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Three Precisions: Social Justice

From Web Exclusives

Three of the terms used most frequently in Catholic social thought”and now, more generally, in much secular discourse”are social justice, the common good, and personal (or individual) liberty. Often, these terms are used loosely and evasively. Not a few authors avoid defining them altogether, as if assuming that they need no definition. But all three need, in every generation, to recover their often lost precision. Otherwise, the silent artillery of time steadily levels their carefully wrought strong points and leaves an entire people intellectually and morally defenseless… . Continue Reading »

Remembering 1989

From Web Exclusives

For the ten years beginning in 1982, I had the privilege of serving on the Board of Radio Free Europe (for East-Central Europe) and Radio Liberty (for the vast Soviet Union). President Reagan had declared it the goal of the United States to win the Cold War, not just accept it as our long-term fate, and our job was to report the realities on the ground as accurately as we could… . Continue Reading »

Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritas

From Web Exclusives

This is the first essay in a week-long symposium on the pope’s recent encyclical. It is no secret that in U.S. Catholicism these last twenty or so years there has been an increasingly bitter split between two large factions on matters of political economy. Some tilt left, some right. Some favor a Reaganomic approach to political economy and rejoiced in the boom that lasted thirty-some years. Others favor Clintonomics (which in practice looked a lot like Reaganomics), while others favor something more robustly state-run and state-centered on the order of Obamanomics… . Continue Reading »

The Pope of Caritapolis

From First Thoughts

Three encyclicals already with Caritas in their title. It looks like the Pope is bidding fair to become “the Pope of Caritapolis,” who sees the whole world—in all its cultural, political, and cultural dimensions—as to be best grasped within the long history of “The City . . . . Continue Reading »

Caritas and Economics

From Web Exclusives

Editor’s Note: In 1995, Michael Novak wrote a lecture on the subject of “Caritas and Economics.” The original text is reprinted here in the hopes that it will shed further light on the widespread reflection on caritas and economics about to be requested by Benedict XVI’s upcoming encyclical

In one of the two greatest lines of world poetry, Dante bows gently toward “The Love that moves the sun and all the stars.” Many moralists speak of love as the one fundamental and universal moral principle, the golden rule honored in all traditions. But what do we mean by love? In English we are hampered by having but one word for many kinds of love. In Latin at least six different terms are available for six different loves.

The most general term is amor”the term that Dante used for the force that moves the sun and choreographs the stars in their millennial dance across the skies. Amor means pull, attraction, being driven together. One can use it of Earth’s gravity, the passions that pull the sexes to cohabitate, and “the force that through the green grass drives” (e.e.cummings).

But eros is a love more driving, and obsessive, almost mad… . Continue Reading »

What, Another Marxist Predicts the Collapse of Capitalism?

From Web Exclusives

Vatican watchers in Italy are getting into a fever about the new economic encyclical by Benedict XVI, due out in a month or so.

The same thing happened almost twenty years ago, in 1991, just before John Paul II issued his much-proclaimed economic encyclical “100th Year” (Centesimus Annus). Then, too, the beehive of the European left was feverishly abuzz, fantasizing in print that the pope would shortly move to the left of Willi Brandt, Neil Kinnock, and all the other famous leaders of the European left. Then John Paul II issued the most pro-enterprise, pro-human capital instruction of any pope ever (“In our time, in particular, there exists another form of ownership which is becoming no less important than land: the possession of know-how, technology and skill. The wealth of the industrialized nations is based much more on this kind of ownership than on natural resources.” Centesimus Annus #32).

The hive fell unforgettably silent… . Continue Reading »

Economic Heresies of the Left

From Web Exclusives

What exactly is in Benedict XVI’s new encyclical on the economy and labor issues is not yet known. Catholic leftists and progressives, though, are already trembling with excitement. Three glaring errors have already appeared in these heavily panting anticipations.

An accurate presentation of real existing capitalism requires at least three modest affirmations:

1) Markets work well only within a system of law, and only according to well-marked-out rules of the game; unregulated markets are a figment of imagination.

2) In actual capitalist practice, the love of creativity, invention, and groundbreaking enterprise are far more powerful than motives of greed.

3) The fundamental systemic motive infusing the spirit of capitalism is the imperative to liberate the world’s poor from the premodern ubiquity of grinding poverty. This motive lay at the heart of Adam Smith’s important victory over Thomas Malthus concerning the coming affluence”rather than starvation”of the poor. Continue Reading »

Truth and Freedom

From Web Exclusives

Human liberty depends on an accurate grasp of the human condition, not as we might like it to be, but as it is: “The truth shall set you free.”Let us suppose, for instance, a situation in which truth is rendered servile by some contemporary enthusiasm. If truth is held captive by a . . . . Continue Reading »