The New Culture War: Free Enterprise vs. Big Government

The Battle: How the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's FutureThroughout my childhood I was taught to live honestly, work hard, and pursue my dreams. It always seemed pretty generic. After all, it’s sort of the American disposition, which is probably why I never thought to question it.

That is, until I went to college.

From the start of my freshman year, I was bombarded by claims that capitalism was “immoral” and that the pursuit of happiness was selfish, materialistic, and possibly evil. Life was no longer about honing your free will or achieving your dreams, but about outsourcing such “burdens” to the benevolent State.

I had always believed that free enterprise was just and moral simply because it made sense. But here I was, surrounded by smart people, being asked to defend my political beliefs on moral grounds. I didn’t necessarily think I was wrong, but I felt stunned, overwhelmed, and confused.

I found myself in the middle of a moral struggle.

It is this type of struggle that Arthur Brooks hopes to capture in his new book, The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government will Shape America’s Future.

Although such struggles have been going on since the beginning of time, Brooks sees a distinct battle over free enterprise taking place at the forefront of our current political discourse. Now is the time, Brooks believes, for the free enterprise movement to face its enemy (“big government”) head on.

Brooks, who is president of the American Enterprise Institute, is no stranger to discussions of morality and public policy. His previous two books (Who Really Cares? and Gross National Happiness) closely examine such issues with specific focuses on charity and happiness, but this time around, Brooks is not interested in mere social analysis. Above all, The Battle is a call to action.

Brooks begins by diagnosing the country, which he believes is in the middle of an aggressive culture war over the fate of the free enterprise system. Although he claims that the movement retains a vast majority of the American people (approximately 70 percent), Brooks is convinced that the remaining 30 percent have gained the moral high ground and have thus been able to seize the reins of policymaking.

Brooks then moves on to a dissection of the (very) recent financial crisis — a particularly good specimen for showing how capitalism can be wrongly accused (especially on moral grounds). Brooks walks the reader through what he calls the “Obama narrative” of the crisis, pointing out each distortion and fallacy along the way (and there are plenty).

Brooks believes that through a mix of misplaced good intentions, lust for power, and good old-fashioned hypocrisy, the free enterprise movement has abandoned its principles and is thus ceding victory to the statists.

His solution?

A return to our core principles and a renewed ability to articulate them effectively.

The second half of the book is devoted to detailing a strategy for this, much of which focuses on simply getting our arguments right.

For example, statists love to claim that free enterprise promotes a materialistic culture, but our common rebuttals usually involve discussing economics rather than morality. As Brooks describes it, “We talk about growth rates, inflation, and investment while the 30 percent coalition walks off with the claims to happiness and fairness.” The irony, of course, is that it is the statists who are the materialists. It is they who believe that the fairness of a society can be gauged by looking at mere material inequality.

Brooks goes down the line, examining each moral tenet of statism while illuminating the disastrous implications found therein. In the end, his criticism comes down to a fundamental analysis of which system allows us to pursue happiness more fully.

Discussions of what promotes or determines “happiness” can certainly be tricky, but this is Brooks’ strong suit. He counters all the right arguments with all the right data (and he is a master of empirical data), arguing that although our political systems cannot guarantee happiness itself, they can facilitate earned success. And it is earned success, Brooks tells us, that helps us discover optimism, meaning, and control over our lives.

The book closes with a chapter on the morality of free enterprise, in which Brooks carefully clarifies what he means by “core principles.” He offers four distinct beliefs we should stick to, all of which stem from the root notion that “the purpose of free enterprise is human flourishing” (as opposed to achieving material wealth).

For some, The Battle will be too basic — too political, too pointed, too brief. For others, The Battle will be too philosophical — too concerned with morality, argumentation, and implications. This is probably a risk that Brooks knew he was taking, primarily because it points to the fundamental problem he is addressing.

We have become far too lopsided in our political discourse. We either like things short and punchy or long and drawn out. The moral arguments are there (and have been since Adam Smith or even King Solomon), but so often we just want to know the facts plain and straightforward. We want answers for ourselves, but we care little about persuading others.

What Brooks accomplishes with The Battle is a successful fusion of the two: A practical battle plan for persuading others toward a proper cultural outlook.

If I were a college freshman today, I would be grappling for a book that was this profound while being this precise. If I were a college professor, I’d be shaking in my boots.

To purchase The Battle, click here.

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  • Remnant Culture

    Check out my review of The Battle by @arthurbrooks, who thinks the new culture war is about free enterprise. #tcot

  • JK

    The New Culture War: Free Enterprise vs. Big Government «Remnant …

  • Remnant Culture

    Do you think free enterprise is materialistic, exploitative, and immoral? You're wrong, says @arthurbrooks.

  • Jdwarden36

    It's all queued up.

  • Jdwarden36

    It's all queued up.

  • Arthur Brooks

    RT @RemnantCulture Do you think free enterprise is materialistic, exploitative, and immoral? You're wrong.

  • CommonSenseInstitute

    RT @arthurbrooks: RT @RemnantCulture Do you think free enterprise is materialistic, exploitative, and immoral? You're wrong.

  • Joseph Sunde

    RT @arthurbrooks RT @RemnantCulture Think free enterprise is materialistic, exploitative, and immoral? You're wrong.

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