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By | Feb. 2013
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The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism
The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism is a book written by philosopher Michael Novak and published by Simon and Schuster in 1982. Irving Kristol described it as “unquestionably a major work for our times.” In this book, Novak aims to understand and analyze the theological assumptions of democratic capitalism, its spirit, it values, and its intentions. Novak defines democratic capitalism as a pluralistic social system that contrasts with the unitary state of the traditional society and the modern socialist state. He analyzes it as a differentiation of society into three power centers: a political sector, an economic sector, and a moral-cultural sector. Each sector needs the others. Democracy needs the market economy and both need a pluralistic liberal culture. Against the continuing growth of democratic capitalism, modern socialism has contracted from a robust utopian program into vague “idealism about equality” and overwrought criticism of capitalism, most notably in the “liberation theology” of Latin America. You can only have democracy with a market economy, nourishing and nourished by a pluralistic liberal culture: a threefold system. What is Democratic Capitalism?

People hate capitalism; its successes do not impress the “poets and philosophers and priests”(p31) “The more it succeeds, the more it fails.”(p32) Intellectuals indict capitalism for all kinds of sins: affluence, moral weakness, and vulgar taste. The intellectuals that do defend capitalism have not made a broad enough case. “What is the spirit of democratic capitalism?”(p36) Max Weber saw that commerce takes on a new meaning, or spirit in capitalist countries. Capitalism’s spirit required free labor, practical intelligence, planned and organized for profit in a continuous enterprise in a stable network of law operating mainly in cities and towns. But Weber did not see the “necessary connection between economic liberty and political liberty.”(p45) It is not just...
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