Ė Not an "ism"
I am a fan of LewRockwell.com, a student of William Safire, a victim
of William F. Buckley, Jr., and because Iíve made a living as a
writer for over a decade, I get in a Webster funk when I canít find
le mot just.
all the grand discourses of politics, there is one word we all end
up using that unfortunately has nothing but bent and contrived roots:
"capitalism." It does stick in my etymological craw. If
we allow the enemies of free markets and individual liberty to determine
our own label, we will have already lost.
Oxford English Dictionary lists the first literary use of "capitalism"
in 1854 by Thackery: "The sense of capitalism sobered and dignified
Paul de Florac." I like it. Working and risking hard earned
money will sober and dignify even your neighbor who voted for Clinton
and Gore. But the word is still a bad label for the good guys.
whatís wrong with "capitalism"? Well, we all know what
"capital" means, especially since so much of it is expropriated
from us by government at all levels. Itís the "ism" that
is suspicious. And what is an "ism?"
we better understand a word or idea by contemplating its assumed
opposite. Let us ask, What is "communism"? It is a belief
Ė thatís it Ė a belief that the state, has title to everything.
It owns all property and all businesses. It sets prices. It decides
where and when you work and what work you shall do. The state is
all knowing, all good, and all powerful. Put your hand on the manifesto,
comrade, and chant, "I BELIEVE!!!!!"
an "ism." The annals of human history are filled with
one or another state-imposed "ism." Communism" (or
"commyism" as I dub it Ė see, I invent words, too) is
just a recent one. The state imposes its utopian will until it exhausts
all human and material resources used for its futile exercise. Then,
the echoes of the "ism" chanters fade, people begin to
produce and trade goods and services, and the market begins to prosper.
No belief needed Ė except in yourself.
what is the label for this system? "CapitalISM" of all
tacit implication is that we must believe in some abstract intellectual
notion to be productive in a market economy. We must believe (collectivist
word twisters would have it) that the rich became rich at the expense
of the poor, that the wealthy should have a state-ordained right
to rule over the poor to keep them poor, that white people should
rule the world, and that the worldís natural resources should be
ruthlessly and profligately exhausted to make money for rich people.
"Are you a capitalist?" they snidely ask us, as if they
were asking, "Oh, do you scam poor Ďworkersí? Do you want to
destroy every living species on the face of the PLANET? Are you
a white supremacist? Why arenít you willing to give your
wealth to the poor? Do you want the whole world converted into one
huge Wal-Mart? How can you belieeeeeeeve in such an inhumane
We need a better word! Iím trying to find or invent one before the
revolution is over. "Free marketer?" "Laissez faire
guy?" Anything without the suffix i-s-m. The word "communism"
should be pointedly isolated in political discussion, never paired
with "capitalism" as if it were its natural corollary.
The "ism" should hang out there as an embarrassment to
its advocates to force acknowledgement that they indulge in believing
rather than thinking about how human action organizes for
production (which is what von Mises did, and why he titled his masterpiece
Action rather than, say, Human Theory).
letís stop saying "capitalism." But what? How about a
contest! Safire, Buckley, Lew Ė somebody please help!
Southwick [send him mail]
owns an Export-Import firm in occupied Houston, Texas (thatís an
energy capital, for you Californians reading this in the dark).
© 2001 LewRockwell.com