Is Capitalism Conservative?

Published by at 6:15 pm under Economics

To: Messrs. Kay, Foster, Dreyer, Cosh, Fulford and Jonas –
c.c. Messrs. Corcoran and Gunter

Dear Sirs,

Re: Your articles on “Is Capitalism Conservative?”

Wonderful journalism, and sorely needed. You’ve succeeded in highlighting one of the central problems of our times which is that our leaders, never mind our citizens, are really confused about the language of principles, hence policies. You could help clear things up.

“The word ‘capitalism’ was coined by Karl Marx who hoped this labelling would help in
his crusade to denigrate the system of private property and free enterprise and promote socialism.” [from a book review published in the Ludwig Von Mises Institute’s DAILY ARTICLE.]

But ‘capitalism’ is a very limited, specific term for one of the three ways humans do business where ‘business’ involves some or all of the processes of producing, distributing and exchanging goods and services. ‘Barter’ and ‘mercantilism’ are the other two terms.

Capitalism and barter were the first two businesses. The original capitalist discovered that, instead of hunting himself, it was more productive for him to stay by the cave chipping spear points – at which craft he was better than anyone else in the clan – and bartering his spear points for meat, skins, etc. If he was really progressive he might have sent someone over to the next clan with spear points to barter and increase his intake of goods. Maybe he even taught others how to chip in order to increase his production.

Mercantilism came much later when tablets or letters of exchange, then gold and silver, then money, facilitated exchanges much more effectively than barter in civilized communities.

Marx believed that business was the sole concern of humanity – that man was just an economic animal. Of course this is false – human activity involves much more than just business. But, he was so successful in persuading a substantial majority of the linguistic and educator communities to his view, that, for at least the last two generations, ‘capitalism’ has been elevated to the same level as, and the antithesis of, ‘socialism’

‘Capitalism’ is not a basic, fundamental world-view as ‘socialism’ is. Here is the classic definition of ‘socialism’ that served from its coinage in 1834 to the end of the 1950’s.

1956 – The Concise Oxford Dictionary: socialism “(the) Principle that individual freedom should be completely subordinated to (the) interests of (the) community.” [brackets mine]

(Which begs the question – who decides the ‘interests of the community’?)

The liberalsocialist linguists and educators who directed the publishing of dictionaries probably thought that Orwell’s “1984”, plus the reports from the Communist/
Fascist/National Socialist Parties’ death camps were becoming so well publicized that socialism was getting a bad name. So they softened the definition closer to a utopian, sharing version. The transition began in the early ’60’s at the time of the Pearson-Kent Liberalsocialist regime in Canada and the Kennedys’ socialDemocrat regime in the US.

1964 – Pears Cyclopedia: socialism “a form of society in which men and women are not divided into opposing economic classes but live together under conditions of approximate social and economic equality, using in common the means that lie to their hands of promoting social welfare.” [italics mine]

You will notice in the Pears definition that the linguists and educators were somewhat unsure as to the source of the means people were going to use in common, but, by the ’80’s, the definitions got right down to business!

1987 – The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary: socialism “a political and economic theory advocating collective ownership of the means of production and control of distribution.” [italics mine]

1990 – Webster’s New World Encyclopedia: socialism “movement aiming to establish a classless society by substituting public for private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.” [italics mine]

1998 – The Canadian Oxford Dictionary: socialism “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the community as a whole should own and control the means of production, distribution and exchange.” [italics mine]

Gone is any reference to the subordination of the individual to the collective.

Socialist parties, from Liberal/Fabian through Democrat/Labour to Communist/ Fascist/National dictatorships, have all and do all deploy saved or borrowed money to build dams, power plants, transportation infrastructure, factories and other “capital” projects that increase the productivity, wealth and power of their communities. In fact, no matter what world-view drives them, parties of all persuasions practice ‘capitalism’.

Thus, it is inappropriate to attach ‘capitalism’ to Conservatism, or any other “ism” for that matter. It is just a term describing one of three ways people do business.

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Turning to the term ‘conservative’ – we are all conservative, sometimes; and we are all liberal, sometimes. Human beings are both preservative – desirous of maintaining the status quo, and progressive – desirous of change for the better. Preservation and progression are universal, polar instincts within each person. Their influence on a person’s actions constantly varies with time, circumstances and the character of the individual.

It is pretty reasonable to substitute ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ for ‘preservationist’ and ‘progressive’. Their connection to ‘Conservative’ and ‘Liberal’ is only phonetic.

Similarly, we each harbour the duality of a need to establish our unique identity in a crowded world, and, a need to cooperate with others for survival. An individual is part of a family, neighbourhood, municipality, company, church, club, etc. – any number of groups.

Since we lived together in groups in caves, we’ve been involved in an ongoing process of negotiating a balance between private need and collective obligation, personal desire and public duty, self-assertion and group support. In truth, these are not conflicts, they are the two faces of self-interest. Our survival as a species has required the merging of the one and the many into a growing, always-revising set of shared agreements that permit optimum support for personal freedom. This is why we invented governments.

It might help if the two world-view alternatives were framed in different terms.

The real contest for people’s minds may be between Socialism and Personalism. ‘Socialism’ is the world-view that holds that the individual has no rights – that the community is the basic unit in human society. ‘Personalism’ is the world-view that holds that since reason is a property of the individual not the collective, the individual person is the basic unit in human society.

1987 The new Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary: personalism “any philosophical system based on the assumption that the human person is the fundamental value.”

1998 Canadian Oxford Dictionary: personalism any of various systems of thought which maintain the primacy of the person on the basis that reality has meaning only through the conscious minds of people.”

When socialism gains preeminence, dictatorship and slavery follow. Where personalism prevails as a working world-view, democracy and freedom follow.

C.W.Conn, Mississauga, November 27, 2007.