The Roots of Capitalism and Statism in the West - The Objective Standard

Editor’s note: The following is chapter 4 of Michael Dahlen’s book Ending Big Government: The Essential Case for Capitalism and Freedom (Minneapolis: Mill City Press, 2016). Because this chapter is from a published book, it has not been edited by TOS. Ending Big Government is available in Kindle and paperback formats through

[Philosophy] . . . determines the destiny of nations and the course of history. It is the source of a nation’s frame of reference and code of values, the root of a people’s character and culture, the fundamental cause shaping men’s choices and decisions in every crucial area of their lives. It is the science which directs men to embrace this world or to seek out some other that is said to transcend it—which directs them to reason or superstition, to the pursuit of happiness or of self-sacrifice, to production or starvation, to freedom or slavery, to life or death. It is the science which made the difference between the East and the West, between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, between the Founding Fathers of the new continent and the Adolf Hitlers of the old. —Leonard Peikoff

Philosophy, as Peikoff points out, moves human history. What does that mean? History is the aggregate of past human actions. How people, nations, and cultures act follows from what they think and believe, from the fundamental values and ideas they choose to accept. Philosophy determines broad trends, not specific events. Chance crises, accidents, and disasters beyond human control undoubtedly affect history. But how a nation responds to its problems follows from its philosophy. Its politico-economic system also follows from its philosophy.

The core values of Western culture are reason and science, individualism and the pursuit of happiness, freedom and representative government. Although the West has failed to apply these ideas consistently, they nevertheless define it. Why? Because such ideas originated in the West and distinguish it from all other cultures. When the West embraced these ideas, it flourished; when it embraced opposite ideas, it languished.

Chapters 2 and 3 outlined the basic philosophies underlying capitalism and statism. This chapter will show the connection between philosophy and politics in practice. It will survey the history of Western civilization, showing that the politico-economic system of a given era followed from the dominant philosophy of that era.

Primitive Man and the First Civilizations of the Ancient Near East

Man’s first approach to understanding the world was unavoidably pre-rational. He had no concept of an inanimate world governed by natural, immutable, impersonal laws. He believed everything—rocks, trees, rivers, mountains—was enchanted or animated with spirits. As historians Henri and H. A. Frankfort point out, when primitive man tried to identify the cause of something, he looked not for the how, but for the who:

He does not expect to find an impersonal law regulating a process. He looks for a purposeful will committing an act. If the rivers [don’t] . . . rise, it is not suggested that the lack of rainfall on distant mountains adequately explains the calamity. When the river does not rise, it has refused to rise. The river, or the gods, must be angry with the people who depend on the inundation.1

To understand the gods and to understand his place in the world, primitive man invented mythical stories based not on reason and logic, but on emotion and imagination. He also looked to priests, shamans, and witch doctors—those who claimed to communicate with the gods by means of chants, rituals, and incantations—to answer his questions. Primitive man served, obeyed, and worshipped the gods to curry their favor and to gain their protection. One way of serving the gods was to sacrifice humans and animals.

Given his primitive development, man had not yet discovered rational ethical and political principles to guide his social interactions. In dealing with others, he frequently resorted to physical force. A leading cause of death was murder,2 and the best-developed skill was war.3 Archeological evidence shows that ancient warfare was twenty times more lethal (adjusted for population) than the wars of the twentieth century.4

Primitive man was organized not in states or nations, but in bands, tribes, and chiefdoms. These tribal societies sought to protect their members from the brutality of outsiders, but individuals were not protected from their leader, the tribal chief. Recognizing no rights of the tribe’s members, the tribal chief held life-and-death power over them. They were his subjects, and his right to sacrifice them was unquestioned. The tribal chief’s authority to rule, moreover, was based on his divine descent.5

Primitive man led a subsistence-level existence. Because the tribal chief ruled man’s body and because the witch doctor ruled man’s mind, there was no room for the creator and the producer, the scientist and the innovator—those who created wealth and discovered new knowledge.6

Fortunately, some thinking individuals, whose identities are unknown, carried mankind forward. Ten thousand years ago they discovered agriculture. Five thousand years ago they built the first civilizations, Egypt and Mesopotamia, in the ancient Near East. These civilizations developed cities, built monumental architecture, and created sophisticated art. They invented the wheel and the sailboat, facilitating long-distance trade. They also made rudimentary advances in mathematics and astronomy. The Sumerians, creators of Mesopotamian civilization, invented a form of writing with pictograms on clay tablets, cuneiform, used mostly for record keeping. The Egyptians developed a similar form of writing, hieroglyphs. Later, the Phoenicians invented the first alphabet. Law codes were also developed, the best known of which was the code of Hammurabi, ruler of the old Babylonian empire. . . .

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1. Henri Frankfort and H. A. Frankfort et al., The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), p. 15.

2. Lawrence H. Keeley, War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 29, 37. Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (New York: Norton, 2005), p. 277.

3. Susan Wise Bauer, The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome (New York: Norton, 2007), p. 57.

4. Keeley, War Before Civilization, pp. 88–91, 93.

5. Martin Van Creveld, The Rise and Decline of the State (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 12, 14–15.

6. Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual (New York: Signet, 1961), pp. 13–14, 17.

7. Jackson J. Spielvogel, Western Civilization: A Brief History (Belmont: Wadsworth, 1999), p. 7.

8. Frankfort, Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, p. 374. Alan Cromer, Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 77–79.

9. Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View (New York: Ballantine Books, 1991), p. 20.

10. For a summary of Aristotle’s philosophy, see chap. 2; Plato’s philosophy, chap. 3.

11. Marvin Perry et al., Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society, 8th ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007), p. 63.

12. Spielvogel, Western Civilization, p. 94.

13. “The Twelve Tables,” The Avalon Project,

14. Perry, Western Civilization, pp. 117, 119.

15. Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Re Publica, Book 3, translated by Francis Barham,

16. Basil, Hexaemeron (Homily 1),

17. Tertullian, “An Injunction Against Heretics,” in Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe, edited by Edward Peters (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1980), p. 31.

18. Arthur Herman, The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization (New York: Random House, 2013), p. 152. Tarnas, Passion of the Western Mind, p. 475.

19. Edward Grant, Science and Religion, 400 B.C. to A.D. 1550: From Aristotle to Copernicus (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), p. 100.

20. Plotinus, Enneads, Book 6, 9th Tractate,

21. W. T. Stace, A Critical History of Greek Philosophy (London: Macmillan, 1920),

22. William H. McNeill, History of Western Civilization: A Handbook, 6th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), p. 193.

23.Compelle Intrare: The Coercion of Heretics in the Theodosian Code, 438,” Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe, p. 45.

24. Ibid., pp. 45–46.

25. Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 41–43.

26. Wilhelm Windelband, A History of Philosophy (New York: Elibron Classics, 2006), p. 264. Richard E. Rubenstein, Aristotle’s Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages (Orlando: Harcourt, 2003), pp. 49, 56. Tarnas, Passion of the Western Mind, pp. 103, 143.

27. Charles Freeman, The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason (New York: Knopf, 2002), p. 144.

28. St. Augustine, Confessions, Book 8, chap. 7,

29. A. C. Grayling, Toward the Light of Liberty: The Struggles for Freedom and Rights That Made the Modern World (New York: Walker & Company, 2007), p. 25. Cullen Murphy, God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World (New York: Mariner Books, 2012), p. 39. Freeman, Closing of the Western Mind, pp. 295–96. Peters, Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe, p. 43.

30. St. Augustine, Enchiridion: On Faith, Hope, and Love, edited and translated by Albert C. Outler (1955),

31. Augustine, Confessions, Book 10, chap. 35 (emphasis added).

32. Ward-Perkins, Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization, p. 87.

33. Ibid., pp. 145–46.

34. William Manchester, A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance (Boston: Back Bay Books, 1993), p. 3.

35. P. Boissonnade, Life and Work in Medieval Europe, translated by Eileen Power (New York: Dorset Press, 1987), pp. 123–24. Creveld, Rise and Decline of the State, pp. 60–61. McNeill, History of Western Civilization, p. 296.

36. George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory, revised by Thomas L. Thorson, 4th ed. (Hinsdale, IL: Dryden Press, 1973), p. 216.

37. Alan S. Kahan, Mind vs. Money: The War between Intellectuals and Capitalism (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2010), p. 46.

38. Quoted in Freeman, Closing of the Western Mind, p. 296.

39. Fulcher of Chartres, “The Siege and Capture of Jerusalem: Collected Accounts,” Internet Medieval Sourcebook, June–July 1099,

40. Rubenstein, Aristotle’s Children, pp. 4–5, 16–20.

41. Grant, Science and Religion, pp. 165–69.

42. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, chap. 7,

43. Grant, Science and Religion, pp. 187, 189, 203–7. Rubenstein, Aristotle’s Children, p. 231.

44. Tarnas, Passion of the Western Mind, p. 191.

45. In recent years, Christian apologists from Rodney Stark and Thomas Woods to Anthony Esolen and Dinesh D’Souza have argued that the Dark Ages weren’t actually dark, that Christianity is a religion grounded in reason, and that it created modern science. Yes, the Church deserves some credit for its ambivalent acceptance of Aristotle, but the Middle Ages were not an age of reason, and Christianity did not create modern science. Faith and reason are opposites. Aquinas’s attempt to combine the two was ultimately futile. The Scholastics’ main allegiance was to Christianity, not reason. They relegated reason to a subordinate position, a mere “handmaiden of faith.” Starting with scripture, then deducing the implications of its ideas cuts reason off from reality. Observe, for example, the sterile, pointless, academic debates of the Scholastics, such as whether an angel can move from one place to another without traversing the distance between. The function of reason is to discover the facts and laws of reality. Reason properly starts with observation, not religious dogma. To say that the Middle Ages were an age of reason is grossly inaccurate. For a detailed refutation of the Christian apologists’ arguments on these issues, see Dr. Andrew Bernstein, “The Tragedy of Theology: How Religion Caused and Extended the Dark Ages,” The Objective Standard, vol. 1, no. 4, Winter 2006–2007,

46. Charles Van Doren, A History of Knowledge: Past, Present, and Future (New York: Ballantine Books, 1991), p. 144.

47. Ibid., pp. 143, 154–55. Perry, Western Civilization, pp. 302–3.

48. Martin Luther, Table Talk, translated by William Hazlitt (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), p. 149,

49. Quoted in John Herman Randall Jr., The Making of the Modern Mind (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976), p. 167.

50. Manchester, World Lit Only by Fire, p. 99.

51. McNeill, History of Western Civilization, p. 392.

52. Perry, Western Civilization, p. 356.

53. William H. McNeill, The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), p. 588.

54. J. B. Bury, A History of Freedom of Thought (Middlesex, England: Echo Library, 2006), p. 23.

55. Martin Luther, Works, vol. 22, c. 1543.

56. The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History, edited and translated by Maurice A. Finocchiaro (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989),

57. Timothy Ferris, The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature (New York: Harper Perennial, 2010), p. 45. Marvin Perry, An Intellectual History of Modern Europe (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992), p. 77. Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man (Great Britain: BBC Books, 1973), pp. 167–68, 170.

58. John Locke, The Second Treatise on Civil Government (New York: Prometheus Books, 1986), p. 70.

59. Quoted in Perry, Intellectual History of Modern Europe, p. 121.

60. Leonard Peikoff, The Ominous Parallels (New York: Meridian, 1982), p. 101.

61. Thomas Paine, “Remarks on R. Hall’s Sermon,” The Prospect, 1804,


63. Stephen R. C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (Tempe, AZ: Scholargy Publishing, 2004), p. 10.

64. Contrary to the claims of modern conservatives, the United States was not founded on Christian principles. Religious freedom, for instance, is a distinctively Enlightenment principle, not a Christian one. Christianity demands exclusive allegiance (“Thou shalt have no other gods beside me”); it doesn’t preach that you have a right to practice any religion you choose. Furthermore, the Treaty of Tripoli, unanimously passed by the Senate in 1797, explicitly says, “The government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” Finally, several of the most prominent Founding Fathers, including Franklin and Jefferson, were deists, not Christians. For a detailed refutation of the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, see Brook Allen, Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers (Ivan R. Dee, 2006).

65. James Madison, “Charters,” National Gazette, January 18, 1792,

66. R. R. Palmer and Joel Colton, A History of the Modern World, 8th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995), pp. 452, 544. Van Doren, History of Knowledge, pp. 243, 286.

67. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, translated by Norman Kemp Smith (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1929), p. 29,

68. Ibid., p. 439,

69. Immanuel Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, translated by Lewis White Beck, 2nd ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1990), p. 59.

70. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism, p. 24.

71. Quoted in Randall, Making of the Modern Mind, p. 402.

72. Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, Book 2, (1762),

73. Ibid., (emphasis added).

74. Ibid.

75. Ibid., Book 1,

76. Randall, Making of the Modern Mind, pp. 304–5, 413.

77. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Philosophy of Right, translated by T. M. Knox (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 241 (emphasis added).

78. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, translated by Samuel Moore (1888),

79. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790),

80. Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 2 (1843),

81. Palmer and Colton, History of the Modern World, pp. 436–39, 469–71, 518, 543, 551, 559.

82. Quoted in Perry, Intellectual History of Modern Europe, p. 374.

83. Heinrich von Treitschke, Politics, translated by Blanche Dugdale and Torben De Bille (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916), pp. 66–67,

84. Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday (New York: Viking Press, 1943),

85. Herman, The Cave and the Light, pp. 487–89, 536–37.

86. Arthur A. Ekirch Jr., Progressivism in America (New York: New Viewpoints, 1974), pp. 24–26.

87. See Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals in Search of the Good Society (Transaction Publishers, 1997).

88. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism, pp. 146–50.

89. Jamie Glazov, United in Hate: The Left’s Romance With Tyranny and Terror (Los Angeles: WND Books, 2009), p. 42. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism, p. 154.

90. Peikoff, Ominous Parallels, p. 291.

91. Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), pp. 32–33, 40, 72, 76, 223–24. Daniel J. Flynn, A Conservative History of the American Left (New York: Crown Forum, 2008), pp. 340–41.

92. Gary Hull, “Contemporary Philosophy: A Report from the Black Hole,” The Intellectual Activist, vol. 7, no. 3, May 1993. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism.

93. Quoted in Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism, p. 2.

94. Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1996), pp. 5–8, 144.

95. Richard J. Evans, In Defense of History (New York: Norton, 1999), pp. 170, 176, 181–82, 200.

96. All of the evils postmodernists attribute to Western culture, such as racism, sexism, and slavery, have existed in most cultures, so for them to single out the West is intellectually dishonest. Moreover, only Western culture has waged campaigns to condemn and combat such evils. Postmodernists dismiss such historical facts as “Western bias.” This is unsurprising given that they view history as just another subjective “discourse” of the group that “constructs” it.

97. See Gross and Levitt, Higher Superstition. Lynn V. Cheney, Telling The Truth: Why Our Culture and Our Country Have Stopped Making Sense—and What We Can Do About It (New York: Touchstone, 1996), pp. 78–79, 91–93, 198. Leonard Peikoff, “Assault From the Ivory Tower: The Professors’ War Against America,” The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought by Ayn Rand, edited by Leonard Peikoff (New York: Meridian, 1989), pp. 186–208.

98. Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 7.

99. “Most Cited Authors of Books in the Humanities, 2007,” Times Higher Education, March 26, 2009,

100. Cathy Young, “In Defense of ‘Dead White Males,’” Boston Globe, March 8, 2013,

101. Arne Naess, “Simple in Means, Rich in Ends: A Conversation with Arne Naess,” interviewed by Stephen Bodian, The Ten Directions, Summer/Fall 1982 (emphasis added).

102. William Martin, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America (New York: Broadway Books, 1996), p. 234.

103. Ibid., p. 334. Michael D. Tanner, Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution (Washington: Cato Institute, 2007), pp. 47–50.

104. “Rick Santorum Is Tired of You People Wanting the Government to Leave You Alone . . . ,”,

105. Michelle Goldberg, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism (New York: Norton, 2007), pp. 6–7, 13–14, 37–38, 41–43, 158, 164–65. Chris Hedges, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (New York: Free Press, 2006), pp. 12–13, 19, 21. Martin, With God on Our Side, pp. 353–55.

106. Quoted in Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Reconstructionism: Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence,” The Public Eye, vol. 8, no. 1, March/June 1994,

107. Grenz, Primer on Postmodernism, p. 196.

108. Ibid., pp. 165–66, 168.[/groups_can]

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