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The Moral Roots of Capitalism and Socialism

Q:  From what does capitalism follow?  A: The Constrained Vision.

In a recent interview by Krista Tippet at On Being Dr. Jonathan Haidt is quoted as saying

The liberal view of capitalism as essentially exploitative may remain alive and well, he says, but the ironic truth of history is that capitalism, while championed by conservatives, actually generates liberal values as it takes root in societies.

In the same interview was Dr. Melvin Konner, and this exchange between the two of them:

Dr. Konner: I’m going to posit that Adam Smith helped bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice.

Dr. Haidt: By formalizing capitalism and helping it grow, yes.

Haidt is right about capitalism, of course, but he’s not pulling the thread of the idea all the way back to its true origin.

Its true origin is in the mindset created by the combination of a) the holistic Aristotelian empiricist intuitionist cognitive style, and b) the all-foundation moral matrix.

It is in the mindset of epistemological humility that accepts the reality of human nature as it actually is and, based on that, favors social structures that allow the invisible hand of human nature to work its magic in ALL arenas, economic AND social.

The Constitution and capitalism are two such structures.  Others are the process-based (rather than outcome based) negative conceptions of  Liberty, equality, justice, and fairness.

All are merely variations on the exact same single unifying theme (or vision, or ideology, or morality, or world view).   They’re all children of the same intellectual parent; the same set of “evolved psychological mechanisms.”   They’re all fruit from the same tree.

It’s not capitalism that achieves the goals and ideals of liberalism or bends the moral arc toward justice, it’s conservatism.  (Konner’s Adam Smith example.)

The same logic applies to the moral roots of collectivist economic schemes as well, but with different results (see highlighting below).

Q: From what do collectivist economic systems follow?  A: The unconstrained vision.

The true origin of collectivism is in the mindset created by the combination of a) the WEIRD Platonic idealistic rationalist cognitive style and b) the three-foundation,* care-centric, moral matrix.

It is in the mindset of epistemological confidence (arrogance?) that seeks to improve human nature to what it should be and, based on that, favors social structures of a PROACTIVE VISIBLE HAND in ALL arenas, economic AND social.

Socialism, communism, and Keynesian economics and three such structures.  Others are the outcome-based positive conceptions of liberty, equality, justice, and fairness.

This is the impatient mindset that seeks to proactively bend the moral arc toward the ‘good society’ and the ‘new man;’  toward the vision that John Lennon imagined, Rousseau called the ‘general will,’ Plato identified as the “light,” and RFK expressed when he said, “I dream things that never were and ask why not?”

All of these, too, are merely variations of the same unifying theme; fruit of the same tree. Imagining myself in that mindset it’s fairly easy to see how the collectivist impulse would seem only natural, obvious, practically self-evident.

Here’s  the crucial difference: Liberalism might be the “impatient” view that seeks to bend the arc faster, but it does so from the mindset of naive realism and moral adolescence.   

On a different note, Haidt and Konner talk about the ingredients of human happiness, one of whic connectedness with other people and the feeling of being part of something bigger than one’s self.  Haidt says:

What we can say for sure is that small homogeneous countries, the Scandinavian countries, which are the happiest countries,

What’s too often overlooked in this observation is that Scandinavian countries are essentially single tribes.   They have higher inherent relatedness.    America is multiple tribes under a single flag.    Comparing the two is apples and oranges.

* I know there’s new data showing liberals using the sanctity foundation, but I think the concept still applies.


3 thoughts on “The Moral Roots of Capitalism and Socialism

  1. on bending the moral arc:
    the reader may find it useful to examine the origins of the quote attributed to Robt. Kennedy.

    the Wikiquotes entry for George Bernard Shaw (a very accessible access point) offers this:
    Back to Methuselah (1921) : A Touchstone For Dogma
    I hear you say “Why?” Always “Why?” You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?” The Serpent, in Pt. I : In the Beginning, Act I;
    this quote is sometimes misattributed to Robert F. Kennedy; it is often paraphrased slightly in a few different ways, including:
    You see things as they are and ask, “Why?” I dream things as they never were and ask, “Why not?”

    other quotations from this founding member of the Fabian Society (q.v.) are equally interesting.


    Posted by Jeff Allen | June 8, 2016, 12:54 pm


  1. Pingback: The Adaptive Pressure that Caused Liberalism? | The Independent Whig - June 14, 2016

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