George Washington’s Constitutional Morality

In presidential election years, many Americans find themselves reflecting upon the lives and thoughts of previous presidents as they consider the type of person they want in the Oval Office. Some presidents inevitably loom larger than others—perhaps none more so than the position’s first occupant.

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Pope Francis: call 911, ask for Michael Novak

 I wish I could enter a plea to the Holy Father that the next time he gathers with advisers to wade into the moral domain of political economy, he might also call 911 for Michael Novak. His counsel would be, at once, savvy and reverential.

Francis, the Writer Unbound  Print

Published by Hadley Arkes in The Catholic Thing on Tuesday, 03 December 2013 

We have recently marked the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, a composition that some us can still summon from memory, and which we cannot speak again without being moved by it again.

The same week brought Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. The Holy Father sounded the cymbals and trumpets of joy in the Gospel – he invoked Isaiah: “Shout aloud and sing for joy!” John Paul II had prepared the way; Benedict proclaimed the need to get on more seriously with a new evangelization; and it appears that Francis, with his passion for doing, is bringing that project to a new plane of movement and urgency.

But the Holy Father welcomes candid engagement, and so I am sure he would not take offense if we notice that, in his extended exhortation, running over 200 pages, he did not exactly show the same powers of compression that Lincoln showed at Gettysburg. Nor, regrettably, the same clarity of teaching. Of course, he sought to cover a wider range of subjects. And along the way he had some ringing lines, as on moral relativism, including the relativism to which even pastoral workers may be prone as they recede from casting moral judgments.

But the melancholy point is that Francis showed his powers of compression mainly on those matters at the core of the “culture war” that has been tearing apart our politics and our lives. Robert George was grateful to see the pope sound the case again for orthodoxy on marriage, but in a papal document composed of 286 numbered paragraphs, “marriage” was given no more than one paragraph. And it was a paragraph notably holding back from explaining the moral argument that has not been sounded in the courts, or heard more than rarely in the pulpits.

On abortion, the pope aptly warned that the “defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right.” For one cannot treat flippantly the standing of this “human person” in the womb without diminishing in the same way the standing, and rights, of any other human person.

But then the Holy Father quickly turns to note that:

 it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations? 

Nothing the Pope says here offers permission for aborting the child in these circumstances. But given what he has famously said about holding back from casting judgments, will we be surprised if people read his silence here as offering a tacit forgiveness in advance for the abortions that would dissolve the problem?

Francis surely knows that these cases have caused the most strain in explaining the position of the Church. This is the place where teaching is needed. He might have called back his earlier words and said, “I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress.”  But he chose to remain silent on the matter, even after he had raised the question.

We have been told this year that the pope’s positions are far more “nuanced” than they appear in the interviews, relayed through reporters. But here he wrote in his own name at length, where he had ample room to be as nuanced as the subject required. What he produced was a hefty document, regrettably wanting in nuance on these matters of marriage and abortion.

In some quarters, what has also caused the real gnashing of teeth in response to Evangelii Gaudium has been the sections on economics. And yet the pope was careful to note that “the option for the poor” is “primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, or philosophical one.” His case for the poor is for truly engaging with them, for they are anchored in the world with things to tell us. They may be closer, he thought, to “the suffering of Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them.”

And yet he swept past his own cautions as he inveighed against the “autonomy of markets” and the “invisible hand” – as though the grand exponents of a free economy had ever detached the “market” from the moral restraints of the law. The law would ever be in place to mark off the limits to what a decent people could demand and supply in the market.

Francis celebrates the capacity of the gospels to make all things new. But what he sees now with a fresh charm, is the romance of pursuing a “better distribution of income,” shorn of its moral fallacies, and the mischief it licenses. He runs the risk then of bringing back the apostles of liberation theology with their gospel of redistribution. That is not the Second Coming for which we have been waiting.

A decent society will tax itself to protect the destitute and disabled from perishing. That is quite different from claiming to know what the “rightful income” should be of a doctor, a ballplayer, or a plumber.

I wish I could enter a plea to the Holy Father that the next time he gathers with advisers to wade into the moral domain of political economy, he might also call 911 for Michael Novak. His counsel would be, at once, savvy and reverential.

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law. Volume II of his audio lectures from The Modern Scholar, First Principles and Natural Law is now available for download

Matthew Franck: Kermit Gosnell and the Logic of "Pro-Choice"

Writing in the Witherspoon Institute’s online publication the Public Discourse, Matthew J. Franck, the Institute’s Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution argues that to be "pro-choice" forbids surprise at abortionists like Kermit Gosnell, who merely carry out pro-choice logic to its grotesque end.

Kermit Gosnell and the Logic of "Pro-Choice" Published by Matthew J. Franck in “Public Discourse” on May 14th, 2013

Kermit Gosnell has been the equivalent of the American slave-dealer—someone who has done work rendered absolutely necessary by the twisted laws of his regime, but who has nevertheless been ignored or regarded with unease, and even repulsion, by his fellow citizens.

In his famous speech on the Kansas-Nebraska Act, given in Peoria, Illinois in the fall of 1854—the speech that relaunched his moribund political career by attacking the opening of new western territories to the spread of slavery—Abraham Lincoln addressed part of his argument to his southern fellow citizens. He was convinced that their own social customs gave evidence of a moral principle against slavery half asleep in their souls:

[Y]ou have amongst you, a sneaking individual, of the class of native tyrants, known as the “slave-dealer.” He watches your necessities, and crawls up to buy your slave, at a speculating price. If you cannot help it, you sell to him; but if you can help it, you drive him from your door. You despise him utterly. You do not recognize him as a friend, or even as an honest man. Your children must not play with his; they may rollick freely with the little negroes, but not with the slave-dealer's children. If you are obliged to deal with him, you try to get through the job without so much as touching him. It is common with you to join hands with the men you meet; but with the slave-dealer you avoid the ceremony—instinctively shrinking from the snaky contact. If he grows rich and retires from business, you still remember him, and still keep up the ban of non-intercourse upon him and his family. Now why is this? You do not so treat the man who deals in corn, cattle or tobacco.

Of course, if the right to own and traffic in slaves was protected by the Constitution—as the Supreme Court was to assert in 1857—then the slave-dealer was doing absolutely necessary work. But Lincoln was right: Decent people instinctively recoiled from contact with someone whose business was the despoliation of others’ human dignity.

Who but the abortionist is the slave-dealer today? On whom does the traffic in abortions entirely depend? Who else gives practical effect to the “right to choose” an abortion proclaimed in Roe v. Wade?

But our own social customs are not so different from what Lincoln saw in the antebellum South. We “shrink from the snaky contact” with the abortion provider, and even people who call themselves “pro-choice” avert their eyes from the grisly reality of what it means, in practice, to exercise the “right to choose.”

Barack Obama, on April 26, was the first sitting president of the United States to give a public address to a convention of the slave-dealers of our age. That morning he gave a twelve-minute speech to the annual conference of Planned Parenthood, an organization responsible for more abortions than any other provider in the country.

Evidently he is not afraid to come into contact with our own “class of native tyrants,” who carry on the despicable business of destroying hundreds of thousands of human lives each year, and have the audacity to say they are serving “women’s health.” But then this is, after all, the same politician who voted against an Illinois law to protect the lives of newborns who survived failed abortions.

There is a limit even to Obama’s audacity, though. The president mentioned the “right to choose” four times in his brief speech, but somehow this transitive verb never took an object. Choose what? He never uttered the word “abortion,” though it was plain that the entire speech was about the centrality of abortion to the president’s notion of women’s “health.” Is there any other constitutional right, real or invented, that does not go by its true name when its defenders speak of it?

And far be it from the president to utter the name of Kermit Gosnell, the abortionist now convicted of three counts of first-degree murder for “snipping” the necks of babies who survived their abortions, as well as manslaughter in the case of a pregnant woman who did not survive his ministrations.

Gosnell, whose clinic was shut down by the Philadelphia authorities who charged him with murder, is the ne plus ultra of the abortion trade. Not because of the filth, the squalor, the jars of amputated keepsake baby feet, the employment of unlicensed incompetents, the promiscuous use of narcotics on unwitting patients, or the poisonous racism of a physician who preyed upon women and babies of his own race—although all of these are no surprise at all in America’s most unregulated branch of medicine.

No, Gosnell is the “slave-dealer” par excellence because, even if he had run the cleanest, brightest, most professional clinic in the country, he was simply following out the remorseless logic of the abortion regime installed forty years ago by the Supreme Court.

Women came to him for the very latest of late-term abortions, and he made sure their children were dead. Whether he accomplished their deaths in uteroor ex utero—before or after their births—didn’t really matter to Gosnell. And, as we have heard from Planned Parenthood officials, from then-Illinois state senator Barack Obama, and from “pro-choice” politicians like Senator Barbara Boxer, it doesn’t matter to them, either.

Their insouciance about infanticide, moreover, is given intellectual respectability when a leading academic publication like the Journal of Medical Ethics publishes a symposium on infanticide in which the majority of the contributing scholars cannot bring themselves to condemn it.

And there is something inexorably logical about this attitude. How can it really matter where an innocent human being’s life is deliberately snuffed out? If it’s a legally protected “baby” after birth at 24 weeks’ gestation, but only an unprotected “fetus” before birth at 25 weeks’ gestation, how does that make any sense? Yet this is the kind of gyration the law produces, just as it was shot through with contradictions and inanities under the regime that sanctioned slavery.

It mattered a great deal whether Gosnell’s tiny victims were born dead or alive to his defense counsel, attorney Jack McMahon, for it meant the difference between capital crimes and the facilitation of women’s “constitutional rights.” McMahon mounted no affirmative case for his client, calling no witnesses and entering no evidence into the record. Instead he counted on pure argumentative obfuscation to induce the jurors to acquit.

Of the seven first-degree murder charges on behalf of the babies whose spinal cords were severed in Gosnell’s clinic, three were thrown out by the trial judge at the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, apparently on grounds urged by the defense that babies seen to breathe or to move “just once” after delivery could have been dead before the scissors were applied to their necks. McMahon seemed to be soliciting a similar conclusion from jurors in the remaining four cases, and perhaps they reached it in one of them. But in three cases, they could not deny that living human beings emerged from their mothers’ wombs and were killed by Gosnell, and so they convicted him of murder.

The defense counsel urged jurors to avert their eyes from Gosnell’s filthy practice and his profiting on others’ misery, instead seeing the doctor as supplying an essential service: “He provided those desperate young girls with relief. He gave them a solution to their problems,” McMahon said in closing arguments. Just like the slave-dealer, the abortionist “watches your necessities” and profits from them.

And like the slave-dealer, the abortionist is someone whose acquaintance we don’t want to make. This is more true of abortion’s defenders than of its opponents. For the defenders, the truth about the men and women who make this judicially-protected commerce possible is not something they want to know, much less to tell others about. This accounts for the dearth of media coverage during most of the Gosnell trial, which improved only slightly after the persistent criticisms of journalists Mollie Hemingway and Kirsten Powers.

When Gosnell passes from the scene, the liberal media blackout will resume. This is why it is incumbent on legislators, state and federal, to inform themselves and the public to the best of their ability.

We have been here before, of course, in some of our legislatures. The most under-reported aspect of the Gosnell case is that he was charged with more than twenty counts of illegal abortion under Pennsylvania law, merely by virtue of having aborted unborn children at 24 or more weeks’ gestational age. This law, passed by the state legislature in the late 1980s under Governor Robert Casey, Sr., was an effort to put the Kermit Gosnells of the abortion industry—the worst of the worst of the slave-dealers—out of business.

The Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act provides that unless a physician can establish that he “reasonably believes” an unborn child is younger than 24 weeks, or, if the child is older, he can establish that continuing the pregnancy will result in either the death of the mother or “the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function,” the physician cannot perform a late-term abortion.

If he knowingly commits a post-24 weeks abortion, based on such stringent life and health criteria, the doctor must certify his judgment about the threat in writing; acquire the concurrence of a second doctor in that judgment based on a “separate personal medical examination” of the woman; perform the abortion in a hospital; employ procedures designed to maximize the unborn child’s chances to survive; and have a second physician present, ready to consider any surviving child his primary patient.

The purpose of this Pennsylvania statute is, in substance, identical to that of the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (BAIPA), and state laws similar to the latter. Whereas BAIPA protects the right to life of the child who survives an abortion, the Pennsylvania act protects the child who couldsurvive an abortion, making it criminal in most cases to abort the child and, where an abortion is permissible within narrow limits, requiring doctors to treat the child as a second patient who should be brought into the world alive and unharmed if possible.

Gosnell did not conform his actions to any of these regulatory strictures. Still, the Pennsylvania authorities failed to enforce the law to the point of malign neglect—which is why Gosnell continued to prosper after its passage, until he came to the Philadelphia district attorney’s attention in a way that couldn’t be ignored, following a Drug Enforcement Agency raid on his clinic for reasons unrelated to abortion. He has now been convicted on 21 counts of illegal late-term abortions.

As the jury heads into the next phase of the trial—for the DA has indicated an intention to go for the death penalty on the first-degree murder charges—we can already see the inevitable appeals taking shape. Pennsylvania’s near-total ban on late-term abortions, after all, flies in the face of the forty-year-old precedents of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. The Roe decision said that states could prohibit post-viability abortions, with exceptions for the sake of a pregnant woman’s “life or health,” and the companion case of Doe said that “health” could be defined as “physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age.”

Thus the “health exception” swallowed up the apparent ruling that states could ban late-term abortions, with the predictable result that abortionists could guarantee any pregnant woman the death of her child—if they could accomplish its death before it was born. Gosnell was evidently not skilled enough for this, and so he made the guarantee good by infanticide instead. Under the Roe and Doe precedents, Gosnell’s convictions in the 21 cases of late-term abortion could be overturned on appeal—unless the Supreme Court is willing to reconsider the moral failure for which it has been responsible.

But assume for a moment that those late-term abortion convictions are overturned. Why should he not win the same result in the three murder cases? We have it from some of the world’s leading medical ethicists, after all, that “after-birth abortion” is as permissible as “pre-birth abortion.”

In statements issued immediately after the Gosnell verdict, the slave-dealers’ lobby—Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America—reacted as though the real problem with Gosnell is that he preyed on women and endangered their health. To be sure, he did just that. But Gosnell victimized these women as the logical extension of these groups’ moral reasoning and public policy goals, which they have advocated for decades. They have devoted themselves to teaching American women that their unborn children simply don’t count in any moral calculus, and horrors like Gosnell’s clinic are the fruit of their diligent work.

There is no alchemy, no magic spell that can tell us how to distinguish, in terms of their moral claim on us, between the children aborted in Gosnell’s Philadelphia abattoir and the ones who were delivered and then killed. In certain respects, Kermit Gosnell has a right to be the most surprised man in America right now. We, on the other hand, who have not wanted to notice the slave-dealers in our midst, have no such excuse.




Anticipating ObamaCare

 Michael Novak Anticipated ObamaCare Thirty Years Ago

Published by Greg Scandlen on April 12, 2013 Health Policy Blog, National Center for Policy Analysis

In his landmark 1982 book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, Michael Novak identified why socialism was failing and capitalism was prevailing. This was before the policies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had really begun to have an impact on their economies and well before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

He noted that even dedicated Marxists had already begun to reinvent themselves in anticipation of the crushing change of fortunes. They were moving on to what they called democratic socialism, but Novak saw that as a contradiction in terms. You cannot have democracy without individual (not collective) rights, including the right of property, yet socialists continued to insist on collective ownership, or at least control over all property.

Novak cites a 1974 conference held in England to redefine what socialism means. One of the conference organizers, Stuart Hampshire said −

To me socialism is not so much a theory as a set of moral injunctions, which seem to me clearly right and rationally justifiable: first, that the elimination of poverty ought to be the first priority of government after defense; secondly, that as great inequalities in wealth between different social groups lead to inequalities in power and in freedom of action, they are generally unjust and need to be redressed by governmental action; thirdly, that democratically elected governments ought to ensure that primary and basic human needs are given priority within the economic system, even if this involves some loss in the aggregate of goods and services which would otherwise be available.

So, socialists had come to believe –

  1. That the reduction of poverty is government’s highest priority after defense.
  2. That wealth inequality must be remedied by the government.
  3. That ensuring basic needs for all is more important than economic growth.

Interestingly, this is precisely what President Obama and most of the American left believes as well. They may have abandoned the socialist label, but are still advocating the socialist agenda — as defined by socialists themselves.

Novak notes that socialists had retreated from both theory and program into the “safer ground of moral ideals.” Why? Because their theories and their programs have failed and continue to fail every time they are tried. It is easier, and a whole lot more fun, to talk about solving problems than to actually solve them.

We see this all the time in health care. People lay out what insurance companies should be doing. I usually wonder, if they are so certain of this, why don’t they start an insurance company? It could be just exactly what they think should be happening. But, no, they don’t want to actually do it, they just want to tell other people what to do. The same applies to physicians, drug companies, hospitals, and every other aspect of the health care system.

Shortly after ObamaCare was enacted a bunch of economists wrote essays for an annual journal, The Economists Voice, edited by Joseph Stiglitz and Aaron Edlin. A description of one of the essays went like this –

Now that we have covered the uninsured, it is time for us to put the priority on health, not health insurance, according to Darius Lakdawalla and Dana Goldman, both of the University of Southern California. The authors argue that benefits to population health are likely to be limited under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Never mind that none of the uninsured was in fact covered. All that had happened was a piece of paper was written and passed into law by Congress. But why worry about actually doing what was promised? It is enough to simply make the promise.

We see this throughout ObamaCare. It is easy enough for the planners to tell others what to do. Insurance companies are required cover adult “children” to age 26, pay for preventive care with no cost sharing, and so on, and they do it.

But everything — everything — the federal government itself was supposed to do has failed –

  • The CLASS Act could not be implemented and has been shelved.
  • Federal risk pools have already run out of money even though they enrolled a fraction of the people expected.
  • The subsidies for retiree health benefits ran out of money in about one-third of the time expected.
  • The SHOP program for small business exchanges has been delayed for a year and will probably never actually happen.
  • The rest of the exchanges are nearly invisible even though they are supposed to begin enrolling people in a mere six months.
  • The tax credits for small employers were so complicated that almost no one received them.
  • The insurance “CO-OPs” have been scrapped.

Michael Novak reflects on what turned him away from his early enchantment with socialism –

In the days when I thought socialism represented a moral ideal, socialism required of me no special moral heroism. I did not intend to become an economic activist. I had great ambitions, but not as an entrepreneur, business executive, inventor, or other economic agent. While I attributed high moral idealism to socialism, those who would bear the chief costs of my views were, above all, the wealthy and the economically active. Socialism took no skin off my nose. Moreover, if socialism did not actually work as predicted, the poor and the workers would pay a higher price for economic stagnation than I would. It was a moral position that levied no costs.

ObamaCare is simply the latest example of how regular folks suffer while the planners and the bureaucrats prosper. Washington D.C. is booming while small businesses, employees, and practicing physicians all pay the price for their fantasies.





Remembering Margaret Thatcher

The Iron Lady I Knew Was Bendable

Published by Michael Novak in The Huffington Post on April 8, 2013

One evening during the end of Lady Thatcher's long run as Prime Minister, my wife Karen and I had dinner with her and Dennis at the mountain condo of mutual friends in Vail, Colorado. It was an intimate dinner, three couples in all, when just before dinner was called we gathered before the large picture window to marvel as a beautiful rainbow formed in the soft evening mist, and arched upwards toward the peak of the western mountains.

To me, that rainbow called back my feeling when Lady T first came to visit President Reagan at the White House, hardly a month after his inauguration. To the public, they said communism was even then being swept into the dustbin of history, an old and dead idea that had failed.

Full article at  The Huffington Post.



 The Victorian Lady

Margaret Thatcher's virtues

Published by Gertrude Himmelfarb in The Weekly Standard on April 22, 2013

I was at a reception at the British embassy here in Washington in the early 1990s, I believe, when I was introduced to Margaret Thatcher by John O’Sullivan, her friend and former “Special Adviser.” Gertrude Himmelfarb, he told her, had recently delivered the Margaret Thatcher Lecture in Tel Aviv on a subject dear to her, Victorian values. “But of course, I know Gertrude,” she replied, “we’ve met before. And what a great subject, Victorian values. Let me tell you about Victorian values.” Which she did, eloquently, perceptively, and at some length, while John vainly tried to move her on to more worthy guests who were waiting to greet her.

Full article at The Weekly Standard.



Margaret Thatcher Remembered

Published by Paul Adams in Ethics, Culture, & Policy on April 15, 2013

Here is a comment by Gertrude Himmelfarb on Margaret Thatcher's endorsement of "Victorian values--better yet, Victorian virtues"--a charge from critics that, like the epithet "Iron Lady," Mrs. Thatcher enthusiastically embraced. Himmelfarb points out that Thatcher was not an "individualist" who held an atomized view of the autonomous unencumbered self as the alternative to statist collectivism. In contrast, she stood in the line of those, like (in their different ways) Burke, Tocqueville, Acton, and Novak (as well as the popes from Leo XIII to John Paul II), who emphasized the importance of the intermediate structures or associations that stood between individual and state.

Full article at Ethics, Culture, & Policy.

God's Universal Love, A Homily

Homily by Father John Jay Hughes, delivered in St. Louis, MO on October 7, 2012 I am one of the dwindling number of people able to remember the Model T Ford car. Henry Ford produced 15 million of them between 1909 and 1928, the year of my birth. There were still Model T’s on the roads in my early childhood. There was only one model. And you could have any color you wanted as long as it was black. The Model T made Henry Ford an enormously rich man. On his fiftieth wedding anniversary Henry Ford was asked his secret for marital success. His reply was simple: Just the same as in the automobile industry: stick to one model. Jesus says the same thing in today’s gospel.

We all know, however, how common divorce is today. Few families today are untouched by it. Divorce is always painful even the so-called friendly divorces we sometimes hear about. The reason for this pain is rooted in what the Bible says marriage truly is. Jesus reaffirms this teaching in today’s gospel when he says that when two people marry, they are no longer two but one flesh. The rending of this one-flesh relationship is inevitably painful as painful as the cutting off of an arm or leg. People who have experienced the pain of divorce deserve our sympathy and support.

To understand Jesus’ teaching about marriage we must know something about the male dominated world of Jesus’ day. Women were considered the property of men. Girls belong to their fathers until they married; and marriage made her the property of her husband. The commandment, Thou shalt not covet, lists a man’s wife along with his other property. From childhood to old age, the Hebrew woman belonged to the men of her family.

This subordination of women to men was reflected in the Jewish law of divorce, which was normally available only for husbands. Asked about this in today’s gospel, Jesus replies that divorce was not part of God’s original plan in creation. It arose, he says, because of the hardness of your hearts in other words, as a result of sin. It was this sinful hard-heartedness which had created the whole male-dominated world in which Jesus lived. With this world, deformed by sin, Jesus contrasts the good world created by God.

Jesus is referring to the Genesis creation story that we heard in our first reading. It opens with God’s statement: It is not good for the man to be alone. The first thing that God looks at in creation and says it is not good is loneliness. Therefore, God says, I will make a suitable partner for the man. The man has no part in her creation. God casts the man into a deep sleep to create his suitable partner a phrase connoting woman’s equality with men. Through a story simple enough even for children to understand the Bible is telling us that God created the two sexes to complete each other. He did not make men and women for rivalry: domination on the one hand, manipulation on the other. That rivalry was a result of the fall the choice of both woman and man, recounted in the next chapter of Genesis, to sin by disobeying the God who had made them.

In the gospel Jesus affirms this partnership between the sexes intended by God in creation, and hence the fundamental equality of man and woman. His teaching about marriage and divorce is a strong condemnation of the double standard which prevailed in his world yes, and too often still today: a strict law for women, and a more indulgent one for men. If men and women are partners, equally loved by God, there can be only one standard for both.

The scene which follows in the gospel, in which Jesus welcomes little children and blesses them, makes the same point. We are all God’s children, all equally dear to him. The same social and legal system that assigned women a lower place than men also considered children inferior. This explains why Jesus’ disciples thought they were doing him a favor by keeping children away from him. Jesus rebukes them: Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Jesus’ point is that God’s kingdom is especially for those whom society considers of no importance: people who are overlooked, thrust aside, pushed around, imposed on. Hence the importance of women for Jesus, and of children.

Behind both parts of the gospel the seemingly legalistic teaching about marriage and divorce, and the scene of Jesus with little children is the message of God’s universal love. The world of God’s making reflected that love. The world of our marring has perverted this love into lust, which means using others for selfish pleasure.

We betray God’s universal love when, instead of welcoming children as God’s gift, we resent them as burdens that interfere with our comfort. This is the attitude which has produced, all over our world today, laws permitting the killing of unborn children for any reason whatever, often merely for convenience. Already we are witnessing the next logical development: the direct killing of the newborn, during the process of birth itself (partial birth abortion), or through starvation, when they have some physical or mental handicap. Is it any wonder that Pope John Paul II, spoke of a culture of death?

In the face of these and countless other horrors the church proclaims Jesus’ timeless message of God’s universal love for all he has made: not just for the able-bodied and fit, not just for those of good moral character, but for all. In a special way, Jesus tells us, God loves the weak, the defenseless, the neglected. He loves every one of us just as we are, in strength and weakness.

We all remember the last years and months of Pope John Paul II, how he soldiered on in great weakness and serious illness. What an encouragement to people all over the world who are weak, handicapped, gravely ill. The Pope showed us, by his example, that life is still valuable, and is still worth living, despite weakness and pain. No merely human organization could long survive with such weakened leadership. From the point of view of administrative efficiency the Pope’s continuance in office was little short of a disaster. The Church, however, lives by a higher law than efficiency. It lives by the law of God himself: the law of love.

God did not make us for rivalry, for exploitation, for strife and war. He did not make us to be thrown away when we get old and weak. God made us to support one another. He made us to be partners. He made us for love. In the world of God’s making that love was as natural as breathing. In the world of our marring the power to love must be given us afresh, from outside. The One who gives us this love is the One who is love himself. He is the one, our second reading tells us, who is Anot ashamed to call us B every one of us B his brothers and sisters. His name is Jesus Christ.

Scripture: Gen. 2:18-24; Heb. 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16

Thirty Years of 'The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism'

By Mark Tooley on August 17, 2012 in Juicy Ecumenism  

Samuel Grigg of Acton Institute had an excellent homage yesterday in American Spectator to Michael Novak’s Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, published 30 years ago this year. Formerly a Catholic philosopher of the Left, Novak crafted a moral and theological argument for free markets. He winsomely proclaimed that God given human creativity is best deployed through an ordered capitalism unfettered by unreasonable government restraints.

Unmentioned by Gregg is that Novak helped found IRD only a year before in 1981 to challenge the Religious Left’s assumption that socialism was morally superior to freedom. Too many church elites then assumed that Marxism was a permanent reality that merited not only engagement but also at times replication. Novak’s buoyant, confident challenge to then reigning Religious Left assumptions was bracing. It also animated much of IRD’s vision, then and now.

I was first exposed to Novak and his new book a couple years later as a student at Georgetown University. I believe the book was part of the curriculum of a class by Jeane Kirkpatrick, who had recently served in the Reagan Administration as a very high profile Ambassador to the UN. The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism struck me as exciting, especially compared to pronouncements in my own denomination, which was busily supporting overseas Marxist insurgencies.

United Methodist elites were also enraged by Reagan’s policies at home. “Self interest has been sacralized by law and public policy,” decried Bishop James Armstrong in a typical histrionic exclamation in 1982. “We see public policy walking away from the needs of the hungry, the poor, the voiceless, the powerless.” Armstrong also served as president of the then still significant National Council of Churches and was involved in dialogue with early IRD leaders like Novak.

As Novak successfully argued, the poor are more empowered by freedom and opportunity than by permanent subservience through the Welfare State, much less by police state Marxism.

In the early 1990s I attended a National Review banquet where former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher hailed Novak’s Spirit of Democratic Capitalism and its influence. Novak was in the audience. A little later I was privileged to take a course with Novak through the Institute on World Politics. Some years later I heard Novak speak at Mount Vernon about his book Washington’s God. The Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association recalled hosting Margaret Thatcher for a weekend at her Colorado estate and summoning Novak at the last minute for a weekend of stimulating free market conversation.

Last year IRD was delighted that Novak was our first Diane Knippers Lecturer, honoring both him and our late revered president. IRD is privileged to have been co-founded by him and to have helped expand the influence of his Spirit of Democratic Capitalism.

The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism: A Book That Changed Reality

Thirty years ago saw the publication of Michael Novak's "The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism" — which couldn't be timelier

By Samuel Gregg in The American Spectator, August 15, 2012


Nineteen eighty-two was not a happy year for freedom. A severe and protracted recession gripped America. Many were beginning to wonder if Ronald Reagan was going to be a one-termer. Unemployment in Britain hit a postwar high. Across the Channel, François Mitterrand was busy nationalizing banks and raising taxes. Daniel Ortega's Sandinistas were firmly in control in Nicaragua. The Soviet grip on Eastern Europe seemed tighter than ever. Solidarity appeared finished in the wake of General Jaruzelski's declaration of a "state of war" against his own country. In the Middle East, Lebanon was descending into anarchy. And just to the north-east, Syria's president Hafez al-Assad -- father of Bashar al-Assad -- was ordering his security-forces to level the town of Hama. Thousands subsequently died. Some things never change.

Of course there was the occasional bright spot amidst the gloom. Against all odds, Britain liberated the Falklands, thereby precipitating the collapse of Argentina's corrupt military junta. Thirty years ago, however, another event occurred that would make a profound long-term contribution to the struggle for freedom: the 1982 publication of Michael Novak's magnum opus, wThe SPirit of Democratic Capitalism .

From a 2012 vantage point, it's easy to forget just how radical this book was. In penning the Spirit, Novak was the first theologian to really make an in-depth moral, cultural, and political case for the market economy in a systematic way. Needless to say, Novak's book generated fierce reactions from the religious left. The opprobrium was probably heightened by the fact that the Spirit confirmed what had become evident from the mid-'70s onwards: that Novak was well on his way to abandoning his previously left-wing positions.

Thirty years ago, however, many Christians -- Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, clerical, and lay -- were marching in precisely the opposite direction to Novak. Theologians in the Americas and Western Europe were still waxing lyrical about "dialogue" with Marxism. The fight-back led by Blessed John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger against the doctrinal heresies and Marxist analysis underlying liberation theology had only just begun.

At home, America's Catholic bishops conference was issuing what seemed to be an endless stream of commentaries about economic subjects that invariably reflected a monotonously soft-left line. Then in 1986, the bishops conference published Economic Justice for All -- a document whose 25th anniversary passed almost unnoticed in 2011, and which bore all the hallmarks of the influence of people who thought the "two Johns" (Rawls and Maynard Keynes) had said all that ever needed to be said about justice and the economy respectively. Unlike Economic Justice, Novak's Spirit continues to provide inspiration today -- something that hasn't been limited to Americans. Its samizdat translation and publication by dissidents in Communist Poland in 1986 reflected the fact that those who actually experienced real socialism in all its deadening grayness not only knew that collectivism had failed; they also understood there was no "third way." At the same time, Central-East Europeans weren't impressed with merely utilitarian or efficiency arguments for markets. They wanted to root free economies in a wider and richer vision of the human person. Many of them found what they were looking for in the Spirit.

Naturally some of Novak's book has been superseded by events, such as Communism's defeat in Eastern Europe and the former USSR, liberation theology's virtual collapse throughout the Catholic world, and the rise of new generations of bishops and priests who know that economic policy is largely a matter of prudential judgment for the laity. And yet the Spirit's strengths endure. These include a Catholic mind that takes seriously Adam Smith's economic and philosophical insights; the affirmation that markets must be grounded upon particular moral, political, and legal habits and institutions; the attention to how awareness of the reality of sin should incubate us against economic utopianism; and, perhaps above all, the sustained effort to locate democratic capitalism within a vision of God and man, thereby giving it genuine theological meaning.

All of these intellectual forays helped facilitate a serious reconsideration of the moral merits of market economies by not only Catholics but also other Christians. Many hitherto-prevailing visions of capitalism, such as the thoroughly inadequate and misleading conceptions promoted by Weber and Marx, suddenly seemed very open to question. Across the world, books and articles began appearing that engaged the ideas which Novak had articulated. In retrospect, it's difficult to dispute the trajectory between particular themes contained within the Spirit and some of the positive statements about the market economy found in John Paul II's 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. In fact the left were the first to point this out!

But perhaps the Spirit's most significant and underestimated effect was upon thousands of business leaders and entrepreneurs throughout the world. Novak had managed to put into words something they instinctively knew: that their daily labor was neither a mere necessary evil nor something intrinsically immoral. Instead business could be understood as a vocans ab Deus -- a calling from God that allowed people engaged in literally transforming the world to simultaneously transform themselves in the direction of the good. In short, it wasn't just that, given the right settings, business and free markets are the fastest ways to diminish poverty. It was also possible to find a spark of the Divine in the very activity of business itself.

Not surprisingly, Novak's Spirit still attracts critics today. Some on the left castigate it as an insidious effort to sanctify an essentially immoral system. It also draws heat from those inclined to romanticize a lost world of guilds or who persist in promoting corporatist economic models in the mistaken belief that these are the only economic visions which may be advocated by faithful Christians.

If anything, however, the current trajectory of economic policy in America and much of Western Europe tells us just how much we need the insights of the Spirit and similar books today. Even after the 2008 Great Recession, it isn't hard to make the economic case for markets. But by now, conservatives and free marketers should have learned (but in many cases apparently haven't) that they must make stronger, more persuasive moral arguments in debates about political economy instead of treating such matters as "subjective," "relative," or "unscientific."

And this isn't simply a matter of clever tactics in what will surely be a ceaseless battle with those who put their faith in top-down planning, social democracy, the welfare state, or "hope-and-change" emotivism and wishful thinking. Morality is as much part of the truth about reality as supply and demand. The most insightful economists, ranging from Adam Smith to Wilhelm Röpke, have always understood this.

And herein may lay The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism's long-term significance. It continues to ask anyone who cares about liberty to look up and see that the truth about man — economic, cultural, political, moral, and theological — is by its very nature indivisible. We consequently neglect any part of that truth at our peril.

Karen Laub-Novak Library Opens at Donahue Academy in Ave Maria, Florida

Students at the Rhodora J. Donahue Academy in Ave Maria began using the new, spacious Karen Laub-Novak Library on their second floor Thursday, replete with more than a dozen computers, thanks to a substantial seed grant from Michael Novak and other donations for the long-desired facility. Karen Laub-Novak.

Named for Karen Laub-Novak (as portrayed in a portrait in the library), an artist and the beloved wife of Mr. Novak, the media center/library will operate under the direction and guidance of Mary Claire Dant, a certified media specialist who has worked in that capacity for many years at Poinciana Elementary and Vineyards Elementary in Naples.

As the students assembled in the hallway before processing inside, Headmaster Dr. Dan Guernsey addressed those gathered and said that Mr. Novak had made the donation for three reasons: because he loved his wife and wanted to honor her; because he loves knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge; and because he loves Ave Maria and its young people.

Mr. Novak gave a short tribute to his wife, Karen Laub-Novak. Fr. Michael Goodyear gave a blessing, and all entered the bright, airy library with its high ceiling, high enough to accommodate a second-story loft which is planned for a future phase.

Dr. Guernsey, Mr. Novak and Ms. Dant.

Ms. Dant says work on the library went rapidly once the project commenced this past autumn, with books coming in from donations and work performed by staff and volunteers. She noted that the media center was still taking donations, and that checks for that purpose could be sent to the Academy, with "media center" noted on the memo line.

Published in The Ave Maria Herald on March 30, 2012