[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]
Only two of Molinari’s books have been translated into English – The Society of Tomorrow (badly – the translation is quite incompetent) and Religion (incompletely – the editor explains that “it was found necessary to omit the recapitulatory chapter which commences M. de Molinari’s additional matter, and to indicate in footnotes the sources, rather than to quote at length the long catena of authorities published in the appendix to the French edition”). Both translations also mysteriously feature introductions (and in the case of Religion, intrusive footnotes) by authors fundamentally out of sympathy with Molinari’s viewpoint, who mostly take the opportunity to ride their own hobby horses. Still, these translations are far better than nothing.
Religion represents an interpretation of the history of religion from the point of view of libertarian economics and evolutionary social theory; the chief political moral that Molinari draws from his analysis is that attempts either to impose or to suppress religion by force of law are harmful to society (as are all interferences with free competition), and he accordingly calls for a complete exclusion of the state from matters involving religion.
Molinari is coy as to whether he himself accepts any religious belief. He defends religion to the extent of arguing, first, that its central claims (which he takes to be the existence of God and the immortality of the soul) are not contrary to science, and second, that religion is beneficial for society (this latter on the grounds that a belief in divine reward and punishment is necessary for ordinary people, though perhaps not for the wise few, to feel sufficient motivation to behave rightly). Yet his explanations of the historical development of religion and the triumph of one faith over another are purely economic and never make any reference to the truth or falsity of religious claims. (For example, he maintains that Christianity displaced paganism because it was cheaper.) Hence both believers and unbelievers will probably find themselves occasionally annoyed while reading it; still, it’s a fascinating book, whatever one may think of the details.