Recently, on September 6, Acton’s president and co-founder Rev. Robert Sirico launched his first trade press book in French Catholique et Libéral. Les raisons morales d’une économie libre (Editions Salavator, trans. Solène Tadié) before a standing-room-only crowd at Paris Story, a theater in the French capital’s Opera cultural district.
Invited by the publisher Editions Salvator, Institut des Libertés and some other local supporters, over 170 persons (a cross-current of entrepreneurs, think tank representatives, journalists, professors and Church leaders) came from all over the City of Light to hear an American Catholic priest defend the free market according to profound moral and religious convictions about human liberty and human dignity.
In making his case for why he supports free enterprise, Rev. Sirico argued that we cannot appreciate economics simply from false anthropological constructs like “homo economicus”, that is, viewing human flourishing through the mere satisfaction of determinate material needs. Nor can we appreciate economics as a vehicle for mitigating economic inequality or class warfare as we find in socialist and Marxist political-economic manifestos.
Rather, Rev. Sirico said, a moral defense of free market economics is more about defending our inalienable rights to live out our vocations according to our conscience and according to the dignity we associate with human innovation while freely and ingeniously contributing to the common good of mankind.
“The human freedom in the market, the right to private property, contract, and similar things…(are) intimately tied to human persons, because all these things are created by human beings and for human beings, who are themselves created by God in whose image they are fashioned, and are endowed with a vocation to be creative and productive and responsible,” Rev. Sirico said.
Spurring discussion of Rev. Sirico’s book at Paris Story was Institut des Libertés’s president Charles Gave, author of the book’s French preface and former international financial executive in Hong Kong.
Mr. Gave writes in his preface that human freedom is ultimately order to Christ’s demanding moral command to give freely and entirely of ourselves, of all our talents, and all our resources to projects so as to take full responsibility of our moral choices and acts to contribute to the common good.
As Gave writes, “He who has not given everything, has really given nothing…The essence of the Christian religion is not to ask for mechanical adhesion to a rule let alone obey a master as does a dog [obeys his owner]. This is not the full exercise of our free will.” ( trans. from French in Catholique et Libéral, p. 8) Gave, therefore, argued that economies must be maximally disposed to increase and embolden our freedoms so we may act to our fullest, freest, most responsible capacity to respond to Christ’s high moral demands for us as individuals when caring for human society as a whole.
Jean-Philippe Delsol, president of IREF, an economics and tax reform advocacy, was invited to provide further commentary as Rev. Sirico’s discussant (see English translation here). According to Prof. Delsol, who wrote a favorable review of the book, much of the socialist-capitalist debate pivots around whether the moral precepts of Christianity are “actually compatible” with the secular political, economic and cultural norms established to sustain free enterprise.
“Liberals must find God,” he said. “But Christians should also find freedom.” Delsol went on to explain that in fact, “there is no responsibility without freedom” and that the highest political end of the State is human freedom and, thus, must support economic and legal systems that nourish and protect freedom.
“Having said this,” he told the attentive audience in Paris, “Freedom is not the end of man, but the necessary means of attaining (human happiness)…Freedom, despite the natural human yearning for it, is not a goal or a virtue in itself. We have freedom for something…. Freedom is an instrumental goal. Once it is achieved, we naturally ask, “And then?” What is the answer to the “and then?” with regard to our freedom? Ultimately the aim of freedom must be the Truth” of God and man.”
The problem today, Prof. Delsol concluded, is that many Western governments crowd out creative human charity due to the largesse of “Nanny” Welfare States whose subsidies, impersonal agencies, and bureaucratic machines “take the place of [loving, free] individuals making them more and more mediocre every day.”
The evening concluded with a lively question and answer session with the author Rev. Sirico. Many of those in attendance spoke of the ways in which the Church, as with Pope Francis, actively speak out against the free market where “the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer” or simply demonize entrepreneurs as self-aggrandizing, greedy Gordon Geckos, like in the 1980’s Hollywood blockbuster film Wall Street “who care not for poor but only themselves and maintaining their luxurious lifestyles,” one man commented.
Rev. Sirico responded saying we must not just make moral claims about wealth creation. Moral claims are important, he said, and certainly “we have plenty of Gordon Geckos out there” bent on ameliorating only their own fate. However, he said, we must base our opinions about the free market on the facts. Without the facts our moral case is less credible, he said.
“What no one can honestly deny is that over last few hundred years, since the Industrial Revolution, it’s not just the rich that are getting richer, but the poor are getting richer as well.” While not necessarily at the same rate or in direct proportion to the rich, we cannot deny, Sirico said, that today’s poor are better off and have more access to global market exchange and to goods that were “yesterday’s luxuries” but which are today’s commonplace affordable necessities, like penicillin and cell phones.
The world is a much better place to flourish today, he said, and we can thank human invention made possible in a global market context.
To purchase a copy of Rev. Sirico’ Catholique et Libéral. Les raisons morales d’une économie libre, please order from the Editions Salvator web site.
Note: Solène Tadié contributed to this blog.