Darrow Miller and Friends

No GOD, No HOPE: How Atheism Ambushed Optimism in the West

Welfare instead of wealth creation is the legacy of atheism in the West.  

The populations of the world [will] increase in geometric proportions while the food resources available for them [will] increase only in arithmetic proportions.

That famous prediction, from a book titled An Essay on the Principles of Population, missed the mark. The author, Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), was a British social theorist and demographer. Malthus was a professing deist. His God was remote and largely irrelevant to daily life. In fact, Malthus’s thinking more reflected the atheistic/materialistic ideas which would soon emerge in the public discussion.

Malthus’s ideas still hold sway over modern political and economic theory. Malthusian thinking drives one side in the battle for the soul of the West. Simply put, Malthus argues that human beings breed like rabbits. He called for strictly enforced population controls. Otherwise, too many mouths to feed will overrun too little food.  Resources are essentially fixed (per the “closed system” economic model). The solution is to reduce the world’s population by any means necessary. At the same time, he wanted to redistribute scarce resources.

We have cited American historian Dr. Gertrude Himmelfarb earlier. She effectively described the shift from Adam Smith to Malthus:

For Smith, man was a rational being capable of making rational decisions in his own interest; but he was rational because he was a moral and a social being, incorporating in himself the principle of “sympathy” that made him respect the interests of his fellow men as he respected his own interests. By the same token, society was rational and moral. This was implicit in the idea of the “invisible hand,” the assumption that the free marketplace, operating naturally and without the intervention of any external force, made the interests of the individual congruent with the general interest.

By pursuing his own interest he [the individual] frequently promotes that of society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. The same free and natural process ensured the progressive growth of the economy, and this, in turn, brought about the progressive improvement of the lower classes. Thus the interests of the individual were compatible with those of society and the exigencies of economics with the imperatives of morality.

It was Smith’s successors, Malthus and Ricardo, who broke the link between individual interest and the general interest, between the wealth of the nation and the welfare of the lower classes — and thus between moral philosophy and political economy. It was they who transformed “economic man” into amoral man (immoral man, their critics charged), and in the process transformed an “optimistic” political economy into a profoundly “pessimistic” one. Where Smith (like Marshall) saw the growth of the population as the precondition for a “progressive” economy and thus the increasing affluence of the entire population, including the poor, Malthus saw it as the inevitable, even fatal, limitation on progress, with especially baneful consequences for the poor … [1]

The influence of materialism meant a switch in three related ideas: 

  • From free markets to the welfare state
  • From seeing the creation as abundance to seeing it as scarcity
  • From creating wealth to redistributing wealth

Judeo-Christian theism gave birth to free markets. Atheistic materialism resulted in the welfare state. The path from theism to materialism is a descent from abundance to scarcity. In the former framework people use their God-given resources, both internal and external, to create wealth. Think of the wealth and jobs created by Apple. In April 2012 Apple’s value reached $600 billion, greater than the GDP of all but about 18 of the world’s countries. Apple has created more than 500,000 jobs in the United States alone. All this came from the minds of two men—Steve  Jobs and Steve Wozniak. They founded Apple in April 1, 1976, just 36 years ago.

In the materialistic framework (the closed system economic model) wealth is not a product of human imagination. Wealth equals fixed assets in the ground. This mindset creates policies of redistributing scarce wealth. We see these policies in the welfare states of Europe. We see them increasingly in the United States and Canada.

As the paradigm has shifted from theistic to atheistic, society has moved from optimism to pessimism, from hopeful to hopeless. Himmelfarb writes:

What was left of Smith’s system of “natural liberty” was a laissez-faire system devoid of any moral justification. This was the truly “pessimistic” effect of Malthusianism and Ricardianism. The poor were not only pauperized; they were “de-moralized,” deprived of their moral status as individuals and as members of society. And political economy was similarly “de-moralized,” divorced from moral philosophy. It is no accident that Ricardo, not Smith, was the inspiration for Marxism, which sought to illegitimize capitalism as a prelude to overthrowing it.[2]

– Darrow Miller

[1]           Himmelfarb, pages 300 and 301.

[2]           ibid, page 301.


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