Liberal economics and the institutionalization of sin: Christian and stoic vestiges in economic rationality

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The recognition that ecological problems often extend beyond nation-state boundaries has prompted environmentalists, politicians, and academics to call for and generate problem-solving discourses meant to be global in perspective. Free-market rhetoric has emerged as one of the more prominent of the global discourses, even though the free market's commodification of human beings and nature causes many environmental problems. To discredit this economic rationality, many scholars have compared it to religion. These comparisons are intriguing, but they have lacked the critical analysis necessary to appear as anything more than name-calling. This paper clarifies the definition of religion and uses it to examine the origins of economic rationality's fundamental presupposition - that greedy self-interested competition generates more social benefits than altruistic cooperation - within eighteenth-century Natural Law vs. Ecclesiastical Law debates. Despite economic rationality's adoption of sophisticated empirical methods and mathematical rigor over the past two centuries, it is a religion because it retains vestiges of the Protestant Christian and Stoic beliefs of how social life is governed by supernatural intervention When it uncritically promotes policies based on that presupposition. Recognizing economic rationality is a religion may benefit those who are striving to develop systems of governance based on democratic principles by leading to a greater understanding of economic rationality's normative attraction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-57
Number of pages27
JournalWorldviews: Environment, Culture, Religion
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Religious studies
  • Philosophy
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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