Novak’s messages live on

March 23, 2017

It is with great reverence that I note the passing of Michael John Novak Jr., author of the 1982 best-selling book The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism.

Larry Canfield

Larry Canfield
President and CEO

As American Enterprise Institute president Arthur C. Brooks says, Novak’s book advanced a bold and important thesis: “America’s system of democratic capitalism represents a fusion of our political, economic and moral-cultural systems.”

Five years ago, I was invited to attend the Acton Institute conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Several of Novak’s ideas inspired the principles of the conference, and in turn the conference had a profound impact on how I viewed my role as a businessman and the relationship it has to our rule of law (i.e. our government and our religious freedom). Over 800 people attended the three-day conference from 80 countries. This was an “ah ha” moment for me that connected my vocation as a businessman to my faith, and it helped me better understand the role our government plays in this process. I learned that that it’s OK to develop a fusion of your business beliefs, your religious beliefs and economic principals, and that fusion has helped guide my involvement in the Catholic Men’s Business Fraternity and other community organizations.

The following thoughts are some of what I learned and continue to better understand in the past five years after attending the conference. You may agree or disagree with the following thoughts, and that’s a good thing in my opinion. Please know this is not about a political party.

Our prosperity is not to be provided by our government or by the Democratic or the Republican parties, and we should not let fear drive our country. Most of our differences come from how we look at prosperity and the link between economic liberty and public morality. It is not vague; it is clear and direct.

Economic liberty exists where private property and the rule of law are respected. The moral defense of liberty requires that we make distinctions between rights and privileges, between society and government, between community and the collective. Rights, society and community are all part of the natural order, a fundamental tenant of Christianity. Capitalism, rightly understood and pursued, has lifted untold millions out of abject poverty and allowed them to use skills and talents they would never have discovered, and to build opportunities their grandparents never dreamed were possible.

We are experiencing a decline in our world because we can’t even talk about what is right and truthful in a civil way. We’re suffering a crisis of confidence whereby no one can judge an idea, person or culture without in turn being judged. As Father Robert Sirico wrote in his book Defending the Free Market, “When freedom is divorced from faith, both freedom and faith suffer. Freedom becomes rudderless, because truth gives freedom its direction. Freedom without a moral orientation has no guiding star.”

The good news is that the road to decline is not inevitable, and it is not about a political party. Renewal is possible. I am reminded of that through the work Novak shared in his book about the fusion of our political, economic, and moral-cultural system, based on the common good of all and the dignity of each human person.

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