Mitt Romney Is Right, Culture Does Matter

By Alex Gonzalez

I became convinced that the crucial difference between these countries wasn’t geography.  I noticed the most successful countries shared something in common.  They were the freest.  They protected the rights of the individual.  They enforced the rule of law.  And they encouraged free enterprise.  They understood that economic freedom is the only force in history that has consistently lifted people out of poverty – and kept people out of poverty—Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney gave a speech at the Clinton Global Initiate arguing that the most successful nations, those who have moved from poverty to developed nations,  have a  common denominator:  the rule of law and property rights.  And he is right.  In building a democratic and free nation, property rights and culture do matter.  History shows us that that culture was developed  Britain  and American.

Three months ago, Mitt Romney also  gave a speech in Warsaw, Poland  and wrote an Op-ed for the National Reviews arguing that the reason why Israel was economically and military superior to Palestinians was because of culture. Some cultures are more prone to develop political institutions for the protection of property rights, democratic, and capitalism. So, in fact, what Mitt argued in Poland about Israeli and Palestinian, and in Clinton Global initiate is what he learned, as he has openly stated,  from the book The Wealth of Poverty of Nations: why some are so poor and why are so wealthy  by David  S. Landes.

The crux of book by Harvard professor   David  Landes, which is the foundation for Mitt Romney foreign policy views,  is that economic and political success for nations is  a matter of  culture, and thus, economic progress occurs  only in nations that promote institutionalism—devotion to the intuitions of government—like Northern Europe and North America, as Landes repeatedly  argues  in the book.

I have read the books twice and I can tell you with certainty  that books is  a great  chronological exploration into the development Western Style democracy, Capitalism,  and  the Industrial Revolution in northern Europe,–all of  which were fueled by the Reformation. According to Landes, British tradition of rule of law, justices, the limits of government powers and Protestant values and “moralism,” is the main reason why Northern Europe and America became wealthy nations. Consequently,  prosperous nations, as Mitt Romney correctly argues,  are built by the rule of law in which  the institutions  of government protect private property and Natural Rights.  In other words, there cannot be natural rights without Institutionalism  or Constitutionalism.

In Landes’ argument, which is a similar argument made by Samuel  Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations,  the Protestant Reformation in Northern Europe led to high levels of  literacy, the Industrial Revolution, democracy, and  subsequently to the rule of law and the development of Constitutionalism.  Similarly, Protestantism developed  Capitalism in the British Isles by the bourgeois  capitalist class. However,  but the books also notes that,   in order for the bourgeois  capitalist-class  and the Lords to be able to trade without fear of someone  stealing  your goods, or other invading your land, the bourgeois, the Capitals-class and the Lords agree to Pay a levy for protection and Constitutional guarantees of private property rights, not some Libertarian selfish rural mantra.  Thus, any nation based in rule of law and property rights are by nature  dependent on institutionalism.

Thus, the culture that Romney referred to in his speech for the Clinton Global Initiate is the culture that promotes Constitutionalism and the creation of intuitions of government that will protect private property and democracy.  Hence, it was this culture that sprung from a protestant  British-American  model that made  nations thrive in the 20th century  because they too shifted to a   culture of Constitutionalism—institutionalism, and Capitalism.

As conservative American Culturists like  Landes and Samuel  Huntington unapologetically argue that such a culture sprung from Protestantism in the Britain.   Moreover,  this culture sprung  specifically from  Anglo-Saxon Protestant  culture in America  Britain.  Furthermore  Professor Landes promoted his economic  “prosperity” argument from Max Webber’s The Protestant Ethnic to include that western-style Capitalism was a tenet of Protestantism.

Max Weber argued in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism that Protestantism is important to because it is a fervent positive religious ideal, “a calling.” And this calling was the catalyst to the development of western-style capitalism. The rationalization, or organization,    Weber argues, was psychological conditions that made possible the development of capitalist societies in Protestantism because labor organizations were “rational.” Thus, Rationalism is a system not based on tradition but on a deliberate systematic adjustments of economics meant to attainment of the objective of economic profit. So in Landes’s books, nations and economies—just like Capitalism– need to be organized by reason, not superstitions. And this what Romney message is to world; nation can be prosperous if they too organized their societies and systems of government under the rule law, property rights

But unlike Landes who stops with pro-British views, Samuel Huntington  dealt with this concept    to explain the American character;  and his argument is simple. The American creed is made of Anglo-Protestant British culture. But unlike Landes and Romney who make simple religious observation to explain the disparity to two nations in the same geographical location. Huntington argued that Anglo-Protestant culture is not unique to only British people since culture is learnt behavior, and thereby, other people can learn this culture as well.

Culture can be changed, according Huntington,  and thus  the American Anglo-Protestant creed  transcends race and religions, because, in America we had inclusive  Protestant groups   that made it possible  “non-white” non-protestant  groups to convert to protestant  ideals of Constitutionalism,  Institutionalism and Capitalism. As a result, Protestant inclusiveness of  “moralism” made now-white culture into white, which in Huntington argument this was  the  case for Jews, Irish,  Italians and Ester European  who changed their religious superstitions  for protestant America ideal.

In the late 18th century, according to Huntington, there was a need to broaden the characterization of American ethnic identity to included Catholics from Ireland, Germany, Italy, Southern, and Eastern Europe. “The ethnic (religious) composition of America was broaden to include Irish and Germans” and churches utilized their religions to transform their alliances from Roman Catholicism to American Catholicism–alliances to Americans institution, not Rome. These new religious groups had to adapt to standards of the Anglo-Saxon patterns of institutionalism. As a result, without the principles of Protestantism, such institutionalism and dedication protect the rights of  individualism.

I was often struck by the enormous differences in the wealth and well-being of people living in different nations. I was interested in how nations that were so close to each other in terms of geography could be so different in terms of prosperity. Take, for example, Mexico and the United States, Israel and Egypt, Chile and Ecuador–Mitt Romney

In Huntington’s view, while Ireland, Italy, and Eastern Europe stayed poor and undeveloped for another 100 years, the immigrants and their American offspring  in the US became economically successful because they embraced the Protestant model of government  and Capitalism.  It would be genetically impossible for an Irish-man to change his gene pool, according Huntington. But Irish, Italians, Poles,  and Jews change the ancestral culture to Protestant-Anglo culture model in the US. And this the culture that Mitt Romney describes in his speeches on how “culture does matters.”  Not only any culture, but Anlgo Protestant culture.

Thus, Romney is right that culture, more than geography, matters for the economic prosperity and democracy. More importantly,  this “culture”  of rule of law and private property is not unique to one group, but  rather to the core Protestant values that can become universal by including and inviting other groups. For example, if we were to compare the economic development between Britain and Ireland, two nations  that  share  same geographical location, they could be so different economic and cultural development.  Also,  German and Poland share the same geographical  region but their culture is different since only Germany has thrived economically  for centuries while Poland has remained a poor Easter European nation,

Romney made such a statement while in Poland.  But Landes’ books also explained that culture of Eastern   Europe—in Poland—also have been ravaged by failed  states and authoritarian regimes because of their culture, such has religion. Landes argues that Eastern Europe lacks western ideals.  Thus, They opted for superstitions,  authoritarian  regimes over  innovation, and democracy, and capitalism.  In fact, as Landes points out, the problem with Eastern Europe is because Christian Orthodox superstitions religious archaic system made impossible for the development of strong Institutions of government  and democracy;  they are  incompatible  with Capitalism and Protestant “moralism” or rule of laws and property rights.

Democracy and Capitalism is a raw business and it takes cultivating and internal fighting among cultural and political groups. And those cultures that fought for Democracy, rule of law and property rights were developed in cultural enclaves like Britain and America. With the Protestant  culture of “moralism,” rule of  law, limited government, property right, the world would be different place.  So culture does matter.

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