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“Please, may I…?” – Part II

In The Permission Society, Timothy Sandefur wrote that there are two ways for government to regulate the actions of people. The first is the nuisance system which states that people have a right to freely act however they choose unless it will harm someone else. This includes one’s free choice as what to do with their property unless it harms his neighbor. The drawback of this system is that it is reactive. On occasion the danger of harm may be of great magnitude, either immediately or cumulative over time. Under these circumstances, the nuisance system does not preemptively protect a neighbor. On these occasions it may not be possible for the harmed neighbor to be adequately and/or timely compensated for his loss.[1] Where the potential for this type of harm is present, the deficiency in a reactive nuisance system can be mitigated through prudent but infrequent intervention and prior restraint.

The second system to regulate actions of people is the permit system which forbids people from doing anything with his property unless approved by the appropriate authorities. The permit or “prior restraint” system is proactive and does not allow a person to act until he meets the requirements dictated by the governing authorities.[2] Sandefur lists six destructive consequences of the permit system.

1. “Rent-seeking” – Even under a permit system, the laws of supply and demand continue to operate. Permits become valuable because everyone cannot have one, and in a business environment time and money are spent to acquire and preserve the coveted permit. Since the 1930s, the power of government to redistribute wealth or opportunities has grown exponentially “either by transferring money from some people to others or by granting licenses to do profitable things that are otherwise illegal.” Payments to government in whatever form they take (fees, concessions, etc.) are a form of rent charged for the privileges dispensed by government, i.e., rent-seeking. The government uses these rents for purposes that may or may not be worthwhile, but it is the government that decides what those purposes will be, right or wrong, without consultation with the electorate. And the rent received by the government will ultimately be paid by the citizens themselves.[3]

2. Knowledge problem – The permit system is based on the faulty assumption that government officials and bureaucrats in charge of granting permits have the knowledge and information necessary to make the right choices when deciding what should and should not be permitted. If the regulators/permit issuers make wrong choices, they are seldom held accountable.[4]

3. Enforcement by unelected bureaucrats – Once issued, the privileges granted by permits must be monitored and their limitations enforced. Permit issuance decisions based on vague or confusing laws or criteria effectively delegate power to administrators and judges to enforce the terms of the permits even though their decisions may be arbitrary, irrational, unfair, and pose a conflict of interest. It is difficult and extremely expensive to challenge the decisions of unelected bureaucrats and their self-created fiefdoms which have become a hostile fourth branch of government unaccountable to the electorate and certainly not envisioned by the Constitution.[5]

4. Corruption and forced concessions – Officials with power to issue permits and regulate the execution of the services granted by those permits are in the position to demand something in return. The first amounts to blatant corruption when government officials solicit and receive innumerable forms of personal gain or favor in exchange for permits or regulatory approvals. The second type is the demand by government for concessions to the government to advance or accomplish some governmentally-determined general social need, e.g., the surrender of a portion of one’s property in exchange for permission to sell or develop the rest.[6]

5. Violation of illegal requirements – Some permit requirements may be illegal in themselves. When a permit holder violates the terms of the permit, he is considered to have violated the law. Yet, the terms violated may themselves be a violation of the law. Effectively, it is difficult for the permit holder to defend himself against violating the terms of the permit by challenging the illegality of those requirements.[7] In other words, the permit holder cannot get beyond being judged guilty of violating the illegal conditions of the permit.

6. Innovation is stifled – Sandefur believes that the most troubling aspect of the permit system is that it stifles innovation. He calls innovation a fragile and elusive quality, a potential, a chance for the future. It can’t be quantified, measured, qualified, or justified. Innovation is vital to a growing and robust society. But the permit system often wants people who want to “start a new business to prove to the satisfaction of the government regulators that there is a ‘public need’ for the business before the person may set up shop.”[8]

If the citizens of a society value their freedom above all else, then the drawbacks of a pervasive permit system are fatal to freedom and the survival of a society. Article V of the Bill of Rights states that men should not “…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

This concern for the inalienable right of property is not just an academic exercise. The loss of this inalienable right impacts virtually every individual citizen in ways that are often lost in the daily information overload amidst the fast-paced buzz of life. The following example is just one of many well-intended actions of social engineers that erode the fundamental freedoms associated with one’s property and possessions.

Tulsa’s governmental fix for food deserts

A Tulsa City Counselor proposed that the City of Tulsa impose a moratorium on new grocery stores in council districts with food deserts, an area deemed to be deficient in full-service grocery stores. Counselor Vanessa Hall-Harper believes that a moratorium would solve what is believed to a problem of too many small grocery stores which prevent developers and larger full-service grocery stores from building in areas of the city considered to be food deserts. She claims that a lack of full-service stores is contributing to the decline of general health conditions in these areas.[9]

Hall-Harper cites one example in which a few of her constituents protested the issuance of a permit for a new Dollar General store in North Tulsa which they feel is inadequate. She believes this type of store discourages the building of full-service stores in so-called food deserts.[10] It would appear that for Hall-Harper and the protesters, investment of private funds in the City of Tulsa are to be dictated by political concerns and agendas as opposed to free-market forces.

But this is not government over-reach according to Hall-Harper. She says that the moratorium would be temporary and that it wouldn’t target any specific store or chains. “In my opinion, developers should work with communities.”[11]

The larger concern is that proposals of this nature have become typical of the thinking of elected government officials and especially bureaucrats who have become virtually independent and unanswerable to the electorate. Instead of a free society, we have become a “Please, may I…?” society. In a free society, a mom-and-pop grocer or a Dollar General are free to survey an area, determine if there is a need, and find an economically viable way to meet that need. These entrepreneurs must still consult local authorities about zoning matters, building permits, and the like. But, in a “Please, may I…?” society, they must also consult the local social engineers to determine if the individual or business owners’ plans fit in with the social agenda for the betterment of the community (as determined by the permission givers), even if the supposed betterment infringes on the rights and bank accounts of certain classes of citizens.

Who will be hurt by the City of Tulsa social planners’ scheme to address the lack of supermarkets in certain parts of Tulsa? The real victims will be the mom-and-pop grocers who have dreams of owning their own business, a grocery store that may one day grow into supermarket. Another victim will be the Dollar Generals of the world who research an area and determine that there are sufficient potential customers who desire what they have to offer. The local community will suffer because it will be deprived of another business to supply them with what they want and need and who will also benefit from jobs created for the area’s residents. The land owner who wants to sell his property to Dollar General will suffer because he will lose the proceeds from the sale of his land, and the contractor who would have built or remodeled the building for Dollar General will suffer of a loss of revenue because the project is prohibited.

Such arbitrary actions of government (city, state, and federal) stand in opposition to the inalienable right of property which transcends even the Constitution’s documentation of those rights. These actions have a chilling effect on developers who may be disinclined to begin future projects for fear of payments that will be extracted by government officials in the form of concessions and fees to meet some unrelated social need identified by social planners in exchange for permission to do business. This is little more than a legalized form of extortion, i.e., protection money paid to government. But the greatest damage among both the populace and government officials is the loss of the simple concept of freedom upon which the nation was founded.

This article has very briefly dealt with matters pertaining to the loss of freedom to do what one wishes with one’s property and possessions. This loss of freedom has occurred because the emergent permission society is dominated by a government and its bureaucracies that have intruded into the private and business affairs of the citizenry.

As discussed in Part I, the permission society began with the massive intrusion of government into the lives of its citizens during the 1930s under new, liberalized interpretations of the general welfare clause of the Constitution. Concurrently, government expansion began in Roosevelt’s New Deal years and accelerated with Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960s. However, the exponential growth of government intrusion into the minutest details of the daily lives of American citizens has become suffocating over the last two decades.

Perhaps the best summation of the outcome of massive governmental intrusion comes from Alexis De Tocqueville in his 1835 Democracy in America. He had a prophet’s foresight into the reasons for America’s loss of freedom as it slides into the permission society whose destination is socialism and inevitably totalitarianism.

We forget that it is, above all, in the details that we run the risk of enslaving men…Subjection in the minor things of life is obvious every day and is experienced indiscriminately by all citizens. It does not cause them to lose hope but it constantly irks them until they give up the exercise of their will. It gradually blots out their mind and enfeebles their spirit …

I may add that they will soon lose the capacity to exercise the great and only privilege open to them. The democratic nations which introduced freedom into politics at the same time that they were increasing despotism in the administrative sphere have been led into the strangest paradoxes. Faced with the need to manage small affairs where common sense can be enough, they reckon citizens are incompetent. When it comes to governing the whole state, they give these citizens immense prerogatives. They turn them by degrees into playthings of the ruler or his masters, higher than kings or lower than men. Having exhausted all the various electoral systems without finding one which suited them, they look surprised and continue to search, as if the effects they see had far more to do with the country’s constitution than with that of the electorate.[12] [emphasis added]

As noted in Part I, the intent of the Founders in proposing the addition of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution was to foster greater trust in government by adding language to limit or restrict the ability of government to abuse its powers by infringing on the inalienable rights of its citizens. But the leaders of American government over the last century have so eroded the meaning of the Constitution and the intent of the Founders that trust in government is at an all time low. Once we trusted in God from whom those inalienable rights flow. We are now told that we must trust in the leaders of the permission society from whom all privileges are dispensed to the greatest number for the greatest good.

Larry G. Johnson


[1] Timothy Sandefur, The Permission Society, (New York, London: Encounter Books, 2016), pp. 28-29.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., p. 29.
[4[ Ibid., p. 30-31.
[5] Ibid., p. 32-34.
[6] Ibid., pp. 34-35.
[7] Ibid., p. 35.
[8] Ibid., p 36.
[9] Jarrel Wade, “Grocery store proposal on tap,” Tulsa World, May 9, 2017, A-1
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Gerald E. Bevan, Trans., (London, England: Penguin Books, 2003), pp. 807-808.

“Please, may I…?” – Part I

The word inalienable (a.k.a. unalienable) has numerous synonyms: unchallengeable, absolute, immutable, unassailable, incontrovertible, indisputable, and undeniable are just a few. This is the word Thomas Jefferson chose to describe the rights of all mankind in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.

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.

Because this phrase has become so familiar to many of us who have read and revered these truths for a lifetime, they tend to become somewhat of a cliché devoid of the rich meaning and implications that are still applicable in measuring the degree to which modern government accomplishes its purpose. First, men have certain rights which are absolute. Second, these absolute rights are not bestowed by government but endowed by their Creator. Third, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are just three among other inalienable rights. And fourth, these inalienable rights are incapable of being alienated, surrendered, transferred, or altered.

In 1789, the first ten Amendments to the Constitution of the new republic memorialized several of these inalienable rights. The purpose of the Bill of Rights (the Amendments) is found in its Preamble. Congress wished to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers by proposing a Bill of Rights that would add “further declaratory and restrictive clauses” to the Constitution to improve public confidence in government. In other words, the Congress was asking the various states to ratify these Amendments to further restrict governmental abuse and thereby increase confidence in government. The Amendments described several of these rights and their associated freedoms.

Freedom or privilege?

Timothy Sandefur’s book The Permission Society describes how the ruling class has turned America’s constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms into privileges. Sandefur says that to be free means that one is able to make his own decisions, but Sandefur emphasized that such freedom did not mean that one had a right to do whatever he pleases regardless of the harm caused others. Rather, freedom meant that a person was able to follow his own will and choices with regard to his person, actions, possessions, and property without having to obey the arbitrary and rapacious will of others.[1]

To the degree that we must ask someone else to let us act, we do not have rights but privileges – licenses that are granted, on limited term, from someone who stands above us.[2] [emphasis added]

When the citizens of a free society reach a point (or a degree) that their right to act according to their own will and choices is outweighed by the privileges granted by their government and its complicit bureaucracies, then it is no longer a free society but a permission society. In such a society the citizen no longer boldly proclaims “I will…” but with hat in hand and eyes downcast, he shuffles up to his betters and mumbles “Please, may I…?”

This change of condition does not happen all at once in a free society. Rather, it occurs much the same way as a cancer attacks the body. The symptoms are minor at first but grow to the point of consciousness that something is not right in the body. In the early stages of moving from a free society to a permission society, the social planners provide soothing promises and placebos to soften the minor discomforts and inconveniences of life in a permission society. But in time as a society surrenders ever greater amounts of its freedom, the will to act by citizens holding the cherished but distant memory of freedom becomes too weak to resist their ever growing bondage to the rulers of the permission society. A free society can be saved only by radical surgery to remove the spreading cancer of the social planners and their bag of privileges to be bestowed to the inmates of the permission society.

Government fails when it does not accomplish the purpose for which it was instituted—to secure the inalienable rights of its citizens. In this two part series, we shall look at how the American government over the last century has eroded this confidence in government by not only failing to secure these inalienable rights but which has aggressively abused those rights for its own purposes. Specifically, we shall look at those inalienable rights associated with property which have been greatly abused by a heavy-handed, oppressive government and its supporting bureaucracy.

The inalienable right of property

We begin with a quote from an address by Abraham Lincoln to the New York Workingmen’s Democratic Republican Association.

Property is the fruit of labor. Property is desirable, is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another; but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence…I take it that it is best for all to leave each man free to acquire property as fast as he can. Some will get wealthy. I don’t believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good.[3]

Lincoln’s short homily on the value of property as a positive good and an encourager to industry and enterprise is important. Lincoln’s words regarding property are admirable but utilitarian by nature. Those words do not rise to the status of an inalienable right as defined by the Constitution. The inalienable right to have and use one’s property as he desires is more than something with a calculable valuable that can be weighed in the balances against some competing thing.

Richard M. Weaver wrote that, “Almost every trend of the day points to an identification of right with the purpose of the state and that, in turn, with the utilitarian greatest material happiness for the greatest number.” Weaver argues that private property is the last metaphysical right remaining because it does not depend on some measure of social usefulness that can be bent to the greatest good for the greatest number. State control of the material elements of a society positions it to allow the denial of freedom, but private property and personal income stand as a bulwark and provides a “…sanctuary against pagan statism.”[4] The biblical worldview which was the foundation of Western civilization led to boundaries on the power of the state. As a result the power of government to dictate or interfere with private transactions was limited which supported and encouraged economic freedom.[5]

Beginning of the permission society

Prior to 1936, the U.S. Supreme Court held that:

The preservation of property…is a primary object of the social compact…The legislature, therefore, had no authority to make an act divesting one citizen of his freehold, and vesting it in another, without a just compensation. It is inconsistent with the principles of reason, justice and moral rectitude; it is incompatible with the comfort, peace and happiness of mankind; it is contrary to the principles of social alliance in every free government; and lastly, it is contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution.[6]

Beginning in 1936, the Supreme Court’s liberal interpretations of the “general welfare” clause of the Constitution have dramatically enlarged the powers of the federal government and encroached on fundamental property rights through its welfare programs.[7] This liberal interpretation significantly expanded what the legislature could do with regard to providing for the “general welfare” of the United States.

The debate as to the meaning of the “general welfare” clause began with Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton and continues until the present day. Rather than continue the argument, let us evaluate the outcome of the distortion of the meaning of the “general welfare” clause which began in the 1930s. The results of this new liberal interpretation have caused an unprecedented assault on right of private property through:

• Eminent domain laws
• Diminution of the right of contract and obligations thereunder
• Oppressive income and property tax systems
• Onerous limitations on the possession and use of property through regulation[8]

It is in this last area of limitations on the possession and use of private property that the “Please, may I…?” society has evolved and replaced freedom with privileges. This assault on private property occurs through excessive governmental regulation which is fostered by a pervasive humanistic worldview. Humanism is intrinsically socialistic. A socialistic government allows its humanist elite to level society by their attempts to parcel out the greatest material happiness for the greatest number. This is accomplished through an onerous regulatory process which is the skeletal structure of all socialistic governments.[9] One example of this monolithic regulatory umbrella is found in Humanist Manifesto II as it proposes to create an international authority to control the environment and population growth.

…the door is open to alternative economic systems…The world community must engage in cooperative planning concerning the use of rapidly depleting resources. The planet earth must be considered a single ecosystem. Ecological damage, resource depletion, and excessive population growth must be checked by international concord.[10] [emphasis in original]

Yet, at the same time, the Manifesto self-righteously states that, “…bureaucratic structures should be held to a minimum. People are more important than…regulations.” In spite of these platitudes, calls for minimal regulations are disingenuous for humanists know that cooperative planning is code for regulation, and socialistically-oriented societies require massive amounts of regulation.[11]

In both Part I and II of these articles, our discussion is limited to loss of the inalienable right of private property through regulation in which one’s ownership and use of his or her property is no longer an inalienable right but a privilege to be dispensed by government. Such regulation has allowed unjust confiscation of private property without due compensation, limitations on the use of one’s property (which is in effect a taking of private property), and devaluation of private property through regulatory excesses. In Part II, we shall look at the two principal means by which government may regulate the actions of people and the consequences of each. One supports freedom and the other champions privilege.

Larry G. Johnson


[1]Timothy Sandefur, The Permission Society, (New York, London: Encounter Books, 2016), p. ix.
[2] Ibid.
[3] W. Cleon Skousen, The 5000 Year Leap, ( National Center for Constitutional Studies, 1981), p. 173.
[4] Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1948), pp. 131, 134-135.
[5] M. Stanton Evans, The Theme Is Freedom, (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1994), pp. 299-300.
[6] Skousen, The 5000 Year Leap, pp. 173-176.
[7] Ibid., p. 173.
[8] Larry G. Johnson, Ye shall be as gods – Humanism & Christianity – The Battle for Supremacy in the American Cultural Vision, (Owasso, Oklahoma: Anvil House Publishers, 2011), p. 249.
[9] Ibid., p. 254.
[10] Paul Kurtz, ed., Humanist Manifestos I & II, (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1973), p. 21.
[11] Johnson, Ye shall be as gods, p. 255.

Capitalism, Socialism, and Income Equality – Part III

In Parts I and II we have examined capitalism and socialism’s definitions and the battle of words and worldviews surrounding the adversaries. In Part III we shall look at the heart of the conflict that ultimately revolves around the status of private property and personal income.

The imposition of income equality inevitably leads to loss of property rights and loss of freedom. Therefore, to understand the demands for income equality in light of these losses, we first must contrast the status of private property in socialistic and capitalistic societies. In Part I we learned that communists consider private property as theft. Specifically, Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto written in 1848 states: “The theory of Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: The abolition of private property.” [Schmidt, p. 203.] The opposing views of property and private income are well illustrated by the words of several Founders.

The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as scared as the laws of God, and there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. Property must be secured or liberty cannot exist. [John Adams quoted by Skousen, p. 174.]

Government is instituted to protect property of every sort…[It] is not a just government where the property which a man has in his personal safety and personal liberty is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest. [James Madison quoted by Skousen, p. 175.]

The man who truly understands the political economy best…will be least likely to resort to oppressive expedients, or to sacrifice any particular class of citizens to the procurement of revenue. It might be demonstrated that the most productive system of finance will always be the least burdensome. [Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers regarding taxation, Rossiter, pp. 212-213.]

Three-quarters of a century later, President Abraham Lincoln confirmed the beliefs of the Founders when he spoke to the New York Workingmen’s Democratic Republican Association regarding property, wealth, and the wealthy.

Property is the fruit of labor. Property is desirable, is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another; but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence…I take it that it is best for all to leave each man free to acquire property as fast as he can. Some will get wealthy. I don’t believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good. [Skousen, p. 173.]

How is it that the socialistic quest for income equality has risen to new heights of power and respectability in American society given the opposing beliefs of the Founders and most Americans to the mid-twentieth century? The answer has its roots in a new interpretation of the general welfare provision of the Constitution’s Article I, Section 8, which states that, “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imports and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States…” Some at the time of its writing interpreted this clause as granting to Congress broad powers that exceeded those powers specifically enumerated in the Constitution. But James Madison, one of the Constitution’s drafters and regarded as the father of the Constitution, did not agree with the more liberal interpretation and claimed that such a reading was inconsistent with the concept of limited government. Additionally, imputing broad powers to the general welfare provision renders the enumerated powers redundant. [Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. History.] However, the Supreme Court in 1936 dramatically distorted the interpretation of the clause that was held for 150 years. Unleashed by the new meaning, Congress was permitted to distribute “…federal bounties as a demonstration of ‘concern’ for the poor and needy.” [Skousen, p. 175.]

It was relatively easy for liberals in and out of government to portray their “concern” for the poor and needy as a matter of justice. The pursuit of the humanistic definition of justice began in the 1970s with American academics that broke with previous political philosophers from the ancient Greeks to the American Founding fathers with regard to the purpose of the state. The academics now argue that the fundamental task of the state is to end inequality which rests on the core belief that inequality is intrinsically bad and even intolerable and that government should do something about it. [Ryan, p. 76.]

This Enlightenment concept of human equality flows from the humanistic assumption of the perfectibility of man. Under this concept, what men are comes from experience. Therefore, men are equal at birth, and differences and inequalities arise due to environment. The goal of humanists was to achieve an egalitarian society (and thus eliminate inequalities due to environment) through political means in which man, achieving perfect equality in their political rights, would at the same time be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions. When humanists failed to achieve equality of outcome through political equality, the levelers demanded economic democracy, a new and expanded humanist definition of equality. However, economic democracy still means an equality of condition as opposed to equality of opportunity and is to be achieved through recognition of invented or synthetic rights coupled with broad but non-specific egalitarian ideals. However, as society is leveled with guarantees of certain outcomes to its citizens, political equality suffers. [Johnson, p. 395.]

In order for government to accomplish its newly defined purpose of eliminating all inequality, it is necessary to impose a socialistic system. Therefore, capitalism had to go, and the typical means to trash capitalism is to portray capitalism as unjust, unfair, lacking concern for the poor, greedy, and dishonest. Think of the Occupy Wall Street protests of recent times. The essence of their protests and arguments is that justice is not possible under a capitalistic system…and the state must do something about it. Under assault from government, academia, and other spheres of American life, many in America consider “capitalism” to be a dirty word. But the majority of those that hold this view have little memory of the negative effects of alternative approaches used to organize society. And the vast majority of American universities are filled with professors who embrace the humanistic worldview (and its inherent socialism) and have little interest in presenting historical truth. Rather, for humanists and others of the Enlightenment crowd, their Nirvana will ultimately be achieved as humanity moves ever upward and onward in its continual quest for perfection through the disappearance of the individual soul into universal equality.

The humanistic meaning of this pervasive equality is clearly stated in Humanist Manifesto II’s eleventh common principal, “The principle of moral equality must be furthered…This means equality of opportunity…” But, the meaning of “equal opportunity” is immediately and drastically corrupted to mean an equality of outcome by humanist requirements. To further clarify the intent of the signors of the Manifesto, the document states that, “If unable, society should provide means to satisfy their basic economic, health, and cultural needs, including whatever resources make possible, a minimum guaranteed annual income.” [Kurtz, p. 20.]

Through its citizenry’s ignorance of the nation’s founding principles, decades of deconstruction of Constitutional safeguards by liberal judges, and the domination of the institutions and leadership of American life by those holding a humanistic worldview, income inequality is the bogey-man used by the liberals to advance the socialist agenda and destroy capitalism. Emotions are aroused by appeals to class consciousness, envy, and hatred that damages cultural unity and push the nation along the road to disintegration.

The founding Americans relied on order that rested upon a respect for prescriptive rights and customs as opposed to the egalitarian notions of French philosophers which fed the bonfires of the French Revolution. This difference was made clear by John Adams’ definition of equality which strikes at the heart of what it really means—a moral and political equality only—by which is meant equality before God and before the law. This definition does not teach that all men are born to equal powers, mental abilities, influence in society, property, and other advantages. Rather, all men are born to equal rights before God and the law and by implication equal opportunity. [Kirk, p. 83.]

Larry G. Johnson


Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2004), p. 203.

W. Cleon Skousen, The 5000 Year Leap – The 28 Great Ideas That Changed the World, ( National Center for Constitutional Studies, 2006), pp. 173-175.

Clinton Rossiter, ed., The Federalist Papers, (New York: Signet Classic, 1961), pp. 212-213.

Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. History, “General Welfare Clause,” (accessed February 10, 2014).

Ryan T. Anderson, “The Morality of Democratic Capitalism-How to Help the Poor,” The City, Houston Baptist University, Spring 2012, p. 76. (Book review of Wealth and Justice: The morality of Democratic Capitalism, Peter Wehner and Arthur Brooks, AEI Press, 2010.)

Larry G. Johnson, Ye shall be as gods – Humanism and Christianity – The Battle for Supremacy in the American Cultural Vision, (Owasso, Oklahoma: Anvil House Publishers, 2011), p. 395.

Paul Kurtz, ed., Humanist Manifestos I and II, (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1973), p. 20.

Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind, ( BN Publishing, 2008), p. 83.

Capitalism, Socialism, and Income Equality – Part II

Capitalism is synonymous with free enterprise and free markets while socialism is associated with planned economies and state control. As noted in Part I, the out-workings of these concepts revolve around the definition of freedom to which both claim allegiance. However, socialism cannot be separated from its parent and patron—humanism. Humanism requires socialism as socialism is the chain-mail glove into which the hand of humanism fits and uses to enforce its vision of societal order.

The humanist definition of freedom presumes to loose man from the bondage of mores, norms, tradition, and distant voices of the past. However, the humanists’ definition of freedom, which co-joins the maximization of individual autonomy with the humanist-created primacy of the greatest good for the greatest number, is a false freedom. A society organized around the tenets of humanism cannot remain free as it will be pushed to one end or the other of the anarchy-totalitarian continuum of government. In reality, such humanistic concepts of freedom coerce the individual through the requirement of a general commonality of thought and action which is forced downward from the state to the individual. However, the central cultural vision of any society must command unity for it to exist and prosper in ordered harmony. Such unity must filter up from individuals, not be coerced or forced down on society. Without such unity filtering up from individuals, there can be no order of the soul or society, and without such order society deteriorates over time and eventually disintegrates. [Johnson, p. 393.]

By contrast, although there is an affinity between capitalism and Christianity, Christianity does not require capitalism nor does capitalism require Christianity. The affinity lies in freedom defined as lack of coercion. A free market (capitalism) “…is not ‘Christian in and by itself; it is merely to say that capitalism is a material by-product of the Mosaic law.’ In other words, capitalism is a by-product of Christianity’s value of freedom applied to economic life and activities.” [emphasis added] [Schmidt, p. 207.]

That Christianity values freedom should be no surprise. God valued freedom so much that he gave freewill to man, the pinnacle of His creation. God wishes to share his love and eternity with His creation, but He does not coerce or compel man in the spiritual realm nor does he wish man to be coerced in the economic realm on this earth as does fascism, socialism, and communism. [Schmidt, p. 205.]

Capitalism is the most successful when it is the most moral. It is not coincidence that the greatest freedom and economic prosperity occur in countries where Christianity is and continues to be the dominant worldview. Capitalism that arose during the period of industrialization was often wild and reckless as a new-born colt that thrashes about until it steadies itself. It was the moral suasion of Christianity that helped steady capitalism and correct its excesses. [Schmidt, p. 207.]

How is it then that socialism has a growing following around the world and even in wildly successful capitalistic countries such as the United States? Writing seventy years ago amidst humanity caught up in a conflagration of death and destruction during World War II, F. A. Hayek gave insight into the answer.

The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those which they, or at least the best among them, have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognized before…And the most efficient technique to this end is to use the old words but change their meaning…Few traits of totalitarian regimes…are characteristic of the whole intellectual climate as the complete perversion of language, the change of meaning of the words by which the ideals of the new regimes are expressed. The worst sufferer in this respect is, of course, the word “liberty” (freedom). [Hayek, p. 174.]

The trashing of capitalism began in earnest by the mid-nineteenth century when Karl Marx, atheist and communist, wrote Das Kapital (Capital) in which he saw labor as both distinct from and an antithesis to capitalism. Thus began collectivist’s propaganda efforts at replacing capitalism’s definition as being free markets and free enterprise to that of a merciless evil preying on the proletariat. [Schmidt, p. 206.]

In answer to capitalism’s critics, the late Pope John Paul II framed the issue well in 1996 when he asked whether the failed communist states in Eastern Europe should opt for capitalism. In reply to his own rhetorical question he stated,

If by ‘capitalism’ is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative. [Schmidt, pp. 206-107.]

However, less than two decades later, Pope Francis would attempt to dignify leftist denigration of capitalism in his 224 page Evangelii Gadium (Joy of the Gospel) that attacked capitalism as a form of tyranny and called on church and political leaders to address the needs of the poor. [Gettys]

53. …Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape. [emphasis added]

54. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system… [emphasis added]

56. While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control… [emphasis added] [Evangelii Gadium]

One must ask which man has experienced socialistic totalitarianism and therefore has a better insight into its horrors as compared to the worthiness of capitalism. Certainly it is the Polish Pope John Paul II whose leadership along with that of Ronald Reagan resulted in the downfall of communism and the liberation of millions.

Pope John Paul II’s intransigence against socialism was evident from the beginning of his papal reign when he disciplined Latin American liberationist priests within the church who had incorporated a Marxist orientation as one of the pillars of liberation theology. In the late 1960s this rebellious sociology had developed rapidly in Latin America which regarded the underdevelopment of the continent as a consequence of the capitalist market system. As a result, undeveloped countries were exhorted to reject the capitalist market system in favor of a socialist economy. As this new sociology was absorbed by the church, liberation theology emerged from its wake. But John Paul’s message to the Latin American Catholic church was that Marxism cannot be regarded as an instrument of sociological analysis, being a wrong vision of the human person and the product of a biased scientific methodology. Rather, liberation theology must be centered on Christ the Redeemer. [Inside the Vatican] Although Pope Francis did not and does not adhere to nor promote the Marxist variant of liberation theology, nevertheless, his beliefs have been heavily influenced by and are a product of the highly socialistic orientation of most liberation theologies prevalent in South America. The extent of Pope Francis’s socialistic orientation becomes abundantly evident when reading Evangelii Gadium quoted above.

In Parts I and II we have examined capitalism and socialism’s definitions and the battle of words and worldviews surrounding the adversaries. In Part III we shall look at the battle as it focuses on income equality and property.

Larry G. Johnson


Larry G. Johnson, Ye shall be as gods – Humanism and Christianity – The Battle for Supremacy in the American Cultural Vision, (Owasso, Oklahoma: Anvil House Publishers, 2011), p. 393.

Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2004), pp. 205-207.

F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, Ed. Bruce Caldwell, 1944, 2007), p. 174.

Travis Gettys, “Pope Francis rips capitalism and trickle-down economics to shreds in new policy statement,” The Raw Story, November 26, 2013. (accessed 2-5-2014).

Pope Francis, Evangelii Gadium (Joy of the Gospel), November 24, 2013. (accessed February 5, 2014).

“Liberation Theology Interview with Professor Rocco Buttiglione,” Inside the Vatican, June/July 2013. (accessed February 5, 2014).

Capitalism, Socialism, and Income Equality – Part I

That capitalism has once again been resurrected as the bad boy that creates a broken society and robs the poor should be no surprise to any student of the history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Its nemesis is socialism. The opposing concepts have found different homes in the two dominant worldviews in Western civilization—Christianity and humanism. Both capitalism and socialism claim the badge of freedom, but their definitions of freedom are substantially different. Generally, socialism speaks of a “freedom from…” while capitalism espouses a “freedom to…” Does this simple distinction really make a difference in our lives? Yes. Whichever worldview prevails will dominate and organize society and determine how we, our children, and our grandchildren will live our lives. This battle lies at the heart of the culture wars and currently revolves around cries for income equality.

The genesis of the conflict between capitalism and socialism arose from the large-scale industrialization in the Western world near the beginning of the nineteenth century. J. M. Roberts in his definitive The New History of the World stated that the magnitude of societal change produced by industrialization was the “most striking in European history since the barbarian invasions”…and perhaps the “…biggest change in human history since the coming of agriculture, iron, or the wheel.” [Roberts, pp. 708-709.]

Capitalism, unlike socialism, was not invented and therefore is not a philosophy. Rather, capitalism is a long-term outgrowth of the natural workings of human motives and endeavors as they coalesced around the events of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These events included great strides in agricultural production, increasing population, technological advances, replacement of human and animal labor with machines, increasing specialization, production in larger units, and centralization of the means of production. The engine that powered all of these aspects of human life and activity was capital which had been built up over centuries in places where a measure of societal stability led to investor confidence, and this confidence was found primarily in Western civilization. [Roberts, pp. 704-705, 708-709, 711.] Growth in agriculture and industrialization would have been impossible without capital investment. The relationship between commerce and capital was symbiotic. Capital grew when investments were successful, and successful investments unleashed demand for more capital.

But societal change of the magnitude and rapidity as described by Roberts was massively unsettling. The social fabric was stretched or torn as populations shifted from agrarian life to crowded cities, new schools developed and educational requirements changed, and new social classes emerged as property and wealth were reshuffled to reflect new economic realities. Dislocation and human suffering were enormous during the initial stages of industrialization and devastating to whole generations as evidenced by bleak industrial cities, exploitation of labor (particularly that of children and women), and loss of centuries of order more specifically defined as a loss of place and purpose as the Church reeled under attacks by the humanistic philosophies of the Enlightenment. However, the poverty of urban life of the times was perhaps no greater than that of the agrarian hovel except in the loss to the soul.

Efforts to recapture of the soul would take much of a century and never really be successful as deceptive definitions of man and his purpose would poison his consciousness and relegate him to animal status with no soul and therefore no need of God.

But the Church would not quietly cede Western civilization to the flood waters of industrialization and Enlightenment philosophies. Compassion was the Christian innovation in all of history and was evident in Christ’s concern for the hurting and sick. From the earliest days of the industrial revolution, Christianity invaded the cities to not only save the soul but provide services and address societal ills for the hurting masses. Christian men of compassion fought to outlaw child labor in England, men such as William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury. But Shaftesbury was the most determined and worked tirelessly for decades in Parliament to pass many bills that improved the lot of English children. The renowned preacher Charles Spurgeon said of Shaftesbury, “A man so firm in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so intensely active in the cause of God and man, I have never known.“ [Schmidt, pp. 142-143.] From such men and women came the likes of George Muller, a German who became a missionary to England in 1829. He established his first orphanage for girls in 1836, and by the time of his death in 1898, eight thousand children in numerous orphanages under his direction were being educated and cared for. [Schmidt, pp. 132-133.] Other organizations were birthed such as the Salvation Army (founded in London in 1865 by William and Catherine Booth) that ultimately provided worldwide relief for millions of the poor and destitute. Although General Booth died in 1912, his and his wife’s work would continue and expand into over one hundred countries by the end of the twentieth century. (Hosier, pp. 3, 192, 201.] These are just few of the thousands that immersed themselves in the grit and poverty of the nineteenth century to address vast societal changes and deprivations caused by industrialization.

But taking its cue from enlightenment rationalism, there was another offering its voice. Unlike Christianity, it was not interested in saving the soul but redefining man and society. The rise of socialists and socialism generally corresponded with the emergence of the industrial age near the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Both words (socialists and socialism) were first commonly used in France around 1830 to describe theories and men opposed to society run on market principles and to an economy operated on laissez-faire lines, of which the main beneficiaries (they though) were the wealthy. Economic and social egalitarianism is fundamental to the socialist idea…All socialists, too, could agree that there was nothing sacred about property, whose rights buttressed injustice; some sought its complete abolition and were called communists. “Property is theft” was one very successful slogan. [Roberts, pp. 758-759.]

At this point we must more specifically describe capitalism and socialism. Capitalism is an “…economic system characterized by private or corporation ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision rather than by state control, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly in a free market. Socialism is “…any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods…” [Webster’s Dictionary, 1963, pp. 124, 828.] Interestingly, the first American dictionary published by Noah Webster in 1828 did not have a definition for either socialism or capitalism as these were rather new concepts in the emerging industrial age. [Webster’s Dictionary, 1828]

In Part II we shall examine the conflict and consequences of each of these forces that arose in the era of industrialization.

Larry G. Johnson


J. M. Roberts, The New History of the World, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 704-705, 708-709, 711, 758-759.

Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2004), pp. 132-133, 142-143.

Helen K. Hosier, William and Catherin Booth, (Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing, Inc., 1999), pp. 3, 192, 201.

Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, (Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Company, Publishers, 1963), pp. 124, 828.

Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language, (New York: S. Converse, 1828), Republished in Facsimile Edition (San Francisco, California: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1995).