Kopel Overreaches with Bigotry Claim

Recently Dave Kopel, my long-time friend and associate, reviewed Edwin Rockefeller’s The Antitrust Religion. I haven’t read the book, and antitrust per se lies outside the scope of this blog. Yet in his review Kopel makes an interesting claim about religion:

The weakest part of the book is Rockefeller’s insistence that antitrust is like a religion because (he claims) people believe in it based on blind faith instead of factual inquiry and because (he says) antitrust and religion both impose vague, shifting mandates.

That is a bigoted and ignorant claim. Orthodox Judaism, to name one of many possible examples, imposes many rules that rarely change and are extremely easy to understand (and obey, if one chooses).

Likewise, the world of religious thought is replete with great minds, such as Thomas Aquinas and John Locke, whose analysis is based on reason instead of blind faith.

I agree that it doesn’t do much good to oppose antitrust on the grounds that it’s similar to religion. The real reason to oppose it is that it’s horribly unjust and demonstrably destructive of economic liberty and wealth. (See The Abolition of Antitrust and The Cause and Consequences of Antitrust.) However, Kopel goes a bit far in saying that Rockefeller’s claim is bigoted.

In general, religion does “impose vague, shifting mandates.” While Orthodox Judaism imposes clear, fixed rules, Judaism as a whole has changed dramatically through the centuries. So, while Rockefeller’s comparison seems pointless, it is not bigoted.

Moreover, the fact that Aquinas and Locke employed reason does not contradict the fact that they also employed faith. Nobody with religious faith can consistently reject reason without quickly dying. Similarly, antitrust law is based on an economic theory, but the problem is that the theory does not justify antitrust policy. So the comparison of antitrust to religious faith is not out of bounds.

Even one who adopts religious faith presumably would not want to apply faith to a secular matter such as antitrust (at least I don’t recall anything from any scripture pertaining to antitrust), so again I think Kopel goes a bit far with his criticism.

Bigotry means unreasonable fear, hatred, or intolerance of something. For example, a few days ago I called Matt Barber a bigot for his views on homosexuality, which I showed to be unreasonable. Reasoned criticism of religion is not bigotry, any more than reasoned criticism of atheism is.