Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Myth versus Ideology: Why Free Market Thinking Is Nonideological

Posted by M. C. on October 22, 2022

Another point of difference distinguishes free market aspirations from ideology. The myth of the free market is not utopian. It does not suggest the possibility of a perfect world but rather acknowledges scarcity as a starting point and always existing condition. Socialism, on the other hand, imagines endless bounty and suggests that the only barrier to achieving it is the capitalist order. Marxism is likewise religious and utopian in character.

Michael Rectenwald

I’ll begin with a provocative thesis: socialism is ideological and free market thinking, while involving myth, is nonideological. I will show why socialism is ideological and why free market thinking involves myth but is nonideological by defining the terms myth and ideology and distinguishing them from each other.

The term “myth” has several connotations. The most common connotation today is that myth represents false belief. Thus, we see many uses of the term myth in which some myth or other is figured as something to be debunked. We can point to hundreds of titles in which the word myth signifies a belief that is mistaken and which the article or book aims to overthrow with evidence and reasoning. When entering “the myth of” into the search field on, for example, titles beginning with phrase are suggested, including The Myth of Normal, by Gabor Mate; The Myth of American Inequality, by Phil Gramm, Robert Ekelund et al.; The Myth of Closure, by Pauline Boss, and so on. Running the same search in an internet search engine yields similar results but includes articles on the myth of this or that, including a recent article by American Pravda (the New York Times), entitled “They Legitimized the Myth of a Stolen Election—and Reaped the Rewards,” referring to the Congresspersons who sought to block the supposedly legitimate results of the 2020 election.

But one will also find, in both searches, titles like The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus; The Myth of Eternal Return, by Mircea Eliade; The Myth of Return in Early Greek Epic, by Douglas Frame; and others. Or in a search engine one finds discussions of various Greek myths in encyclopedias and on YouTube. Clearly, these latter uses of the term myth are different from the usage in the debunking books and articles. Myth in this other sense draws on a different meaning. The Myth of Sisyphus by Camus is not an argument against the myth itself. Rather, myth in this sense connotes a kind of tale that conveys a truth, an aspiration, or a means of making sense of experience. It is a structuring device for seeing order, patterns, possibilities, probable outcomes, and so on. Myth in this sense also includes lessons to be learned and kept in mind when crafting a life or life mission. The myth of Icarus is a tale about human hubris, for example. The story of the Garden of Eden is generally understood in such terms—as a myth about seeking to be like God. The sinking of the Titanic has been seen in terms of such Greek myths as Icarus and other tales of human hubris.

It is this latter sense of myth that I use here—of myth as a means by which we structure experience, find meaning, and craft the trajectories of our lives.

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