Printer Friendly

Doing Well and Doing Good: The Challenge to the Christian Capitalist.

Doing Well and Doing Good: The Challenge to the Christian Capitalist. By Richard John Neuhaus. New York: Doubleday, 1992. Pp. 312. $22.

Neuhaus believes that it is time to develop a spirituality of economic enterprise, and he argues, consistently with his earlier works, that the Judeo-Christian tradition provides the meaning system and the plausibility structure for moral discourse in America. The American Puritan-Lockean synthesis is sustained with warrants from this tradition. Given the unwillingness of liberal "mainline-oldline" Protestantism to perform this function, N. looks to Catholic social teaching and especially to John Paul II's encyclical Centesimus annus. Catholic social teaching contains public arguments that propose "a fresh way of thinking about modernity and about democracy in the public order" for those who enter into conversation with it and engage it seriously.

N. presents sociological and theological reasons to support his argument. Sociologically, it is among predominantly Catholic countries that free society and its requisite, a free economy, are now spreading. In the case of the U.S. we note the cultural ascendancy of evangelical Protestantism and especially Roman Catholicism. The mainline denominations, having joined the elite culture's traditional alienation from economic free enterprise, are of declining influence. Therefore, "almost everywhere, the future of democracy is tied to the influence of Roman Catholicism."

Theologically, it is "spiritually eviscerating that what millions of men and women do fifty or seventy hours of most every week is bracketed off from their understanding of their faith" (63). N. does an admirable job in bringing out the ways in which a market economy can resonate well with the theological anthropology of Centesimus annus. In contrast to the attitude of Paul Tillich for whom "socialism was the economies of which Christianity is the religion" (48), N. concludes that "capitalism is the economic corollary of the Christian understanding of human nature and destiny" (240). He also positions himself against secular liberals who tell us that "agnosticism and skeptical relativism are the philosophy and basic attitude that correspond to democratic forms of political life."

N. offers general directions for the reconstruction of social policy, and his arguments here are quite strong. Such reconstruction contains a very limited role for the state, and will stress the role of mediating institutions (esp. the family) in achieving the common good. This reconstruction demands that the poor, whose problem is not exploitation but exclusion from full participation in society, be brought into the process of production and exchange. There will necessarily be a role for the Judeo-Christian tradition in a successful reconstruction.

I endorse the important project of giving a balanced moral affirmation to the democratic capitalist project, but it is clear that N.'s work can be criticized on at least four counts. There will be those who do not interpret Centesimus annus in the way N. does. He does not do complete justice to those parts of the encyclical that are critical of the market economy. Second, even if Pope John Paul II does there take the positions N. claims, should one's understanding of the 100-year-old tradition of Catholic social teaching really pivot on a single document as N would have it? Third, although N. readily admits that Christianity has a dual role as generator and critic of capitalist achievement, he has not quite done justice to the second function. Finally, although he stresses the very concrete and phenomenological aspects of his perspective and that of Centesimus annus, his argument is quite formal and lacks substantive consideration about directions for policy and implementation. If N. would win over those who identify themselves as dissenters from market economics, he will have to show how their legitimate concerns can be addressed and incorporated into his vision. There will have to be more discussion of how to bring the poor into the cycle of production and exchange.

Fordham University Richard C. Bayer
COPYRIGHT 1993 Theological Studies, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Bayer, Richard C.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Eclipse of Justice: Ethics, Economics, and the Lost Tradition of American Catholicism.
Next Article:Intensive Care: Medical Ethics and the Medical Profession.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters