Democracy and Development

This is the first of two lectures Michael Novak gave at the Pontifical University, Santiago, Chile, May 3-5, 1983.


Nowadays, when a nation calls itself a Popular Democratic Republic, we often understand that it is neither a Republic nor a democracy. We suspect that is not even popular. So we know, today more than ever, that words do not a democracy make. Of what, then, is a democracy composed? More important, in its absence, how does one create a democracy?

Of the world’s 160 current regimes, only about twenty — surely, not more than thirty — are true democracies, whose respect for human rights we honor. Chile, alas, is not now one of them, although its government publicly and privately declares that Chile is in a “period of transition towards democracy.” What practical steps should a Catholic theologian visiting Chile recommend during such a period? This is a question I must face — before God and before you.

One of the great strengths of democratic thinking is that it is practical. Democracy is a praxis, not a theory. As a practice, it has two locations: one in the habits and dispositions of a people, and one in a set of living institutions and functioning procedures. James Madison pointed to the first when he said that the American Constitution has existence, not on paper, but in the habits and dispositions of the American people. A Constitution is not, first of all, a written document but a people’s way of life. Tonight I mean to stress that theme. Any people who wish to create a stable democracy must learn to practice certain specific democratic virtues.

The second theme I wish to stress is that democracy lives not only in specific habits but in specific institutions. Habits are not enough; institutions are required. Even a virtuous people will suffer under poor political institutions. Many analysts of democracy today fail to stress the central importance of building specific institutions. So tonight I want to stress a second thesis: that human rights can only be defended by certain working institutions. I have, then, two theses: we need to concentrate on building democratic habits and democratic institutions.

At the same time, I wish to stress a third thesis: the social teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, which has long and valuable traditions, needs to become more specific about strengthening the habits and institutions of democracy and of economic development. In short, Catholic social teaching needs fresh development, just as in fact it undergoes constant development. Recently I read, for example, a statement by Padre Renato Hevia S.J. in El Mercurio (3/13/83), in which this good Jesuit took sharp issue with the traditional way of imagining the pastoral role of a priest. “No,” he said, “the pastoral is not only the spiritual…The pastoral is everything that contributes to the humanization of men. Everything which contributes to the enlargement and the realization of his humanity, of his dignity, goes in the line of the Gospel.” We see, then, there is a traditional way of understanding Catholic social teaching and a way which is newly being developed. My own thesis is that the new developments, suggested by Father Hevia, do not go far enough.

From my point of view, the traditional Catholic teaching was adapted to the ancien regime. That regime was led, both in Europe and in Latin America, by three social classes chiefly: the landed aristocracy, the generals and the clergy. Under that regime, it was imagined that the wealth of the world was finite; there was no question of development. And, clearly, the social order was not democratic.

In a parallel way, the new social teaching also has little to say about the practical virtues and institutions necessary for democratic living and essential to producing economic development. The new social theology of “humanization” is too general: it is a new antithesis to a thesis. It is not yet a synthesis.

The traditional theology was private; liberation theology is social. The traditional theology seemed to concentrate upon the next world: the new social theology seems to concentrate upon this world. The traditional theology was addressed in clear words to the aristocracy and to the military concerning charity; the new social theology is still being addressed to the aristocracy and military, but now concerning social justice. The traditional theology did not promise the production of new wealth, however, and neither does the new social theology. Both ignore the middle class, the persons of commerce and industry who produce new wealth and are the chief creators of democracy, and who include labor among them.

I cannot analyze the two earlier forms of theology further. Subtleties and distinctions would need to be added. Yet my thesis stands. Neither the traditional theology nor the new social theology meets our immediate and long-term needs. If we wish to produce both democracy and economic development: (1) which virtues do we need to practice and (2) which institutions do we need to establish? These are questions of praxis. Christian faith is fertile with materials for these necessities.

My first lecture, therefore, will be on the institutions and virtues of political democracy. My second will be on the institutions and virtues of economic development. Democracy and development — these are new possibilities for Catholic social teaching. They have not yet been adequately faced. Yet Pope John Paul II, in speaking of “Creation Theology” (in Laborem Exercens), shows us how to approach creation creatively — as co-creators with God.

 Permit me also to say a word about my intellectual roots. I intend to revivify and to expand the intellectual work of Jacques Maritain, particularly such books of his as Christianity and Democracy, Man and the State,  Integral Humanism, and Reflections on America. You may assume that his philosophy and his theology are mine. Nonetheless, there are two omissions in Maritain’s work which I would like to fill: (1) Maritain says far too little about economics, and, therefore, about the problem of economic development. That is why I have focused these lectures on “Democracy and Development.” (2) Maritain says too little about how to create democracy where it is absent; he seems to have had more in mind the condition of political crisis in Western Europe and less that of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The second mentor I should mention is James Madison, who, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, presents in The Federalist the most sustained body of practical reflection on how to construct a democracy that the world has yet seen. Like Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, The Federalist represents a move from theoria to phronesis, from science to practical wisdom. James Madison is one of the great thinkers of the Americas. His work is indispensable for builders of democracy. Latin Amerjcans too much neglect him.

The third source on which I would draw, particularly for those of us who share a Catholic tradition, is the great Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, especially for his books The Nature and Destiny of Man, Moral Man and Immoral Society, The Irony of American History, and Man’s Nature and His Communities. There is a tendency in Catholic thought, with its emphasis on natural law, the Absolute, and the organic corporative society, to overlook the ambiguities, ironies, self-deceptions, paradoxes, competitions, pluralistic currents and unintended consequences of human intentions and actions. Here, without deviating at all from Catholic-Christian orthodoxy, Catholic thinkers may find important correctives. The work of Niebuhr teaches us to see ambiguity in our own purposes, to see kernels of truth in the positions we oppose, and to advance mutual purposes by just compromise and adjustment. For this world is not the world of perfect, but only of approximate, justice. In such a world, compromise with persons is not the same as a compromise of principle; it is a just recognition of our limited natures, and a mark of respect for the humanity in our foes.


The human rights celebrated in the International Covenant of Human Rights — in whose articulation Jacques Maritain played an important role — have only one realistic defense: the actual functioning of democratic institutions. Today in 1983, we can assert this as an empirical proposition rather than as a theoretical one. In 1949, there were only 49 nations on this small planet. Today there are 160: 160 diverse experiments in political economy. In only about twenty to thirty of these nations can we admire the actual observance of the human rights of citizens. Most nations of the world are still in the grip of tyrannies of one sort or another. In most, human rights are poorly, if at all, defended. In each of those twenty to thirty nations ranked high for their observance of human rights, democratic institutions guarantee that observance. I stress the central importance of institutions.

As James Madison pointed out, the human rights of citizens are not defended by the words of a constitution, not by “parchment barriers,” but by two barriers of a quite different sort: (1) by institutions of due process and (2) by free associations of individuals able to insist that those institutions do function as they are intended to function. Poland subscribes to the International Covenant; its own Constitution is eloquent about human rights. On paper, the rights of Polish citizens and workers are defended. But beyond paper? Do institutions function as paper says they should? Are free associations able to insist that those institutions function? Between words and realities two barriers are missing: institutions and free associations.

In the United States, blacks had rights on paper, and institutions of human rights did function; but only when, in the Civil Rights movement, free associations of individuals insisted that those institutions function for blacks as for others did full civil rights actually begin to be observed. Institutions and free associations: these alone make human rights real in history. These are the reality principles. These are also the real substance of democracy.

Let me now enumerate, without being exhaustive, the institutions which give working democracies their reality. Whoever would build democracy must build such institutions.

 (1.) Free associations. Without the rights to assemble, to speak and write and to seek together redress of grievances, the governed cannot truly be said to be governed by consent. To be sure, these rights of association do not justify mob rule, and must not be practiced in such a way as to infringe upon the rights of others. These rights depend upon self-respect and also upon respect for others. They depend upon self-restraint and appeal to law. They arise within a system committed to the limited state, ruled by law and not by “men” — that is, not by caprice or arbitrary will. Their firm foundation lies in the conviction that rights inhere in individuals and in their free associations, not in states. The rights of states are derivative. God made individuals, made them by nature associative and endowed them and their associations with inalienable rights. States are created by free human beings, by their own consent and within the limits set by their own autonomous dignity. Without freedom of association, there is no effective consent of the governed.

(2.) Independent courts of justice are indispensable. One cannot trust executive or administrative officials always to do justice; every human being sometimes errs. Such errors need redress. Courts bound by the law of the land — and laws bound by the dignity of human persons — are a condition of justice.

(3.) Private property. The liberty of the human person requires material instruments for the very expression of liberty of conscience. This is a law of incarnation. It is the argument by which St. Thomas Aquinas, like Pope John Paul II in Laborem Exercens, establishes the right to private property. The right to private property flows from the right to liberty of conscience; conscience can only express itself through material means. The right to private property should, therefore, be understood as a right of the human spirit, not as a materialistic proposition. Moreover, its primary force is not so much to empower the person — God has done that — as to limit the powers of the state. In this sense, private property is a matter of social justice, not of individual justice; it limits the state. The state cannot invade the liberties of the human person. It cannot, without just cause and legal warrant, enter a person’s home. It cannot invade his or her bodily integrity. These points need further comment.

(4.) A human person is of such dignity that the law properly forbids the state from invading it. The law places, as it were a moat around a person’s home and property, defending it against trespass and aggression from the state or any other. The law also places, as it were, an invisible armor around a person’s body. No person may be kidnapped or seized against his or her will. No person’s body may be touched or injured or, God forbid, tortured. These are crimes against the person.

Abuses of human rights are sometimes defended in the name of survival. But those who uphold Western values cannot use this defense. Every nation sometimes sins. Yet a pattern of human rights abuses is immoral in itself, injures Western values, injures any cause a regime holds dear, and injures that regime’s national security. For in any future military emergency, public opinion in democratic nations will not permit their governments to assist such regimes. Thus, abuses of human rights injure the regime which permits them, even more deeply than they injure their victims. In this sense, respect for human rights is a shield which protects regimes, even as it protects their citizens.

 (5.) Another critical institution is a system for the election of executive and legislative officers. Elections are no magic wand. But they are clearly far more than symbols, symbolic actions, or merely formal procedures. For they do achieve three real effects. First, elections often result in removing from office those of whom the citizens do not approve. This is all too real, as leaders who do not face elections starkly recognize. Second, elections exhibit the consent of the governed, convey legitimacy to officials, and bring officials into an office of service to the people. This liturgical reenactment of fundamental convictions about the true source of political power — in the consent of the governed — is as important to democratic living as the Eucharist to Catholic living. Third, elections provide for a clear, orderly and regular succession of power. This is a major factor in the stability of societies. Nations which have not solved the problem of succession reveal not only radical instability but also confusion about the source of legitimate political power. In sum, elections are not magic; but they do have real consequences. They provide ways to express opposition, through ballots rather than through bullets; peaceful ways to bring reform and changes, rather than through terror. They exhibit the dignity of human beings as rational, choosing persons, and the dignity of politics as a vocation of civil argument, loyal opposition, and reasoned diversity of views.

(6.) Free labor unions. One of the most potent of all institutions in any democracy is a free labor union, as a school of democracy and forensic talent for many. The contrasting experience of Great Britain and other western Democracies suggests that labor unions achieve better results when they do not themselves form a political party, but are active within all parties. The realism and practicality of labor union associations are invaluable in forming a national pool of insight, intelligence and consensus. Regimes blind to labor blind themselves. The free speech and free press of free labor unions are, typically, an immense source of national patriotism.

(7.) Political Parties. Without political parties, human polities can scarcely learn what their disagreements are, let alone how they might be solved through consensus. Democracy without political parties would be like lips without sound, or pens without ink; articulation would be impossible. Humans are incarnate persons. Causes need to be personified. Large, vague movements need to be refined into political programs. No “transition to democracy” can be realistic which does not permit parties to begin to function, to exercise, and to learn the arts of responsible action.

(8.) A loyal opposition. I sometimes have the impression that Latin countries, in particular, have trouble with the institution of loyal opposition. Is the Catholic tradition of absolutism too strong? Is “love thine enemy” too difficult a task? Is the spirit of empirical inquiry, pragmatic adjustment, and compromise with persons overpowered by a desire for ideological purity and moral passion? In any case, the distinction between moral passion and political passion is an important one. In politics, one must always assume that one’s opponent is also moral, and that in his error there is some truth, as in one’s own truth there is always some error. Respect for the loyal opposition is actually for oneself. No institution is more necessary to democratic living. None requires so high a sense of self-criticism, genuine humility, and respect for others. Without benevolence, fellow- feeling, sympathy, a sense of fair play and other moral sentiments, democracy can be no brotherhood; only fratricide.

(9.) In general, the democratic way of living teaches that government by law rather than by arbitrary will is possible to humankind. Its institutions afford respect for laws greater than any single human will, whether individual or collective. The principles of law which it respects are substantive, not formal, for they honor the capacities for reasoned choice in every single voter. They honor a government of consent. not of coercion: they honor the liberty of free persons to disagree and yet to cooperate. They honor argument for principles, combined with compromise in practical actions with others who fight for different principles. These are not “formalities” only. They are based upon substantive respect for persons of good will who profoundly disagree in judgment. No two human beings are alike. A society of humans is neither a hive nor a herd. Persons disagree. Free societies bring harmony from difference — not, of course, without immense effort at conciliation.


Most societies on this planet today are not democracies. Yet in thinking about how to create democracies tomorrow where today they do not exist, utopian revolutionaries differ dramatically from realistic revolutionaries. Invariably, utopian revolutionaries hold that evil situations are evil because of some flaw in structure — because of some malevolent other party, class, tyrant, or social arrangement, which, once removed, will allow justice to ensue. The evil, they think, lies not in the hearts of humans but in some identifiable obstacle. Consequently, utopian revolutionaries glorify the moment of revolution, the destruction of their chosen foe, the exaltation of victory. Their favorite self-image is of the rebel brandishing a submachine gun on the barricades and joyously shouting: “Avanti!”

The realistic revolutionary has an altogether different diagnosis and an altogether different focus. The realistic revolutionary observes that nearly all social systems fail — fail in producing bread, fail in producing liberty. Thus, the realist diagnoses the multiple causes of such failure. Far from glorifying the revolutionary moment, the realistic revolutionary focuses upon what will happen after the revolution. The utopian fantasy is the destruction of (easily identified) evil. A realistic revolution requires the creation of democratic institutions worthy of human complexity, respectful of human ambiguity and differences of opinion, and prescient about the many sources of human corruption. The fundamental source of every evil, realists hold, lies in the human heart, even of the revolutionary. Most revolutions in the last two hundred years have resulted in more wretchedness and worse tyranny than originally gave them birth, as Hannah Arendt notes in On Revolution.

In this respect, the realistic revolutionary has a decisive advantage. He or she holds fast to the Principle of Peccability. This principle — which might theologically be called the doctrine of sin or, empirically, a survey of all the ways in which historical regimes fall short of the dignity of humankind — has two parts: (1) Every person sometimes sins; therefore, trust no person with too much power; divide all powers. (2) Most persons most of the time are decent, generous, responsible and good. The first part makes democracy (and capitalism and pluralism) necessary. The second part makes democracy (and capitalism and pluralism) possible.

Let me explain. On the coins of the United States is embossed the motto, “In God we trust.” The operational meaning of this expression is “No one else.” One must not trust presidents. One must not trust legislators. One must not trust judges. Therefore, the separation of powers: executive, legislative, judicial. But there is a still deeper separation, the separation of systems.

 A true democracy cannot be imagined in the image of monotheism: one integral, self-contained system. It is properly imagined in the image of the Trinity: three systems united and yet distinct, each interdependent with and yet significantly independent from, the other two. This separation of systems rests upon two realistic judgments about the history of political economies in this world of sin.

The first is as follows: Trust no political person or collective to make fundamental decisions about conscience, information, ideas or the life of the spirit. This judgment leads to the separation of the political system (the state) from the sphere of conscience (the Church and the individual), from the sphere of information (the press) and from the sphere of ideas and the life of the spirit (the university, the philosophers, poets, associations and persons). In short, there must be at least two systems, each with its own institutions, methods, personality types, privileges, rights, and duties: political institutions, on the one hand, and the moral-cultural institutions, on the other.

The second is like the first: Trust no political person or collective to make all fundamental decisions about economic matters. This judgment leads to the (relative) separation of the political system from the economic system. In a word, there must not only be two separate systems, but three: a political system, a moral-cultural system, and an economic system. Each, of course, depends upon the other two. Each affects, checks, regulates, even interpenetrates the other two. But each also has substantial independence. Each, indeed, promotes and favors rather different virtues, skills, methods and habits of judgment. The one body, to borrow the metaphor of St. Paul, has many members. Yet even that image fails, for it is essential that the three separated systems of a thriving democracy be vigilant concerning the other two, check the other two. For this separation rests upon the judgment that every person or collective sometimes sins; no one may be trusted with too much power, especially beyond the limits of his own domain.

I must hasten to add that every single human being lives simultaneously within each of these three systems. Each of us is a political animal, an economic animal, and a seeker after the good and the true. As each person is not divided into three, so the system of three systems is not divided into three. And yet for the protection of the integrity of each person, it is in the world of practice indispensable that the three central powers of human life be placed in the hands of separate institutions and persons.

The conception of three systems in one flows from the Principle of Peccability. In God we trust. No one else.


As Winston Churchill said, democracy is a flawed and imperfect form of governance, except when compared with the alternatives. Three confusions about democracy also injure it.

First, democracy is not solely a political system; it has immense influence, good and bad, on economic conditions. There is an inevitable temptation, especially in welfare democracies, for politicians to vote for state expenditures on behalf of their constituencies for which the politicians will not have to bear the responsibility to pay. The result is a policy of “tax, tax: spend, spend,” leaving the debts to one’s successors in office and to future generations. Yet the state cannot spend what it does not have. All modern systems are not merely political systems, but systems of political economy. Political theory has not quite caught up with the importance of economic responsibility in political actors. This is a weakness in classical thought. Far greater economic sophistication is required of political theory, especially for democracies, than we have yet acquired.

 Second, classical writers long ago worried that democratic regimes would unleash mob psychology, degenerate into anarchy, and end again in tyranny, usually military tyranny. How often this has happened in history! To prevent this, entire populations need to internalize certain constraints upon passion and behavior. A joke making the rounds of Warsaw in 1981 may exemplify the point. “There are only two solutions to the Polish crisis,” it goes, “the miraculous solution and the realistic solution. The realistic solution would be if Our Lady of Czestochowa would suddenly appear, with all the angels and saints, and solve the Polish crisis. The miraculous solution would be if the Poles could learn to cooperate.” The discipline exercised by Solidarity in Poland — that marvelous, if now aborted, revolution of reason and bloodlessness — was extraordinary. All peoples who would create democracy need such disciplines. These entail a crucial insight, about which Maritain has written brilliantly. Intuitively, most people think that a nation can only be unified by a single vision, a single set of principles, one theory held in common by all. It is counterintuitive, but true, that a nation can exhibit cooperation and unity in practice, even while remaining quite pluralistic in vision, principles, and theory.

To agree to disagree; to cooperate with persons whose views we do not share; to compromise for the sake of cooperation, even while not surrendering one’s goal-oriented principles — these are high and historically rare social disciplines. It seems so natural to hold that “If you are not with me one hundred percent, you are against me,” that many peoples find cooperative action in practice almost unthinkable. The spirit of practical compromise seems to them like the abandonment of principles, rather than like the judgment, which it is, that in this world societies must move forward step by practical step toward proximate justice, while any effort to attain absolute justice is inevitably murderous. Catholic social teaching must learn to stress this crucial virtue of practical democracy.

Theologically, this world is a world of sin, imperfection, irony, unintended consequences, and tragedy. Therefore, in politics, as Aristotle long ago said, one must be satisfied with a tincture of virtue. To ask too much of politics is to destroy politics. To learn to judge what is prudent and may be accomplished peacefully, and to cooperate with one’s ideological foes in accomplishing even that much, is the highest art of politics. It is necessary to hold that, in politics, perfection consists in achieving the imperfect; it is not only imperfect, but murderous, to attempt to achieve the perfect. For ardent souls, these are hard lessons. Democracy, however, is like the plain and humble teaching of the gospels, not like the Second Coming of the Messiah.

A third confusion about democracy is the threat afforded by a tyrannical majority, especially a moralistic majority. Democracy is not simply majority rule. A majority can be a tyrant, too. Any democracy is threatened if it is not sufficiently diverse. James Madison feared, for example, that if the infant United States remained predominantly a nation of farmers, it would be natural to such a majority to believe that its own sense of reality was identical to reality, and to reject dissident views. This would be a danger, above all, in moral matters. Madison’s principal remedy is simple and profound: a vital democracy depends upon the promotion of commerce and industry. There are two reasons why this is so. First, uniquely, commerce and industry generate conflicting interests. Typically, what is good for one is onerous for others. Regions have diverse geographical and natural advantages and disadvantages. One industry is a rival to another; so is firm to firm. One technology is rival to another. Wholesalers and retailers have different interests, as have ranchers and farmers, capital- intensive and labor-intensive enterprises, those requiring transport and those close to their markets. Moreover, diverse material interests nurture different personality types and worldviews; dentists are not, typically, like truck drivers, nor are steel manufacturers like librarians. The more diverse the panoply of commercial and industrial interests, the less likely it is that democracy can be captured by a monopolistic majority. Monopoly of any sort is a threat to democracy.

For this reason, incidentally, the American West was opened up by the Homestead Act: encouraging multiple owners of property, rather than recreating the great landed estates of the Holy Roman Empire, on which peasants toiled for a landed aristocracy. The multiplication of material interests is a key to the success of democracy. This is the reason, I believe, why every admirable and functioning democracy in the world today — from Sweden to Great Britain, from Costa Rica to Japan — has a capitalist economic system: private property, reasonably free markets, incentives, a state limited in the economic arena (as in other arenas).

Do not misunderstand me. I hold that a capitalist economy — defined as above — is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the protection of democracy. One must do more than respect private property and markets; these are, after all, pre-capitalist institutions. One must, as well, limit the powers of the state. And it is crucial to limit, to check, and to prevent dominant monopolies. Authoritarian governments typically fail in these respects — and their economies suffer for those failures. For the key to the sort of capitalism that protects democracy lies in multiplying the sources of economic decision-making. That is why the democratic state promotes commerce and industry. For the health of democracy, it is fully as necessary to promote economic activism on the part of every able citizen as to promote political activism or cultural activism.

The aim of democracy is to empower every single person through active participation in all three spheres: political, economic, and moral. The root meaning of capitalism (a word invented by Marx) is caput, head; and no system is worthy of the name unless it progressively activates head after head, until the numbers of economic decision-makers virtually coincide with the numbers of citizens. The multiplication of intellect is the key. Diversity of interest, stimulated imagination, and new invention are the means. Only through an active, developing economy can democracy be protected and made to work in the real world of human struggle.


I said at the beginning that I had three theses: first about the virtues and, second, about the institutions required both for democracy and for economic development; and, third, about the new role Catholic social teaching must undertake. By now, I hope my thought is clear. Social teaching adequate to the traditional, static, anti-democratic ancien regime is not likely to produce the habits or the institutions of democracy. In my view, socialism in its various forms is a type of nostalgia, looking back toward a medieval sense of community and the organic, corporative society of an earlier period of history. Governments of the left typically have the same authoritarian shape as traditional tyrannies, only with a different ideology and a terrible new efficiency. They produce neither bread nor liberty. For this reason, I have looked for a third way beyond traditional societies and beyond socialism.

Whether or not my own particular recommendation is the correct one, Catholic social teaching must of necessity prepare the Catholic people for democracy. This means instruction in the specifically democratic virtues — realism rather than utopianism, respect for individuals and checks upon tyrannical majorities, the Principle of Peccability, the spirit of compromise and of loyal opposition. Political passions must not be allowed to become too hot, for democracy like metal melts when temperatures are too high. Moreover, many sectors of life ought to be kept free from politics and ideology. Political visions should not be metaphysical or religious but limited and realistic, for when politics embrace everything it corrupts such independent goods as truth, the university, journalism, the clergy, the family, and even friendship. The totalization of politics is not virtue, but a primary disease. the incubator of totalitarian practices. Politics. like the state, must be limited.

The habits necessary for a working democracy. therefore, must be analyzed, taught, learned and practiced. The role of moral and cultural institutions in building democracies is crucial, fundamental, indispensable. Democracy can take root only in cultures of certain kinds, although all cultures can learn the requisite virtues. For these virtues are natural to the entire human race and may be acquired by all.

Similarly, the institutions required as the infrastructure of democracy must also be analyzed, taught, and developed. I want particularly to stress the importance of economic institutions in the political economy of democracy. Political freedom without economic freedom is shallow; economic freedom without political freedom is fickle. The two need each other and reinforce each other. Both need the guidance, self-restraint, and institutional checks set upon them by institutions of morals and culture: by a free press, by free universities, by free churches, and by free associations of many sorts.

All three systems work together as one whole: the political system (democratic), the economic system (social market, free, capitalist), and the, moral and cultural system (pluralist). For a stable and economically dynamic democracy, all three systems are required, each with its own proper health and in equilibrium with the other two. I call such a threefold system democratic capitalism, but the name is less important than the reality. The social teaching of the Catholic Church must, in any case, teach the virtues and help create the institutions of democracy and economic dynamism. These are new but vitally important tasks.

VI.             CONCLUSION

In the next lecture, we must turn more directly to the theme of development. Suffice it here to say that we have tried to reflect together on democracy and institutions, especially the institutions of human rights; on realistic as opposed to utopian ways to build democracy; upon the Principle of Peccability and the separation of systems 4nd powers to which it gives rise: on three classic confusions about democracy; and on the urgent tasks of Catholic social teaching in the immediate future.

Democracy works. It has shown itself to be marvelously productive both of bread and of liberty, of cooperation and a spirit of compromise, of humble and yet dramatic human progress — and it is the most powerful aspiration, still, of peoples everywhere. It is a poor form of governance, as befits this poor human race; yet, in comparison with the alternatives, its realism braces the heart. And its roots are ever nourished by the biblical conceptions of the individual conscience, the human community, and the special vocation of Christians not merely to reflect the world, but to change it, building up in it an approximation to the Kingdom of truth and liberty, justice, and love, to which we are called.


  • Michael Novak

    Michael Novak (1933-2017) founded Crisis Magazine with Ralph McInerny in 1982. He held the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute and was a trustee and visiting professor at Ave Maria University. In 1994, he received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. He was also an emissary to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

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