For a long time, free trade ticked all three boxes. It most easily caught the eye of those who value freedom, but it also appealed to those who emphasize fairness. The free flow of goods lowered prices, helping the poor most of all, and enhanced the opportunity for poorer nations to get richer. Many social conservatives, meanwhile, liked free trade because America was best at it. They took pride in the success of American businesses, which formed part of the nation’s identity. As President Calvin Coolidge said in 1925, “The chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world.”
That profound concern led many advocates of free markets to assume social conservatives would always support them. Accordingly, free-marketeers made little effort to show how capitalism complements tradition and enhances security. Fluent in the language of liberty and working hard to promote free enterprise in terms of fairness, capitalists thought they had covered all their bases. Besides, the specter of communism—atheist, materialist and revolutionary—kept social conservatives in the free-market fold.
This oversight has had consequences. Now, more than a quarter-century after the fall of the Soviet Union, many social-conservative intellectuals are left unsure of capitalism’s value.