Editor’s note: This essay appeared in Capitalism and the Common Good According Michael Novak: A Law and Liberty Symposium on First Things
For the past 20 years or so, conservatives of all stripes—neo-, paleo-, traditional, libertarian, and more or less everyone in between—have been engaged in a lively debate about the meaning and matter of conservativism. Diverse think tanks, magazines, and symposia, not to mention innumerable blogs of every description, have devoted considerable energy to the task, addressing topics of grand theoretical import no less than practical disputes about candidates, parties, and elections.
Among the more important of these debates are those that occur at the intersection of religion, politics, culture, and political economy. Not so long ago, there was a rough consensus on such matters, not refined enough to satisfy all comers, to be sure, but sufficient to permit operational tactical agreement in opposition to the moral and political threat posed by an aggressive Soviet Union. Michael Novak’s The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, published in 1982, neatly captured that workable consensus while furnishing a philosophical framework that, among other things, brought depth and breadth to the policies that made Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher such successful politicians. Many of Novak’s arguments even made their way into John Paul II’s remarkable 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus.