Free Markets Need a Spiritual Dimension
By Anthony Wile - June 13, 2010

In a recent editorial at The Daily Bell, Dr. Nathaniel Branden, perhaps Ayn Rand's most famous disciple, wrote a wonderful article entitled "The Foundations of a Free Society." In the article, he pointed out that a free-market approach, while admirable, lacks a certain spiritual element. This is an enormously important point and one to which the free-market movement likely pays too little attention. Here's what he wrote, in part:

One of the great problems of our world, and the ultimate difficulty in fighting for a libertarian society, is the complete lack of fit between the values that actually support and nurture human life and well-being and the things that people are taught to think of as noble or moral or admirable. The calamity of our time and all times past is the complete lack of congruence between the values that, in fact, most serve life and the values we are taught to esteem most. So long as that lack of congruence exists, the battle for freedom can never be permanently won.

People have not only material needs, they have psychological needs, they have spiritual needs. And it is the spiritual needs that will have the last word. Until the libertarian vision is understood as a spiritual quest and not merely an economic quest, it will continue to face the kind of misunderstandings and adversaries it faces today.

Ultimately, Dr. Branden's argument is that a free society cannot thrive unless it has some sort of spiritual underpinning that provides a moral as well as intellectual imperative for freedom and free markets. "I'm enormously interested in what has to be understood if a free society is to survive and flourish," he writes. "A free society cannot flourish on a culture committed to irrationalism."

This is, in fact, why the US Declaration of Independence is a magical and magisterial document – one written by the great thinker Thomas Jefferson who understood the linkages that needed to be made between freedom and a larger spiritual rationality. Jefferson was, in fact, a deist, someone who believed in an all-encompassing creator, but not in any particular religious dogma. The opening statement of the Declaration reflects his concern with tying freedom to an underlying spirituality that also supports the appropriate, inspiring rhetoric.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …

The free-market community generally has removed itself from such concerns in the modern era. Ayn Rand herself was certainly scathing about organized religions; generally the Western libertarian community (which is still mostly American) has seemed somewhat embarrassed to make a strong case for spirituality as an underlying fundament for free-marketing thinking. This may also be because there is an element of atheism or at least agnosticism associated with libertarianism. Organized religion is looked upon as a kind of statist support mechanism and one of social control.

But nonetheless, in large part because of the Internet, there has been a tremendous resurgence of free-market thinking throughout the Western world. In fact, it may be fair to state that citizens of Western nation-states (especially) are on the precipice of witnessing a structural change that will much diminish the hold of the current power elite (as defined by The Daily Bell). And as The Daily Bell itself has eloquently pointed out on numerous occasions, there is ample evidence that such a power shift has occurred before, most notably during the era of the Renaissance and Reformation.

The Renaissance was not led by any one particular individual, but certainly Martin Luther is overwhelmingly identified with the Reformation. In fact, however, there were others that came before Luther such as the English theologian John Wycliffe (c. 1324 – 31 December 1384) and John Huss (c. 1369 – 6 July 1415). Huss suffered a horrible death at the stake but did not surrender his belief in a more personal and less imperious liturgy – much to the chagrin of the papal elite.

There is certainly an argument to be made that Luther (and perhaps John Calvin as well) were in some sense supported by powerful Venetian banking dynasties that were then trying to diminish the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. The argument is also made that, theologically, Lutheranism is inferior to Roman Catholic ideology because it (and Protestantism in general) dispenses at least in part with the idea that salvation lies in "good works" in addition to the acceptance of Christ-as-Lord.

But while the rise of Lutheranism may have been subject to considerable intrigue, and while Luther himself may have received support from powerful families allied against the Church, there is no denying that the impulse that motivated Luther is one that proceeded him. It was therefore a historical force; something else was at work.

Luther was, in fact, speaking virtually the same truths as Wycliffe and Huss only a few decades later (Luther lived from 10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546). What was it, therefore, that enabled Luther and his primary theological assistant, Philipp Melanchthon (February 16, 1497 – April 19, 1560), to ignite a movement that split the Church and created, like a lightening bolt in a forest, a hundred new, smoldering fires of religious ideology?

The answer is … the Gutenberg press.

Initially invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1439 and functionally able to print Bibles by 1455, Gutenberg's press's rise coincided with Martin Luther's life. In fact, in 1455, 180 copies, the first copies to be printed, of Gutenberg's Bible, began to circulate in support of the simmering reform movement spawned by Huss and his "Hussites." The Hussites had long been at war with the Church and had beaten back attacks aimed at extinguishing the reformers, no fewer than five times between 1420 and 1431.

But it was Luther's lot to succeed, it could be argued, because of the accident of circumstance; his life paralleled the increasing popularity of this greatest of quasi-modern communication tools. Now people could read the Holy Bible for themselves and see, just as Luther argued, that much that the Catholic Church preached was very obviously motivated by remunerative concerns (papal indulgences, for instance) rather than theological ones.

It wasn't just Luther, either. Now that the time was right, and the technology available, other great reformers rose up, such as Switzerland's Huldrych Zwingli (1 January 1484 – 11 October 1531), to carry the torch alongside Luther. Luther's movement spread powerfully, and with the discovery and populating of the New World, Protestantism seemed to blaze out of control, in a bonfire of enthusiastic religiosity, forming ever-newer and more direct conversations with Divinity including sects such as the Shakers and Quakers that dispensed with holy ritual almost altogether.

There is no doubt that this was not to the liking of the power elite. Whatever intention the great intergenerational banking families had of using Lutheranism as a battering ram against the Church probably collapsed over time as the Gutenberg press ignited a revolution in thought that raced out of control – especially once the New World gave rise to a Confederation of States and then to "these united States."

In the centuries that followed, therefore, it seems clear that the European power elite fought back. Using money power, they attempted to control the colonies, first through the institution of an American central bank and then, when these attempts failed, through war, specifically the War Between the States, or Civil War.

The victory of the North, powered by the New York banking establishment with its European roots, presaged a vast change in America's societal evolution. It marked the rise of Wall Street, the fall of asset-based money (gold and silver), the demise of free banking and, eventually, the triumphant imposition of not just a central bank (the Federal Reserve) but also a graduated income tax and then, gradually, the accretion of the rest of the paraphernalia of the modern regulatory democracy.

Today, the same powerful families and banking dynasties that helped destroy the American republic have control over Western mainstream media, banking and industry. Warfare has escalated endlessly as the mechanism of nationalism has been employed throughout the world to generate quarrels between countries and ideologies that need constant funding. First it was Nazism, then Communism and now, of course, the "Muslim terrorist threat."

The great banking families of the West – ones that trace their generational roots back to Rome and perhaps even Babylon – have also throughout the past century perfected the marketing of dominant social themes to further their societal control. These fear-based promotions (global warming, terrorism, etc.) are intended to provoke citizens of the West in turning even more of their wealth and power over to institutions of governance controlled by the elite.

While this methodology worked quite well in the 20th century, the 21st century has seen considerable challenges grow up that have diminished the efficacy of the elite's dominant social themes. The Internet itself, in exposing these fear-based promotions, has made them a good deal less effective. What remains to the elite is the application of brute military force, but the Renaissance and Reformation both show us that such applications – bereft of an underlying belief structure – will eventually fail, or at least prove far less effective than wished.

The Internet is a "game-changer." Today, the truth spreads around the globe in seconds as modern-day reformers send forth electronic bits and bytes explaining the realities of the free market and the fallacies of its enemies. Yes, freedom is increasingly in vogue both in Europe, where a growing movement in battling the imposition of "austerity," and in America where various Tea Parties are fighting to roll back taxes, diminish the power of the Federal Reserve and reduce the serial warfare sponsored by America's military-industrial complex.

Thanks to the Internet, one could argue, we are witnessing the beginning of the next great Renaissance/Reformation, free-market era. It is one that may prove even more powerful than the one unleashed by the Gutenberg press and agents such as Luther. Nonetheless, as Dr. Branden points out, any great societal evolution needs a spiritual underpinning to become truly effective and relevant.

When the current freedom movement finally finds its Martin Luther – or at least a substantive spiritual underpinning to support its free-market conclusions – miracles may happen.

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