Catholic Social Thought and Liberal Institutions

Freedom with Justice


Increasingly, the religious leaders of the world are addressing problems of political economy, expressing concern about the poor. But will their efforts actually help the poor? Or harm them? Much depends, Michael Novak asserts, upon what kind of institutions are constructed, that is, upon realism and practicality.

His thesis may be simply stated: Although the Catholic Church during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries set itself against liberalism as an ideology, it has slowly come to admire liberal institutions such as democracy and free markets. Between the Catholic vision of social justice and liberal institutions, Novak argues, there is a profound consonance (but not identity). Both celebrate realism, respect for institutions, and prudence or practical wisdom. The Catholic tradition adds to liberal individualism a strong communitarian sense.

This book was first published in 1984 as Freedom with Justice. This new edition adds both a lengthy introduction carrying forward the original argument and a long concluding chapter on Pope John Paul IPs controversial new encyclical of early 1988, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis.

Originally Published: 1984


“With an unerring sense for what is needed now, Michael Novak, in Catholic Social Thought and Liberal Institutions brings a theological eye to bear on economics, recalls the long tradition of social thought in the Catholic Church, makes some wry comments on its application, and then, after underscoring the contributions of John Paul II, sketches a future for Catholic social thought. Novak has never treated a subject without adding luster to it, but to make economics exciting is a coup even for him.”

Ralph McInerny
University of Notre Dame

“This is an impressive work both in terms of its wide learning and its trenchant, original thought. It should become a point of reference for both Catholics and non-Catholics for many years to come.”

Peter Berger
Boston University

“This important new book by the leading Catholic social thinker, Michael Novak, will become necessary reading… and will be instrumental in directing future Catholic social thought in a way that will bring to fruition the most constructive insights in Papal social teaching.”

Thomas Langan
University of Toronto

“Michael Novak has written a valuable and important book. In it he illuminates the convergence and complementarity of American liberal institutions and the tradition of Catholic social thought and demonstrates why the Catholic Church needs to take the American experience more seriously. It is a careful and challenging study–surely a book to be reckoned with. I recommend it with enthusiasm.”

Thomas M. Gannon, S.J.
Woodstock Theological Center

“One does not have to agree with all Michael Novak says to realize that he has raised the level of discussion immeasurably. All subsequent expositors of Catholic social thought will have to come to terms with Novak’s formidable treatment of the issues.”

James Hitchcock
St. Louis University