Misunderstanding Conservatism

Anti-capitalist noises issuing from Christian conservative quarters are getting louder today as Mark Granza observes in his Areo’s article. But they are just as garbled and enigmatic as the anti-socialist noises they’ve previously used to justify libertarian sympathies. Keeping the state small has been a preoccupation Christian conservatives in the West have shared with libertarians, who believe big government stifles the free market. Though Granza faithfully reiterates the woolly Western Christian conservative thinking which rules free markets to be incompatible with self-mastery (a core conservative value) his prescribed remedy of eschewing libertarianism and the ideal of free market capitalism is worse than the misdiagnosed illness. Christian conservatism neither precludes nor recommends a commitment to libertarianism, or capitalism. However, in this space, I will only address the claims Granza makes alleging capitalism per se is incompatible with Christian conservatism.

Granza alleges that abstinence and renunciation are made harder by consumerism and the free market capitalism which “commercializes everything.” This is specious reasoning. Refraining from indulgence when every desired pleasure is readily available, foregoing niceties made possible by the cunning and industry of cunning and industrious men, is precisely what makes abstinence and renunciation virtues. If the only thing keeping you from committing adultery is the unavailability of hook-up apps facilitating casual uncommitted sex with strangers in your vicinity, you aren’t abstinent; you’re a hypocrite. If what keeps you from gorging on McDonald’s is the absence of McDonald’s outlets in your area your problem isn’t capitalism, or inequality, but a failure of personal behaviour to be governed by an internal locus of control, or robust conception of one’s better self.

Pace Granza it is easy to see what he decries as constraints capitalism places on conservatism are actually affordances provided by the free market for conservatives to exercise and strengthen the virtues they profess to hold dear. Commercializing everything forces people, conservatives and liberals alike, to curtail their desires to fit their budget, it provides the economic conditions which make it possible to learn virtue and become virtuous; attain the state of grace in which individual desire is perfectly aligned with what is good for the self and the world at large.

One would make the same mistake as Granza if one concluded that being chastened by the market to stretch oneself out only as far as one’s bed and blanket will allow is the same as becoming virtuous in the sense of the term used by Christian conservatives. All things considered, it is beyond doubt that even a spur that instructs behaviour from an external locus of control, compels virtuous behaviour, like the post-exilic Christian God compelled his people to act in accordance with commandments devolved to them through Moses in the wilderness, can lead to the formation of intrinsically motivated virtuous individuals. Selves who actively desire what is good and act in accord with virtue. The kingdom of God, as Christians know, is not of this world. Whether the state is small or big, its market regulated or free, is of no relevance to the thinking Christian conservative who takes his cue from Jesus; giving to the state what belongs to the state and to God what belongs to God.

This article was originally posted on Cain S. Pinto’s blog on January 25, 2020, in response to Mark Granza’s article titled: ‘Understanding Conservative Anti-Capitalism‘.

Cain S. Pinto is a writer, editor, and translator by trade who takes a keen interest in analytic philosophy. Check out his blog here.

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