Wealth & Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism
By Peter Wehner & Arthur C. Brooks
AEI Press, 67 pp., $9.95
Liberals find a sympathetic audience in evangelicals when their policies are cloaked in the rhetoric of social justice. To be sure, Christian ethics are nothing if not concerned for the welfare of the poor, which leaves evangelicals who enjoy the comforts of Western life feeling a sense of cognitive dissonance. But guilt sometimes leads to strange bedfellows. Peter Wehner and Arthur C. Brooks make the case that few couples are as mismatched as Christianity and socialism, an economic system rooted in 18th-century materialism.
Mostly, Wealth and Justice is a comfortable tour through familiar arguments for the free market and its basis in a cautiously optimistic view of human nature. But Wehner and Brooks’s case takes on special relevance in the third chapter. Their response to capitalism’s evangelical critics acknowledges that capitalism is not a sufficient condition for a just society. Yet, they counter, families, churches, neighborhoods, and similar mediating institutions that give life meaning and teach morality—not the government. Wehner and Brooks achieve persuasive power through a measured tone and careful pace.
Wehner and Brooks attempt to cover roughly 300 years of Western culture—a mighty effort for a work boasting less paper than most CliffsNotes. Unsurprisingly, then, Wealth and Justice at times seems woefully simplistic: A mere lack of property rights, the authors imply, accounts for the plight of Native Americans. Elsewhere, the text is understated: Charles Dickens, Wehner and Brooks write, was a “gifted novelist.” Further puzzling is an early positive comment “about building a social safety net in the form of health, accident, disability, old-age, and unemployment insurance” that is never really fleshed out.
Slight misgivings aside, Wehner and Brooks succeed at advancing a thoughtful and coherent case for the morality of the free market. The writers nicely summarize their solution: “The answer is not less capitalism. It is better capitalists.” Christians courting the left may want to ask for their keys.
Matt Katzenberger is an intern at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.