America, while still (for now) a system founded on individual rights, seems to be moving hopelessly toward socialism (or fill in the blank with your favorite collectivist term). Currently, conservatives and libertarians merely hope we can get through the Obama Administration with some semblance of capitalism remaining so that we may rebuild over the long term. Even if Obama fails in implementing his statist policies, it seems not a matter of if, but when, the next orgy of massive government intrusion will occur. After all, our government hasn’t ever actually decreased in size.
Of course, this hardly starts with Obama. The progressive movement, as I’ll call it, has continued largely unimpeded from its origins in the late 19th century until the 1980’s with Reagan – and since then it has been slowed at best. Interestingly, Marx / Engel’s The Comminust Manifesto was written in 1848 (for those interested, see this for a nice summary, link to original document within). While it may be a morbidly fascinating piece of work, it is also a single, comprehensive, and well known source of ideas that presumes moral superiority. Whether or not progressives will allow themselves the label of “Marxist”, every progressive idea has its roots in the aforementioned work. If you’re not sold on that proposition, read the commentary on the 10 goals of communism in the above link; we’ve practically already achieved them.
The ideas upon which America was founded were radical and extraordinary. Unfortunately, while a moral argument for capitalism can be inferred from various founding quotes and documents (including the Constitution), one was never explicitly presented in a tangible work comparable to Marx’s Manifesto. In fact, for most of America’s history, proponents of capitalism had only its practical merits to offer: it simply works best. Capitalists would have to wait another hundred years after Marx before having anything more substantive at their disposal. William F. Buckley Jr. founded National Review in 1955; Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957 and her non-fiction works started in the 1960’s. Figures like Rand and Buckley helped to not only popularize laissez-faire capitalism but also provide its sorely needed moral argument. The importance of the moral argument (for anything) is put very well by this quote, taken from a speech on socialized healthcare (back when Hillary attempted it):
This is not a case of noble in theory but a failure in practice; it is a case of vicious in theory and therefore a disaster in practice…. So long as people believe that socialized medicine is a noble plan, there is no way to fight it. You cannot stop a noble plan — not if it really is noble.
Marx’s ideas have had over 150 years to flourish. Ideas backing capitalism from a moral and philosophical perspective have had far less time to become established. I will go so far as to say the progressive movement will continue to meet resistance over time as the philosophy of capitalism and individual rights grows. Take the Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute as examples. They were founded in 1973 and 1977, respectively, and have only grown since. Even more recent is the Institute for Justice. It was founded only in 1991 and is “what a civil liberties law firm should be” – a champion of economic liberty, free speech, and property rights. The “capitalist movement”, I think, is really just getting started.