What Values & Virtue Without God? :: by Wilfred Hahn

Recently, we have noted a number of articles by economists and financial observers which comment upon the deteriorating state of “values” and “virtues.” We found this more than interesting.


As we have often observed, economists and policymakers do not like to define their arts in moralistic terms. For several reasons, they would like their views and prescriptions to be interpreted amorally…i.e. not involving morality. It certainly is rare to find any mention of “morality” in the Wall Street literature. Where it is allowed to speak of values, the term “virtue” or some other abstract idea devoid of moralistic content is usually used. Those who do raise the issue of “values” or “virtue” therefore do not make any references to a universal standard of morality. Were they to do so, their “scientific” pedigree and card-carrying humanism would surely be discredited. How so? Because the term “morality” is seen to imply an absolutist, non-negotiable Truth that requires a belief in the existence of God.

As such, this concept of morality is too constraining and intolerant for the liberal mind. Rather, the efficacy of amoral policies is defined solely in terms of materialism and human happiness. If overall wealth (however loosely and imperfectly defined) and economic growth go up, this is “good” and if they trend down, this is “bad.” Whether or not people will agree with this premise, it remains that the aggregate behavior of our modern societies does conform to this new definition of what is right and wrong.

Therefore, we think it of note that there is so much recent discussion of “lack of virtues” and “social debasement.” What is most interesting is that an appeal is made to a sense of “virtue” but only in total isolation from any standard of morality or reference to God. This is an astounding leap of non-logic for people who like to consider themselves “wise.” Nevertheless, some very important points are made in these discourses on “virtue.” We next make reference to a number of these comments.

Populist Perceptions on Non-Morality Malfunction

James E. Miller of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in an article entitled “What Happened to Virtue,” queries: “The old fashioned ideas of hard work and self-reliance are made out to be anachronistic. […] It must be asked, where did the ideas of virtue originally come from and what role do they play in humanity?” He complains: “In the modern era, it would seem as if classic virtues (basic ideas of right and wrong) have lost their appeal. In their place has been a concentrated effort to promote those actions once thought of as deserving of moral condemnation.”

He makes many valid observations in regards to the ideal of virtue having diminished, and cites examples of such corrupted behaviors in the economic realm. We agree with his observations and share his sense of concern.

Yet, amazingly, he argues that virtue comes from nature. He cites the cardinal virtues defined by Thomas Aquinas — prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude — and says “These virtues, it is held, stem from nature and are discoverable through reason alone; a spiritual authority is not needed for their confirmation.”

While, on the one hand, it is rare that any economist today would write about “virtue” and such classical things as “morals” (and so we at least like to be encouraging of such discourse) he is unable to provide any real anchor and motive for virtue.

None of the cardinal virtues mentioned by Aquinas “stem from nature.” Evolution has no need for such concepts nor is it able to evolve such non-physical values. Values are not propagated through chromosomes. The very fact that Mr. Miller displays a sense of “justice” proves that there exists a “spiritual authority,” this being the God of Creation.

Mr. Miller closes his essay with this comment: “There isn’t a shred of decency in how governments or central banks operate. Their functions run antithetical to the basic virtues of mankind. If we as a species are to use our reason and free will to better our lives, the institutionalized violence the state embodies must be rejected.”

We would certainly agree with the first part of this comment. However, this comment implies another key observation: A society that no longer regards virtue will be given over to its public institutions that will not strive to maintain virtue. The opposite would be true as well. If democratic societies insist upon virtue, they will foster institutions that maintain such values.

To develop this connection further, we next turn to a report written by Dylan Grice of Société Générale entitled Memo to Central Banks: You’re Debasing More Than our Currency. He asserts that monetary devaluation undermines trust and that social cohesion is undermined as a result. As such, social devaluation goes hand-in-hand with monetary corruption. He calls these the Great Disorders. He then cites historical examples.

He links, for example, the great monetary debasement of the late Roman Empire with “social debasement.” He suggests that during such times of monetary upheaval, “scapegoating” and social infighting increase.

We reproduce two graphs (please see Mr. Grice’s report supporting this link: #1. Declining silver content of a Roman denarius; and #2. Turnover of Roman Emperors during the Third Century Crisis. Mr. Grice suggests that this “debased” social environment of Rome contributed to the persecution of Christians.

He also links the increasing incidence of witch trials in 17th century New England to rising inflation and similar “social debasement” phenomena taking place in France as leading to the terror of the French Revolution in the 19thcentury. We are not sure of all these connections exactly; however, it is true that monetary corruption must have an impact on the values of all society. It is not a victimless crime.

Other economists/anthropologists have also made the connection between deteriorating societal morality and monetary debasement. A number of writers have observed how a deterioration in “public personality” (another euphemism that avoids the word “morality” in the academic literature) coincided with the monetary dishonesties of the German Weimar era that took place between 1919 and 1933.

As people could no longer trust the value of money (this being a major avenue of communication between people), a sense of hopelessness and truthlessness set in. Morality was affected all around. For example, teenage pregnancies rose.

It is arguable which precedes the other: Moral deterioration of monetary policies or that of society at large? Whatever the case, they go hand-in-hand for most of the slippery downward slide. One cannot occur without the other. Therein lies the grave state of Western societies today…certainly that of North America.

Given these historical examples, one can only conclude by the state of central banking corruption today that Western society must be fast heading to the very bottom of debasement possibilities. Incredible immorality and ungodliness prevails. A state of hopelessness and truthlessness has only just begun in this writer’s opinion.

In the meantime, the lawlessness of monetary institutions continues to be guided by a belief in the boundless achievement possible through humanism and that there is no such thing as a “wrong” which requires atonement or consequence. All efforts that seek to escape the consequences of wrongs (sins), or depend upon the belief that errors, whether moral or physical, have no impact, will soon discover that virtue and truth are being debased.

Ungodliness Works Consequences

Quoting from the Feature Article of the August 2012 EVR, “We live in a dangerous world where prices abound without values; and costs are only measured in prices. In such a world the price becomes the value and values are separated from real costs. What that means is that the common denominator of what is right becomes the price.”

It only follows that views and actions based upon such definitions of price and godlessness are ungodly. That surely will be seen to be an intolerant statement. But, why should anyone who does not accept the existence of God be offended by being called “ungodly?”

They choose a godless belief system that requires a higher level of faith and factual malleability than that of any simpleton Christian (this being the Christian of popular conception today). In return, the Bible is no less complimentary of those who deny the existence of God, saying: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1).

However, the Bible goes further in this verse and clearly outlines the consequences of such “godlessness,” saying “They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good” (Psalm 14:1).

As such, it should be no surprise that by Biblical standards, societies are devolving into greater godlessness.