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60The Future of Democratic Capitalismhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/06/the-future-of-democratic-capitalism
Mon, 01 Jun 2015 00:00:00 -0400In the eighteenth century, a host of thinkers began to use the compound term “political economy” to refer to the traditional subject matter of politics. Both parts are needed to express the complex social system necessary to human liberty and flourishing. For human liberty and human flourishing are fulfilled by neither politics alone nor economics alone. Rather, they require economic activity within a free polity, under the rule of law, and through the daily practice of personal habits of wisdom and self-control. Madison, Hamilton, Jefferson, and their colleagues referred to the intellectual movement that led to this new conception of social well-being as the new science of politics.
Trinity As Communiohttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/10/trinity-as-communio
Thu, 13 Nov 2014 22:42:00 -0500In the preparatory period before Vatican II, when St. John XXIII asked all the bishops of the world to send in memoranda on the subjects most important for the Council to address, Bishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow suggested organizing all the materials of the Council around two central topics: person and
. Behind his logic lay contemplation of the Trinity.
Fri, 01 Feb 2013 00:00:00 -0500 The tension between American democracy, capitalism, and culture is acute—more acute, perhaps, than at any time in our history. Even the best human fruits of this nation’s founding principles are in peril. I mean the principles of natural rights and the internal constitution of checks and balances and divided systems that protect them.
There is, of course, more than one tradition of human rights. There is the Anglo-Enlightenment and (some say) atheist tradition worked out by Hobbes and Locke and stressed by Strauss and his followers. The Continental tradition, particularly that of the French Enlightenment, lies behind the French Republic’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and is the source for most European theories of human rights, which now treat rights as “entitlements” demanded by human perfectibility. This seems to be the tradition that popes following the lead of John XXIII in
Pacem in Terris
have attempted to graft onto the Catholic tradition.
Then there is the original American understanding, defined in brilliant terms by the Virginia Declaration of Rights, Jefferson’s Bill for Religious Liberty and his Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Madison’s Remonstrance. This conception reaches back into the natural law tradition of Aristotle, Cicero, and Seneca, but it is also expressly Judeo-Christian in its conception.
The Virginians laid out their argument in five steps. First, religion is the duty the creature owes to its Creator. Second, we have a right to perform this duty without interference from any person or institution or from civil society itself. This duty is prior to our bond to civil society, both in time and in obligation. To offend against it is an offense against man and, even more, against God.
Third, this duty is unalienable. We cannot push it off on anyone else, because it is a duty we owe directly to our Creator. Fourth, our rights are endowed in us by our Creator, not the state, nor civil society, nor social contract. And finally, we are free both to perform our duty to the Creator and to discern in our own conscience and at our own time the best way to perform it.
I think that the Second Vatican Council, in the declaration
, came to this development of doctrine in part because of the influence of the arguments of the Virginians as worked out by John Courtney Murray, S.J. Note just two consonances between the Virginians and
The first is that both parties hold that duty precedes right. Madison wrote that “it is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign.”
declared: “The highest norm of human life is the divine law—eternal, objective and universal—whereby God orders, directs and governs the entire universe and all the ways of the human community by a plan conceived in wisdom and love . . . . Wherefore every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience, under use of all suitable means.”
The second is the assertion that no one shall compel others in their religious practice. Thomas Jefferson proposed to the General Assembly that “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever” and that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”
declared that while “government therefore ought indeed to take account of the religious life of the citizenry and show it favor, since the function of government is to make provision for the common welfare . . . it would clearly transgress the limits set to its power, were it to presume to command or inhibit acts that are religious.”
Nevertheless, today, mainstream American political thinking and practice have reinterpreted the meaning of rights. We no longer clearly ground them in a duty to the Creator, which precedes and trumps all other duties, but have slid into a European way of understanding rights, which holds that rights are grounded in various human “goods” that the progressive state must supply for the betterment of its citizens.
Rights are no longer thought of as based in prior intellectual foundations articulated in the
, most notably in a history-transcending source of rights in the Creator. They are thought of as
achievements of human perfectibility.
In the American tradition, the fulfillment of rights is measured by the realization in history of imperatives founded by the Creator, who in creating humans gave them liberty at the same time he gave them life. This work was not completed until the tradition’s declaration of rights was fully lived up to, with liberty and justice for all. That entailed in due time the abolition of slavery, in keeping with the permanent principles of the nation’s founding, and further progress toward more perfect liberty and justice.
In other words, the Americans “built better than they knew,” as the American bishops declared at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, and built closer to the Catholic tradition than either the Americans at that time or many European churchmen even today have recognized. Still, sadly, the founding of our republic was in greater harmony with our Catholic faith than is the republic we inherit today.
For a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, and to the pursuit of liberty and justice for all, will find that its work is never done. Divine Providence expects always more from this nation. Our nation is a nation of both memory and a “not yet.” It is bound to a vision of a mission not yet completed and, in fact, fated never to be completed on earth. That is why the pyramid on the United States’ seal is left unfinished.
Our nation, as a kind of “second Israel” (as some in the founding generation called it), an “almost chosen people” (as Lincoln called it eighty-seven years later), understands itself to have an earthly mission derived from biblical convictions. The founders did not scruple to express them in the classic words of Virgil:
. He smiled on our beginnings.
But the Lord’s justice should make us tremble with fear: “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; / He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword.”
As Jefferson reminded us: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.” And Lincoln, in his second inaugural address: “Yet if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
At present, there is no realistic check on the appetite of progressive government (even on “compassionate conservative” government) for greater tax revenues and the racking up of greater debts. Worse, these debts are without remorse laid upon the backs of future generations. They are now laid up even to a Greece-like breaking point. That alone could destroy our republic. From within. Legally.
At present, there is no practical brake on a court system (and a system of law schools) that believes itself no longer bound to the foundational principles of the Constitution but only to the current ideas of “progressivism.” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently said that even if constitutional reform occurred today, she would
look backward to the original intent of the founders but rather to the new and more advanced constitutions of South Africa and to certain constitutions of the European Union. She is not alone.
Our economic system also has its own structural flaws, in need of severe correction. Let me not enumerate, or even make distinctions among, the complaints on this score that rage daily in our press. They are too well known.
To my mind, however, the greatest of our national weaknesses lies now in the decadence of our moral and cultural institutions, even our religious institutions. Look at our mainline churches, once the bedrock of the nation’s moral solidity and depth. Look at our university faculties. Seldom has so much illusion been packed into the pride of self-superior souls.
Our founders well understood that our sort of republic cannot stand without a foundation in morality–and religion. As both Washington and Benjamin Rush put it in different ways, the framers held quite firmly, from long experience, that our republic cannot stand without liberty; nor liberty without virtue; nor virtue (for most people) without religion. (That is, without a religion of the type that favors and undergirds human liberty. Not all religions are of that type.)
The price of liberty, our founders often said, is eternal vigilance. The ideas on which liberty precariously rests need to be passed along from generation to generation. If they are ever forgotten or minimized, even by one generation, turn out the lights. Institutions of natural rights are inherently fragile, and we must not ask something impossible for this poor human race: an unbetrayable intellectual and institutional tradition.
There is now and always will be tension—a distance, a difference—between what our human natures are prey to in politics, economics, and culture and the vision of friendship with him that our Creator has offered us. It may be much greater today than it has been.
Yet I am still hopeful. With Abraham Lincoln I accept that there is a natural moral decline built into the generations of human life. The heroism of fathers inspires and yet intimidates their sons, but bores their grandsons, who shun it. In Lincoln’s phrase, “the silent artillery of time” beats generation after generation against the hard-built foundations of the great achievements of the past. Not even the Church of Jesus Christ was able to avoid it.
In my view, to put it in the words of Joseph Warren, member of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, “our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of.” Everywhere we see the small beginnings of a drive for a “return to the Constitution” and a growing number of thinkers who are supplying fresh arguments for “revolving to first principles,” a policy that the founders advised for every generation.
Strong Catholic minds are offering a fresh articulation of the American founding principles in the new and richer context of the Catholic intellectual tradition. Tocqueville famously hinted at this possibility: that one day Catholics would become the best intellectual defenders of the American way of understanding natural rights.
Catholics bring, for example, a needed understanding of the balanced Augustinian vision of the City of Man. There is enough virtue and grace among the people to make a democratic republic work (by the favor of Providence), even in flawed human history. There is in human beings enough sin and weakness to make it fail, if the people of a society do not maintain the life of virtue necessary to keep it.
It pains me to be so sanguine, coming from an ancestral central European tradition of pessimism. But then what is the point of moving a central European family to America, if one does not learn to trust at least a little in the America our founders gave us?
Michael Novak, a member of First Things' advisory council, recently retired from the George Frederick Jewett Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.
]]>Goodbye, Judge Bork—Goodbye, My Friendhttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2012/12/goodbye-judge-bork-goodbye-my-friend
Fri, 21 Dec 2012 00:01:00 -0500 As it happened, I was able to spend a couple of hours between flights with Bob Bork just ten days before he died, and I got to tell him of my gratitude for so much friendship and laughter over the past quarter-century, of my admiration for his depth, and”embarrassing him, as I knew this would”of my love for him. Bob was of the strong stock that keeps emotions such as love to himself. Thats one reason I loved him.
On such occasions”his many friends loved him mightily and showed it in many angular ways”one could see him squirm with conflicting emotions. He certainly must not accept
, and yet a smile at the corner of his lips and a rising blush up his very white cheeks betrayed his pleasure. His method of fleeing from admiration and (God forbid) love was normally a scoffing rebuke, behind which came a wee smile.
His friends loved him because he was brilliant, always ready with witticisms and lightning insights, and altogether warm of heart himself. It was a joy to watch him with his children and Mary Ellen. Several of those around him thought his was the most radiant intellect they knew: The most famously bright people in Washington always deferred to him. His mind was radiant on things vast”and also domestic. We smiled at the way he and Mary Ellen joshed each other constantly, in the glow of unmistakable union.
Bob was a serious man about his deepest convictions, uncommonly self-aware down to a very great depth. For years there was no sign that he was even thinking of becoming a Catholic, as Mary Ellen was; he sometimes pretended to be an unshakably severe and reserved Pittsburgh Presbyterian”almost never explicitly religious at all. Of course, when he did seek instruction in the Catholic faith, he did so publicly during one of the worst possible and most humiliating years in the history of the American Church, 2003, just as the painful clergy sexual abuse scandal was at the height of exposure in the media. It was just like Bobs courage (in his great intellectual courage) to go ahead in that unpropitious period.
It was just like his unfailing wit that it had not escaped his notice that baptism in that advanced year of his life carried a double blessing: It washed away all his prior sins, and arrived just when his seniority rendered unlikely all those that had brought the most pleasure.
Bob and Mary Ellen first met
at a party of mine and Karens”a book party”and shortly afterwards Karen and Mary Ellen drove many hours together out to Notre Dame. Bob had lost his first and deeply loved wife to cancer some years before, and it had seemed to some unlikely he would remarry. On that car trip, Karen picked up signs that, given some time, it just might happen. We were glad.
We also had the immense privilege of taking Bob and Mary Ellen to dinner on the eve of his much-embattled confirmation vote in the Senate. (I always thought that Senator Ted Kennedys demagogic, malicious, and falsehood-ridden assault on Judge Bork, at the very beginning of the confirmation process, was the foulest deed of Kennedys leadership in the Senate”it properly won its own disgraceful public epithet.) After this dinner, Karen mentioned to me Bobs astonishing equanimity.
Late in the dinner, he said something like: At one time, I would have given my right arm to become a justice of the Supreme Court. But now, if I dont, I will write more freely”not just in legalese”of ideas necessary to the republic in these years.
At another point, he said something like: I know some wanted me to kiss babies, and cut off my beard, and appeal more to public sentiment. But thats not me. Thats how politicians behave. It is not how justices behave. I couldnt possibly do that. It would have betrayed everything I believe about the law.
Concentrating on friendship, we laughed a lot at that dinner. In the car, Karen admitted that she admired the inner spirit of Robert Bork more than ever. She herself was well experienced to the steel of spirit (and humor) needed in dark times.
Others may write better on Judge Borks pre-eminence among jurists of his generation, and the capaciousness of his mind in the history of law. Today I mourn, and want to honor a man great of spirit.
Michael Novak, one of the founders of First Things , was for more than two decades a colleague of Judge Bork at the American Enterprise Institute
]]>The Holy Spirit Did Presidehttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/08/the-holy-spirit-did-preside
Wed, 01 Aug 2012 00:00:00 -0400 A newly married layman and graduate student, I found myself in Rome in 1963 covering the second session of the Second Vatican Council, working as a freelance reporter for the
National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal,
and for any other publications that would run my work, while my wife, Karen, executed prints on Rome’s famous presses.
]]>Don’t Confuse the Common Good with Statismhttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2011/10/dont-confuse-the-common-good-with-statism
Wed, 26 Oct 2011 00:01:00 -0400 I remember so well the founding days of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. We were such a small and humble organization, so few of us, so lightly funded. Yet we had strong hearts, bold ambitions, and lots and lots of good information. As anyone can guess, Richard John Neuhaus was the leading spirit, the intellectual guide. He was still a Lutheran then and loved to nail manifestoes on Cathedral doors, so he nailed up the founding manifesto of IRD, telling how the key democratic ideas of human dignity, equality, fraternity, and liberty flowed from Christian roots and Christian understandings. And he expressed shock”SHOCK”at how many of our local parishes were using materials that
democracy, coming out of the National Council of Churches on Riverside Drive, New York. Anti-Democratic materials: materials siding with the Sandinistas; materials siding with violent Palestinian organizations; materials siding with the anti-democratic effort to bring down the fragile democracy in El Salvador.
This flagrant anti-democratic program did not belong in Christian preaching in the churches, IRD strongly felt, first because it was so overtly and purely political and, second, because its politics were so out of keeping with the Christian inspirations that gave birth to democratic institutions and ideas. Many congregants in the pews did not at all appreciate the national offices of their churches, clustered in New York City around the NCC, expending donations from the pews to promote so violent and so misguided an agenda.
Well, IRD got started with a bang. One of our earliest doggedly documented reports was a description of the actual deeds and practices of the violent forces the church elites in New York were nurturing. Suddenly, before we even had a fully functioning office, one of the great television networks”CBS on
”reported on IRDs efforts, using the information on these anti-democratic movements that we had marshaled. A huge explosion went off in various New York offices of the churches.
It struck me in those days”remembering my Horace”Mountains will tremble in birth pangs, and out will run a ridiculous mouse (
nascetur ridiculus mus
). I have always thought that the symbol of IRD
to be a mischievously grinning mouse, because as an organization we were so tiny, and so squeaky-voiced. Whereas the huge buildings in New York we so squeakily called to account were massive, well funded, and elegantly equipped with all the instruments of propaganda. This little mouse did its best imitation of a roar, and those buildings shook.
Well, not literally. But an awful lot of the nations denominations decided rather quickly to pull their national offices out of New York City, and bring them back closer to their members in Louisville, Chicago, and Cleveland.
We hadnt intended it this way, but at our birth, presidential support for democracy came from a surprising direction.
Most of us there at the founding of IRD were lifelong Democrats, but in 1980 a Republican president turned against his partys traditional isolationism, and pivoted forward with a torchlight of support for universal human rights. In his very first few weeks, President Reagan announced at a White House dinner for Margaret Thatcher that Communism was even then about to be swept into the dustbin of history. Pigeons at the opinion pages of
The New York Times
fluttered noisily into the air, others in the mainstream media called Reagan an ignorant and dangerous man. But then, within ten short years, the Berlin Wall came down, and a little later the whole Soviet Union crumpled into dust. Russia announced that it was beginning to build democracy and capitalism.
Thus, our little Institute on Religion and Democracy, founded in 1981, hit a note of unexpected international resonance. We watched with joy a decade-long and marvelous blooming of new democracies: from the Philippines to Chile to Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republics, and Hungary. Not to mention Russia itself.
Two years later, Diane Knippers, that great woman whom we now honor, became the president of IRD, in 1993. She was the leader who took IRD through its transition from fighting those who were destroying democracy from the outside, to fighting those sickly growths that cling to democracies like barnacles to ships, and steadily spread rot through democratic virtues from within. Even capitalism itself, Diane took from Tocqueville, thrives when it is supported by a culture of virtue, a culture open before the judgment of a transcendent God. Capitalisms corruption erodes the institutions of democracy.
condition for the forward thrust of a successful democracy is a thriving, inventive, creative economy. Capitalism is not a
condition for the strength of a democracy, but a necessary one. And so Diane turned IRD in the direction of defending and nourishing a democratic culture, through its religious and public culture. What are the primary supports of a free and creative system of political economy? Diane diagnosed them as the suffusion of Jewish and Christian commitments and virtues within them. Without those, she thought, democracies grow sickly.
In other words, Diane turned IRD toward cultural ecology, or an ecology of the human. The physical earth itself depends on a favorable ecology. But so does the inner life of the human race. An invisible gas of relativism, the dry gas of nihilism, chokes off the air supply to human morality, incapacitates it, suffocates it. Without a morality suitable to human upward striving, democracy will slowly die.
Even at Dianes too-early death in 2005, a new attack was already being launched
on the free worlds free and inventive economies, even within the United States. Under economic bad times, envy, that most deadly of all the deadly sins, multiplies like a virus. Region is turned against region, class against class, neighbor against neighbor. By contrast, under conditions of prosperity each citizen of a democracy pursues her own happiness, according to whatever path she chooses, without envying those who choose otherwise, or who happen to gain more wealth.
Fighting envy is the IRDs main task today. Some of our religious rivals wish to replace democratic capitalism with social democracy. And to that end, they badly misconceive of two great ideals: the common good and social justice.
Our rivals claim that Americans must now make the common good the central concern of our society. But into this cry they slip a hidden and deadly poison: They mean by the common good
more new spending by the federal state, more new regulations by the federal state, and the imposition of ever higher taxes by the federal state.
And yet never in the history of this Republic until now has the federal state spent more trillions of dollars, dollars it does not have, dollars that it must borrow from our children and grandchildren. This trend has proceeded under both Democratic and Republican administrations, but it has now reached its worst point. Never before has the federal state dreamed up more intolerable, irrational, and corrupt regulations”paying off this group by tying that group down with silken regulatory ropes. Attacking Boeing for opening a badly needed plant in South Carolina, for example, in order to pay off labor unions who object to that states right-to-work laws.
Overwhelming evidence shows that the pursuit of the common good does not entail statism. It entails a liberated and booming private sector: initiative, invention, and creativity among all our citizens. That is way toward the common good, the common prosperity, the common growth, and common happiness. It is also the way to defeat envy.
The state can be a very good tool of the common good.
It was so when Abraham Lincoln put his powerful moral weight behind the Homestead Act and the Land-Grant College Act. By these laws, the federal government gave a title to so many acres of public land to private citizens”but on condition that they work that land for five or more years. And thus improve it, and multiply its value, by their own individual creativity, in their own unique circumstances. Not according to a federal plan.
In addition, the federal government insisted that no new territory could join the federal union unless it set aside a prescribed number of acres for the founding of state universities, as well as of agricultural and mining universities. Lincolns insight was that wealth is generated by ideas, by experimentation, by intellectual creativity. (See his address at the Wisconsin State Fair in 1858.) If America were to become a developed nation, Lincoln saw with early genius, it would do so by way of intellect and invention. Not as a slave culture, but as a free culture, becoming prosperous by the creative minds of free individuals. Neither in the Homestead Act nor in the Land-grant College Act did the federal government set out to
the decisions of the recipients. On the contrary, the federal government set American citizens
their creativity, the creativity of ordinary American people. In the old days, our government trusted the American people.
Those who insist that the best way to achieve the common good, and to attain social justice, is to give more resources (and control) to the federal state, had better go looking for some evidence somewhere that undergirds their self-righteousness. They insist that others of us, who do not support the expenditure of more state money, are
. Yet the
moral obligation, Blaise Pascal wrote, is To think clearly. And with evidence.
The defense of the common-sense ideas that make our Republic work is still the
of this humble but amazingly successful organization, IRD. For IRDs focus even today, we owe so much to Diane Knippers. With IRDs tiny budget of about $1 million per year, Diane rocked the religious world. She also helped to rock a good many decayed dictatorships, some of which are still tumbling to the dust, by the month. The social ideas of Judaism and Christianity (liberty, fraternity, equality, for instance, and mercy, justice, love, and second chances), once suffused through the liberties of a genuine democratic republic, are today even more potent forces in the larger world, even more so than in earlier times.
Michael Novak has recently retired from the George Frederick Jewett chair in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute and is a member of the editorial board of First Things
]]>The Myth of Romantic Lovehttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2011/02/the-myth-of-romantic-love
Mon, 14 Feb 2011 00:01:00 -0500 A young Catholic today inherits a long, long tradition of reflection on love that is unmatched in any other culture in the world, beginning with the sublime “Song of Songs” of the Jewish Testament, and the many sections of the Christian Testament dedicated to the theme. In more recent times, if I may include that great writer in the English Catholic tradition,
The Allegory of Love
(1936) by C.S. Lewis. In that dazzling history Lewis traces the invention of the story of romantic love—now the most standard of all loves recognized in the Western world. Romantic love
a Western invention, a near-obsession, supposedly the key to all happiness. For Lewis, the invention of romantic love in the age of the troubadours (the age of the Crusades) was far more momentous for the development of the West, and far more broadly influential than, say, the Protestant Reformation. Lewis compares the Reformation to a ripple on the vast ocean of romantic love.
]]>Solidarity and the Work of Free Menhttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2010/07/solidarity-and-the-work-of-free-men
Thu, 29 Jul 2010 00:01:00 -0400 As one member of Solidarnosc said to me with some bitterness in 1990, If you socialized the Sahara, in two years people would be lining up to buy sand. In fact, most of those associated with the early years of Solidarnosc”the great Polish liberation movement SolidarIty”had had all the collectivism, socialism, government-controlled economy, nanny state, and thugocracy they could stomach.
Since I do not read or speak Polish, I was not able to learn all the arguments by which Solidarnosc came to formulate its own first principles, or to govern its daily actions. What I do know (from a distance) is Solidarnosc as a real movement of people during our lifetime.
Solidarnosc was a lone movement that, against the expectations of a world that considered Communism a permanent structure, led the Polish people to throw off communism almost as a dead snakeskin. And then, amazingly, it held free elections almost immediately, launched a quite honorable government, and got Polish democracy off to a good start.
Naturally, Solidarnosc was comprised of socialists and social democrats.
The surprise was that its leaders in the years 1989 to 1991 spoke more forcefully in favor of democratic capitalism than those of any neighboring country”and most western European countries, too.
Pope John Paul IIs closeness to Solidarnosc”its place in his heart, and his sense of its world-historical rupture”was never in doubt. I remember meeting him in the first group to meet with him after the attempted assassination, the Slovak World Congress. He was pale and thin, but full of good humor and wit. He immediately spotted the Solidarnosc button I was wearing on my lapel, broke into a huge grin, laid his index finger on the button, and called it to the attention of all around. (He ignored my Adam Smith tie.)
I remember, also, back in late 1992 or 1993, a young man appearing at my office door in Washington, not a little nervous at being in a place called The American Enterprise Institute, the very infernal pit (as it might be thought back home) of Marx-blackened capitalism. In a hesitant voice, he told me he represented Solidarnosc, and was here from Krakow to ask me if Solidarnosc please could publish my new book,
The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism
, in Polish.
I gave him an immediate yes. Then I said, mischievously, But I will have to charge you royalties. His face fell. In fact, two royalties.” He was disconsolate. “First, you must send me one copy. Second, you must get a copy to the Pope. The young mans face lit up brightly. The second, he said, will be easy. The first may take us a little longer.
We shook hands. He was happy. I was exultant. It was a great, great honor to help such a God-given movement as Solidarnosc, even in so small a way. I still have two Samizdat copies. Miniatures, about as big as a hand. They are my treasures. I have donated one to the Library of Congress.
Later I was told that Vaclav Havel held a study group on this book, discussing it part by part in a mountain hideaway in the Czech territories. In 1990, shortly after the Velvet Revolution,” it was the second western book to appear in Czech translation, after Friedrich Hayeks.
A world-shaking movement such as Solidarnosc cannot,
I think, be expressed in one philosophical idiom only, let alone in some narrow ideology. It was real, it was concrete, it was human, it was moving forward from contingency to contingency. It had its own goals clearly in mind, and followed its own inner lights quite faithfully.
Five hundred years from now, the world shall still be in its debt. It brought Communism to a premature death, and saved the world from an immensely costly, seemingly endless war.
I saw the new intellectual movement associated with Solidarnosc as part of the inner energy of the economic thinking of Pope John Paul II, part of his concrete, this-worldly hope for a New Civilization of Love. I suspect that Pope Benedict XVI holds very similar views, but it is manifest that many in Rome still hanker for collectivist solutions, and are afraid of free persons acting freely.
I wish Solidarnosc had taught them a lesson they would never forget, as obviously they have. For Solidarnosc showed in the most unlikely circumstances the power of freedom in the lives of men driven by their faith and its vision (per John Paul II) of a free and open society.
Michael Novak has just retired from the George Frederick Jewett chair in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute and is a member of the editorial board of First Things
]]>The Liberating Balancehttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2010/05/the-liberating-balance
Tue, 04 May 2010 01:26:00 -0400 In his great book
The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism
, Daniel Bell argued that capitalist systems are composed of three complementary but distinct social systems: the political, the economic, and the moral/cultural. That their values are mutually complementary makes their unity possible. That they are distinct institutions with competing interests enables them to act as checks and balances upon each other. But sometimes one system becomes too strong for the other two. When this happens, the poor are the primary victims.