FREEDOM WITH JUSTICE: Catholic Social Thought and Liberal Institutions by Michael Novak

FREEDOM WITH JUSTICE: Catholic Social Thought and Liberal Institutions

Email this review


A curiously old-fashioned and logically tortuous plea for ""democratic capitalism."" Novak, it seems, would have no problems with his stout-hearted political-economic conservatism if he weren't a Catholic. Then he wouldn't have to worry about why the modern papacy has always been so unenthusiastic about many features of American life (bourgeois individualism, privatization of religion, all-powerful capitalism, etc.) or why Catholic theologians and even bishops in Latin America, Europe, and the US are being seduced into more or less Marxist ways of thinking. But it's all too true, and so Novak has to pull out all the scholarly stops to make some rather simple--and some highly questionable--points. Because in their obsession with the atheism and anti-clericalism of the Continental (not the Anglo-American) Left the popes have treated liberalism as a dirty word, Noyak lectures them in absentia on the lofty ethics and humane values of liberals like Cobden and Mill. With its misguided emphasis on the ""corporative ideal"" or ""solidarism,"" the Vatican (and that includes the moderate Paul VI as well as the fanatical Pius IX and the deeply traditional Pius XII) has failed to appreciate the way Western capitalist societies have advanced the cause of human dignity, religious self-expression, and (something Rome often ignores) freedom. But at least the popes have always condemned socialism--unlike the starry-eyed, fire-breathing, dangerously abstract liberation theologians, whom Novak blasts. Novak's hymn to free enterprise, however, is marred by a number of absurdities (quite apart from the religious question). He thinks that less developed nations get more out of trade than their highly developed partners do, that Latin American anger at the US is paranoia, that primitive cultures are necessarily poverty-stricken and miserable, that there's nothing wrong with John Paul II's repeated exhortation to exploit nature for human benefit. Not bad as a history of official Catholic thinking on ""social justice""; otherwise a foolish, unconvincing tract.

Pub Date: Nov. 28th, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row