May 12, 2015 by Anders Ingemarson
This is the fourth and final installment in our series “The Moral Case for Separating State and The Economy – What’s That About?” A condensed version of the four installments is available here.
In part 1 of this series, we pointed out the similarities between a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire market for religious ideas and a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire market for products and services. We showed how both markets respect our individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
We observed that the vast majority of Americans support such a state of affairs when it comes to our faith—i.e. total separation of state and church—but not when it comes to our economic life—i.e. total separation of state and economy.
We lamented that when it comes to our economic lives, we have permitted the government to tax, regulate, fine, coerce and threaten us to such an extent that if it had happened in the market place for religious ideas it would be considered fundamentalism of the kind that is only practiced in Islamic countries.
In part 2, we explained that, paradoxically, faith is the main cause of the differing views on separation of state and faith and separation of state and the economy; most faiths teach selflessness and sacrifice as the standard of morality, which leaves people of faith defenseless against those who want to use government force to institutionalize such a moral code, as fundamentally they share the same moral ideas.
We clarified that only a morality of rational self-interest provides the foundation for defending individual rights—your unalienable rights to your life, your liberty, and your pursuit of your happiness—and for championing the moral case for separating state and the economy.
And in part 3 we showed that in the long run, faced with a contradiction between faith and facts, history demonstrates that most men and women resolve the contradiction by revisiting and realigning their religious beliefs with the facts, as exemplified by what happened in the aftermath of Galileo’s discovery of heliocentrism, William Smith’s discoveries in geology, and countless other scientific discoveries.
So far we have discussed a faith based morality of selflessness and sacrifice as a hurdle to widespread support for the moral case for separating state and the economy. But what about the large group of Americans who subscribe to a morality of selflessness and sacrifice on secular grounds? The altruists who subscribe to one form of collectivism or another in politics: socialism in all its incarnations, including the welfare statism of our current American “mixed” (unseparated) economy. Is there any hope for them?
The answer is “yes, of course.” Secular altruists possess the faculty of reason and free will to recognize the facts when they see them just like everybody else. However, in our estimate they are probably slightly less open to considering these facts than the average man and woman of faith.
Somewhat generalized, secular altruists are less morally/politically conflicted than people of faith on the issue of separating state and the economy, as a large government presence in the economy is part of their collectivist political philosophy. They don’t experience the same contradictions between their moral and political beliefs as many religious Americans do who tend to support some version of a free market.
Contradictions can serve as terrific intellectual stimuli and calls to action. Most of us feel uncomfortable living with unresolved contradictions. Imagine living in the time of Galileo, believing that the earth is the center of the universe because the church says so. Then imagine being exposed to the irrefutable facts of heliocentrism. Now you’re faced with a serious contradiction between your religiously based views and Galileo’s discovery. You may try to push the unresolved contradiction aside for a while, you may try to evade it or explain it away—the all too common “don’t wanna go there” tactics. But being of an independent mind, sooner or later you’d probably take the bull by the horn and resolve the contradiction, coming out in favor of Galileo and the facts and finding a way to reconcile them with your faith.
Fast forward to the idea we’re concerned with here at SEPARATE!, the moral case for separating state and the economy. The facts are that as humans we have individual rights, and that only a morality of rational self-interest provide the proper ethical foundation for respecting those rights. Politically this requires total separation of state and the economy or we’ll end up with a system where we endemically violate each other’s rights through taxation and regulation. Just look around you.
Let’s say you find this idea attractive but that you currently subscribe to some form of altruistic morality on religious grounds. Now you’re facing a contradiction between the morality of rational self-interest that is inseparable from championing total separation of state and the economy in politics, and altruism, which has some form of statism or another as its logical, political corollary (if it’s moral to sacrifice, then it makes sense for the state to help you along on the path to selfless moral perfection).
We’re quite optimistic that over time, you’ll find a way of reconciling with your faith the irrefutable moral facts underlying the moral case for separating state and the economy. Again, because living with unresolved contradictions is darn uncomfortable.
However, in the case of many secular altruists, the moral and political worldviews don’t clash. If no contradiction rears its ugly head, you are probably less likely to challenge your positions, however wrong and disconnected from the facts they may be.
There was a time when secular altruists preaching their collectivist political utopian ideas may have been excused for their mistaken beliefs. A time before the disastrous political experiments of the 20th century—Nazi Germany, Communist Soviet Union and China—and the current slow break down of Western Europe and the United States under the yoke of welfare statism. But today, the facts are undisputable: collectivism in all its forms not only does not work, but is immoral. (Ironically, holding on to collectivist beliefs in the face of the facts has developed into a religion; today you have to have faith in collectivism, because all the facts are against it, morally and politically.)
Our current assessment is that people subscribing to a religiously based form of altruism are somewhat more likely to embrace the morality of rational self-interest that is the foundation for separating state and the economy. But we obviously welcome converts from secular altruism and collectivism to a morality of rational self-interest with open arms.
In the end, championing the moral case for separating state and the economy is a fight of facts over faith. It is a battle for the minds of men and women who don’t like to live with contradictions between their moral and political worldviews. It’s a battle for the minds of men and women who have reverence for the facts, however uncomfortable those facts initially may be.
Does our assessment make sense? Are we too optimistic or pessimistic? Are we spot on or way out there? We’d love your feedback!