Religious Liberty, Georgia, And Why Big Business And Conservatism Aren’t The Same

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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For years now, Tim Carney and others (including yours truly) have argued that big business is not a friend of conservatives. This observation was mostly premised on concerns about crony capitalism. But recent years have demonstrated that social conservatives have every reason to suspect that big business is out to get them, too.

The most recent example came earlier this week, when Republican Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a religious liberty bill in Georgia. This did not sit well with many conservatives. As Dr. Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, put it:

Big businesses is, by nature (this is important for conservatives to understand) amoral. They are about the profit motive. They are weathervanes. They go whichever way the wind is blowing. In this regard, corporations are like most politicians, inasmuch as they are driven more by pressure than principle.

My point here is not to persuade you that politicians pander, because that’s a tautology. The more interesting thing is that conservatives have been wrongly conditioned to believe that business interests and their interests are the same. They aren’t. (Note: Although I support immigration reform on its merits, there is no doubt that at least some of the supporters of “amnesty” back it solely for business reasons.)

This is all very philosophical, but as conservatives are facing a potential unraveling, now is a good time to consider precisely who our true allies are and are not. And while we’re being philosophical, it’s worth noting that some of the challenges confronting modern conservatism might be both predictable and inexorable.

There’s a theory, for example, that devout faith fosters an environment that allows prosperity to flourish, but this very flourishing inevitably sows the seeds of a decline in devout faith. Consider this quote from Daniel Bell’s classic, “The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism.” In the context of doing business, Bell averred, “delayed gratification, career orientation, career orientation,” are still valued attributes, but

“on the marketing side, the sale of goods, packaged in the glossy images of glamour and sex, promotes a hedonistic way of life whose premise is the voluptuous gratification of the lineaments of desire. The consequence of this contradiction…is that a corporation finds its people straight by day and swingers by night.”

Businesses sell sex and conspicuous consumption. For profit. I’m not trying to sound like a Marxist here—capitalism is the worst economic form…except all the rest. But what I am saying is that we must be as skeptical of the motives of big business as we are of big government.

Every day now, we are witnessing examples of how political coalitions are reordering. Old assumptions about allies and adversaries seem to be changing. The notion that big business and conservatism were natural allies was probably always dubious; now, it’s becoming outright laughable.