What's the Purpose of this Website?

Is John Paul II too liberal?

That was the question National Catholic Reporter journalist John Allen Jr. posed on August 22, 2003:

The question cuts against most conventional wisdom. If the man who said “no” to women’s ordination, gay marriage, and decentralization of power isn’t a conservative, many people would insist, then there’s no such animal.

But what if one has in mind not the sense in which Ted Kennedy is “liberal,” but in which virtually all Westerners are “liberals,” i.e., the classic notion of liberalism as belief in democracy, human rights, and free markets? If that’s the standard, then John Paul, though not uncritically, stacks up as a basically “liberal” pope.

Witness his proud claim that Christianity actually shaped the core tenets of liberalism in his August 17 Angelus address: “The Christian faith gave form [to Europe], and some of its fundamental values in turn inspired ‘the democratic ideal and the human rights’ of European modernity,” the Pope said.

Not everyone in the Catholic world approves. Although the movement has largely flown under media radar, John Paul faces a growing conservative opposition to this embrace of liberalism, understood in the classic sense. . . .

It was in fact Mr. Allen's column which inspired this website and our homegrown investigation of the relationship between the Catholic faith and what has been called America's experiment in "ordered liberty." Such questions as:
  • What are the religious and philosophical foundations of the 'The American Experiment'?
  • Is the liberal tradition (understood in the sense of democracy, human rights and the free market) a help or a hinderance to the life of the Church and evangelization?
  • Is capitalism and the free market compatible with Christian morality and the social teachings of the Catholic Church?
  • What is the proper role of religion in the public life of America today and how ought we to interpret the 'separation of Church and State'?
  • What is the proper understanding of freedom, conscience and religious liberty in Catholic tradition?
This debate has occupied two prominent groups of Catholics during the 1990's-2000's -- between those loosely classified as the Whig Thomists or Catholic neoconservatives (George Weigel Michael Novak, and the late Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus, prominently featured in the journal First Things) and the "Communio School" (or Augustinian Thomists -- among them David Schindler, Dr. Tracy Rowland, Alisdair MacIntyre).

For a summary of the debate from the Augustinian Thomist perspective, see The Church's Response to Modernity with Dr. Tracey Rowland (Zenit News, July 25, 2005).

Please note that the purpose of this website is to serve as an archive of articles and resources available online, and to other helpful websites pertaining to this important discussion -- a depository of pertinent information for those interested in these issues. Furthermore, while the debate between the 'Catholic neoconservatives' and their critics has expanded into issues of foreign policy (such as the Iraq war), this website is by and large confined to theoretical matters of political and economic philosophy. For a similar archive and chronicle of the 2002-03 "just war debate" over Iraq.

As always I welcome comments and criticisms. If you encounter online articles I may have missed, please don't hesitate to email me.

Practical suggestions for the application of Catholic social teaching

  • Education - Read and have good, precise knowledge of the Church's social teachings, to be able to expound them with assurance and clarity, and make sure that what we teach in the name of the Church is effectively what the Church teaches, and not our own personal opinions.

  • Humility - So as not to have to jump from general principles to definitive concrete judgments, especially when expressed in a categorical and absolute manner. We should not go beyond the limitations of our own knowledge and specific competence.

  • Realism - in assessing the human condition, acknowledging sin but leaving room for the action of God's grace. In the midst of our commitment to human development, never lose sight that man's vocation is above all to be a saint and enjoy God for eternity.

  • Caution - So as to avoid the temptation of using the Church's social doctrine as a weapon for judging "others" (entrepreneurs, politicians, multinational companies, etc.). We should instead concentrate first on our own lives and our personal, social, economic and political responsibilities.

  • Cooperation - Know how to closely cooperate with lay people, forming them and sending them out as evangelizers of the world. They are the true experts in their fields of competence and have the specific vocation of transforming temporal realities according to the Gospel.
Courtesy of Fr. Thomas Williams, Theology Dean at Regina Apostolorum

Resources on the Web

Documents, Events, Addresses

  • Online Library of Liberty - a collection of online texts "which have contributed to our understanding of the nature of individual liberty, limited and constitutional government, and the free market" - over 1,000 titles by over 350 authors, from ancient Sumeria to the present.
  • The Acton Lecture on Religion and Freedom Delivered by eminent individuals (both lay and clerical) from all faiths and denominations, the Acton Lecture is sponsored by the Centre for Independent Studies -- the leading independent public policy 'think tank' within Australasia. It provides a forum to discuss the contribution religious thought has made to freedom in the modern world and its effects on political, social and economic issues. Begun by the Centre for Independent Studies in 1998.

  • Christian Faith and Postmodernity, an Index of WWW Resources. Articles and book reviews compiled by Dr. Scott H. Moore (Department of Philosophy, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.
  • Catholic Sources and the Declaration of Independence. Rev. John C. Rager. The Catholic Mind XXVIII, no. 13 (July 8, 1930).
  • Religion and the Founding of the American Republic Library of Congress.
  • Faith and Freedom The Christian Roots of American Liberty. A publication of the Christian Defense Fund.
  • The User's Guide to the Declaration of Independence, a project of the Claremont Institute.
  • The Busy Christian's Guide to Catholic Social Teaching, by Claretion Publications.
  • Roots of the Catholic Worker Movement. A collection of writings by Saints and Philosophers who Influenced Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. Compiled by the Houston Catholic Worker.
  • The Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church. A collection the central statements of the Roman Pontiffs from a range of texts, including papal encyclicals, apostolic letters, and Conciliar documents, on matters relating to politics, economics, and culture.
  • Catholics in the Public Square - a three-year research project conducted jointly by the Commonweal Foundation and the Faith & Reason Institute and supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, exploring the question: "an the Catholic church, with over 60 million adherents in the United States, make a distinctive contribution to American civic life?"


  • The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. Inspired by the writings of the English historian Lord John Acton (1834-1902), the Acton Institute "seeks to articulate a vision of society that is both free and virtuous." It publishes two journals, Religion & Liberty and Markets & Morality.
  • The Ethics & Public Policy Center The Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) was established in 1976 to clarify and reinforce the bond between the Judeo-Christian moral tradition and the public debate over domestic and foreign policy issues.
  • The Economy Project, sponsored by The GK Chesterton Institute for Faith and Culture, Oxford. Advances the premise: "that every economy is a "cultural economy", and fundamentally an "ethical economy", the expression of an ethos . . . Christianity claims that our nature fulfils itself only in self-giving love. If this is true, it affects the goals and methods of economics. What kind of "sane economics" might emerge from such a transformation is the question that our project seeks to ask, if not to answer."
  • InterCollegiate Studies Institute - ISI works "to educate for liberty" — to identify the best and the brightest college students and to nurture in these future leaders the American ideal of ordered liberty. To accomplish this goal, ISI seeks to enhance the rising generation's knowledge of our nation's founding principles — limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility, the rule of law, market economy, and moral norms.
  • First Principles Online Journal - the web journal of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI). In order to further ISI’s mission of “educating for liberty,” it publishes, three times per week, new essays, articles, comments, and reviews related to six broad areas of inquiry: Western civilization, the American experience, free markets and civil society, America’s security, the conservative intellectual tradition, and higher education.
  • The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal - "Continuing in the tradition of Dr. Kirk, the Center’s mission is to strengthen the foundations—cultural, economic, and religious—of Western civilization and the American experience within it."
  • The Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society - founded in 1992 by Michael Novak, Rocco Buttiglione, Father Richard John Neuhaus, Father Maciej Zieba, OP, and George Weigel to deepen the dialogue on Catholic social doctrine between North American students and students from the new democracies of central and eastern Europe. The seminar is built around an intense study of John Paul II's 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, supplemented by readings from the classics of American political theory and contemporary articles.
  • The Catholic Worker Movement, founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1933, is "grounded in a firm belief in the God-given dignity of every human person [and] protests injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms."

The Social Encyclicals and Teachings of the Catholic Church

Pope Leo XIII

  • Rerum Novarum. Enyclical of on Capital & Labor. Issued May 15, 1891.

Pope Pius XI

Pope John XXIII

Pope John Paul II

Pope Benedict XVI

Vatican II

From the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

David Schindler

David Schindler is Gagnon professor of fundamental theology at the John Paul II Institute for the Study of Marriage and the Family in Washington, D.C., and editor of the North American edition of Communio, the international theological review. A nationally recognized author, teacher and lecturer, his latest book is Heart of the World, Center of the Church: Communio Ecclesiology, Liberalism, and Liberation (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich.)

See also: David Schindler (Biographical entry in First Principles' journal by Jeremy Beer.

Relevant Reading

Relevant Articles

PLEASE NOTE: As with my other websites, my references are by and large limited to what's available on the web -- regretfully, Communio hasn't yet followed the norm of other Catholic periodicals in making their contents available online to the general public (free or by subscription).

As representative of the "Augustinian Thomists" I appreciate Dr. Schindler's contributions to the debate, but as he is generally published in Communio he falls among those authors who aren't as accessible online. Fortunately, David of the Catholic blog la nouvelle théologie provides a list of "must-read" Communio articles from Dr. Schindler and company (including an exchange btw. Schindler and Weigel):

    Schindler, David L. "Editorial: On Being Catholic in America." 14, no. 3 (1987): 213-14.
    ---. "Is America Bourgeois?" 14, no. 3 (1987): 262-90.
    ---. "Once Again: George Weigel, Catholicism and American Culture." 15, no. 1 (1988): 92-121.
    ---. "The Church's 'Worldly' Mission: Neoconservatism and American Culture." 18, no. 3 (1991): 365-97.
    ---. "Response to Mark Lowery." 18, no. 3 (1991): 450-72.
    ---. "Religious Freedom, Truth, and American Liberalism: Another Look at John Courtney Murray." 21, no. 4 (1994): 696-741.
    ---. "Christological Aesthetics and Evangelium Vitae: Toward a Definition of Liberalism." 22, no. 2 (1995): 193-224.
    ---. "Christology and the Imago Dei: Interpreting Gaudium et Spes." 23, no. 1 (1996): 156-84.
    ---. "Modernity, Postmodernity, and the Problem of Atheism." 24, no. 3 (1997): 563-79.
    ---. "Reorienting the Church on the Eve of the Millennium: John Paul II's 'New Evangelization.'" 24, no. 4 (1997): 728-79.
    ---. "Luigi Giussani on the 'Religious Sense' and the Cultural Situation of Our Time." 25, no. 1 (1998): 141-150.
    ---. "'The Religious Sense' and American Culture." 25, no. 4 (1998): 679-699.
    ---. "Beauty, Transcendence, and the Face of the Other: Religion and Culture in America." 26, no. 4 (1999): 915 NC.
    ---. "Homelessness and the Modern Condition: The Family, Community, and the Global Economy." 27, no. 3 (2000): 411-30.
    ---. "Toward a Culture of Life: The Eucharist, the 'Restoration' of Creation, and the 'Worldy' Task of the Laity." 29, no. 4 (2002): 679-690.
    Weigel, George. "Is America Bourgeois?: A Response to David Schindler." 15, no. 1 (1988): 77-91.
    ---. "Response to Mark Lowery." 18, no. 3 (1991): 439-449.
    Lowery, Mark. "The Schindler/Weigel Debate: An Appraisal." 18, no. 3 (1991): 425-38.
    Wendell Berry, Lorenzo Albacete, Eric Perl, V. Bradley Lewis, and John Berkman. "A Conversation with Wendell Berry." 27, no. 1 (2000): 59-82.

Relevant Writings

Heart of the World, Center of the Church: Communio Ecclesiology, Liberalism, and Liberation (1996)

Today, thirty years after the Second Vatican Council, there can be little doubt that the notion of communion (“communion”) is at the center of Catholicism's renewed understanding of the Church. In Heart of the World, Center of the Church David L. Schindler shows that communion is also at the heart of the Church's worldly mission.

Invoking God's spousal relation to the world, Schindler argues that the Church's answer to the question of worldly freedom is nothing less than its own communio. Yet the claim that the Church promotes the “legitimate automony of earthly realities” by penetrating the world with its own intimate reality is hardly a matter of arcane speculation. Heart of the World, Center of the Church develops its thesis in critical dialogue with Western (especially Anglo-American) liberalism, whose ascendancy especially after the events of 1989 poses a host of urgent questions for the church.

Examining liberalism in politics, economics, and the academy, Schindler exposes its inadequate theology of human freedom and “worldly” autonomy, while suggesting how communion both transforms and protects freedom and autonomy in their varied cultural expressions. In the spirit of Pope John Paul II's call for a “new evangelization,” Schindler contributes to what the Pope himself has strongly reaffirmed as “the positive value of an authentic theology of integral human liberation” (Centesimus Annus, 26).

Anyone concerned with the problem of nature and grace or with the Church's engagement with culture in a contemporary context will find this book not only a useful resource but also a spur to further reflection.


See also: Balthasar's Legacy: A Sketch of David L. Schindler's Heart of the World, Center of the Church, by Stephen Joel Garver.

Tracey Rowland

Dr. Tracy Rowland is the Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family based in Melbourne, and a Permanent Fellow of the Institute of Political Philosophy and Continental Theology. She holds degrees in Law, Politics and Philosophy from the Universities of Queensland and Melbourne and a Doctorate from the Divinity School of the University of Cambridge. She is a member of the editorial board of the international Catholic journal, Communio, and a member of the Commission for Australian Catholic women. Her current research interests include Theological Anthropology, The Philosophy of Language and it relevance to the New Evangelisation, The Thomist Tradition, Theological Critiques of the Political Philosophy of Liberalism, Genealogies of Modernity and Post-Modernity, Communio Ecclisiology and interpretations of Vatican II.


Relevant Articles / Interviews

Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II (2003)

Thomist's influence upon the development of Catholicism is difficult to overestimate - but how secure is its grip on the challenges that face contemprary society? Culture and the Thomist Tradition Rexamines the crisis of Thomism today as thrown into relief by Vatican II, the 21st ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church. Following the Church's declarations on culture in the document Gaudium et spes - the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World - it was widely presumed that a mandate hade been given for transposing ecclesiastical culture into the idioms of modernity. But, says Tracey Rowland, such an understanding is not only based on a facile reading of the Conciliar documents, but is flawed by Thomism's own failure to demonstrate a workable theology of culture that might guide the Church through such transpositions.


  • Review by Daniel McInerney. Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly Vol. 28, No. 1. Spring 2005.
  • The Culture We Evangelize, by Bernhard Blankenhorn, O.P. O Lumen No. 1 - Publication of the Students of the Western Dominican Province.
  • Review by Fr Peter Joseph STD. AD2000 Vol 16 No 5 (June 2003), p. 17.
  • Review, by Douglas A. Ollivant. First Things 143 (May 2004): 47-49.
  • Whig vs. Augustianian Thomists, by Jeremy Beer The New Pantagruel Volume One, Issue Two. Spring 2004.

Alasdair MacIntyre

Alasdair MacIntyre has written widely in philosophy since his first book, Marxism: An Interpretation , appeared in 1953. He has taught at Oxford University, Princeton University, Brandeis University, Boston University, Wellesley College, Vanderbilt University, Duke University, and the University of Notre Dame. In 1989 he was a Luce Visiting Scholar at the Whitney Humanities Center of Yale University. He has also served as President of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association. Professor MacIntyre is the author of over thirty books, including the influential triumvirate of recent works: After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (1981), Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (1988), and Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy, and Tradition (1990). He has made prominent contributions to the history of philosophy, moral philosophy, political theory, philosophy of the social sciences, and philosophy of religion. He is currently working on a number of projects, including an examination of the philosophical work of Edith Stein set against the background of twentieth century phenomenology.


Relevant Articles

By MacIntyre

About MacIntyre

Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (1988)

Is there any cause or war worth risking one's life for? How can we determine which actions are vices and which virtues? MacIntyre, professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt University, unravels these and other such questions by linking the concept of justice to what he calls practical rationality. He rejects the grab-what-you-can, utilitarian yardstick adopted by moral relativists. Instead, he argues that four wholly different, incompatible ideas of justiceput forth by Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas and Humehave helped shape our modern individualistic world. In his unorthodox view, each person seeks the good through an ongoing dialogue with one of these traditions or within Jewish, non-Western or other historical traditions. This weighty sequel to After Virtue (1981) is certain to stir debate. - Publisher's Weekly


After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Third Edition (1981)

Morality, according to Alasdair MacIntyre, is not what it used to be. In the Aristotelian tradition of ancient Greece and medieval Europe, morality enabled the transformation from untutored human nature as it happened to be to human nature as it could be if it realized its telos (fundamental goal). Eventually, belief in Aristotelian teleology waned, leaving the idea of imperfect human nature in conflict with the perfectionist aims of morality. The conflict dooms to failure any attempt to justify the claims of morality, whether based on emotion, such as Hume's was, or on reason, as in the case of Kant. The result is that moral discourse and practice in the contemporary world is hollow: although the language and appearance of morality remains, the substance is no longer there. Disagreements on moral matters appeal to incommensurable values and so are interminable; the only use of moral language is manipulative.

The claims presented in After Virtue are certainly audacious, but the historical erudition and philosophical acuity behind MacIntyre's powerful critique of modern moral philosophy cannot be disregarded. Moreover, independently of its principal claims, the book, first published in 1981, helped to stimulate philosophical work on the virtues, to reinvigorate traditionalist and communitarian thought, and to provoke valuable discussion in the history of moral philosophy. It was so widely discussed that MacIntyre added another chapter to the second edition in order to reply to his critics. After Virtue continues to deserve attention from philosophers, historians, and anyone interested in moral philosophy and its history. -- Glenn Branch


Robert Kraynak

Robert Kraynak is professor of political science at Colgate University, Hamilton, NY.

Published Works (Relevant to the Discussion):

Relevent Articles

Church-State Relations in America and Europe - Interview w. Zenit News Service.

About Kraynak

From Journal of Markets & Morality Volume 7, Number 2. Fall 2004:

Christian Faith and Modern Democracy - A Symposium - Catholic Social Science Review Volume IX (2004) - [NOTE: all articles in Adobe .pdf format]:

Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World (Frank M. Covey, Jr. Loyola Lectures in Politial Analysis) (2001)

Description (Amazon.com): Do Christianity and modern liberal democracy share a common moral vision, or are they opposed and even hostile to each other? In "Christian Faith and Modern Democracy", Robert Kraynak challenges the commonly accepted view that Christianity is inherently compatible with modern democratic society. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Kraynak argues that there is no necessary connection between Christianity and any form of government and that, in many important respects, Christianity is weakened by its close alliance with contemporary versions of democracy and human rights.


Joseph A. Varacalli

Dr. Varacalli is Professor of Sociology and newly appointed Director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Nassau Community College. In 1992, he co-founded (with Stephen M. Krason) the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. He is the author, most recently, of Bright Promise, Failed Community: Catholics and the American Public Order.


Published Works (Relevant to the Discussion):

Relevant Articles

The Catholic Experience in America (The American Religious Experience) (2005)

This volume in the American Religious Experience series chronicles the history and present situation of the Catholic Church and the American Catholic subculture in the United States. Catholics have had a long history in America, and they have often had conflicting demands--should they remain loyal to the authority of the pope in Rome, or should they become more accommodating to American culture and society? The Catholic Experience in America combines historical, sociological, philosophical, and theological and religious scholarship to provide the reader with an overview of the general trends of American Catholic history, without over-simplifying the complex nature of that history.
Bright Promise, Failed Community: Catholics and the American Public Order (2000)

In "Bright Promise, Failed Community", respected Catholic sociologist Joseph Varacalli describes how and why Catholic America has essentially failed to shape the American Republic in any significant way. American society has never experienced a "Catholic moment" --the closest it came was during the immediate post-World War II era--nor is it now close to approximating one. Varacalli identifies as the cause of the current situation the "failed community" of Catholic America: an ineffective and dissent-ridden set of organizational arrangements that has not succeeded in adequately communicating the social doctrine of the Church to Catholic Americans or to the key idea-generating sectors of American life. The "bright promise" of Catholic America lies in the long and still developing tradition of social Catholicism. With a revitalized, orthodox, sophisticated community to serve as the carrier of Catholic social doctrine, Varacalli sees trends of thought that would propose viable alternatives to philosophies and ideologies that currently dominate the American public sphere-ones that would thus have a formidable impact on American society.


Eugene McCarraher

Dr. Eugene McCarraher [Academic Homepage] is Assistant Professor of Humanities and History at Villanova University and a 2006 fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies. He received his Ph.D. in American History from Rutgers University, where he studied with Jackson Lears. He is the author of Christian Critics: Religion and the Impasse in Modern American Social Thought. He has taught at Rutgers, the University of Delaware, and Princeton. In addition to articles for scholarly journals, he writes essays and reviews for Commonweal, Books and Culture, and In These Times. His current project is a cultural history of corporate business entitled The Enchantments of Mammon: Corporate Capitalism and the American Moral Imagination, which will be published in 2006.

Published Works (Relevant to the Discussion):

About McCarraher

Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus (1936-2009)

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus was one of America's leading conservative Catholic intellectuals and founder of the journal First Things First Things, an ecumenical journal of "religion and public life." He devoted much of his writing in his monthly column "The Public Square" to reflections on the issues which occupy this blog and intellectually sparring on occasion with Communio editor Dr. David Schindler. Fr. Neuhaus passed away on January 8, 2009; an online archive of his writings can be found here.

Relevant Articles / Interviews

"Proposing Democracy Anew", a three-part series from his monthly column "The Public Square":

Other Articles by R.J. Neuhaus.

Relevant Works

American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile (2009)

Christians are by their nature a people out of place. Their true home is with God; in civic life, they are alien citizens “in but not of the world.” In American Babylon, eminent theologian Richard John Neuhaus examines the particular truth of that ambiguity for Catholics in America today. Neuhaus addresses the essential quandaries of Catholic life—assessing how Catholics can keep their heads above water in the sea of immorality that confronts them in the world, how they can be patriotic even though their true country is not in this world, and how they might reconcile their duties as citizens with their commitment to God. Deeply learned, frequently combative, and always eloquent, American Babylon is Neuhaus’s magnum opus—and will be essential reading for all Christians.
Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, And the Splendor of Truth (2007)

Readers acquainted with Neuhaus's previous books and his work with the magazine First Things will be most interested in this latest tome on the state of the Catholic Church. A former Lutheran pastor who became Catholic in 1990 and a priest in 1991, Neuhaus has emerged as a leading voice among those considered to be faithful to the Church's Magisterium, or teaching authority. Here, Neuhaus challenges the oft-heard statement, "Yes, I am a Catholic, but I think for myself," explaining how fidelity to the church begins with thinking for oneself so one can think with the church. He expands on this by exploring the role of conscience, drawing a distinction between doing what one wants and discerning and acting upon the truth. Neuhaus also discusses the church's authority, emphasizing that it is never invoked to require people to believe what is false. Other topics include the eerily prophetic Humanae Vitae, the 1968 papal encyclical on artificial contraception; the loss of Catholic identity when Friday abstinence from meat faded from practice; and how news reporting on the Second Vatican Council shaped its meaning for many American Catholics. Neuhaus devotees and others interested in the issues he raises will find here a thoughtful exposition of Catholicism's present moment. -- Publisher's Weekly.


To Empower People: From State to Civil Society (1996) - Co-authored with Peter Berger.

In the first edition of this pathbreaking book, the authors showed that such "mediating structures" as family, neighborhood, church, and voluntary and civil associations are crucial institutions, whose weakening spells disaster. They have returned to their original argument to assess today's efforts at renewing civil society.
America Against Itself: Moral Vision and the Public Order (1992)

An even-tempered (if rather partisan) critique of the American soul as it exhibits itself on the different fronts of our "culture war." Neuhaus (Unsecular America, 1986, eta) traces the traumas of our social and political life back to their ontological roots and supplies a prognosis that will undoubtedly scandalize as many as it sways. A Catholic priest and scholar who presides over the Institute of Religion and Public Life, Neuhaus has concentrated his sociological efforts for some years now on the intersection between the political and the spiritual in American life. In doing so, he has run counter to prevailing notions of secularism - held only, he maintains, by an elite minority - that would, he says, collapse all religious impulses into an entirely private realm. Neuhaus skips over the more obvious examples of conflict - school prayer, Nativity scenes in public parks, etc. - and attempts in more theoretical terms to show that liberal democracy (in its American incarnation) requires a religious foundation if it is to succeed as a unifying social force. He draws on his experiences with the civil-rights movement to show how a religious vocabulary can he used - as it was by Martin Luther King - to bring together even the most mutually antagonistic groups. -- Kirkus Reviews.
Doing Well/doing Good: The Challenge to the Christian Capitalist (1992)

The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Postmodern World (1987)

The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (1986)

Underlying the many crises in American life, writes Richard John Neuhaus, is a crisis of faith. It is not enough that more people should believe or that those who believe should believe more strongly. Rather, the faith of persons and communities must be more compellingly related to the public arena. "The naked public square"—which results from the exclusion of popular values from the public forum—will almost certainly result in the death of democracy.

The great challenge, says Neuhaus, is the reconstruction of a public philosophy that can undergird American life and America’s ambiguous place in the world. Arguing that America is now engaged in an historic moment of testing, he draws upon Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish thinkers who have in other moments of testing seen that the stakes are very high—for America, for the promise of democratic freedom elsewhere, and possibly for God’s purpose in the world.

An honest analysis of the situation, says Neuhaus, shatters false polarizations between left and right, liberal and conservative. In a democratic culture, the believer’s respect for nonbelievers is not a compromise but a requirement of the believer’s faith. Similarly, the democratic rights of those outside the communities of religious faith can be assured only by the inclusion of religiously-grounded values in the common life.

"The Naked Public Square" does not offer yet another partisan program for political of social change. Rather, it offers a deeply disturbing, but finally hopeful, examination of Abraham Lincoln’s century-old question—whether this nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.



  • The Naked Public Square Now [Symposium with Stanley Hauerwas - Mary Ann Glendon - Harvey Cox - Alan Mittleman - Andrew Murphy - Jean Bethke Elshtain - Ralph C. Wood - Allen D. Hertzke - David Novak - Wilfred M. McClay]. First Things November 2004.

George Weigel

George Weigel is Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author of Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II.

An online archive of Michael Novak's writings can be found here.

Relevant Articles / Interviews

Against the Grain: Christianity and Democracy, War and Peace (2008)

Cutting against the grain of conventional wisdom, New York Times bestseller, George Weigel, offers a compelling look at the ways in which Catholic social teaching sheds light on the challenges of peace, the problem of pluralism, the quest for human rights, and the defense of liberty. In this major contribution one of America's most prominent intellectuals offers a meticulous analysis of the foundations of the free society as he makes a powerful case for the role of moral reasoning in meeting the threats to human dignity posed by debonair nihilism, jihadist violence, and the brave new world of manufactured men and women.
The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God (2005)

Why do Europeans and Americans see the world so differently? Why do Europeans and Americans have such different understandings of democracy in the twenty-first century? Why is Europe dying, demographically? In The Cube and the Cathedral, George Weigel offers a penetrating critique of "Europe's problem" and draws out its lessons for the rest of the democratic world. Contrasting the civilization that produced the starkly modernist "cube" of the Great Arch of La Defense in Paris with the civilization that produced the "cathedral," Notre-Dame, Weigel argues that Europe's embrace of a narrow and cramped secularism has led to a crisis of civilizational morale that is eroding Europe's soul and failing to create the European future. Even as thoughtful Europeans and Americans wrestle with these grave issues, many European political leaders continue to insist-most recently, during the debate over a new European constitution-that only a public square shorn of religiously informed moral argument is safe for human rights and democracy. The most profound question raised by The Cube and the Cathedral is whether there can be any true "politics"-any true deliberation about the common good, and any robust defense of freedom-without God. George Weigel makes a powerful case that the answer is "No"-because, in the final analysis, societies and cultures can only be as great as their spiritual aspirations.


See Also:

Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (2001)

Given unprecedented access to Pope John Paul II and the people who have known and worked with him throughout his life, George Weigel presents a groundbreaking portrait of the Pope as a man, a thinker, and a leader whose religious convictions have defined a new approach to world politics--and changed the course of history.

John Paul II has systematically addressed every major question on the world's agenda at the turn of the millennium: the human yearning for the sacred, the meaning of freedom, the glories and challenges of human sexuality, the promise of the women's movement, the quest for a new world order, the nature of good and evil, the moral challenge of prosperity, and the imperative of human solidarity in the emerging global civilization.By bringing the age-old wisdom of biblical religion into active conversation with contemporary life and thought, the Pope "from a far country" has crafted a challenging proposal for the human future that is without parallel in the modern world.

Weigel explores new information about the Pope's role in some of the recent past's most stirring events, including the fall of communism; the Vatican/Israel negotiation of 1991-92; the collapse of the Philippine, Chilean, Nicaraguan, and Paraguayan dictatorships during the 1980s; and the epic papal visit to Cuba. Weigel also includes previously unpublished papal correspondence with Leonid Brezhnev, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Deng Xiaoping, and draws on hitherto unavailable autobiographical reminiscences by the Pope.

Witness to Hope also discusses the Pope's efforts to build bridges to other Christian communities, and to Judaism, Islam, and other great world religions; presents an analysis of John Paul's proposals for strengthening democratic societies in the twenty-first century; and offers synopses of every major teaching document in the pontificate.

Rounding out the dramatic story of Pope John Paul II are fresh translations of his poetry; detailed personal anecdotes of the Pope as a young man, priest, and friend, sketched by those who knew him best; and in-depth interviews with Catholic leaders throughout the world.

A magisterial biography of one of the most important figures--some might argue, the most important figure--of the twentieth century, Witness to Hope is an extraordinary testimony to the man and his accomplishments, and a papal biography unlike any other.


  • Review, by Paul Johnson. Commentary, Dec. 1999.
  • Review by John L. Allen, Jr. National Catholic Reporter. Nov. 5, 1999.
  • Witness to the Witness, by Avery Dulles. First Things 97 (November 1999): 49-57.
  • Wojtyle writ large, and long, by Eamon Duffy. CommonWeal. Oct. 22, 1999.
  • The Pole in Rome, by Jay Nordlinger. National Review. Oct. 11, 1999.
  • Review by Mary Ann Glendon. L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English. 29 September 1999, page 9
Soul of the World: Notes on the Future of Public Catholicism (1996)


    Review, by R. Bruce Douglass. Journal of Church and State, June, 1997.
Freedom and its Discontents: Catholicism Confronts Modernity (1991)

How can an authoritative church avoid authoritarianism? How can a church committed to a dialogue with modern science and the humanities still hold itself accountable to an ancient religious tradition? How can a hierarchied church defend religious freedom and support the democratic revolution in world politics? George Weigel's exploration of these issues of the modern Catholic debate over freedom touches concerns far beyond Catholic circles.

Catholicism and the Renewal of American Democracy (1989)

Taking his cue from Richard J. Neuhaus's work, Weigel offers a conservative Catholic critique of the problems of Church and state in America. Well versed in American political theory as well as Catholic tradition, Weigel--author of Tranquillitas Ordinis ( LJ 2/15/87), a study of Catholic teaching on war and peace from a conservative perspective--offers a well-conceived right-of-center argument for a "civil public square" that recognizes the role of religion in American democracy but does not seek to impose one set of beliefs on everyone. Included are essays on major public policy issues, such as war and abortion. Overall, the book is a hard-hitting critique that is accessible to the general reader. -- Library Journal

Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace (1987)

n recent years, Roman Catholic bishops and activists have been highly visible in the public debate over issues such as nuclear arms control and U.S. policy in Central America. Until now, however, the evolution of American Catholic thought on these questions has received little attention. This book is the first comprehensive critical analysis of American Catholic thought on war and peace. The author's purpose is to evaluate the post-Vatican II transformation of the Church's approach to war/peace issues and to point a wiser direction for its future development. The book begins with a survey of American Catholicism's rich and sophisticated heritage of moral reasoning on war, peace, and political community. In a major reinterpretation of American Catholic history, Weigel shows how the American Bishops' development of a theology of democracy in the nineteenth and twentieth

centuries enriched the Church's classic understanding of peace as political community. Weigel thus challenges the now-prominent idea that the U.S. Catholic bishops were not seriously involved in the war-peace debate until the last decade. A highlight of the book is its detailed intellectual portrait of John Courtney Murray, S.J., whom Weigel calls the finest political theorist ever produced by the American Church. Weigel then demonstrates how, over the past generation, American Catholic intellectuals and publicists began to abandon their heritage, and thereby impoverished the theological and political argument over war and peace, security and freedom. The book analyzes the ideas of seven key figures in the transformation of the American Catholic war/peace debate--Dorothy Day, Gordon Zahn, Thomas Merton, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, James Douglass, and J. Bryan Hehir--and critically explores the U.S. bishops' recent involvement with nuclear and Central American policy. Recovering and developing the classic American Catholic heritage, Weigel argues, is essential to creating a wiser theology and politics whose concern for both peace and freedom challenges realists and idealists alike.


Michael Novak

Michael Novak holds the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. His research focuses on the three systems of the free society--the free polity, the free economy, and the culture of liberty--and their springs in religion and philosophy. Twice the U.S. ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission, and once to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. He directs social and political studies for the AEI and is the author of twenty-five influential books published in every major Western language (as well as Bengali, Korean, Japanese). He is the recipient of the 1994 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion; the Antony Fisher Prize for The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism presented by Margaret Thatcher; the Weber Award for contributions to Catholic Social Thought in Essen, Germany; the Cezanne Medal from the City of Provence, and the Catholic Culture Medal of Bassano del Grappa in Italy; the highest civilian award from the Slovak Republic in 1996; the Masaryk Medal, presented by Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, in 2000.

An online archive of Michael Novak's writings can be found here.

Relevant Articles / Interviews

Understanding Novak: Introductory Resources

On Democracy, Religion & 'The American Experiment'

Michael Novak on the "Hunger for Liberty" -- an interview with Zenit.org. May 11, 2005.

  1. Part 1: On the Need for Morality to Safeguard Freedom
  2. Part 2: The Clash of Civilizations
  3. Part 3: On Europe's Lost Desire for Freedom

On Economics & Social Thought

See Also:

Relevant Writings

Washington's God
March 2006.

The Universal Hunger For Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations Is Not Inevitable
September 2004.


On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding
April 2003


Three in One: Essays on Democratic Capitalism
April 2001

On Cultivating Liberty: Reflections on Moral Ecology
March 1999
Business As a Calling: Work and the Examined Life
August 1996
The Catholic Ethic & The Spirit of Capitalism
February 1993
Will it Liberate?: Questions About Liberation Theology
July 1991

Book Reviews

  • Review by Lee Cormie. St. Michael's College. Theology Today Vol. 45, No. 3, October 1988.
The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism
June 1991

Book Reviews

This Hemisphere of Liberty
November 1990.

Book Reviews

  • A Catholic Whiggism for Latin America, by Richard J. Neuhaus. Washington Post Book World. Jan 6, 1991. [Future of Freedom Foundation]
  • Review, by Richard M. Ebeling, May 1991. Freedom Daily The Future of Freedom Foundation.
  • Review by Jeffrey A. Tucker. The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty October 1991. The Foundation for Economic Education.
Freedom with Justice: Catholic Social Thought and Liberal Institutions
February 1989
[2000 reprint]

Book Reviews

  • Review by John T. Pawlikowski, O.S.M. Theology Today Vol. 42, no. 2. July 1985.
  • Review by John K. Williams. The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty Foundation for Economic Education. December 1985.

Free Persons and the Common Good
January 1988