How the Bible Actually Works Review

(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher, Harper One.)

The subtitle to this book reads, how an ancient, ambiguous, and diverse book leads us to wisdom rather than answers, and why that’s great news. Those three words ancient, ambiguous, and diverse are really what hit you when you start paying attention to the Bible. As Peter Enns does a great job of arguing, the Bible is incredibly old, it is ambiguous (just look at Rabbis who have debated various Old Testament passages for three thousand years, and the plethora of Christian denominations and sects), and it is diverse. I think of all the words that could be used, diverse is the hardest for evangelicals to swallow. After all, evangelicals believe in a unified vocal reading of the Bible where God is the ultimate author and thus must have one single message being communicated. Any divergent voices are either misinterpretations, apparent contradictions, or some other phenomenon. Yet, when we pay attention to a close reading, the diversity within the Bible is just there waiting for us to see it. Once we can embrace that a whole new world is opened to us. We can then take part in the dialogue that is taking place within the text.

However, this means that you cannot simply take the Bible and find a prooftext for any and every situation that can be taken without thought. The Bible simply doesn’t work that way as a rule book for life, where the answers are there just waiting for us to cull them. On top of that, the fact that it is ancient and ambiguous means that the pages therein must be interpreted and then applied to a modern setting that is strikingly different from its own time. This is why Peter Enns directs us to seek wisdom from the Bible rather than answers. In these page we can find wisdom from God, rather than answers. God is not a helicopter parent, you have to learn to think for yourself, and God wants to help us do that.

In this book Peter Enns is at his most daring because he isn’t taking us through deconstruction as he did in “The Bible Tells Me so”, or assuring us at it is ok to doubt and deconstruct as he did in “The Sin of Certainty”. Rather he is taking on the project of reconstruction, which means he has to offer us a plausible path forward. He has to set forward a positive theory, and this is one of those cases where the proof is really in the pudding. The cash value is whether or not you can actually take this and use it in your life.

Perhaps Enns’s most interesting concept is that of reimagining God, which he sees as the source of most of the diversity that takes place. Jews had to reimagine God during and after the exile in order to understand why they were in exile, and then post-exile why they still had foreign rules. When would God restore the throne to David’s line? God had to be reimagined again after Jesus came, and the first Christians began trying to figure out how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament and creatively interpret it to do so. Jesus doesn’t match any of the expectations that Jews had coming from the Hebrew Bible. Instead he shatters their ideas of what God was up to. Jesus is crucified and resurrected, which is not what was supposed to happen to God’s anointed one (Messiah).

Following this lies the task of reimagining God in our own time and place, and Pete argues that we are following the Bible when we do so. There is not a straight line from the Old Testament to our own time, rather we have to use wisdom to interpret scripture, reimagine God, and follow him in our own time. This is a wisdom task, one that the Bible models for us.

I have read most of Pete’s other works including “Inspiration and Incarnation”, “The Evolution of Adam”, and the previous books mentioned earlier. I have enjoyed all of them, but I find “How the Bible Actually Works”, to be his most rewarding yet. Biblical scholarship is a critical task, and spending much time with it will leave you with many questions about the Bible and your faith. I think this is a positive and enriching process, and this book aides in the process of taking you from the place of analysis to the place of asking “now what?” as someone who is a Christian seeking to follow God in a life of faith. What can you do with the Biblical scholarship you have learned, and live a Christian life? Pete’s work points a valuable way forward. I highly recommend it and hope everyone will have a chance to read it for themselves. His humorous style of writing will leave you both informed and entertained. Thank you Peter Enns, and we look forward to whatever you have in store next.


I highly recommend this latest by Peter Enns on his podcast “The Bible For Normal People.”  In it he interviews Benjamin Sommers, a conservative Jewish Biblical scholar, and shares the various views that Jews have on the Bible, focusing mainly on the conservative viewpoint.  There are many things that Christians can learn from these perspectives, especially the need for epistemic humility in regards to our own interpretations of the Bible, and that disagreement and debate can actually be a form of worship rather than a cause for strife.  The Bible endorses various viewpoints in its ambiguity, rather than forcing one particular right answer for us to arrive at.  

Here is the link:  Jewish Views on the Bible

Listen to the whole thing and it will be well worth your time. 


(Photo: Scott Threlkeld/Associated Press) 

Buried in your news feeds has been the story of confederate monuments being torn down in New Orleans, Louisiana.  It appears much of the focus has been removing statues that honored confederate soldiers such as P.G.T. Bouregard who fired the first shots of the Civil War on Fort Sumter.  The Confederate States of America was formed from states that seceded from the United States of America after Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th president in 1860.  Although there were many issues economic and otherwise that divided North and South, such as protective tariffs that Northern Industry favored as opposed to the lower tariffs preferred by southern agriculture, the chief issue of divide that led to all others was that of slavery.  Yes there was a conflict between states rights versus federal power, but the apex of that debate had to do with the existence of slavery, and that of African Americans in particular.   The Confederate government’s constitution was identical in almost every way to that of the US constitution, except for that guarantee of the perpetual existence of chattel slavery.  

After the Confederacy lost the Civil War and reconstruction came to an end, Jim Crow laws that oppressed blacks and empower whites became the prevailing rule in the South, and even in much of the North.  The South turned to memorializing its lost heritage, honoring their forebears with statues, street names, schools, flying the confederate battle flag, holidays, and other such monuments.  Many of these continue in existence to this day, however many are pushing back on these.  Last year, South Carolina ceased flying the confederate flag on state capitol grounds, which caused consternation among some, and celebration for others.  Now we are seeing other actions taken place, such as statues and other monuments removed from public property in places like New Orleans.  

In my opinion, much of this ought to be welcomed.  For any virtues it may have had, the Confederacy was founded on one of the most vile institutions ever to besmirch the earth.  For more than two hundred years African Americans were treated no better than cattle, and purely as means for the ends of others, having no value in and of themselves as human beings.  For black children to have to go to schools honoring people such as the confederate president Jefferson Davis is simply unacceptable.  This was a society built on the idea that the very people that attend those schools named after them are not full human beings entitled to all the equal rights and liberties that whites enjoyed.  Such a society should not be honored, but should be remembered with sadness and shame.  

Here is the crucial distinction I want to draw out from this.  There is a difference between honoring, which has the idea of elevating something as being worthy of some good, and remembering as being an important part of ones past.  We have to find ways of always remembering that part of our American heritage, without elevating it as praiseworthy.  We need to have and preserve our battlefields and historical sites, so that we never forget our history, but we must not honor all aspects of that past.  My own fear is in getting carried away in iconoclastic zeal and destroying all remembrance of our past.  While no African American should have to daily go past a memorial to Nathan Bedford Forrest, we should not tear down a battlefield he fought at to make room for the next development or Walmart.  We must always remember.  It is part of who we are, and it is what prevents us from ever returning to that time.  Finding and defining that line can be tricky at times and we must determine where the line crosses between remembrance and honor.   
The line is not always so black and white.  Robert E Lee was general of the army of Northern Virginia.  He remains one of the most respected military generals in all history.  Shortly after the war, he was found in an Episcopal church, kneeling to receive communion next to an African-American.  Someone who represented something seen as monstrous, was also far ahead of his time, and should be emulated rather than cajoled.  History is made of people, and people are complex, so therefore, history should be seen in that matter.  It’s always easy to take modern judgments and apply them to people who we thought should have known better.  But where are our moral blind spots?  Our ethical quandaries?  Two hundred years from now, what will those generations be saying about our moral failings?  Much is made of Progress in history (that’s progress with a capital “P”), and surely in some areas we have made progress.  But history is not a straight arrow.  It curves and twists and bends and reverses.  The arc of the mora universe may be long and bend toward justice, but if that is the case, it is not only long but jagged and crooked.  (And for the record, I’m not even sure the arc of the moral universe does bend towards justice, at least to the extent that history is too complicated for such pithy idealistic sound bites. However, it at least does capture what we want to be true.)


Two hundred and forty years ago, Thomas Jefferson penned the words in the Declaration of Independence that have both inspired and haunted America throughout the centuries. He wrote the self-evident truth that “All men are created equal.” Above I used the word “haunted” because throughout American history there has always been the constant reminder that this has forever been an ideal that we have not lived up to, for if all men are created equal, then all men must be treated equally by the law. It has always been the few who have dared to call out America on failing to live up to that idea, and those few have always faced the opposition of people who don’t want to have to see that dark underbelly that disturbs us all. However, on the other side of the coin, that phrase has always inspired us as an ideal to strive towards, and been the inspiration behind movements to challenge tyrants around the world.

Equality before the law has always been a cornerstone of liberal thought for the last few centuries (I use the word liberal in the classical, broadest, sense, rather than the modern liberal that the term has come to connote since the New Deal). Indeed, in this sense it is an essential ingredient to liberty, for without the recognition that we must always be treated equal under the law, some people will always see their freedom reduced in order to provide certain privileges for others. By privilege in this case I mean the narrow sense of certain legal benefits given to certain individuals and groups, at the expense of others. Privileges can be either positive or negative, meaning they can be certain things the government provides to certain people (such as special tax breaks), or they can be things the government actively does against somebody (such as a special tax on someone). To use concrete examples, the government gives a special subsidy to growers of corn for the use of sugar and ethanol, and then punishes cane sugar imports. When the government does this they are not treating business equally, but privileging certain ones at the expense of others. An obvious negative treatment is slavery, where an entire race was subjugated to chattel servitude simply because of their skin color, and Jim Crow “separate, but equal” laws fall under the same category.

From the classical liberal perspective, these unequal laws are a scourge upon liberty. If individuals and groups aren’t treated equally under the law, they also are not free, or at least not as free as others. This is why, at least politically, the movement for LGBT equality is something that should be recognized for what it is, the demand for certain people to be treated equally under the law, and have the same rights and freedoms as those who are straight. It’s not about having special treatment at the expense of those who are straight, but having the same liberties as those who are straight. The Black Lives Matter movement is also an example of the demand for equal treatment under the law. As a principle, this is a movement that has been going on since the first African-American slave arrived in Virginia in 1619. (One can quibble with certain goals of the organization, but the principle is a vital one.) Throughout our history, black lives have not mattered as much as the lives of white Americans, and the demand for equal treatment by law enforcement as one of the coercive arms of the state is essential. Although the data doesn’t support the conclusion that blacks are shot at more than whites, as a whole blacks do have physical force applied to them far more than white people do. This concrete example makes clear that unequal treatment isn’t simply an affront to justice, but an infringement on the equal rights and liberties of everyone.

I want to go further and discuss what this kind of equality is not. It is not that people ought to have equality of outcomes, nor is it necessarily equality of outcomes, both of which are egalitarian measures as a function of economics rather than law. I think it is important to keep a distinction between considering equality in terms of economic arrangements and legal arrangements. Although there is a relation in terms of how the laws are applied in economic regulations, when we consider equal freedom under the law, we are considering something distinct from whether or not people should be equal in terms of opportunities. Equality of outcome is the notion that everyone should be equal in terms of their income and property distribution. Equality of opportunity is the notion that everyone should have the same chance to succeed in life, regardless of the station to which they are born into. Both hold a certain danger to the free society, in that both require greater amounts of government intervention into the economy which inhibits the economic freedom of some for the benefit of others. In considering both in terms of degrees, equality of outcome is far more dangerous to the free society than is equality of opportunity. The former requires large degrees of government coercion and redistribution in order to equalize peoples stations in life, and history has shown that this equality always pushes everyone down (except for those wielding power) rather than lifting everyone up.

On the other hand, equality of opportunity, is actually something that a free society does tend to strive towards, but within the bounds of respecting equal treatment under the law. For instance, the elimination of nobility in the American constitution is both an instrument of equal treatment under the law, and a way of creating more equal conditions in terms of opportunity that people have. Declaring JIm Crow laws unconstitutional is also a way of creating both equal treatment, and equality of opportunity. There is always a degree of nuance and complexity involved here. Affirmative action is a good example of a law that tries to equalize opportunities, but causes much disagreement over whether or not it goes against equal treatment under law. As Matthew Yglesias of Vox has argued, there is no real way to measure equality of opportunity, so it is very difficult to measure whether or not it has been achieved, and I would argue we will never fully achieve it through legal means if we hope to maintain equal treatment under the law. However, perhaps one day we will approximate more fully as society evolves, and, hopefully, we begin to realize our shared humanity. Then maybe we can learn how much we accomplish without the use of force, which is why the free society rests so fundamentally on individual responsibility and initiative. And, to end on a pessimistic note, maybe why we will never completely achieve it. As William F. Buckley Jr. noted about the conservative movement, it will always be asymptotic in achieving its ideals.


The other day on Facebook, I wrote a post saying that one should always vote according to principle. I wanted to take the opportunity to clarify what I meant in that post.

First, voting on principle is not the same thing as voting on ideological purity. A candidate is rarely, if ever, going to reflect the ideology one holds perfectly. Even though I am voting for him, I do not agree with Gary Johnson on every position he holds. Moreover, there are stances he takes that quite a few libertarians would disagree with. However, in the big picture he is a libertarian, and is doing a decent enough job of representing what the libertarian position looks like in modern American politics.

Second, and following on the first point, I am not saying one cannot vote pragmatically. In some ways my support for Johnson is pragmatic. However, when I say that one should always vote on principle, it means you should always look for the candidate that you respect, and will make the best president. If you don’t think anyone fits that mold, then you shouldn’t vote for any of the options. However, within that framework, there is a lot of room to move around in terms of ideological considerations and pragmatism. Unlike Johnson, I am pro-life, and I think freedom of association deserves more thought than what he seems to be giving it. However, I also agree with him on many other positions, and I think he will not do much harm to those areas where I disagree with him. I also think that both him and Weld, his running mate, were good governors, as far as I have been able to gather, and I think Johnson would make a good president. That is, he will uphold and defend the constitution of the United States.

This is my take at least, and I welcome others. Ideology, and other factors, will obviously play a role in how we understand the principles that we apply. However, voting for a lesser of two evils is simply not an option. Sometimes it is best to not vote.


In this brief essay I want to focus a little closer on social progressivism. First though, we need to lay out some preliminaries. The idea of a cluster of social issues is problematic in the very first instance. As Charles Cooke has pointed out in his book, “The Conservatarian Manifesto,” there is no logical connection between the various issues that are considered “social.” Under the general umbrella of social issues have been gathered, abortion, gay rights/marriage, transgenderism, drugs, the death penalty, gun control, evolution/creation, stem cell research (this issue has faded more recently, but one could add cloning). Just from the listing one could see how problematic it is. I could be opposed to abortion, but for gay marriage, and against the death penalty, and support gun control, or I could hold vice versa or any other combination. There are some people who are very consistent on each side, but I think most, more or less, have varying degrees on positions. But the main point I want to make is that there is no logical connection of social issues. Instead, what I want to focus on is the particular moral stance that is at the core of social progressivism, and that animates how a progressive would take an approach to the various political issues of his or her time, regardless of what issues are considered to be “social.”

Jonathan Merritt had a recent column in which he argued that moral relativism had been superseded by a new moral that is at the center of much of our cultural life. He argues that the core moral, what I would argue would be that of social progressivism, is discrimination, and more particularly anti-discrimination. This would be the oppressor/oppressed axis that Arnold Kling discusses in his book “The Three Languages of Politics.” That axis is the lens through which progressives see the world around them. Thus, the oppressor discriminates against the oppressed, and this must be rectified. Hence, the Christian baker, of my previous post, is the oppressor discriminating against the oppressed, and the state has the obligation to make sure that this discrimination does not take place.

In the last couple of years we have seen movements on college campuses for safe spaces, complaints of “microaggressions,” and other anti-free speech protests. These are anything but liberal protests. This is a movement that is against free speech because it is believed that free speech only benefits the “oppressor,” or those who currently hold power. Thus, speech must be regulated to ensure that speech power is equalized, and “bad” forms of speech are eliminated from the common lexicon. All forms of heresy must be suppressed. These kinds of views are closer to Puritanism than to any kind of modern liberalism. Discrimination is key here, because these all reflect views of the powerless, those who have been discriminated against and oppressed.

This is why it is my contention that progressive leftists are actually closer to some forms of conservatism that seek to force people to live by certain religious standards, than to genuine liberalism that seeks toleration in society for various lifestyles and beliefs. The point for liberalism is that the state is neutral towards the good life because the state is agnostic towards the good life. People may or may not be agnostic, but the state is because the state has now immediate way of determining what the good life is. The only thing the state can do is enforce one particular type of good life, or none at all. Now are there some goods that the state must protect? Yes, and these goods that it protects is what allows people to pursue their own ends, without state interference. And this is what I want to move my focus towards next time. We have to determine what is both necessary and sufficient to have a free society. What are the institutions and norms required to achieve and maintain a society that is generally and equally free for its members.

P.S. I want to add before closing, that the argument has often been made by conservatives that America is becoming much less moral, and is on the path to losing all moral notions and ending in moral nihilism. However, I hope this essay has made clear that exactly the opposite has been happening. If anything we have been becoming more moralistic, not less. Morals have shifted, but have not gone away. In many(if not most) cases, these morals have deep Christian roots, but have been reshaped and rethought around the progressive axis.


Last Days in the Desert dares to ask the one question every other film made about Jesus Christ has been too afraid to ask: What would Jesus do if someone farted in His presence?

Played by Ewan McGregor, the Jesus in Last Days in the Desert is not overtly divine in any way. He is referred to as a holy man but aside from the near constant presence of the Devil (also played by McGregor), there is nothing in the film that really speaks to, points to, or confirms Jesus as the savior of humanity. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing from a narrative stand point as Last Days is nearly singular in focus unlike other films about Jesus which try to tell the whole story.

Not based on the Gospels, Last Days is a made up story of what happened to Jesus at the very end of his 40 days and nights fasting and praying in the desert. The film begins with Yeshua (as he is called in the film) on his way out of the desert, alone and seemingly confused by the silence of God. He has spent over a month praying and not receiving any answers from above. Jesus is nearing his time out of the desert on his approach to Jerusalem when he encounters a family living in the middle of the desert. A father dedicated to making and living his life in the desert, a sick wife and mother nearing her death, and a son troubled by the distance of his father and dreams of a bigger life outside of the desert. For reasons left unexplained by Yeshua, he decides to delay his trip to Jerusalem to spend time with this family, helping them build a stone house while they provide him water and shelter. While he stays and helps this family, Yeshua is accompanied by the Devil who taunts him and makes a wager: if Yeshua can help each of these family members in a way that benefits all of them, then the Devil will leave him alone. Yeshua never agrees to the wager but does try to help this family, struggling to say the right words and live up to his destiny.

What is most striking about McGregor’s Jesus is how ordinary he is. Some of the faithful might find that offensive but it is a side of Jesus that is too often ignored in cinema. This Jesus is quiet and reserved. His words do not yet carry the weight you find in later chapters in his life. The two natures of Christ – the human and divine – are rarely emphasized together on screen. One nature usually takes priority over the other. Many films err on the side of the divine. Some, like Last Days, try to show the humanity over the divine and often use fictional ideas to get that across. A film like The Passion of The Christ is able to showcase both by virtue of the specific story it is telling: God’s son suffering and dying. I don’t know what the right approach is but I appreciate the many different ideas and interpretations.

Aside from the big question I opened this with (not a joke by the way), Last Days raises important questions about what Jesus was like. Did he really appear to be ordinary to most people? Would you have known, just by spending time with him, that he was the son of God? In the film, he doesn’t declare himself to be God’s son to these people. He doesn’t perform any miracles. He appears to be just like you and me. And that’s what has stuck with me since I saw this over a month ago. A Jesus that is selfless, but in a way that doesn’t draw attention to itself. A Jesus who genuinely cares about others regardless if they know he is the Christ. A Jesus who is still faithful to God and serving others, even if he experiences the silence of God just like we do.

I’ve become more attracted to these fictional takes on the life of Christ that emphasize his humanity. I don’t think we’ve gotten the definitive take on Christ yet in movies but films like Last Days are essential to further understanding the character of Jesus. The unique take on the Devil is worth the price of admission alone – a Devil who is intrigued by Jesus and the role he is going to play in the story of humanity, a Devil who is curious and fascinated by God’s actions and promises to stick around until the very end to understand it all. Don’t get me wrong, this is a Devil that tempts and tests Jesus but the conversations between Jesus and the Devil are enthralling and distinctive among Jesus movies.

When I left the theater, I wasn’t sure what the whole point of Last Days in the Desert was. It certainly wasn’t the movie I was expecting and I thought it would quickly leave my mind after I saw it. But I’ve been challenged by this film in a great way that has caused me to want to further examine the dual natures of Christ and seek more understanding of his humanity.

I honestly don’t think this film would be received very well by most audiences, Christian and non-Christian alike. Most would probably be bored by it and wonder, like I did initially, what the point of this particular movie about Jesus was. But I appreciated the non-conventional take on Jesus and the Devil and placing Jesus in an invented scenario during one of the most critical periods in his life. The film’s understated nature may be a detriment to it appealing to a wider audience but maybe we need movies like this about Jesus – movies that truly challenge our expectations about who Jesus was and what he was truly like.


Libertarians are often described (and some, including the current Libertarian Party nominee, Gary Johnson) as being fiscally conservative and socially liberal. What is implicitly meant is that on economics they tend to agree more with Republicans and on social issues they tend to agree more with Democrats. This is often stated for political reasons, but I think it fall so short to correctly explain the differences between how a classical liberal (libertarian) would address social issues, as opposed to how a Progressive Democrat might do so.

Social liberalism is primarily about the increase of the liberty of the individual. Thus, greater liberty for lgbt, women, drug users, etc. Social progressivism, on the other hand, is less about increasing the liberty of the individual, and more about the progression in societal mores that is brought about through inclusion of previously disenfranchised, or oppressed, groups. In the former, progress is seen through the increase of liberty and autonomy for the individual, but in the latter, progress is measured in terms of the acceptance of the lifestyles of the various subgroups by society as a whole.

This can be seen in the current debates that play out in today’s politics. For libertarians, there is much less emphasis on attributing ill motives to those who may disagree with them, for instance, on gay marriage or transgender rights, as opposed to progressives who see those conservatives who disagree as bigots and people who are holding society back. Progress is not about increased freedom, for that would include the freedom of those who disagree to also lead their lives as they best see fit, even if that includes attitudes and behaviors that display their disagreement with progressive opinions. This leaves the libertarian in the position of saying that whether or not acceptance of new groups is moral progress up to the judgment of individuals and groups, while maintaining that there is at least progress in greater liberty. For progressives, gay marriage is progress in morals, leaving them in the position of judge over those who disagree with them. For libertarians, gay marriage is progress in liberty, and whether or not this is progress in morals is up to individuals and groups to decide for themselves.

A related can contemporary example might fit even better. A conservative Christian baker has been by a gay couple to make them a wedding cake for their nuptials. For the baker, this would be to support something that he considers to be a sin and thus refuses to bake the cake for the wedding. Let’s look at how a social liberal and a social progressive might respond in this situation. A social liberal would take the position that for the government to force the baker to violate his conscience is to impinge on his individual freedom and autonomy. The social liberal may think the baker is being a bigot, but that is besides the point. No one should be forced to violate his conscience as long as his conscience isn’t advising him or her to violate the rights of somebody else. However, the social progressive would assert that the baker is being bigoted and discriminating against the gay couple and must be coerced into serving them, regardless of whether or not his individual freedom and autonomy are violated. For the progressive what is important is the progression in the morals of society, and the baker represents a step backward.

Identifying discrimination is significant because I think that is the key fundamental moral of progressives. Discrimination and oppression are the lens through which key issues are viewed. A world with less of each is a better world to live in. For the liberal, these are both secondary to the key issue of individual liberty. It is through individual liberty that moral progress is made because the good is determined through the free interaction of individuals and groups. Different ways of living together are tried and tested. We reason together and discuss issues and because not everyone will agree, we have to tolerate the differences without being coerced into accepting those differences we may not agree with. Society is thus able to morally “progress” in such a way as society finds certain ways of living to be what works best and those who dissent are able to live out there way of living too. Which leaves open the possibility that the dissenters themselves may find there way living eventually adopted by most people should it be seen as the most desirable. Therefore, tolerance is one of the key virtues of the liberal society, and what distinguishes social liberals from social progressives.


At the Democratic debate, Mr. Sanders spent time defending himself as a democratic socialist, and opposed to what he called “casino capitalism.” Anderson Cooper of CNN asked him whether or not he was a capitalist. His response was that he was opposed to the casino capitalism that brings all the wealth to the top, and leaves the rest with nothing, and in favor of a system that makes everyone better off. As for his democratic socialism, it was simply a list containing items such as income redistribution, free health care and education, and paid family leave.

For right now I want to put aside the democratic socialism, and focus on his casino capitalism comments. With Anderson Cooper’s question, he had the perfect opporunity to say that he was not a capitalist, which he refused to answer, instead saying that he was opposed to casino capitalism, which, of course, is not an answer at all. Every classical liberal (conservatives and libertarians) is against crony capitalism, where a given system is rigged to favor certain elements of society as opposed to others. Unless you are doing the rigging, everybody was everyone to be made better off. Anderson Cooper might as well have asked him, “Senator, do you believe in hospitals?” To which Sanders would have answerd, “Do I believe in hospitals where doctors purposefully kill patients? No, I do not.”

What Anderson Cooper should have stated was “Of course nobody believes in casino capitalism. Senator, do you believe in capitalism? A free market, with a rule of law that provides a general framework that is applied equally to all, and strong property rights that provide individuals with the necessary freedom to operate in the market place?” The answer to that question would have been very enlightening. Many leftists try to get out of the free market question by asserting that there has never been a true free market anywhere, and if you want a libertarian society, go to Somalia. This question gets around that by asserting a) a free market works within an institutional framework that is not anarchic, and b) freedom does not exist in an absolute sense anywhere, it is a matter of the degree of freedom which a society has. The United States has a greater degree of freedom than Somalia does, because even though Somalia has a less centralized government, the United States has a complex set of institutions that provide a framework where liberty can have the context to succeed. (Somalia may have a very weak state, but don’t for a second think that they have no strong governments. Just ask all the war lords that are constantly battling each other, not to mention the people trapped inside of that society.)

Senator Sanders dodged the question because he is not a capitalist. I think he assumes that capitalism and “casino capitalism” are one and the same. It would have been more interesting if he had said that, because it is that attitude that is stirring his support, and makes him the candidate that he is.


“The man whose public spirit is prompted altogether by humanity and benevolence, will respect the established powers and privileges even of individuals, and still more those of the great orders and societies, into which the state is divided. Though he should consider some of them as in some measure abusive, he will content himself with moderating, what he often cannot annihilate without great violence. When he cannot conquer the rooted prejudices of the people by reason and persuasion, he will not attempt to subdue them by force; but will religiously observe what, by Cicero, is justly called the divine maxim of Plato, never to use violence to his country no more than to his parents. He will accommodate, as well as he can, his public arrangements to the confirmed habits and prejudices of the people; and will remedy as well as he can, the inconveniencies which may flow from the want of those regulations which the people are averse to submit to. When he cannot establish the right, he will not disdain to ameliorate the wrong; but like Solon, when he cannot establish the best system of laws, he will endeavour to establish the best that the people can bear.

The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.”

From Part Six of Adam Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments,” a section entitled “Of the Character of Virtue.”