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It's A Crisis of Faith Not A Crisis of Stocks

Author: Walter Russell Mead, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy
May 7, 2010
American Interest

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From my hotel balcony here in West Jerusalem, I can see the walls of the Old City, and behind them the steeples and minarets of this city that haunts the imagination of the world.  The religions of Jerusalem have been around a long time, and in their separate ways the faiths and the religious establishments of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic worlds today face a variety of challenges.

But with the world's financial markets gyrating wildly and the threat of a true depression looming over the still fragile economic recovery, the faith today that seems under the heaviest assault is more modern: the faith that natural and social science would lead humanity to an era of progress, security and peace.  The religion of Enlightenment, born in Europe and North America in the 18th century, swept through the world faster than any of the faiths of the old prophets.  Barely two hundred years after its birth the faith in progressive modernity had conquered the world.

Like the other religions, the Enlightenment faith comes in several flavors.  Its two main denominations were Marxist and Liberal.  By 1960 about one third of the world's people lived under governments who claimed to believe that Marxist social science and modern technology would usher in a golden age of global peace and abundance.  Most of the rest of the world lived under one or another form of Liberalism, believing that free markets plus liberal political institutions and modern technology would bring in the golden age.

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