Constitutional Economics and Public Institutions
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Constitutional Economics and Public Institutions

Edited by Francisco Cabrillo and Miguel A. Puchades-Navarro

This extensive book explores in detail a wide range of topics within the public choice and constitutional political economy tradition, providing a comprehensive overview of current work across the field.
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Chapter 19: A theory of conversion to exclusive religious and political faiths

Mario Ferrero


In ordinary usage, the word ‘conversion’ carries the connotation of an abrupt shift of behavior, whereby people are supposed to give up their old ways in one bound and thoroughly embrace an entirely new package of belief and behavior. The prototype example that may lie in the back of most westerners’ minds is Saint Paul, who was thunderstruck on the road to Damascus. This prototype seems to fit conversion to Christianity no less than conversion to communism: in both cases, as soon as one has seen the light, one is no longer allowed to indulge the old beliefs and practices of heathen and bourgeois life, respectively. Conversion implies that there is no halfway house between the old and the new: one is expected to take a plunge into the new faith – to ‘believe’ it, literally. So conversion is first of all a matter of intentions, not conduct nor conviction. It is never an intellectual process of rational argument over competing doctrines and final choice of the best doctrine. The sympathizer may well read a book or attend a lecture about Jesus Christ or Karl Marx, but the decision is eventually made by the heart. Leaders of religious and political organizations have always known that while the heart may be perfect, the brain and the body are not, so the initial plunge must be followed up and strengthened by intense socialization in the new faith’s tenets and gradual learning of the new practice.

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