The Corner

Whatever Happened to Democratic Capitalism?

Let me join Yuval here at the Corner and many others in remembering Michael Novak as a singularly generous and charitable man, an influential, eloquent, and prolific author, and devoted Catholic and a loyal American. One of kind in many good ways.

When thinking about Michael, I also remember what a huge distance we are from the spirit of 1980s, the spirit of confidence in democratic capitalism.

Then, conservatives were confident that our capitalism would defeat their socialism or communism.

Not only is capitalism more productive, it, contrary to the claims of the Marxists, consistently improves the lot of the ordinary person. It’s effects aren’t so much egalitarian as democratic. Most everyone benefits.

Most important, a free economy is the basis for every other form of freedom. That means the Marxists (and, for that matter, Catholic reactionaries and many libertarian economists) are wrong about how comprehensive the category ”capitalism” is. It doesn’t devalue all of human life, reducing everything and everyone to nothing but resources to be exploited. “Democratic capitalism” isn’t an oxymoron. Neither is “capitalist Christian.” 

The example of America shows that economic freedom can be perfectly compatible with the flourishing of the family, the church, and patriotic citizenship — not to mention a vigorous democratic political life under the constraints of a written Constitution.

Communism was defeated! The socialist brand has lost most of its loveliness. And American theorists got so full of themselves in the Nineties that they even believed that the victory of our form of democratic capitalism was “the end of History.” A better way of life, it was said, could no longer even be reasonably imagined. All that remained was the work of perfecting the details and purging the deviant evildoers who still remained. And doomed currents of thought that were so clearly on the wrong side of History.

Well, what went wrong? Why has democratic capitalism lost its spirit? 

Let me conclude for now with an observation in the new book by my buddy Tyler Cowen: All the evidence we’ve seen lately reminds us that History isn’t linear. Instead,  iit once again seems cyclical. That means history doesn’t have sides either right or wrong.

All the evidence lately isn’t all the evidence simply. Christianity itself depends on progress based on unprecedented and unexpected events.  Simply cyclical is too pagan to be true. Semi-cyclical? That means our nostalgia has to be selective. And maybe–with some help from the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity–democratic capitalism or liberal democracy can be spirited once again.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...

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