Is Capitalism Justified?

Dispelling the Myths of Socialism Part II:

This is the second installment in the series of dispelling the myths of socialism which I started here by debunking the myth of the necessity of violence in socialist theory. In this installment, I’m going to point to two arguments that are frequently used against socialism (or, in the case of the first example, in favour of capitalism).

#1) One of the most popular justifications offered forth by capitalists to justify their system is that, to use the Reaganite/Thatcherite/Friedman parlance, “a rising tide raises all ships”. This can be described as the argument from utility. In other words, capitalism is useful, it has generally increasing standards of living, therefore capitalism, even if it’s grossly unequal and/or exploitative, can be justified on the grounds of utility.

#2) A second popular argument used either to attack socialism or to prop up capitalism, in fact, was best summarized by Olaf who used this argument to attack me on this blog in my post “To those who say socialism doesn’t work“. Olaf wrote, “Well Paul, I suppose one would have to ask, Why? Why hasn’t it been tried, as Marx predicted? If it is so just, so ultimately rational and equal and fair, why hasn’t it been tried?”

I didn’t take due diligence to respond fully to Olaf at the time, and instead merely issued a short response. Now, I’m extremely glad I didn’t respond, since, having come across this response by Noam Chomsky, I couldn’t have possibly responded as completely and totally as Chomsky does.

So, instead of having me debunk the two myths of socialism/capitalism I outlined above, I’m going to let the master do it for me. I absolutely love how Chomsky just undresses this poor young stupid capitalist.


19 Responses to “Is Capitalism Justified?”

  1. 1 paulitics 30 January, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    PS. I just wanted to give a shoutout to Juan from and Joe from who helped me out with the problem I was having hosting this Chomsky file. You guys are amazing and I couldn’t have done it without you.

  2. 2 Paul Vincent 30 January, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    When I went to a Chomsky lecture on campus I went to ask him a question and he interupted me half way through the question and prodded on the point he wanted to answer, not the quesiton. Its called making “strawman” arguments and when at lectures Chomsky likes to deal with the easier questions than the harder ones.

    Take for example this one:
    “Why does this system remain unchallenged?”

    This means why no competative system has arisen to challenge it. That was what he was asking, not whether the American government has been challenged or not. And then he rants off on all sorts of red herrings that simply were not even asked.

    I liked Chomsky’s books but never again will I go to his lectures. Just about anyone who asks a question that may contend with his views he treats like this and is in no way a serious political scientist. He is a semanticist and his best works are in logical semanticism… not political science.

  3. 3 paulitics 30 January, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    Paul Vincent – Obviously, I can’t comment on your experience with Chomsky, as I wasn’t there. However as per the young capitalist’s question — which, I believe, is more or less exactly the question posed to me by Olaf — Chomsky was asked “If this system is so bad and everything… why hasn’t there been greater movements to challenge it?[sic]”

    If you move the slider bar to 6:41, you’ll hear Chomsky’s direct answer to this question and he does answer it. Firstly, he (correctly) points out that it is challenged all the time, albeit in what Chomsky considers to be a cyclical trend. Secondly he points out that it’s utterly foolish to assume that just because there’s something more just than capitalism that it would have arisen. This is foolish because, as Chomsky points out, slave society (as well as feudalism) existed for hundreds of years (and on this point, however, I’ll admit that Chomksy is wrong: in fact these societies lasted for THOUSANDS of years, not hundreds).

    For my mind, this is about as clear-cut of a logical argument as one could ask for (even considering that the comments were ad lib, this is still a very strong and coherent argument).

    Now, granted, Chomsky does address additional issues here. However, I think the principle of charity (which is also a logical precept) would dictate that in such discussions, one is permitted to address additional issues so long as one also answers the question at hand logically and coherently. This practice of speaking on related topics to give context to a decision, in fact, is at the centre of jurisprudence in the Western world and is therefore generally not considered anathama to formal or informal reasoning. In the Western world’s practice of jurisprudence, judges not only hand down a rationes decidendi but also give contextuality to the rationes decidendi with the use of an obiter dictum which, as I see it, was merely what Chomsky was attempting to do.

    What do you find logically inconsistent or unpalatable about this practice?

  4. 4 Paul Vincent 30 January, 2007 at 9:22 pm

    Its one thing to put something into context but to take it out of context and place it into a brand new one… not quite the same.

    A person may say that it is “no challenge” for the LA Lakers to play a high school team. A challenge involves the possibility that the opposition can win. The “challenges” he named to capitalism were not challenges as well. He placed this term into a brand new context.

    Slave socety was challenged quite adequately throughout the ages. Do you think the treatment of slaves in the American context was in the same as the Roman context? I’d say not. Economic systems changed a lot more than Marx lead us to believe with his “grand societal categories.” The economic system of serfs in Russia was not the same as the serfs in France. Those systems were challenged and changed… many times. Capitalism however remains the same greedy system it was 200 years ago.

  5. 5 paulitics 1 February, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    Paul Vincent –

    “Context” – noun. (1) The part of a text or statement that surrounds a particular word or passage and determines its meaning. (2) The circumstances in which an event occurs; a setting.

    I don’t see how what Chomsky did in this above answer is taking anything out of context. Are you saying that the circumstances and historical events documented by Chomsky are somehow erroneous or unimportant? Because I would argue that the historical circumstances which Chomsky mentioned in this answer are quite pertinent.

    You write that “The ‘challenges’ he named to capitalism were not challenges as well.” That’s a pretty subjective and difficult position to defend.

    “Challenge” – noun. (1) a call or summons to engage in any contest, as of skill, strength, etc. (2) something that by its nature or character serves as a call to battle, contest, special effort, etc.: Space exploration offers a challenge to humankind. (3) a call to fight, as a battle, a duel, etc. (4) demand to explain, justify, etc.

    First of all, you say at one point in your comment that slave society was challenged “throughout the ages” (which, as an aside, I imagine it probably was at points, but since history wasn’t really seriously recorded until the influence of millenarianism was felt around the 12th Century, and a recording of “people’s histories” didn’t occur until much much later we truly don’t know whether slave society was challenged “through the ages” but, then I digress). Let’s take it for granted that you’re right and that from its inception there were “challenges” to slave society. Let’s say there were challenges to slave society in Ancient Greece, in Rome etc. How can you say that those challenges constitute challenges but say that the efforts against capitalism, given the aforementioned defintion and your own statement, don’t constitute challenges?

    Secondly, on this point of the seriousness of the challenges against capitalism, even the primary documents reveal that the Western governments were terrified of a Bolshevik Revolution happening in their countries. Read the government documents around the time of the Winnipeg General Strike. Read the literature on HUAC in the US (especially its foundation and its transformation from searching out American Nazis to searching out American Communists). Read about how the US government interpreted the Minneapolis Teamster’s Strike. All of these are examples of how the Western governments THEMSELVES felt these were serious challenges to their authority and worthy of using violence and coercion against their own population.

    If the governments themselves felt these were serious challenges, don’t you think that we can call these serious challenges?

    Lastly, you write that: “Capitalism however remains the same greedy system it was 200 years ago.” Is this statement intended to be humorous or facetious? I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you weren’t arguing that the capitalism of the 18th and 19th Centuries remains the same as capitalism today. But if you’re not arguing that, then I presume you must be focussing on the egoistic necessity undergirding capitalism which, you’re right, has yet to be defeated (although, I would argue, has been challenged). But then again the egoism of feudalism and the egoism of slave-society weren’t ever defeated either, they were merely transformed.

  6. 6 Dan 2 February, 2007 at 11:25 am

    The Chomsky passage reminds me of a thought I had while reading Jonah Goldberg’s hagiography of Pinochet. Goldberg’s logic was “oh sure lotsa people died – but the economy was better.” And it occurred to me that the exact same argument works for the first four decades or so of communism in the USSR. In 1917 Russia was a backward agrarian economy, in 1957 they were first in the space race.

  7. 7 paulitics 2 February, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    Dan: Well put. It was funny (in a sad way) too when Pinochet died that the whole “sure people died but the economy was good” argument was actually resurrected and used in the mainstream press. I documented this on my blog here:

  8. 8 fireball 18 January, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    Hey Paul,

    Do you think socailism could be considered a German religion? It has it’s own book, prophets, and determined following. Marxists have no faith in a deity yet have faith in the economist and the working class. Moral codes, practices, values, institutions, tradition, rituals, and scriptures are all part of Marxism.

    I know Marx and Engels spoke against religions but in doing so socailism becomes like other religions in that condemn opposing philosophies. I just wanted to hear your opinnion on this. Is Marxism the Opiate of the masses?

  9. 9 paulitics 19 January, 2008 at 10:59 am

    Fireball, you raise a fair question that deserves to be answered.

    Firstly, you write specifically whether “socialism COULD be considered a German religion?” Given that wording, I’d have to say that, yes it COULD be considered a religion. Anything could be considered by somebody to be a religion. For instance, the followers of the Heaven’s Gate cult back in the 1997 were able to turn a belief in castration and a magical spaceship that trails the comet Hale-Bopp into a religion.

    Secondly, given that caveat, I’m going to re-work your question slightly (if that’s okay) to read: “SHOULD socialism be considered a religion?” Based on this new question, let me say from the get-go that every group has their crazies. America has Pat Robertson. Canada has Tom D’Aquino and Jason Kenny. Atheists have Christopher Hitchens. And Marxists have crazies that treat Marx in terms of a cult of personality. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t Marxists like that. However, what I can say on this front is two fold: First Marx himself wrote about how he didn’t want to be worshipped and he loathed cults of personality be it centred around somebody else or himself. In fact, if you read his work, Marx talks about how, at times, he actively tried to be a bit of a dick when he felt that people were beginning to idolize him. Second, I can say that in my experiences with the Marxist community, the kind of people who believe that Marx’s work was 100% correct like some kind of a prophet are few and far between.

    So, given Marx’s own personal disdain for such idolation, there’s nothing in his work that says it is intended and should be treated as some kind of quasi-religious texts (indeed quite the opposite). This, of course, is diametrically opposed to, for instance, the Qur’an or the Bible or the Upanishads which DO say that they are to be treated as religious texts. Moreover, given how extremely dangerous it is politically to base any social organization scheme on a putatively inerrant or infallible text be it secular or not (and we’ve seen plenty of examples of this), I’d say that there’s great reason why we shouldn’t treat Marx as anything more than a particularly insightful and ingenious 19th Century dead white guy.

    In fact, it is on this basis that I call myself a Marxist. It isn’t because there aren’t any errors or problems with his work (because there certainly are). It’s quite simply because I believe his work to be brilliant and to have greater explanatory and heuristic value than anybody else’s that I’ve read.

    Moving on to something else you wrote. In your question, you wrote: “socailism could be considered a GERMAN religion”. Entertaining the notion for a moment of socialism as a ‘religion’, even if one were to see socialism as a ‘religion’, it most certainly wouldn’t be a German one. Marx wasn’t anywhere close to being the first socialist thinker. The French had Rousseau who was born in 1712, more than 100 years before Marx. The English had the radical so-called “Diggers” who broke away from the “Levellers” as early as 1649 or 1650. The Greeks had Plato, a quasi-socialist thinker, 2400 years ago. And, work done by anthropologist Eleanor Burke Leacock demonstrates that several tribes of the Inuit (who Americans still call “Eskimos”) were very much socialist well into pre-history.

    So socialism has a VERY long history and if it can be seen as a religion, it most certainly would not be a German one.

    In fact, an argument can be made that Germany would be the LAST possible place to attribute as the birthplace of socialism. Marx, contrary to popular belief, spent way more time writing about and theorizing about the various grotesqueries of capitalism, the state and history than he did writing about socialism proper.

    Lastly, you wrote: “Moral codes, practices, values, institutions, tradition, rituals, and scriptures are all part of Marxism.”

    Respectfully, I would have to say that I don’t believe this to be a true statement. Marx wrote that moralization and moral codes belong to what he called the ‘superstructure’ (see ) and thus, not only was he not a moral philosopher, but he actively avoided talking about morality other than as a social phenomenon (unlike other socialist thinkers who DID moralize such as Rousseau, the Diggers and Plato). Secondly, Marx didn’t advocate any specific social practices or rituals or scriptures that I’m aware of (He didn’t intend, for instance, for his books to form the centrestone of the constitution of a socialist republic).

    As for institutions, yes of course Marx advocated certain kinds of institutions and railed against other kinds of institutions. But then again so did Burke (the father of conservatism) and so did Mill (the father of liberalism) and so did Strauss (father of neoconservatism) and so did von Hayek (father of neoliberalism). So if Marxism is a religion based on advocacy for certain institutions, then so too are these other political philosophies.

  10. 10 Fireball 19 January, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Thanks for your reply Paul. I agree my question is poorly worded. Socialism is to broad a term in the context of my question. I was trying to give it a little more color. The question should have been: Is Marxism a European religion?

    In saying some followers of every philosophy are misguided we are agreed. It is not so funny how Mohamed also asked for his image not to be worshiped and yet today we see people killed in response to a caricature. In this there is also a similarity to Marx. Idolatry is also condemned by monotheistic religions. In their desire for a singular goal they are the same.

    Marx and other socialists works were written as perceived truth. As are most religious texts at least in the beginning.

    The lexicon of the age may have changed. Words like reason and perceived reality had taken the place divine guidance and god for Marx and many others of that time.

    Marx himself had his own morals that are reflected in his writing. Morals are judgments made on past observations. They become decorative traditions and rituals when their meaning or reason is forgotten. This is what he spoke out against.

    Marxism is a “political philosophy”. A common belief and a theory of order held by many. In a thousand years will it not be viewed as another organization of people with a common faith? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  11. 11 paulitics 19 January, 2008 at 4:53 pm


    You talk about the proscription in Islam against the depiction of Mohammed and then say that “In this there is also a similarity to Marx.” I don’t follow your logic on that one. As your argument stands now, I most certainly disagree that there’s any similarity there, so perhapse you can clarify your position there.

    You also reword your question to “Is Marxism a European religion?” On this front, I believe I’ve already expressed my belief above that both in my reading of Marx and in my personal experience with Marxists generally, there does not seem to be any evidence to support this characterization. However, even leaving this issue aside, if Marxism were to be seen as a religion, I must point out that it wouldn’t be a European one anymore than it would be a German one, due to the fact that the Inuit of North America have practiced various brands of socialism from time immemorial long before the French or the English or the Germans.

    The only other thing I wanted to take issue with is your statement that: “Marx and other socialists works were written as perceived truth. As are most religious texts at least in the beginning.” All political philosophy attempts to reach at some manner of truth. I know not of a single political philosopher who begins his or her seminal work with “Everything I’m about to write is not perceived truth and is, on the contrary, demonstrably and laughably false.” I don’t see how Marx is any different on this front from the political philosophers of liberalism, neoliberalism, conservatism or neoconservatism.

    However, there are significant differences between the putative truth of religion and the putative truth of Marx’s work. Most religious practitioners today and throughout history have had their faith pushed upon them by their parents before they reach the age of reason.

    Richard Dawkins does a wonderful routine that he works in to some of his talks wherein he takes a picture of three pre-school-aged children he clipped out from a local newspaper in England. Beneath the picture, the newspaper’s original caption read something to the effect of “Elizabeth, a Christian; Mohammed, a Muslim; and Golda, a Jew.” Dawkins then photoshops the caption to read “Elizabeth, a Neo-Keynesian; Mohammed, a Monetarist; and Golda, a Marxist.”

    We see the point Dawkins is making because of how ridiculous it is to assume that a child could ever be a Neo-Keynesian a Monetarist or a Marxist and we would never speak of children using such terms because we rightly understand that they are too young to have made up their minds on this complex issues. But we regularly speak of children using religious labels (as demonstrated in Dawkins newspaper clipping) because, Dawkins rightly points out, religion, unlike Marxism, is not something that people chose: it is something that is chosen for them before they can think for themselves.

  12. 12 Fireball 19 January, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    In responce:

    In some ways Mohammad shared Marx’s personal disdain for idolation.

    I was agreeing with you by rephrasing the question.

    I also agree with you liberalism, neoliberalism, conservatism or neoconservatism can be considered belief systems.

    The Inuit of North America communities practiced Socialism not Marxism.

    I doubt Richard Dawkins upbringing had no influence on his current beliefs. If his parents choose for him to be a Neo-Keynesian that would be reflected in his childhood drawings. There are many examples of the Marxist faith being pushed upon children before they reach the age of reason. Even to the degree of them betraying their own family members to authorities.

    I don’t mean to be short I just mean to be clear. I also have to go.

  13. 13 fireball 20 January, 2008 at 12:34 am

    I consider Marxism a European religion as Abrahamic religions are considered Middle eastern.

  14. 14 paulitics 20 January, 2008 at 9:35 am

    fireball – well, there certainly are other people who would agree with you. Although, I believe that I’ve given several good reasons for why we should believe the opposite to be true.

  15. 15 Eirenei 14 January, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Hi all

    Im a high school student. U guys sound like you have read alot hmm Congrats lol But the question right on top of this page says “is capitalism justified ?. Can someone write a 2 paragraph answer to that. Is it justified anyone?


  16. 16 John Wright 27 June, 2009 at 1:33 am

    So, what’s your e-mail? What’s your phone number? What’s your address??

    What, you aren’t a coward are you???? Show us where you are…you have to have more than that “Paul Bernardo” lookalike picture, don’t you???

    C’mon, fess up…

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  1. 1 Marx on religion: Dispelling more myths about socialism « Paulitics: Paul’s Socialist Investigations Trackback on 18 May, 2008 at 6:33 pm
  2. 2 Victory! Marxist/Anarchist party wins seat in Quebec election! « Paulitics Trackback on 8 December, 2008 at 10:58 pm

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