Rome contributor to ZENIT, Stefanie DeAngelo, recently interviewed the Acton Institute’s 2012 Novak Award winner, Professor Giovanni Patriarca. During the interview Prof. Patriarca speaks candidly about some of his academic influences, including Michael Novak and Benedict XVI. He also offers his reasons for hope in overcoming the prolonged global economic crisis.
Some Contemporary Reflections: An Itinerary from Novak to Benedict XVI
by Stefanie DeAngelo
2012 Novak Award Winner Prof. Giovanni Patriarca
ZENIT: You have recently received the Novak Award. What are some of the major contributions of the American philosopher and theologian to our thinking about the current state of the world?
Patriarca: The work of Dr. Michael Novak is so rich that it is not easy to summarize it in a few thoughts. In addition to his famous works on economics, a number of his articles published in the last few years, especially in the journal First Things, explores some of modernity’s contradictions regarding individual and social responsibility and the demise of traditional values that were held by previous generations. As Alexis de Tocqueville also warned, the loss of a metaphysical perspective, leads to materialism and the absurdity of nihilism. (more…)
On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg offers an analysis of last night’s debate between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney. Gregg begins with the assertion by Melinda Henneberger of the Washington Post that the candidates are ignoring poor and working-class Americans. Gregg responds:
… what’s generally missing from the discussion of poverty in the context of this presidential election — though Romney did obliquely reference it in the second debate — is acknowledgment that: (1) the economic causes of impoverishment are more subtle and less amenable to wealth redistribution than the Left is willing to concede; and (2), with a few exceptions, liberals are generally reluctant to acknowledge some of poverty’s non-economic causes, not least because it throws into relief some of the more destructive effects of their cultural agenda.
If poverty was simply a question of wealth redistribution, the sheer amount of dollars spent since the not-so-Great Society programs of the 1960s should have resolved the problem. In 2011, Peter Ferrara calculated that “total welfare spending [in 2008] . . . amounted to $16,800 per person in poverty, 4 times as much as the Census Bureau estimated was necessary to bring all of the poor up to the poverty level, eliminating all poverty in America. That would be $50,400 per poor family of three.”
The effects in terms of reducing poverty have, however, been underwhelming. As Ferrara observes: “Poverty fell sharply after the Depression, before the War on Poverty, declining from 32% in 1950 to 22.4% in 1959 to 12.1% in 1969, soon after the War on Poverty programs became effective. Progress against poverty as measured by the poverty rate then abruptly stopped.” In short, America’s welfare state, which now easily accounts for the biggest outlays in the federal government’s annual budget, has proved inadequate at realizing one of its central goals.
Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg is featured in The American Spectator today with an article titled, “The Book That Changed Reality.” The piece lauds Catholic philosopher, journalist and theologian Michael Novak’s groundbreaking 1982 book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. Called his magnum opus, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism synthesized a moral defense of capitalism with existing cultural and political arguments. Gregg notes this and comments on the book’s timely publication and lasting influence: (more…)
Last week’s Wall Street Journal features a column from Michael Meyerson detailing the religious perspective of the Declaration of Independence. With questions of religious liberty occupying a sizable space in the public square, the article is especially timely. According to Meyerson, the Declaration’s brilliance lies in the “theologically bilingual” language of the Framers. Phrases like “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” employ what he calls a nondenominational inclusivism, a show of rhetoric that neither endorses nor rejects any particular religious ideology. The underlying implication of this statement, which captures the broader thrust of Meyerson’s article, is that the Framers recognized religion’s intrinsic value in a democratic state. He goes on to argue that the Framers’ understood religious expression as not only permissible, but desirable, for a budding nation. This is especially evident in two oft-forgotten but explicitly religious passages of the Declaration. First, the Framers’ acknowledged their own “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.” They also professed a “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” Such phraseology, Meyerson argues, testifies to the value that the Framers’–among them some staunch supporters of church-state separation–placed on religious freedom:
Even Jefferson and Madison, often described as believing in a total separation of religion and government, continued the practice of using inclusive religious language. Jefferson urged in his first inaugural, “May that infinite power, which rules the destinies of the universe, lead our councils to what is best,” while Madison stated that, “my confidence will under every difficulty be best placed . . . in the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations.”
The Framers didn’t see such nondenominational language as divisive. They believed it was possible—in fact desirable—to have a public expression of religion that is devout, as long as it recognizes and affirms the variety of belief systems that exist in our pluralistic nation.
Similar sentiments are found in the writings of Michael Novak, an American Catholic philosopher and lecturer at 2012′s Acton University. Novak’x 2001 book, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding, even addresses many of the same themes as Meyerson’s article. To listen to Novak’s Acton University Lecture’s click here. For a copy of On Two Wings, click here.
On the drive over to Acton University this morning I heard an argument on the radio about how the economy would have been fixed if only the dollar amount of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 would have been doubled. What a sad statement to pin your hope to in order to fix the American economy. That argument is unlikely to be uttered at Acton University. Fixing economic problems and lifting up the human condition is not measured by dollars here. Present at Acton University is the strong sense that solving complex problems and failures in society are attainable outside of centralization or a materialistic worldview.
It is easy to walk outside the community and walls of AU and give up on society. But this week has been a powerful reminder that there are hundreds of people here who are certainly brilliant, but more importantly, empowered by our Lord. The conference convicts you that you can do more to transform a hungry and needy world.
It has been a blessing to converse and share fellowship with people like Michael Novak. Novak was speaking out aggressively about the free and virtuous society when free markets were even less popular in the intellectual and academic arena. In a lecture on Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, Ed Ericson cited Novak’s brilliant essay in response to Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard Address in 1978. Novak, in responding to that address, notes that “the most serious seekers after truth come to unexpected and remarkable convergences.” I can’t think of a better summary for the community and fellowship here at Acton University. While there are certainly theological differences, we are all united and invigorated by the truth. And as Solzhenitsyn himself declared, “One word of truth outweighs the world.”
The Acton Institute’s annual Acton University conference kicked off on June 12, 2012 with an evening plenary session featuring a conversation with public intellectual, author, and former US Ambassador Michael Novak.
The deadline to register for the 2012 Acton University conference is this Friday, May 18! This means that you have less than five days to visit university.acton.org to finish that application you started a few days ago.
If I were going to try to explain Acton University, I could say that attendees and faculty alike are professionals who are among the best in their respective fields. I could also say that the number and variety of resources brought to the event by everyone involved, whether directly or indirectly, is simply astounding. Or, I could explain that both of these elements help us to create an environment that cultivates your ability to articulate your understanding of the Judeo-Christian view of liberty and morality and its application in a free and virtuous society. Try as I might, though, none of this accurately describes the experience you’ll have at Acton University this summer. But remember: You only have until Friday to register so that you can find out for yourself!
With his writing and speaking in a variety of popular and academic contexts, Dr. Hunter Baker has made a compelling and comprehensive case for the integration of the Christian faith into all areas of life, including economics and business. … Baker said the award was made all the more meaningful to him in light of the “power and diligence” that Michael Novak has shown over a long career. “Novak’s work helps readers understand the importance of the Christian faith as both a supernatural relationship with God that stirs the soul and as a powerful impetus for and sustainer of liberty, compassion, creativity, and excellence in the broader culture,” he said.
About the award: “Named after distinguished American theologian and social philosopher Michael Novak, the Novak Award rewards new outstanding research by scholars early in their academic careers who demonstrate outstanding intellectual merit in advancing the understanding of theology’s connection to human dignity, the importance of limited government, religious liberty, and economic freedom.”
Hunter has been a good friend to the Acton Institute, and as the award recognizes, holds forth a promising future for a career (building off of his already significant achievements) articulating the foundations of a free and virtuous society.
Heads up to those in the Southern California area:
Distinguished scholar, author, and former Ambassador Michael Novak will give an April 15 lecture at Fuller Theological Seminary on “The Moral Foundation of Markets.”
Novak will argue for the need to re-establish an informed and well-reasoned understanding of both the value of markets for human well-being and the moral foundation necessary for their continued survival.
Among other achievements, Novak is the 1994 winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, an honor that Fr. Robert Sirico called “well-deserved” in this Acton Religion and Liberty article.
If you are not able to catch Novak’s Fuller lecture, he will speak two additional times on Friday, April 16. In the morning at Biola University’s chapel, and in the evening at La Cañada Presbyterian Church, Novak will revisit his seminal book, “Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life,” from the perspective of our current economic difficulties.
Some years ago, I was engaged in a conversation at a religious communicators convention with a liberal/progressive activist who was having trouble understanding how the market could actually be a force for good. Finally, he defaulted to the question that — to him at least — would settle the matter. “So,” he asked, “does the Acton Institute work for social justice?” My response, of course, was, “You bet we do.”
The problem with this brief exchange was that we obviously didn’t understand social justice in the same terms. It was a failure to communicate at the communicators convention. And truth be told, there are probably fewer phrases that are thrown around so loosely, that are so heavily freighted with ideological baggage. Liberal/progressives use social justice as a shibboleth that offers affiliation with the tribe of those who advocate statist solutions, whatever else it might mean to them. Conservatives tend merely to shun its use.
A lot of that confusion promises to be cleared up with the release of an outstanding new resource called Seek Social Justice: Transforming Lives In Need from the Heritage Foundation. This resource includes a DVD and companion study guide (available free of charge) and can also be viewed on the Web site. You’ll recognize a lot of the names in this series from their association with Acton over the years as staff members, scholars, speakers at conferences, and policy experts. People like Anthony Bradley, an Acton Research Fellow, Marvin Olasky, Rudy Carrasco, Chuck Colson, Jay Richards, and Robert L. Woodson Jr.
Here’s an excerpt from the study guide (download here).
Regrettably, ideas offered in the name of social justice have sometimes misdiagnosed the problem and had unintended consequences that hurt the very people they intended to help. That’s because they have assessed poverty primarily as a material problem.
Programs based on this assumption have kept those willing to help at arm’s length from those in need, often looking first to government and substituting impersonal handouts for personal care and real transformation. Jumping into action without thoughtful consideration has led to damaging results.
Somehow in the urgency to dedicate our lives—or even a few hours or dollars—to a good cause, we’re missing something. We’re missing something about who we are at our core as human beings; we’re missing something about the complex and relational nature of poverty. Though motivated by good intentions, we need a better framework for understanding and engaging the issues surrounding human need and social breakdown.
When it comes to translating good intentions into actions that really make a difference, we need to understand the nature and context of the problem. That begins with correctly diagnosing the suffering we see around us. In the United States, poverty and social breakdown are often rooted in problems that are deeper than a lack of money or material possessions. The poor in America typically suffer in different ways than the poor in developing countries, where corrupt governments, the missing rule of law, unstable financial systems, food shortages due to famine, and the absence of basic health care systems exacerbate extreme material deprivation. Unique conditions call for a different approach in developing nations.
The lessons are equipped with readings, which will take the student deeper into the subject matter. This is from Michael Novak’s “Defining Social Justice” (First Things, December 2000):
The virtue of social justice allows for people of good will to reach different—even opposing—practical judgments about the material content of the common good (ends) and how to get there (means). Such differences are the stuff of politics.
We must rule out any use of “social justice” that does not attach to the habits (that is, virtues) of individuals. Social justice is a virtue, an attribute of individuals, or it is a fraud. And if Tocqueville is right that “the principle of association is the first law of democracy,” then social justice is the first virtue of democracy, for it is the habit of putting the principle of association into daily practice.
Kudos to the Heritage Foundation, lead writer Ryan Messmore, and all of the contributors and editors behind Seek Social Justice.