Scholar Receives 2012 Novak Award

Recipient Speaks on Economic Crisis, Crisis of Values

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By Ann Schneible

ROME, NOVEMBER 30, 2012 ( Dr. Giovanni Patriarca was the recipient of the Acton Institute’s annual Novak Award, hosted this year in Rome at the Pontifical University of Thomas Aquinas.

Presenting the award were Father Robert Sirico, director and co-founder of the Acton Institute, and Kishore Jayabalan, director of the Acton Institute’s Rome Office. The Novak Award, which is named after the American theologian and social philosopher Michael Novak, is given to those whose research advances the understanding of theology’s connection to human dignity, the importance of limited government, religious liberty, and economic freedom. The recipient receives a $10,000 price, and delivers a formal presentation at the award ceremony known as the Calihan Lecture.

Dr. Patriarca teaches at various educational and cultural institutions and projects in Nuremberg, Germany. He holds several advanced degrees, including a diploma in Islamic Studies from the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the Pontifical Anthenaeum Regina Apostolorum, both in Rome. He has done extensive work in the area of pre-classical economic thought, writing his doctoral thesis on the social and monetary theories on 14th century philosopher Nicolas Oresme. He has written research papers in several languages on topics ranging from the history of political and economic doctrines, Islamic studies to the philosophy of science.

During his Calihan Lecture, Patriarca assessed the true origins of the current economic crisis.

«Although the contemporary crisis has some specific technical origins,» he said in his lecture, «certain behavioural changes in social and interpersonal relations gave revealing warning signs of impending instability. The symptoms, which are still present today, can be found in a deep disaffection with personal responsibility and civic engagement, exemplified by a growing disconnection between individuals’ values and their course of action.»

«Throughout human history, there have been ages of instability and transition which have anticipated paradigm shifts or changes of perception in economic and geopolitical relations. These times are coupled with a physiological sense of helplessness or decadence… Nowadays we witness the radical novelty of an epidemic structural crisis on a global scale condemning one’s sense of belonging to an indefinite and uncertain fate,» Patriarca said.

He noted with concern how the «necessity of speed» distinguishes today’s private spheres and international arenas. «Processes happen so rapidly that the individual is unable to grasp its deep influences and is transported, unconsciously and aimlessly, as if carried away downstream by a river. One’s personal identity becomes either submissive or that of a prisoner: Freedom itself seems fictitious function and runs the risk of being overwhelmed by the current. We run continuously without a destination, risking to annihilate our being and to lose our internal compass of orientation. Faced with this omnipotent sense of fluidity, of immanent appeals and in a context of an exaggerated positivism, in which every thought beyond the material assumes the value of an empty tautology or a meaningless representation, the person seems to have no choice but the satisfaction of his basic techno-needs in a violent and disorderly mixture.»

Patriarca also observes the «radical and inappropriate» ways in which Western democracy, which is based on certain inalienable rights, has been called into question. «The abandonment of the Greco-Roman way and the Judeo-Christian tradition in the name of a spurious and indifferent eclecticism and masked by full ‘openness’ is modifying the common substrate on which the West had built its cultural identity over a span of centuries. Hedonism, linked to an increasing lack of responsibility, does not allow for any judgment, whether external or internal, or physical mortification in the name of a spiritual vocation.»

«But in true freedom comes the question of meaning, which is the main characteristic of humanity,»

Patriarca concluded: «Perhaps in a moment of silence and contemplation through the signs of beauty in the simplicity or the harshness of daily life, we can enjoy once again the real values and reconstruct a virtuous cycle of mutual understanding, selfless solidarity and reciprocal respect.»

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