There’s something called Christian libertarianism, and it’s a capitalist plot

There’s something called Christian libertarianism, and it’s a capitalist plot
(Image: AP/Hobby Lobby, Tony Gutierrez via Salon)

You track the emergence in the 1940s and 1950s of “Christian libertarianism,” a blend of conservative religion, economics, and politics. How did this Christian libertarianism reconceive of the relationship between Christianity and capitalism?  

Capitalism and Christianity had been mixed by Americans before the New Deal, to be sure. (In the 1920s, the ad man Bruce Barton wrote a best-seller called The Man Nobody Knows that repackaged Jesus Christ as the most successful executive of all time.) These previous fusions of faith and free enterprise had always stressed their common social characteristics, but starting in the 1930s Christianity and capitalism were fused in a more political context.

With the New Deal state now looming large over business, the architects of this new Christian libertarianism placed Christianity and capitalism in joint opposition. Both systems reflected a belief in the primacy of the individual: in Christianity, the saintly went to Heaven and the sinners to Hell; in capitalism, the worthy succeeded and the inept went broke. Any system of government that meddled with this divinely inspired order, they argued, was nothing less than “pagan statism.”

Supported with ample funding from leaders of major corporations (Sun Oil, DuPont, GM, Chrysler, etc.) and leading business lobbies (US Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, etc.), these Christian libertarian groups popularized this new language of “freedom under God” on a variety of fronts—in magazines, over the radio, in contests where ministers gave sermons on their themes, etc.

Tell me more about this alliance between business leaders and Christian groups. Why did American industrialists need religion on their side?

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