The Social Thought of Michael Novak: At Odds with the Principles of Catholic Social Thought
ANATOMY OF A CONSERVATIVE DISSENTER
Michael Novak is a remarkable phenomenon, and in many ways admirable. A man of prodigious energy, he has written or edited about 20 books of fiction and nonfiction on such varied subjects as theology, philosophy, history, labor, sports, ethnics, politics, economics, and the Third World. Granted, he has of late enjoyed the services of the well-funded staff of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank, where he serves as a specialist in “philosophy, religion and public policy.” Still, his production is impressive.
Trained at first for the priesthood, he has studied and read widely in other disciplines. Originally a self-described “democratic socialist,” he lost his socialist convictions and moved to the right in the 1970s. In 1981 he was appointed by President Reagan to head the U.S. delegation to the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission. In 1984 he served as vice-chairman of a Lay Commission organized by William Simon, former Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Nixon and Ford. This commission consisted substantially of corporate executives. Novak was the principal author of its “Lay Letter on Catholic Social Thought and the U.S. Economy,” which appeared a few days before the first draft of the U.S. bishops’ pastoral on the same subject.
Michael Novak can fairly be described as a Christian apostle to the U.S. business community, and in many respects he has been a good influence on that community.
One of his more important books is The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (Simon & Schuster, 1982). In a recent letter to the NOR (July-August) he accused this writer of “false witness,” notably about my use of the phrase “democratic capitalism.” I had written: “anyone [meaning Novak] who describes capitalism in its essential structure and practice as ‘democratic’ has automatically earned a failing grade in economics, politics, logic, and common sense” (May NOR).
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