Trinitarian Capitalism

March 11, 1994|By CAL THOMAS

Washington -- The Templeton Prize for progress in religion is a fitting recognition of Michael Novak's intellectual and spiritual metamorphosis and of the contributions he has made to infusing economics, politics and religion with intellectual soundness and plain common sense.

Perhaps more than any American thinker, Mr. Novak, who once toiled for such liberal icons as Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern, combatted the notion that capitalism is for the favored few, is oppressive and, in fact, is responsible for the impoverishment of great numbers in nations where it has been tried.

Mr. Novak understood the roots of capitalism. Long before ethics and values became the fodder of best-seller lists and talk shows, Mr. Novak in 1978 wrote ''The American Vision: An Essay on the Future of Democratic Capitalism.'' He said our system ''is a trinitarian system. It is three systems in one. It is, at once, an economic system, a political system and a cultural system. If any one of these is injured, the others are injured, too. If any one is missing, the resulting system falls short of our dreams.''

His point is that capitalism without democracy and a firm foundation undergirding culture can be as destructive to the human spirit as socialism is, with its hostility to free enterprise, private property and individual liberties. The nations that have tried socialism are now abandoning it as outmoded, unworkable and just plain wrong.

Those who lament the number of poor people among us, says Mr. Novak, forget that most Americans were poor until the turn of the century. Then the United States, by today's standards, would have been considered a Third World nation.

Democratic capitalism, nourished by strong families and shared moral and cultural values, allowed this country to create wealth and raise the boats of all those willing to work to levels unheard of in history. Today even our ''poor'' are rich by the standards of the rest of the world and have the opportunity and freedom to escape their misery.

More recently, Mr. Novak has been devoting his considerable intellect to a small Catholic magazine he co-founded called Crisis. In the December, 1992, issue, he promotes those who hold to what have been labeled ''traditional values'' as the''new counterculture.''

Without apology, he lays blame for the country's moral decline at the feet of ''those who work in the movies, rock music, television, the law schools, some leaders of the feminist movement, some leaders of the gay-rights movement and many in journalism who worry about protecting their progressive credentials [who] are together waging a form of total warfare to destroy every vestige of cultural support for (and the residual cultural prestige of) Christian faith and morals.''

Mr. Novak describes their philosophy as ''modern Christophobia . . . a war not only against the image of Christ, against Judaism and against truth, but also against Christian morals and practices. With diabolical cleverness, the cutting edge of this assault is seduction through issues of sex and gender. Modern sexual ethics -- whether as theory or as practice -- is directly incompatible with Christian morals . . . . The modern age treats sex as mostly about fulfillment, pleasure, free expression, the following-out of fantasies, sadism and masochism. To say that homosexual acts between consenting adults [are] morally wrong is taken as evidence of bigotry.''

More than cursing darkness, Mr. Novak lights spiritual and intellectual candles. He believes that those who have been on the receiving end of the cultural attack can now respond with the fires of truth that the guerrillas of the past tried to extinguish.

The Templeton Prize comes with a check for $1 million. It is small compensation for what Michael Novak is contributing to this country.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

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