July-August 1988

Mean-Spirited

Your April editorial describes capitalism as a “survival of the fittest” system. The de­scription is false. Among millions of other instances, the very exis­tence of the New Oxford Re­view shows its falsity.

The editorial boasts that the NOR is committed to the view that the East and West are “mor­al equivalents” — “or more pre­cisely, immoral equivalents.” That view does a great injustice to the Constitution of the United States, to Madison, Jefferson, Lincoln, and others, and to the traditions of political economy proper to this nation. Further, it does an immense injustice to those of us who have relatives in the territories still controlled by the Soviet regime, relatives who know well the sad human conditions they are forced to endure.

Many in the West use the liberties denied to their families in the East with far too little ho­liness. There is not a chapter in the Bible in which this was not even then true. The number of the saints and holy ones is, alas, far smaller than the number of the free.

In his uncharacteristically mean-spirited piece about “Fir­ing Line” in the May issue, John C. Cort both seriously misstates my own views and also makes a number of false assertions about matters of fact.

As the transcript of the show demonstrates quite clearly, I disagreed directly with Fr. McBrien on the legitimacy of “cafe­teria Catholicism,” and asserted that this is the greatest difference between him and me. He thinks cafeteria Catholicism is legiti­mate; I insist that it is illegitimate.

Cort to the contrary, there is not a single theological or mor­al principle of Catholic social thought from which I dissent. As the popes themselves have reiter­ated, moreover, Catholic social thought is always in the process of growth and development, and it is my aim to advance its fron­tiers, subject to the final judg­ment of the Church. Further, Catholic social thought necessar­ily includes some descriptions of matters of fact and historical experimentation, whose exact va­lidity is governed by the virtue of prudence. On these matters the Church has always welcomed re­spectful, civil, and charitable ar­gument, since such argument is the very principle of the further development of social teaching.

I value John Cort’s criticism of my own views, but there are occasions when it seems to me that he goes beyond charity and justice, and bears false witness against me. This is one such occa­sion.

Again, Cort gives a false and spurious definition of capi­talism. Further, he wildly dis­torts the meaning I attach to the phrase “democratic capitalism.” I use it to describe a form of po­litical economy that is parallel to “democratic socialism,” mean­ing a democratic polity and a capitalist economy.

Finally, Cort’s assertion that the countries of Eastern Eu­rope live up to a higher standard of social and economic rights is such patent nonsense that not even Gorbachev, let alone the in­tellectuals and citizens of Eastern Europe, any longer believes it. Many empirical studies published in the East and West have report­ed the actual conditions of homelessness, unemployment, medical care, and social decline in Eastern Europe; they expose the emptiness of Cort’s Utopian claims.

A fundamental loyalty of both John Cort and the Editor is to democratic socialism. Unfor­tunately, this claim sometimes leads them to distort both mat­ters of fact and the full and wide meaning of Christian faith. There is plenty of room within the Catholic faith for democratic so­cialists, but there is not enough room within democratic socialism for all who share the Catho­lic faith.

Michael Novak
American Enterprise Institute
Washington DC






Ed. Note: On pages 4-6 of our April 1983 issue, Stuart Gudowitz argued that you do indeed dissent from principles of Catho­lic social thought. Without re­peating that argument, we will only note that you have long (and self-admittedly) dissented public­ly from Catholic teaching on birth control. Hence, the princi­ples of Catholic social thought could not be inviolable in princi­ple for you.





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