Michael Novak's Recipe for a Civilization of Love

His «Caritapolis» as the City of the Future

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

KRAKOW, Poland, JULY 17, 2003 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II has called democratic nations to overcome materialism and consumerism and to erect a «civilization of love.»

In response to this call, Michael Novak, the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute, has developed a series of lectures which he entitles, «The Caritapolis.»

The lectures are a primary component of the curriculum for the «Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society,» held every July in Krakow. The seminar brings American and Eastern European students together to discuss the challenges of building a global system of freedom and prosperity.

In an interview with ZENIT, Novak described some of the important features of the caritapolis.

Q: What role does charity, caritas, play in the caritapolis? How does it shape its institutions?

Novak: Caritas is to will the good of the other. If we imagine a civilization based upon caritas, we must be careful to think realistically. For caritas shows itself as mercy to sinners, and it is love aimed at the real, not the apparent, good of the other.

It must be based upon realistic judgments rather than illusions, appearances and sentimentality. With its real conception of human nature, a civilization of caritas is necessarily a civilization acutely aware of, and provident for, human sinfulness.

Caritas has an active role in shaping the institutions of a society. Let us consider the problem of wealth. Well into the modern period, wealth was defined in one of two basic ways: land — which allowed the owner to draw upon the produce of many — or gold, silver, precious stones and other treasures.

The rhythms of nature dictated whether local communities experienced famine or plenty; trade was relatively slight and the vast majority lived only at subsistence level. Money itself — in the form of pieces of gold, silver or other metals — was in relatively fixed supply. In these circumstances, economics seemed to be a zero-sum game often leading to war and anarchy.

However, the aim of the economic system today is the development of wealth that comes from commerce and industry. This requires peace, rather than war, and respect for law, where commercial and industrial contracts can be carried out and international trade can raise the standards of living of all.

The focus on the creation of wealth bridles human passions providing a new focal point. It has the advantage of bringing to the powerful and the passionate, in an orderly way, the very fruits that under the old system individuals had been seeking through anarchic and warlike means.

Q: Describe the economic system and ideals of the caritapolis. What are its aims?

Novak: First, caritas must direct economic systems to liberate the poor of the earth from the prison of poverty.

Second, it must have institutions that rest upon, and nourish, voluntary cooperation.

Third, an economy of caritas will respect the human person as the originating source of human action, the «imago Dei,» «homo creator,» the chief cause of the wealth of nations.

Fourth, it must provide the necessary cause for the polity of caritas, whose best approximation in history so far is democracy under the rule of law.

Fifth, the economy of caritas must take realistic precautions against the besetting economic sins of all eras and times, but particularly its own.

Sixth, it must be based upon the presupposition that humans often fail in love, and only rare ones among them base all their actions thoroughly upon realistic love. Caritas must guide institutions in a realistic, not utopian, aim of establishing a free society.

Q: What role does the concept of social justice play in the vision of the caritapolis?

Novak: Social justice rightly understood is a specific habit of justice that is «social» in two senses.

First, the specific skills that it calls into exercise are those of inspiring, working with, and organizing others to accomplish together a work of justice. These are the elementary skills of civil society, the primary skills of citizens of free societies, through which they exercise self-government by «doing for themselves» — without turning over to government — those things that need to be done.

The second characteristic of social justice is that it aims at the good of the City, not at the good of one agent only. If we hold that free persons are self-governing, that is, able to live by internalized rules or good habits, they need only a fair and open system of rules in order to live well. In the free society, these rules enable them to act more creatively, intelligently and productively than in any other form of society.

While the free society will never be able to guarantee the outcomes desired by those who speak of «social justice,» it does bring more rewards to all, on all reward levels, than any known system.

The aim of justice ought never to be a particular individual but the City, the society, at large. To recapitulate: Social justice rightly understood is that specific habit of justice, which entails two or more persons acting, one, in association and, two, for the good of the City. Understood in this way, social justice can be practiced in caritapolis to great effect.

Q: Can a caritapolis be constructed at the global level or is it only achievable at a local or national level?

Novak: Caritapolis can be constructed at the global level. Central to its development is the agreement upon universal human rights that respect the dignity of the individual person. If in fact the nations of the world ever come to a universal culture of respect for human rights, it will be a world that is much closer to respecting the dignity of the individual person, and at least in that way demonstrating solidarity among all peoples.

The forces of globalization — political, economic and moral-cultural — confront us with the need to think through an adequate human ecology.

What are the common habits that are practiced in free societies across the globe and that contribute to human flourishing? Many have not yet been fully imagined, and there is not even a catalogue of the ones we know, but I would offer four cardinal virtues of human ecology.

First, we must possess cultural humility, that is, an awareness that one needs the help of other cultures to see events and circumstances more clearly; for while no one culture possesses the truth completely, all of us stand under the judgment of the truth.

Second, we must have respect for the regulative idea of truth, for within this framework people respect one another’s fairness in reasoning and judgment and may submit opposing judgments to the light of evidence.

Third, we must recognize the dignity of the human person, that each person is worthy of respect because he or she lives from the activities proper to God.

Fourth, we must uphold human solidarity, the special virtue of social charity that makes each individual aware of belonging to the whole human race, of being brother or sister to all, and of living in «communio» with all other humans in God.

These four pillars of caritapolis — cultural humility, the regulative idea of truth, the dignity of the human person, and human solidarity — guide both the global and the local community.

Q: What does it mean that culture is prior to economics in the caritapolis?

Novak: The dynamic force moving economies forward toward prosperity is the human mind, heart, and will; the Holy Father made precisely this point in «Centesimus Annus

Economic success depends upon sound habits of initiative, risk taking, creative imagination, and a practical talent for turning dreams int
o realities. Culture develops these habits — trustworthiness, courtesy, reliability and cooperativeness — that are the marks of successful business activities, generating bonds of trust and loyalty among co-workers in the same firm, and between the firm and its suppliers, customers and pensioners.

Capitalism is not a set of neutral economic techniques oriented toward efficiency. Its practice implies certain moral and cultural attitudes, requirements and demands. Cultures that fail to develop the required habits cannot expect to eat broadly of capitalism’s fruits.

Economic prosperity, especially in the developing world, depends on the subjective commitment of millions of individuals to a new way of life: They must look around, see what needs to be done, and take the initiative to do it themselves; they must work, invest, take risks, solve day-to-day difficulties, and bring new realities into being. That is, they must practice economic creativity.

The concepts of self-government and human freedom, inherent in a healthy culture, develop in us the moral character to act well in the economic sphere of society.

Q: Do the ideals of caritapolis have precedent in the Catholic theological and social tradition?

Novak: Yes, they do. Let us take social justice as an example. When Leo XIII described in «Rerum Novarum» the tumultuous changes then churning through the formerly agrarian and feudal world of pre-modern Europe, he saw the need for a new sort of virtue — a reliable habit of soul — among Christian peoples. He wavered between calling it justice or charity, social justice or social charity.

By the time of «Centesimus Annus,» 100 years later, John Paul II had brought that nascent intuition into focus in the one term «solidarity.» What is meant by solidarity, then, is the special virtue of social charity that makes each individual aware of belonging to the whole human race, of being brother or sister to all others, of living in communion with all other humans in God.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation