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Acton Notes - President's Message

For my part, I’m glad to see the old and most important debate coming to the fore of public attention: socialism vs. the market economy. It is a critical debate not because we can and will have either one or the other but because it crystallizes the issues we should be discussing.

A full-blown market economy within the framework of the rule of law represents something of a utopian ideal, but it is not one incompatible with justice, morality, and good economic thinking.

A trend toward markets is a trend toward freedom and personal responsibility; a trend toward socialism takes us away from freedom.

What’s very good about the openness of today’s socialists is that they are revealing a truth that has long been suppressed, namely that socialist theory is rooted not in good economics but in religious commitment. It is not a traditional religious faith but nearly its opposite.

Think of someone like Jean-Jacques Rousseau. His vision of socialist utopia includes a version of the fall from grace. He imagined a perfect world of perfect equality and happiness before the introduction of the division of labor, which came with the first building of the domestic hut. Everything we call civilization, he calls decline.

Of course he also has a vision of an earthly paradise that involves an omnipotent state and a wish for the end of dissent from his ideal state. The Christians, he believed, were a problem because their primary loyalties are to God and not society. The same would be true of anyone serious about authentic faith.

All socialists have fallen into this pattern of replacing traditional religion with a new religion of the state. And here is where I believe the intellectual battle really comes down to a theological battle. Thank you for joining the Action Institute in engaging these issues in terms that really matter.