The use of the term ‘Capitalism’ has a long history. Adam Smith, often referred to as the ‘father of capitalism’ was the first modern proponent of a comprehensive philosophy defending the entire package of basic principles related to individual liberty as an indispensable ingredient to a moral, prosperous, and free society. Smith, a Scottish moral philosopher published his Magnum Opus, “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” in 1776 about the same time the American Founders were declaring their independence from Great Britain.
The late eighteenth century is when the ‘philosophy of freedom’ took root for the first time in modern history. The American founders were heavily influenced both directly and indirectly generations of ancient philosophers and very powerfully by their proximate European intellectual predecessors such as Adam Smith, John Locke. The core of their movement, the American Revolution, and the subsequent, rapid spread of freedom movements across the globe, was fueled by several basic principles be made popular by social, political and religious leaders who had come to a renewed or ‘enlightened’ view concerning the nature of individual man. These new views affected all spheres of human relations and were not restricted by politics, religious, or economic considerations alone.
Politically, the Founders referred to the ideas as ‘Republicanism.’ But, republics were not new on the world stage. What was new about the political achievement of the Founders was that for the first time in modern history it was advocated from a new, moral foundation-made possible by the post-enlightenment view that “all men” were “equal by nature” and that no man or group of men was “rightly entitled” to special moral privilege or consideration. Or, in other words, the longstanding tradition of cultural tyranny across the globe was challenged by a new view of individual man as the measure of all moral social interaction. No man was required, according to this new view, to live primarily for another-as his slave, servant, serf or subject-being unjustly deprived of life, liberty or property by any other man or group of men claiming some supposed moral authority. This basic worldview was not restricted to use or meaning in the political discussions of the time but affected all elements of man’s relationships with other men and during the period of the American Revolution was often referred to simply as Americanism. The term, however, most consistently, effectively, and regularly used to define the entire body of thought related to this worldview, would later be coined as ‘capitalism.’
In modern society the term ‘Capitalism’ is used imprecisely and inaccurately. Many scholars suggest that the term ‘Capitalism’ and its related term ‘Capitalist,’ was first derived in the English vernacular from a translation of the pejorative term used by Karl Marx in the mid to late nineteenth century to describe the class of men he called the elite “bourgeois” society who owned and controlled “society’s capital resources.”
While it is not clear that Marx invented the term, what is clear is that Marx’s sweeping critique of society and his call for revolution across the globe was essentially motivated by opposition to the philosophy of outlined and advocated by Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Adams, and ultimately Adam Smith himself. Instead, Marx and his colleagues advocated their competing version of ‘socialism’ as diametrically opposed to the popular principles of the American Revolution-and he rejected basic social axioms such as private ownership of property, the creation of wealth through free exchange, and the natural benevolence of individual self-interest – all central to the cause of liberty, prosperity and peace. To Marx, and to his modern contemporaries, the term ‘Capitalism’ represents a system which is responsible for oppressing the poor and exploited the working class. To students of the Founders, the philosophy of capitalism is the only moral system that guarantees to man his individual liberty, and therefore the only valid political, economic, and social standard for pursing prosperity and peace.