The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism - 2

Much of Novak's work in the The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism is defending capitalism vis-a-vis its high-minded alternative, democratic socialism. Socialism is often thought of as a morally superior idea - one that has better values. Socialists value liberty, fraternity, and equality, with a strong emphasis on the equality. It just so happens that socialism has had some difficulties translating this idealism into the real world. Novak reflects on his own thinking in a critical and thoughtful passage
“In thinking of socialism as a kind of political religion, or perhaps more exactly as a political-economic expression of Jewish-Christian ideals, I tended to give socialists credit for pure idealism. Capitalism might be justified because it works better, but – I tended to agree – it represents an inferior ideal.

The notion that an unworkable ideal is a morally acceptable ideal, however, troubled me. If an ideal doesn’t work, isn’t that evidence that it is out of touch with human reality? Isn’t that a sign that it is a false ideal?”(pg. 172)
Now, someone who is particularly picky about their logic will tell you this is not necessarily true (the idea could have been implemented incorrectly), and they would be right, but that is to miss Novak's point. Novak would argue that the horrors of 20th century socialism were not entirely unrelated to socialist ideas. I think this is basically right. All ideas have consequences, and not all of those consequences are necessarily intended.


Darwin said...

I picked up a used copy of Spirit of Democratic Capitalism a couple weeks ago, but I haven't had a chance to dig into it yet.

And unfortunately, I have a feeling it'll be nearly another month until I'm able to. (Got a couple other irons in the fire at the moment.)

I am, however, very curious to read your posts as you work through it, and to read it myself when I get the chance. For a book so savagely attacked in some quarters, the snippets I read flipping through (and the bits you quote) seem eminently reasonable and indeed fairly high-minded.

Zachary said...

Cool thanks for stopping by. I'm looking forward to having a conversation with some of the guys from VN and it would be great if you could contribute too.

I also find it curious that people mock him and his work so mercilessly.

(recently at Vox Nova : Drillbit #24 Says: Michael Novak makes me gag. Peel away the fat paycheck, political connections and massive ego and what you find is a run of the mill cafeteria catholic with less cred than a used car salesman.")

I've only gotten the impression that he's a reasonable guy.

It amazes me how two people can come to such radically different conclusions looking at the same data.