Day By Day

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why has the Cultural Critique of Capitalism Succeeded?

Throughout its national history America has had a love-hate relationship with capitalism. There have been powerful critics -- Jeffersonian Republicans, Jacksonian Democrats, Southern slave-holding elites, labor agitators, immigrant workers, etc., but even so, the nation as a whole has honored the entrepreneurial spirit and the institutions of capitalism that produced great wealth and widespread individual opportunities. Today the critics of capitalism seem to be in the ascendency. Charles Murray asks why.

He identifies a number of factors -- cronyism and rent-seeking, a dramatic increase in inequality, a shift from productive to manipulative forms of entrepreneurship, etc., but he feels that the most important factors are cultural, to wit, a demoralization of our national culture that precludes a principled defense of capitalism by its foremost practitioners. In other words, so complete has been the victory of the Left in our educational and entertainment industries [what used to be called "the long march through the institutions"] that they have made a principled defense of capitalism all but impossible.

If we are to restore national greatness, he argues, we must launch a cultural counter-offensive to the left-wing critique that pervades our national culture today. He writes:
[I]t should be possible to revive a national consensus affirming that capitalism embraces the best and most essential things about American life; that freeing capitalism to do what it does best won't just create national wealth and reduce poverty, but expand the ability of Americans to achieve earned success—to pursue happiness. 
 But it won't be easy. 

Reviving that consensus... requires us to return to the vocabulary of virtue when we talk about capitalism. Personal integrity, a sense of seemliness and concern for those who depend on us are not "values" that are no better or worse than other values. Historically, they have been deeply embedded in the American version of capitalism. It... is necessary to remind the middle class and working class that the rich are not their enemies.... 
 And, most importantly, it requires the remoralization of the nation's elites.
[I]t is... necessary to remind the most successful among us that their obligations are not to be measured in terms of their tax bills. Their principled stewardship can nurture and restore our heritage of liberty. Their indifference to that heritage can destroy it.
 Read the whole thing here.

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