THE CATHOLIC ETHIC AND THE SPIRIT OF CAPITALISM by Michael Novak

THE CATHOLIC ETHIC AND THE SPIRIT OF CAPITALISM

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Close on the heels of Richard John Neuhaus's Doing Well and Doing Good (p. 970) and George Weigel's The Final Revolution (p. 1247): yet another neoconservative study of Catholic teachings on economic freedom and social justice. Like Neuhaus, Novak (Freedom with Justice, 1984, etc.) concentrates on Pope John Paul II's seminal 1991 encyclical, Centessimus Annus. For Novak, the Pope's message is clear: political and economic liberty go hand-in-hand. Thus, capitalism has it over socialism--but this is a new form of capitalism, guided by religious imperatives to help the poor. Although Novak seconds Neuhaus on this analysis, many other observers don't, believing the Pope to be forwarding a third economic system, perhaps akin to Chesterton's distributism, as an moral alternative to both capitalism and socialism. In any case, for Novak, the ``Catholic ethic'' is sharply distinct from the famous ``Protestant ethic'' of Max Weber, in which making money is life's chief goal. The main difference, says Novak, is that Catholicism sees creativity rather than gross materialism as the soul of capitalism. He traces the evolution of this view through a hundred years of papal writings, culminating in John Paul's view of human beings as ``persons'' in the image of God, endowed with absolute rights to freedom and justice. From this airy perch, Novak descends into the nitty-gritty, offering suggestions for implementing the new capitalism. In Latin America, the poor must be given their share of power. In the US, he calls for welfare reform (letting welfare recipients gather nest eggs); parental responsibility; a campaign to shame the media, which promotes moral decay; universal home ownership; and, above all, an awareness that America's greatness lies in Jeffersonian values rather than in moral relativism. An attractive moral/economic vision, intelligently argued--but will it fly?

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1993
ISBN: 0-02-923235-X
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1992




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