I first read Michael Novak’s groundbreaking work “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism” when it was published in 1982, before I entered seminary at the Catholic University of America. The book’s dialogue between economics and theology made a deep impression on me, as it did thousands of others. I wrote the author and asked if we might meet once I arrived in Washington. Thus began a friendship that lasted until Novak’s death last year.
The first anniversary of his passing, Feb. 17, comes at a difficult time. Americans face an uncertain economy and deadlocked government. A vocal critic of capitalism leads the Catholic Church. Young people are showing a strange attraction to socialism, as are many Christians who might have been expected to sustain Novak’s philosophy of virtuous capitalism. The U.S. lacks leaders who combine prudence and moral vision.
I was intrigued to find a theologian who was familiar with writers like Friedrich Hayek. I sought his mentorship as I began my theological studies at a time when much of the academy was enamored with Marxist “liberation theology.” I even suggested that Novak squarely address that movement, which he did in another book, “Will It Liberate? Questions About Liberation Theology” (1986).
Even though we were from different generations, I soon found many parallels in our intellectual and religious trajectories. We had both identified as men of the left in early life. Over time we moved from advocating some form of democratic socialism to supporting the free economy. We spent decades defending free-market democracy as the system that best reflected the truth about man.
— Catholic University (@CatholicUniv) February 12, 2018