The Natural Roots of Capitalism and Its Virtues and Values

Journal of Business Ethics 45 (4):387 - 401 (2003)


When we think of theories that attempt to root capitalism in nature, the one that comes most readily to mind is Social Darwinism. In this theory, nature - driven by Darwinian natural selection (the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest) - is interpreted to imply, when applied to human activities, that extreme competition will allow the most "fit" competitors to rise to the top and to survive in this "struggle for existence," and this process of dog-eat-dog competition leads to both material and social progress. Not only has this theory been shown to be seriously flawed, the putative social implications of Darwinian natural selection do not accord with the findings of contemporary neoDarwinists who maintain, for example, that the behavior of monkeys and apes reveals a blend of competition and cooperation and, generally, a close connection to human moral behavior. Adam Smith provides a more helpful view of the connection between nature and capitalism. He maintains that nature's wisdom, as seen in its harmony and balance, is displayed in economics and human nature. Competitive free enterprise, as a vehicle for exchange, functions within a cooperative context and exhibits virtues and values such as mutual help and benefit, trust, harmony, and friendship. I shall show that neoDarwinists agree with Smith's view that nature supports a connection between competition and cooperation, and they maintain that moral activity, rather than destructive dog-eat-dog competition, is necessary to achieve the goals of natural selection.

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