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The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  112 ratings  ·  19 reviews
...a major work for our times. -Irving Kristol, The Public Interest
Paperback, 460 pages
Published December 29th 1990 by Madison Books (first published 1982)
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Michael G
Michael Novak passed away in February of this year, but this work, originally published in 1982, guarantees him philosophical, economic and even theological immortality. He dives deep to divine the virtues inherent in democratic capitalism and shows how neither democracy can survive long without capitalism nor capitalism survive without democracy. By comparison with the ideals and results of other systems, he is able to show beyond dispute that democratic capitalism is the best means to improve ...more
Eric Chevlen
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
For a reader already knowledgeable about the reality of man's fallen nature and how democratic capitalism channels, albeit imperfectly, man's self-interest into mutual benefit and prosperity, most of this book will offer little new. Adam Smith and the authors of the Federalist Papers already "been there and done that" over two centuries ago. Novak may express the fundamental ideas and proffer evidence in their support better than other writers do, but the ideas themselves cannot be new, because ...more
Aug 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, favorites
Profound and magisterial. I cannot improve on the review by Michael G, so I won’t try.

There are so many good passages in this book, I can’t help sharing a few of my favorites.

On the socialists’ criticism of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” promoting mass greed:
“The metaphor occurs in an argument in favor of free international markets. The “hand” we are looking for, then, is not coercive. The metaphor, simply put, draws attention to unintended consequences. The motives of individuals, it suggests a
Eduardo Garcia-Gaspar
Aug 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: política
En esta obra de 1982, que leí en la app de Kindle, se convirtió en un clásico del género. A partir del descubrimiento de la posibilidad real de prosperar, un fenómeno nuevo notorio en el siglo 18, en partes de Europa y EEUU, el autor explica esa sorpresa describiendo a la sociedad en la que eso fue real. Una descripción organizada del arreglo económico, político y moral-cultural, que generó progreso, riqueza. La explicación de esa sociedad y las ideas que impiden crear riqueza forman el resto de ...more
Feb 23, 2009 rated it liked it
From the dark days of the Reagan era. Novak is way too smart to be dismissed, but way too smart to be suckered into serving as a shill for the Consumer Economy. He's not afraid to slap-a-pope over economic issues, although his piety would seem to preclude it. Mammon makes a pretty nice substitute though, as his retainer fees would seem to indicate.

On the other hand, the man wrote a stellar book on the murder of Slavic miners in Lattimer PA (The Guns of Lattimer), so he's not blind to how power
Jim Milway
Oct 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
An excellent argument on the practical and spiritual superiority of free enterprise - what he calls "democratic capitalism". Socialism, its opposite, is Utopian and impractical - without much success wherever it has been tried. "The problem for a system of economy is how to unleash human creativity and productivity while coping realistically with human sinfulness" ...more
Paolo  Merolla
Aug 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Its samizdat translation and publication by dissidents in Communist Poland in 1986 reflected the fact that those who actually experienced real socialism in all its deadening grayness not only knew that collectivism had failed; they also understood there was no "third way. ...more
Charles Gonzalez
Oct 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
So many things to say about this book. Many may discount it as just another defense of capitalism, which it is; however it’s much more than that by providing the patient reader with a more powerful and useful understanding of democratic capitalism’s unique moral basis. The idea of a moral basis for capitalism seems outlandish even perverse today given the record of the past 20 years, and, it is dated in some respects by virtue of it 1982 publication date. If the reader can get over this limitati ...more
Margaret Harris
Jun 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It’s a masterpiece. Michael Novak makes the case that democratic capitalism is the fairest of political systems so far experienced by mankind.

Notwithstanding its imperfections, which he reminds us cannot be otherwise for any governmental system practiced by humans, it is the one arrangement that remains ever flexible enough to adapt and improve itself over time. Thus, by its nature of allowing individual freedom, democratic capitalism fosters ongoing innovation, invention, imagination, explorato
An excellent book, it remains current thanks to the enduring popularity of Democratic Socialism, if for no other reason. Novak intended to write a theology to go along with the practice of Democratic Capitalism. In that ambitious endeavor, Novak falls short. However, along the way, he identifies just how woefully under informed many, if not most, theologians are about serious political and economic issues and how their pontificating upon such subjects in the grip of this ignorance ranges from wr ...more
Jon Green
Mar 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
First of all I think this book is closer to 5-stars than 3-stars. I went with 4 because it covers a lot and isn't all that compelling of a read... but what it lacks in compelling reading I think it makes up for with some very strong defenses of Democratic Capitalism. It was also a historically important book written in the early 1980s when people were not defending Democratic Capitalism as a moral good and something positive to the extent they are now. Novak makes the case that not only does thi ...more
Jonathan Schwab
Jan 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not for the faint of heart, but also not impenetrable, with some excellent insights and critiques both of the topic and its critics. Worth a read for those serious about understanding Western, and in particular American, political, economic, and moral life.

This not to say that it is somehow authoritative, but it ties together many disparate pieces of thought and experience in fascinating ways.
Christopher Neto

A true classic. Novak lays our it point perfectly. Truly enjoyed reading it and will be expanding my collection of his other works. Perfectly discusses the subject without falling into the many pitfalls present when discussing such subjects.
Daniel Crouch
May 10, 2021 rated it liked it
It is shame that this is regarded as the pinnacle theological work in defense of capitalism. While useful insights are made--such as the interdependent relationship between capitalism, democracy, and pluralism--its theological project is ultimately lacking, making it perfect for criticism.
Steve Herreid
Sep 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Competent defense of democratic capitalism against socialism from a Christian perspective. Seemed a bit dated in places. I liked this book.
Timothy Bertolet
Aug 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
While this book is a bit dated in some of its data and statistics, it is a helpful overview of the ideal of democratic capitalism over and against socialism. It is primarily a book about the theory of democratic capitalism and not primarily the practice of said theory. Nevertheless, for those looking to ground themselves in economic theory and connect said theory to a broader theology within a Christian value system, this is a helpful book.
Jordan Ballor
Dec 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent book, full of relevant insights into the dynamism of a plural, democratic, and free social order. At points the argument could have been clearer, which is the only reason I gave it four instead of five stars. In terms of the content, this book is stellar.
Apr 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Of all the books I read in my Honors Econ 101 class as a freshman at BYU, this was my favorite.
Brent Barnard
I know this is a great book by reputation, but I simply had a hard time wading through it. VERY dense. Phew!
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Michael Novak is an American Catholic philosopher, journalist, novelist, and diplomat. He is George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute

Novak served as United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1981 and 1982 and led the U.S. delegation to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in 19

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One of the great pleasures of historical fiction is the time-travel element. In the hands of a skilled author, works of historical fiction can...
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“Our moral and cultural traditions have not kept pace with our economic possibilities. We try to match new demands with a spiritual life not designed for them.” 0 likes
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