It has become passe to accuse defenders of the free market of selfishness and atomization. Even Pope Francis recently denounced “libertarian individualism.” But Mihail Neamtu, in a new essay for Religion & Liberty Transatlantic, argues that open markets rely on one specific virtue, best exemplified by fathers and entrepreneurs, which requires them to care for others:
Over nearly half a century, secular academia, pop culture, and the managerial welfare State have undermined an important moral quality of the West: individual responsibility, rooted in inherent human dignity. This may be expressed, in part, as affectionate fatherhood and a martial readiness to act under the moral imperative of serving others. Undermining responsibility has had a critical impact on the religious and economic culture of the modern West.
The wide-ranging essay cites such cultural authorities as Philippe Ariès, Georges Duby, Harvey Mansfield, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI en route to showing how our understanding of this virtue has been changed, softened, and distorted. Along the way, Neamtu surveys the cultural landscape, from Salvador Dali to American Beauty.
The downgrading of personal responsibility, he writes, has transformed everything from our view of the Divine to how we relate to one another economically:
This outlook eroded the traditional Western attributes of having the courage to take risks (necessary for every big or small entrepreneur) and the power to exercise self-control in the face of powerful temptation (as shown by Salvador Dali’s image of Anthony the Great facing his demons in the vast Egyptian desert). …
High taxation has diminished the value of family inheritance and the organic solidarity between generations. Economic intervention has created high unemployment among the younger population of Europe (which affects as many as 45 percent of Greek and Spanish men), leading to their postponing marriage and family formation. Deprived of the ability to generate a regular income the European man, like his America counterpart, has slipped into negative patterns of behavior (soft drugs, alcoholism, and multiple online addictions). By making legal divorce very easy, Western governments threatened the well-being of children. Left to raise their children by themselves, millions of mothers carry the burden of child-rearing in the absence of any family structure. This creates a vicious cycle of anger and resignation.
Read his perceptive essay, and you’ll understand why he concludes, “Economic activity is one avenue of incarnating the Divine spark lit within every human being.”
You can read his full essay here.
(Photo credit: Negative Space. Public domain.)