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Customer Review

on February 15, 2001
Michael Novak is probably the foremost Christian thinker on the economy. Any of his books reward study, but "The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism" is undoubtedly his magnum opus. In this classic text, which has now been updated and revised, Novak joins issue with theologians like Paul Tillich who contend that "any serious Christian must be a socialist." It appeared in a samizdat (underground) edition in Poland during the 1980s and had an obvious impact on the Solidarity movement. Its reasoned defense of democratic capitalism as being grounded in the humane values of the Judeo-Christian tradition also helped give a moral center to the neo-conservative movement.
In "Democratic Capitalism," Novak addresses the consistency of capitalism with church teachings on wealth. Novak recognizes that church teaching has been hostile to capitalism, as with much else of modernity. Yet, Novak contends that arguments against capitalism serve mainly to give aid and comfort to the Leviathan state. Indeed, Novak persuasively (if controversially) attributes Christian opposition to capitalism to two main sources: ignorance and antique world views. Church leaders and theologians tend to have either a pre-capitalist or a frankly socialist set of ideals about political economy.
To be clear, Novak does not believe that faith should be subordinated to capitalism. To the contrary, he recognizes that the divine plan was that we should enjoy the fruits of the earth and of our own industry. He simply contends that capitalism is the best way Fallen humans have yet devised to obey the Biblical command that we are to be stewards of God's world. Novak never loses sight of the basic proposition that it was equally the divine plan that God should be worshiped, obeyed, and feared. The fear of the Lord, he would argue, is the beginning of capitalist wisdom, just as it is of any other kind of wisdom. Not surprisingly, therefore, Novak's analysis has begun to impact the way the church thinks about capitalism. Pope John Paul II's most recent encyclicals on work and the economy, for example, such as Centesimus Annus, contain obvious marks of Novak's influence. In sum, very highly recommended.
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