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Samuel Gregg: ‘First Things,’ R.R. Reno, and the market economy

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The role of free market economics in the West should not be off-limits for debate among religious conservatives. Conversation revolving around the market economy should, however, be held to a high standard of thorough research and thoughtfulness. As Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg writes in a new essay, that standard should “provide philosophical and theological guidance about how to ground free economies—and liberal institutions more generally—upon more solid foundations than the peculiar mixes of utilitarianism, autonomy-for-autonomy’s sake, and pseudo-evolutionary theory advocated by some liberal thinkers.”

In a recent article published by First Things, editor R. R. Reno makes claims about the market economy and the writings of Michael Novak with which Gregg takes issue. First of all, Reno “concerns his claims about global capitalism’s alleged triumph. The second involves his critique of the late Michael Novak’s work, specifically Novak’s masterpiece The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982),” Gregg writes.

Gregg explains how global capitalism and the free market have not, in Reno’s words, “won” and “become our fate.” Government regulations placed on the market have steadily increased since 2006 and “what we’re presently witnessing isn’t global capitalism’s triumph. Rather, it’s the latest round of a contest that’s been going on for 250 years.” Gregg also defends the writing of Michael Novak, stating that although Reno suggests otherwise, Novak’s defense of the free market economy was “full of reflections about the importance of authority, the common good’s non-procedural demands, and the necessity of living virtuously.”

Gregg concludes in hopes that First Things will pursue a higher “intellectual agenda” in the future.

Read Gregg’s First Things and the Market Economy: A Response to R. R. Reno” at Public Discourse.

Associated Links

  • Political philosophy
  • Political ideologies
  • Conservatism in the United States
  • Caroline Roberts Caroline Roberts has a B.A. in English from Grove City College and produces the Acton Institute’s podcast, Radio Free Acton.


    • Like the water that fish swim in, Reno doesn’t notice the deep socialist assumptions behind his opinions. Socialists fabricated the idea that the state makes the people; it can make them good or bad. Christians have always held that the character of the people make the state, and their choices determine their character. The most important choice is what to do with Christ.

      “those most responsible for a society’s “underlying philosophy of life” are philosophers, theologians, and intellectuals “

      Actually, there has never been a time when there were no false teachers with very dangerous ideas. If false teachers are a constant then how can they explain change in society? The can’t. What changes is people’s responsiveness to the Gospel. If they reject it then God allows them to have their way and they embrace false teaching to rationalize their choices. If they respond to God then they know to ignore the false teachers.

      When people reject Christ and God lets them have their heads, envy explodes and people demand a tyrannical state to destroy the wealthy and maintain equality in poverty. Free markets need Christianity because only it is powerful enough to suppress envy that ushers in socialism.

      “the neo-mercantilist cronyism presently disfiguring so many”

      Thanks for not calling it “crony capitalism.” But if you ignore the ridiculous rhetoric in socialist writing, all socialist nations were very mercantile.