The Economic Order and Religion

  • David Cowan
Part of the Great Thinkers in Economics book series (GTE)


Having made many references to Knight’s religious attitude and discussed his ethics, it is time to delve more deeply into the religious aspects of Knight’s prophetic work. It has already been noted how his students viewed this role, but we gain a little more insight from Paul Samuelson who assigned biblical names to the key figures of his era. Samuelson explained that Knight, as the founder of the Chicago School, was Abraham, the tragic figure Henry Simon was Isaac, and Milton Friedman was Jacob (Nelson 2001, p. 114). In spite of all this religious talk, however, Knight was not writing as an avid follower of religion. At an early age he had given up his conservative religious traditions, but retained active religious worship in the Unitarian tradition. He certainly saw the church and organized religion as being a stumbling block to economic progress. At a meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947, religion was a debate raised by Hayek, inspired by the Christian opposition to Hitler in Germany. He posed the question of whether there was an opportunity to bridge the gap between Christians and liberals, to which Knight retorted “the question is whether Christians will allow us to be liberals” and “we do not discuss public issues in terms of whether they are Christian or not” (Hartwell 1995, p. 38). However, despite many comments which may give us a picture of Knight as someone who had rational contempt for religion, such a picture would not be fully accurate. Just as he was a jilted lover of liberalism, there is a case to be made that he was likewise a jilted lover of Christianity.


Human Nature Liberal Democracy Chicago School Liberal Society Christian Tradition 
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Copyright information

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Cowan
    • 1
  1. 1.Boston CollegeBostonUSA

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