Acton Institute Powerblog

Michael Matheson Miller to Patrick Deneen: Strong towns need strong economies

Among the most influential critics of the free market on the Right is Patrick Deneen, a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame. Acton Institute Senior Research Fellow Michael Matheson Miller has published a response in Law & Liberty to Deneen’s recent plea for a national policy to favor small communities (“Thinking Big to Act Small” in the American Compass).

Miller writes that he shares Deneen’s belief in decentralization, the problems of individualism, the shallow nature of consumerism, and the importance of “strong towns.” However, he critiques “many national conservatives” who place the blame for all of these woes on the free market and advocate “a national industrial policy [that] will only increase centralization and encourage the individualism they oppose.”

Miller also disputes the common refrain that free markets by nature destroy tradition:

For example, [Deneen] critiques capitalism for its hostility to tradition. There is no doubt this can be true. But capitalism is also part of a tradition. The market economy rests upon key institutions of justice that developed over centuries. Capitalism cannot be reduced to Wall Street, Google, and consumerism. A free market economy relies upon a number of moral and juridical institutions including clear title to land, the right of free association, rule of law, participation in the formal economy, free exchange without undue burden, limited liability, and joint ventures. These institutions came out of the Jewish and Christian traditions and developed during the commercial revolution of the medieval period. They are part of our culture.

“[T]he idea that capitalism is opposed to tradition needs a lot more qualifying,” he writes.

You can read his full article here.

(Photo credit: Naotake Murayama. CC BY 2.0.)

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.