Inside every Viet Cong, the Marines used to say, there’s an American screaming to get out. Well, mightn’t that be true of Baathists and mujahedeen and fedayeen, too?
Thinking most wishfully, neocon think-tank denizen Novak (The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1993, etc.) posits that the innermost desire of most inhabitants of the Muslim world is to find “an alternative to terror.” Behold that alternative, writes Novak: “It is called, in the political order, democracy. In the economic order it is called the dynamic enterprise economy.” Elsewhere it’s called the new world order, but no matter: Novak would seem to subscribe to the view that the only thing keeping people from being free are shackles on their marketplaces, shackles that prevent those people from fleeing the jailhouse of poverty. Novak is just warming up, offering a spirited defense of capitalism—and a spirited attack on anti-capitalism that does a nice job of turning the tables, maintaining that disdain for individual control over social means of production is really an aristocratic prejudice that “carries with it a profound contempt for business, businessmen, and a capitalist way of life.” Well, yes, but word up: Islam has some of that prejudice, too, courtesy of prohibitions on loaning money at interest, the heart of the capitalist enterprise. No matter, Novak argues. If the Catholic Church could shed at least some of its dislike of capitalism—in a fine twist, he urges that Augustine would not want us to confuse self-interest and selfishness—then the anarchic nihilists of the Wahhabi conspiracy might just do so, too. And never mind the holdouts: “Many more than nine of every ten Muslims prefer a world of personal dignity and prosperity in which their rights would be protected and their opportunities for growth and advancement would become abundant.”
Let’s hope Novak is right. Those who are convinced prima facie that he is will likely enjoy his latest; others will wonder whether the current headlines shouldn’t dim his optimism just a tad.