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Saturday, January 15, 2005

Who are the Moral Free Riders?

Is the Judeo-Christian tradition trespassing on liberal-socialist territory?

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In economics and political theory, free riders are people who benefit from actions of others, without doing anything to merit it.? I asserted in The Moral Free Rider Problem that liberal-socialists are free riders on the social order of Western civilization, which they did not create and do not support. 

Western civilization is founded upon the moral rules of conduct deriving from our Greek philosophical and Judeo-Christian religious traditions.  Atheistic and agnostic liberal-socialists are moral free riders who benefit from living in a society ordered by the morality of spiritual religion, while sneering at spiritual religion and moral codes as simple-minded ignorance.? At best, they do nothing to contribute to social order.? Too many of them do everything in their power to discredit or to destroy the very source of social order.  Without Judeo-Christian morality, they would be in the position of scientists and scholars in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia: working under orders for the collectivized National State.

To this, a reader retorted that it’s conservatives and moralists who are taking the free ride. Liberals contend that all of what we consider to be modern society, with its vast improvements of living standards, is exclusively the product of the rational human mind, in a world of secular materialism and moral relativism.  Progress toward human knowledge therefore is diverted by concerns about unreal things like God and moral virtues.

Liberal dogma comes from a very ancient philosophical position, first articulated in classical Greece.  Plato, in the “Theaetetus,” quotes Protagoras as having said that man is the measure of all things, meaning that there are no such things as God, morality, or eternal truths. Each person is governed only by his pursuit of sensual pleasure and his avoidance of sensual pain.  Each person makes his own standards, based solely upon the perceptions of his physical senses. 

Plato, of course, takes the opposite position: the physical senses are no guides at all to truth, which exists in Ideal form, manifested only as indistinct shadows in our physical world.

Obviously, if Protagoras is our guide, the reader’s retort is correct.  Conservatives and moralists really would be taking a free ride on secular society and in so doing making life more difficult for everyone.  Religion and morality, far from being a force for social good, would oppress human freedom and oppose scientific knowledge.

This is the message given to American students for the past century.  As William F. Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale” described it, most textbooks espoused socialistic and secular doctrine, and most social sciences professors at Yale in 1951 were socialists and either agnostics or atheists.  The same was true of other elite universities and had been so since the first decades of the 20th century.  Professors in the social sciences don’t hesitate to dismiss spiritual religion as ignorance and, in the physical sciences, to dismiss morality and religion as value judgments having no place in science.

Everything we know of history tells us that this is a false view.  How then did religion and morality come to be identified with oppression and ignorance?

The first answer is the brutal Thirty Years War (1612 ? 1648) that devastated Europe during Galileo?s and Newton?s era, when rival Protestant and Catholic princes fought for political control of Western Europe.  This mass slaughter and destruction led Voltaire, in his 1766 satire “Candide,” to attack Christianity as the enemy of the people and the senseless cause of European warfare and strife.  The Thirty Years War, however, was only nominally about religious differences.  Fundamentally it was a struggle for political power, as modern nation-states took shape.

French intellectuals nonetheless identified the Church with autocratic political rule and suffering of the masses during the Thirty Years War.  Cardinal Richelieu served as French Minister of Foreign Affairs and War early in the 1600s, and Cardinal Mazarin, as first minister in the middle 1600s.

A present-day variation on this theme is the belief of some feminists that religion was fabricated by men to subjugate women.

The second factor was French Revolutionary philosophers? assumption in the 18th and 19th centuries that they could discover secular and materialistic laws controlling social behavior and political activity that would be analogous to Newton?s laws of gravity governing the motions of planets.  Among them, Saint-Simon and Comte claimed to have discovered the Immutable Law of History that predicted inevitable historical Progress away from the age of spiritual religion and into the new scientific age of secularity, rationalism, and socialism, which Comte called The Religion of Humanity. 

History tells a different story. The popular idea that religion prevented scientific inquiry is simply not correct.  Ironically, the Catholic Church’s preservation of learning after the fall of the Western Roman Empire was all that kept scientific inquiry alive.

The Renaissance, beginning centuries before the 18th century Enlightenment, was preeminently a period when all of the talents and energies of poets, architects, builders, sculptors, and painters were focused on glorifying God. It was the Renaissance?s flowering of new perspectives in art and literature that led to renewed interest in nature and the beginning of the physical sciences. 

The most widely known and admired person in this humanist revival was Erasmus, a devout Catholic priest. One of his closest friends, humanist scholar Thomas More, died to defend his Catholic faith.

The greatest leaps of knowledge in mathematics and the physical sciences occurred in the 17th century, many decades before the revival of Greek sophists? secular materialism by French Revolutionary philosophers.  It is from this period that liberals build their religion vs science case.  Galileo is usually the only exhibit entered in evidence. 

Despite the generally propagated myth, Galileo got into trouble with the Church, not because he advocated the theory that the earth revolves around the sun, but because he was a man with a colossal ego and a startling lack of judgment.

For a number of years the Church had raised no serious objections to Galileo?s heliocentric theory, so long as he expressed it as one of the several theories explaining movements of the planets and did not present it as the only true doctrine.  But for Galileo this wasn?t enough.

In 1623, Galileo’s long-time personal friend Maffeo Barberini became Pope Urban VIII.  Barberini had always championed Galileo?s right to express his theories and gave his blessings for Galileo to publish a discussion of the theories of planetary motion.  Galileo then repaid his friend?s support by ridiculing him publicly.

Galileo published his “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.” It is cast as a conversation among three gentlemen, one of whom is given the name Simplicio (or simpleton).  The arguments, even the exact words, attributed to Simplicio were known to all as the arguments advanced by Galileo?s old friend Barberini.  Galileo was, in effect, declaring to the world that the new Pope was a fool and that the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church was ridiculous nonsense.  He had punched the Church in the nose and dared the Church to hit back. 

Unfortunately for him, Galileo?s ridicule came at a time when the Roman Catholic Church was under attack, and Europe was ablaze with the Thirty Years War between Protestant and Catholic states.  His action was comparable to France?s diplomatic stab-in-the-back of the U.S. at the UN after Al Queda?s 9/11/01 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center buildings. 

Given the prevailing state of war and its struggle for survival, the Church was remarkably restrained in giving Galileo a choice between excommunication and cessation of further writing on the subject.  Galileo accepted the ban on writing and remained a Catholic until his death.

As a final note, at the time, Galileo had no conclusive evidence to support the view that only the Copernican theory was correct.  A rival theory by noted astronomer Tycho Brahe had as much evidence in its favor and was as accurate in its predictions as Galileo?s.  We now know, in fact, that Galileo?s assertion that the planets travel in circular orbits was incorrect.

Note also that the greatest of all the 17th century mathematical geniuses was Isaac Newton, whose laws of motion and the equations for predicting gravity?s effects on movements of heavenly bodies, not to mention invention of calculus and the physics of optics and light, were the foundations of modern science.  Newton was a life-long, devout Christian who never questioned the existence of God.  Nor was publication of his work proscribed by the Church.

Liberals can only make the case that believers in spiritual religion have argued against secular materialism, not that religion has suppressed scholarship or scientific investigation.  Today the shoe is really on the other foot.  It is liberals who attempt to suppress spiritual religion and personal morality. 

A final point of considerable importance is liberal-socialism?s antagonism toward private property and corporate enterprise.  Think, for example, of the knee-jerk reaction from liberals that the Bush administration invaded Iraq solely to enrich corporations like Halliburton.  It is impossible to reconcile this with my critic?s assertion that the great successes of modern economic and technical society are the product of liberal-socialist rationalism and its amorality.

Since the early 19th century, especially in Karl Marx?s works at mid-century, liberals have preached that private property and Big Business are oppressors of the workers and are the chief bulwarks against perfection of human society in a socialist political state.  Wars, crime, poverty, and other social ills are said to be the product of private business activity, whose profits represent the stolen part of labor?s full wages.

Moreover, liberal-socialist theoreticians like Max Weber and R. H. Tawney have linked the rise of capitalism (taking that term as a synonym for private property and corporate enterprise) to what they term the Protestant Ethic.  This Christian ethic is criticized by liberals, because it is highly individualistic and thus at odds with socialist collectivism.

The facts, of course, are that the industrial revolution was just getting a full head of steam at the time that Saint-Simon and Comte were promulgating the secular religion of socialism.  From that time forward, the living standards of the whole world, especially of the West, have risen far faster than ever before in history.  And that improvement, until after World War II, was overwhelmingly the result of individualistic initiative by entrepreneurs in Christian societies.  Far more than half the world?s industry and commerce in that period was accounted for by the two greatest Christian nations, England and the United States.

Contrary to my reader?s retort, demonstrating that secular materialism has benefited humanity, let alone that it is the sole source of scientific knowledge and economic well-being is an impossible task.

The bitter fruit of liberalism’s secular materialism has been, not social harmony and prosperity, but the mass murders of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, Lenin’s and Stalin’s Soviet Russia, Hitler’s National Socialist Germany, Mao’s Red China, and Castro’s Cuba.  Without the moral restraints of our Judeo-Christian heritage, on rulers and ruled, there would be precious little science and improvement of living standards.  The implosion of Soviet Russia and the slow withering of socialist France and Germany make this clear for all who will see.