While capitalism's natural and organic nature is condemned for its "deliberate nurturance of our vilest qualities" he fails to put forth the ramifications of the artificial and contrived alternative.

The progressive alternative to capitalism must of necessity resemble Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor because the crux of the matter for both modern liberals and Dostoyevsky is human freedom. The infinite variety that is millions of people making millions of decisions to reflect their own self interest needs to be replaced with a 21st century Ubermensch or new political aristocracy that is able to impose on the masses a sin-free, enlightened order. Redemption comes through man's inability to choose the indulgence of sin, and as such the anointed elite - having removed man's freedom - become the deliverers of man's salvation by taking upon themselves the burden of choice. Mankind, now being absolved of the burden of freedom, can live content without the anxiety of responsibility.

However beautiful the veneer of his lofty rhetoric, this "Wellspring" is in the end enslavement. The only way to deliver mankind from the demon Mammon will be by removing the greatest gift of the gods - freedom. In this Faustian exchange we are guaranteed the Marxist security of bread, authoritarian certainty of order and utopian unity of world government.

Far from new, McCarraher's Wellspring of Radical Hope is one more self-righteous proclamation by a moral prig intent on delivering mankind to elusive Olympian heights. Beyond the rhetoric, one suspects this experiment would end as other such utopian pursuits have concluded in history - hopeless.

Mark Hunter is Professor of Humanities at St. Petersburg College. 

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