03/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

CON GAMES: Capitalism -- The God That Failed

Conservatism across the fruited plain is religion careening perilously close to fundamentalism. Not only do many conservatives embrace the one true faith of the free market -- whatever denomination that happens to be -- but they are also dedicated to absolutes in all things.

Aside from religion, that fervor makes them much like Marxists who wolf down the godless doctrines of communism with absolute certainty. They would never blame capitalism itself for taking it on the chin but would prefer to point to impurities discovered in the spit bucket. To their kind, whenever capitalism falters the failure is always because the free market has an arm tied behind its back.

This circular thinking has to be likened to the abstract construct that has always been Marxism -- a stew that puts the working class at the center of the universe and preaches historical inevitability that never quite worked out. The intellectual dishonesty of such an approach among communists and conservatives inevitably leads to purification if not outright purges. To solve the woes of capitalism, circa 2009, conservatives have chosen to stamp down on any mechanism to steer business in a better direction. To say otherwise is free-market heresy.

Or so the saying goes.

The difference between the failure of capitalism and the wretched excesses of communism is found in The God That Failed, the 1949 book of six essays. The six contributors were Louis Fischer, André Gide, Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, Stephen Spender, and Richard Wright. Lefties all, all six ultimately changed their minds about communism and had the wisdom to admit it.

Expect no such conversions from the right about capitalism. Is it no accident that Adam Smith published Wealth of Nations, their free-market Bible, in the year 1776? Or that he foresaw the need for a firm hand from a sovereign government. All that has been hopelessly lost in conservatism's non-existent critique of capitalism, where all fingers point back in time to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- and never forward to overleveraged Wall Street firms, banks, and investors. Only Alan Greenspan, the former Fed chairman now vilified by both sides, is ready to admit that the greed of the Street confounded him.

When it comes to capitalism under a putatively conservative administration, the emperor may have had no clothes but the God of the Free Market was buck naked. When the markets sneezed the whole world caught cold.