Modern liberals are fond of claiming that capitalism is inherently selfish, and that with too much liberty and not enough government come greed. I found a novel take on this idea in a New York Times Op-Ed piece by Kurt Andersen called “The Downside of Liberty.” He sees in the 1960s cultural revolution the seeds of not only personal individualism run amok, but money-grubbing-Ayn-Randian-greed-is-good-egoism. For him the 60s social changes were all of a piece:
For hippies and bohemians as for businesspeople and investors, extreme individualism has been triumphant. Selfishness won.
People on the political right have blamed the late ’60s for what they loathe about contemporary life — anything-goes sexuality, cultural coarseness, multiculturalism. And people on the left buy into that, seeing only the ’60s legacies of freedom that they define as progress. But what the left and right respectively love and hate are mostly flip sides of the same libertarian coin minted around 1967. Thanks to the ’60s, we are all shamelessly selfish.
That a liberal like Andersen would condemn the results of the 60s counter cultural revolution as “selfishness” is progress. It is also progress when the same liberal doesn’t see capitalism itself as inherently driven by that same selfishness. Human nature is capable of both vice and virtue, whatever the endeavor. Thus that a selfish spirit could infect those who run businesses and invest in them is obvious, but liberal muddle headed thinking sees the desire (which is really a need) for profits as inherently “selfish.”
To most liberals, and some traditionalist conservatives, there is a constant tension “between individualism and the civic good.” But these are not mutually exclusive realities, as is assumed by those who constantly rail against individualism. As the founders of America understood on that famous July 4th 236 years ago, the success of the American experiment depended on a self governing people who knew that liberty and personal responsibility went hand in hand, and that religion was indispensible to liberty. What our liberal friend doesn’t quite understand is that the generation that came of age in the 1960s threw out the baby with the bathwater. What tied a virtuous individualism to the civic good was a moral foundation built on religious convictions; the baby boomers who tuned in, turned on and dropped out wanted none of it, and many still don’t.