The decisive concrete issue today is that Latin America desperately needs jobs, and neither traditionalists nor socialists can create them. It is now impossible for all Latin Americans to find employment in the traditional way, on the land. Given the children already born, some sixty million new jobs will have to be created during the next 15 years. An explosion of local entrepreneurship, small businesses, local industrial establishments, and the manufacture of all sorts of goods is urgent.
Further, the social base of democracy (effectively limiting the power of the state) lies in independent freeholders in a relatively free economy: independent craftsmen, owners, builders, creators. This, too, is the basis of the vital sphere of cultural freedom, civil argument, dissent, compromise, and hard-won cooperation. In short, a liberal economy.
Pope John Paul II, of course, concentrates on the spiritual, not the technical and institutional, criteria of his Third Alternative. Before him, some in the Church imagined that the Catholic “Third Way” would be a stage beyond socialism and capitalism. No longer. As the Pope made clear in Latin America, it is a stage beyond socialism and traditionalism.
The free nations of the world have shown that their free economies are compatible with, indeed indispensable to, a working democracy. Such political economies provide for free unions, social security, pensions, and those dynamics of social mobility that steadily churn up the fixed inequitable distributions of income so visible in traditionalist societies. These are precisely the few concrete worldly criteria for the Third Alternative that the Pope named in Latin America.
The Pope regards “Marxist analysis” as a deception, whose murderous conclusions are implicit in its beginnings. Those who blame Latin America’s condition on “dependency” on Europe and North America — and who therefore counsel “class struggle” on the international level — dig themselves into a darkness that, in his experience, is no liberation at all.
Latin America has its own genius. Freed from both traditionalist and socialist straitjackets, its people’s creativity can make of their territory’s vast natural resources a new wonder of the world. The battle in Latin America is a battle of the human spirit. It will be won or lost as a war of ideas. In this battle, the Pope does not need soldiers; his ideas cut cleaner than any sword. It’s a pity then that his crucial Third Alternative keeps getting lost on the cutting-room floors of the press.
– Michael Novak’s new book, tentatively entitled No One Sees God, will be published by Doubleday in 2008.