The Public Interest

On corporate capitalism in America

Irving Kristol

Fall 1975

THE United States is the capitalist nation par excellence. That is to say, it is not merely the case that capitalism has flourished here more vigorously than, for instance, in the nations of Western Europe. The point is, rather, that the Founding Fathers intended this nation to be capitalist and regarded it as the only set of economic arrangements consistent with the liberal democracy they had established. They did not use the term “capitalism,” of course; but, then, neither did Adam Smith, whose Wealth of Nations was also published in 1776, and who spoke of “the system of natural liberty.” That invidious word, “capitalism,” was invented by European socialists about a half-century later-iust as our other common expression, “free enterprise,” was invented still later by anti-socialists who saw no good reason for permitting their enemies to appropriate the vocabulary of public discourse.  But words aside, it is a fact that capitalism in this country has a historical legitimacy that it does not possess elsewhere. In other lands, the nation and its fundamental institutions antedate the capitalist era; in the United States, where liberal democracy is not merely a form of government but also a “way of life,” capitalism and democracy have been organically linked.

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