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V O LU M E 3 N U M B E R 2

Catos
Letter
A Q U A R T E R LY M E S S A G E O N L I B E R T Y

Faith, Commerce, and Freedom


Daniel T. Griswold

T
o read some Christian philosophers, youd think
promoting liberty to people of faith would be a
tough sell. The liberal theologian Paul Tillich
thought that anybody who is a Christian would obvi-
ously be a socialist. Christian hostility to capitalism is
not a new phenomenon. For example, libertarians
like to talk about the great social progress that oc-
curred during the Industrial Revolution. Yet a lot of
Christians of that time were very uncomfortable
about those changes.
The British Christian poet William Blake
wrote the poem Jerusalem, which was turned into
a hymn thats sung in British churchesyou might
remember hearing it in the movie Chariots of Fire.
The second stanza reads
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?
I see those mills creating jobs and building a prosperous
new future. William Blake saw
them as dark and Satanic.

Daniel Griswold is director of the


Cato Institute's Center for Trade
Policy Studies. This is an excerpt
from remarks given at the Octo-
ber 2004 Cato University seminar
in Quebec City.
Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a conflict with liberty. To the contrary, reli-
Christian, expresses similar concerns in gious beliefs and values can flourish in a
The Idiot. One character, Lebedyev, goes society of limited government and free
on and on about whats wrong with 19th- markets. Liberty protects the right of
century Russia. He talks about our age of people of faith to practice as they choose
depravity and railways. He talks about the without interference from the state. Lim-
railroads the way some people talk about ited government defends parents right to
television or the Internet today. He says, raise their children as they choose, by giv-
Show me a force which binds todays ing them control over important deci-
humanity together with half the power it sions, such as where they should go to
possessed in those centuries, (he was talk- school. Free markets reward personal

Ive read the Bible


through several times,
and I dont think theres
anything in there thats
a compelling argument
for big government.

ing about a time when religious faith was responsibility and support a vibrant civil
more important to people) And dont try society in which fellowship and love for
to browbeat me with your prosperity, your our fellow man flourish. And as I will
riches, the rarity of famine, and the speed explain shortly, a religious populace is
of communications! (this was 1868) The conducive to a free society in important
riches are greater but the force is less. ways, too.
There is no more a binding principle. Lets examine a few shared beliefs.
2 Everything has grown soft. Everything Both libertarians and Christians believe
and everyone grown flabby. Weve all In the dignity and the worth of
grown flabby. All of us. the individual. Unlike many
In the last century, we saw more radi- socialists, we dont believe that
cal critiques of capitalism from religious people are faceless cogs in some
activists in Latin America preaching the vast machine.
social gospel of liberation theology. In the importance of individual
conscience and of standing up to
SHARED BELIEFS authority when your conscience
I dont think those Christian scholars calls you to do so.
had it quite right. Religious faith is not in That freedom must be tempered

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C A T O S L E T T E R

V O LU M E 3 N U M B E R 2

by personal responsibility.
That there are objective standards
of right and wrong, and that prin- Send
ciples transcend the interests of
the state and prevailing attitudes Catos
of the moment.
That the state is not the highest Letter
Friend
authority of our activitieswe
are governed by laws rather to a
than men.
That men are fallible and cant To give free gift subscriptions to
be trusted with unlimited friends who would enjoy receiving
power. Catos Letter, please fill in the at-
tached subscription form or enclose
SHARED VALUES a list of individuals (holiday card
As a Christian, Ive read the Bible list, etc.) in the envelope. Or visit
through several times, and I dont think www.cato.org and click on the sub-
theres anything in there thats a com- scriptions tab.
pelling argument for big government or
the welfare state. The Bible is not prima-
rily a political document, but it does offer the faith and is worse than an
general principles of social behavior that unbeliever. This is a very basic
are compatible, and indeed reinforce, the libertarian principle. Your respon-
libertarian vision of a free society. sibility to your family comes first.
Here are a few of those values: Each individual is responsible for
Property rights: The Bible says, that. Libertarians dont believe it
Thou shall not steal. Libertarians takes a village to raise a child.
remind people that its wrong to Voluntary support for charity:
steal, whether the thief is an individ- The Bible talks about a 10 per-
ual or a group of individuals under cent tithe to support the temple,
majority rule. which performed many of the
Civil disobedience: When chal- functions performed by todays
lenged about their faith, Peter welfare state. Later, Paul says,
and the Apostles replied, We each man should give what he 3
must obey God rather than men. has decided in his heart to give,
Welfare reform: The Apostle Paul not reluctantly or under compul-
said, For even when we were with sion, for God loves a cheerful
you, we gave you this rule: if a man giver.
will not work, he shall not eat. Peace and property rights: The Old
Taking care of family: In 1st Testament prophet Micah had a
Timothy, Paul writes that if any- vision of men beating their swords
one does not provide for his rela- into plowshares. Micah also says,
tives, and especially for his Every man will sit under his own
immediate family, he has denied vine and under his own fig tree, and
no one will make them afraid, for shall have chosen you; and the Lord
the Lord Almighty has spoken. I will not hear you in that day.
think thats a beautiful picture of a Thats a chilling warning about big
free society with property rights. government and the abuse of power.
Now, I dont mean to say that the Bible
A CHILLING WARNING is arguing that you need to vote for the
A few years ago, Catos David Boaz Libertarian candidate or give the Cato
edited The Libertarian Reader, a collection of Institute 10 percent of your salary. But if a
libertarian writings. The first chapter of Christian is aware of what the Bible says,
that volume is 1 Samuel 8, from the Old he or she should at least be hesitant to
Testament. It tells a story about the jump on board with big government.
Israelites. They had been ruled by judges,
but all the countries around them had THE PROTESTANT WORK ETHIC
kings. And they asked Samuel to tell God, Theres also a connection, I think,
Make us a king to judge us like all the between Christianity and capitalism. The
other nations. German sociologist Max Weber wrote a
Samuel goes to God, and God gives brilliant essay called The Protestant
Samuel this message for the Israelites: Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. He
This will be the manner of the argued that religious belief fueled the rise
king that shall reign over you; He of capitalism in certain Protestant coun-
will take your sons and appoint tries, notably the Netherlands, Britain,
them for himself, for his chariots and the United States.
and to be his horsemen; and some His basic thesis was that when the
shall run before his chariots. And Reformation took hold, certain theological
he will appoint him captains over ideas became embedded in the populace.
thousands and captains over fifties; One was that your work served God, that
and will set them to ear his productive work was honorable. That gave
ground, and reap his harvest, and people new motivation. Being a priest was
to make his instruments of war,
and instruments of his chariots.
It sounds an awful lot like a
draft, doesnt it? It gets worse:

4 He will take your Leave a


daughters to be confec-
tionaries, and to be Legacy of
cooks, and to be bakers
. . . And he will take a
tenth of your seed
and a tenth of your
Liberty
Are you concerned about the future of
vineyards . . . and a liberty in America? To leave a lasting
tenth of your sheep . . legacy of freedom, consider including
. And ye shall cry out Cato in your will or living trust or naming
in that day because of Cato as a beneficiary to your life insurance
your king, which ye or retirement plan proceeds. Contact
Michael Podguski in our planned giving
office at (202) 218-4635 for more details
www.cato.org about gifts to Cato.
C A T O S L E T T E R

V O LU M E 3 N U M B E R 2

not the only way to serve God; being a the West. There was an understanding
blacksmith was a calling too. Many several centuries ago in Christian think-
Protestants believed that success in the ing of the two kingdomsthe church
marketplace was a sign of Gods blessing and the state, both answerable to God,
and that religious commitment was not but not to each other. That broke the
opposed to rational wealth creation but close connection between the state and
the irrational use of wealth. the church that prevailed at the time.
Weber argues that many Protestants In the 1640s, a Scottish theologian
came to believe that theres nothing wrong named Samuel Rutherford wrote a book
with economic success. What matters is with a very short but explosive title, Lex
what you do with it, how you spend your Rex. In English, that means the law is
money. Protestants were motivated to work king. Of course, the reigning philosophy
hard and succeed and produce, but they then was rex lex, the king is the law. His
were discouraged from living conspicuously books title alone got Rutherford in a lot of
or wasting their wealth on high living. trouble. But the whole book was a discus-
Those beliefs encouraged higher pro- sion about how were all sinners, and
duction and lower consumption. Weber therefore equal in the eyes of God. No
said that when the limitation of consump- man or group of men has a right to rule
tion is combined with the release of acquisi- over others. Rutherford was pretty much
tive activity, the inevitable result is the on the run after writing that book and
accumulation of capital, which can be pro- probably would have been executed if he
ductively reinvested. If you read Protestant hadnt died of natural causes first.
theologians like John Calvin from that era, At Cato, were often inspired by the val-
they werent against capitalism. They ues of the Founding Fathersindividual
werent against trade. They just taught peo- liberty, limited government, free markets.
ple to use it responsibly and live responsi- For the most part, the Founding Fathers
bly. So the Protestant calling to work and to were deeply religious men. There were a
modest, sober living created the most few exceptionsnotably Jefferson and
powerful conceivable lever for the expan- Franklinbut by and large, the Founders
sion of that attitude toward life which we were religious men who read the Bible and
have called here the spirit of capitalism. went to church. They saw faith and liberty
In the 18th century, the French as complementary.
philosopher Montesquieu looked over Prof. Donald Lutz of the University of
the English Channel at the British and Houston looked at all the citations in the 5
observed that they had progressed fur- writings of the Founders. Out of more
thest of all the peoples of the world in than 3,000 citations he found that fully a
three important things, in piety, in com- third of them were from the Old and the
merce and in freedom. Piety, com- New Testaments. A distant second were
merce, and freedom go together. Montesquieu and Blackstone. Locke,
Hume, and Plutarch were far behind.
FAITH AND FREEDOM The Founders saw America as a chosen
Many of those same religious ideas land, as a kind of second Israel. Jefferson and
laid the groundwork for limited govern- Franklin proposed a seal for the United States
ment and political and civil freedoms in in 1776 that said, Rebellion to tyrants is obe-
dience to God. It showed the Egyptian army for restraint from without.
being swallowed up by the Red Sea to sym-
bolize King George IIIs oppressive army. PROMOTING PUBLIC VIRTUE
America was a profoundly religious coun- Of course, people can be moral and
try at its founding. By the 1740s, preachers upright citizens without being religious. And
were lacing sermons with references to some religious people arent very upright and
Locke and natural rights. When was the last moral. But most people are not highly edu-
time you heard a minister cite Locke in a ser- cated philosophers. Their morality is not
mon? And they were also mentioning Tren- taught, but caught, from the prevailing moral
chard and Gordon, authors of Catos Letters, culture. And religion has traditionally been

The Founders were


religious men who saw
faith and liberty as com-
plementary.

the libertarian essays from which Cato takes the vessel through which that moral culture
its name. So the religious leaders of the time has been transmitted. Religion can lead peo-
cared deeply about liberty. ple to do stupid things, but people are quite
Historians speak of a three-part syllogism capable of doing stupid things without reli-
of the Founding Fathers. James Hutson was gion. And on the whole, the Judeo-Christian
the author of a fine 1998 book published by religious tradition today probably restrains
the Library of Congress, Religion and the more bad behavior than it causes. Advocates
6 Founding of the American Republic. Hutson of a free society have long understood that
says it was a virtual clich among the Found- religious belief among the people is not in
ing Fathers that liberty is the object of the fundamental conflict with a free society, but
Republic, that liberty requires virtue in the in fact supports it in important ways.
population, and that virtue among the peo- The great 20th-century philosopher and
ple is impossible without religion. According economist F. A. Hayek was not a religious
to the thinking of the Founding Fathers, reli- man, but he clearly understood that. In The
gious belief among the people is the founda- Constitution of Liberty, he made this intrigu-
tion leading to private and public virtue, ing observation: Paradoxical as it may
which makes limited government possible. I appear, it is probably true that a successful
think that connection still exists today. The free society will always in a large measure be
more people govern themselves and their a tradition-bound society. Liberty and reli-
own behavior, the less demand there will be gious virtues go hand in hand.
C A T O S L E T T E R

V O LU M E 3 N U M B E R 2

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