Why is communism associated with atheism and right wing (capitalism) with theism?

…as answered on Quora…

This can seem puzzling, since some of the most socialist-minded people I know claim to be theists, and the modern libertarian movement, which advocates laissez-faire capitalism with the most reason and vigor, is majority atheist — or at least was, when I was involved (three decades ago) in polling its ranks.

But some of this is historical happenstance. Maybe. Communism/socialism/collectivism grew out of the ferment of the French Enlightenment and Revolution, and that was filled with thinkers who were atheists or at least “flirted” with atheism. Defenders and refiners of the emerging capitalist order, on the other hand, tended to arise out of the Scottish Enlightenment. These people included pious Christians and, more famously, cautious skeptics of theism — David Hume being the most famous, and his friend Adam Smith being even more circumspect than he.

Contrast these two versions of the Enlightenment. The French were more in-your-face, often challenging all establishments at once. The Scots and Englanders and Americans, on the other hand, appealed to the Christian majority, trying to get them to move towards liberalism rather than continue to defend the ancien régime. And there existed Christian dissenters, after all, who got along fine with the more secular liberals, perhaps because they were both trying to peel back the authoritarian state. The French, on the other hand, demonstrated less of a gift for compromise. Indeed, when the Revolutionaries gained power, not only did they disestablish the Church, they stole, er, confiscated, its property and set up a land-backed bond paper issuance that became a fiat currency that then hyperinflated which in turn drove the French people crazy, ushering in the Terror. The British liberals — the Whigs, chiefly — were more interested in a rule of law, in peaceful and mutually beneficial relations, and were reform-minded, not revolutionaries by temperament. Even the American Revolution was more a secession movement than civil revolt, one that relied as much on a nuanced interpretation of tradition than a complete overthrowal of established powers. The founding generation of Americans defended an ordered liberty, not a manic passion to remake the world over, anew, through massive State action.

This divorce in temperament between the two movements has something to do with the split that we see today. Hume was basically an atheist, but carefully hid his beliefs while he lived. Denis Diderot and the Encyclopedists, on the other hand, did not hide their atheism, now, did they?

This carried on into the 19th century. Herbert Spencer, Britain’s most principled liberal and proponent of free markets, was basically an atheist. But he hated the term. He deliberately wrote into his metaphysics a rather mystical component, an appreciation for the Unknowable force that lies underneath all reality, and he insisted that this doctrine disqualified him from the dread label atheist. But, in France, the rising radicalism for “anarchy” and for socialism sported that great misotheist, Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Meanwhile, also in France, the French Liberal School of economists carried on a sort of pious Deism, which can be seen in the works of both Frédéric Bastiat and Gustave de Molinari (who, though Belgian, worked in France, when allowed by its government, and edited Guillaumin’s Journal des Économistes).

By the time you get to Karl Marx, it is apparent that “the revolutionary” just seems to fit better with atheism than theism.

And by this, I mean, memetically, by the mere association of ideas. Not as a matter of truth. (It might be helpful to repeat Scott Adams’s mantra: in some important sense “the facts don’t matter.”)

Whether or not there is a God, or many gods, or none, does not have a logical relationship with the State or any of its policies.

And it gets especially weird when you go back in history and realize that most rulers identified themselves all-too-literally as deities. All this seems ridiculous to us now. But it did not then.

And this is also at play: those who reject any kind of a deity, and, moreover, hate the very idea of a God, tend to compensate with advocacy of some form of statism, seeking to aggrandize the institution of secular power, doubling down on the prestige of government. Politics becomes their religion, the State their Messiah.

I find this absurd. I really feel no commonality with extreme statists — socialists and communists and the like — and would rather that, if people must believe weird things to get by in this weird world, let it be by some fanciful, fantasied deity that allows them to resist the temptation to deify that “coldest of all cold monsters,” the State.

In other words, let us steer clear of the great and manifest evils of communism, state socialism, and all political forms of collectivism. If not “by any means necessary,” then at least by mostly harmless made-up theology.