Michael Novak Was Referenced in Last Night’s GOP Debate

Perhaps you missed it, but during last night’s GOP presidential debate Ohio Governor John Kasich referenced Michael Novak, the Catholic theologian perhaps best known for his defense of capitalism in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982).  In that book Novak made a theological argument on behalf of capitalism and free-market economics and was probably influential in getting the Catholic Church, particularly under John Paul II, to champion this economic system in a way it never had before.

I am guessing that this was the first time Novak has ever been mentioned in a presidential debate. Here is what Kasich, an evangelical Anglican, said about Novak last night before he was cut off by the moderators:

…I’ll tell you about Wall Street: There’s too much greed. And the fact is, a free enterprise system is a system that’s produced the greatest wealth for the world. But you know Michael Novak, the great Catholic theologian, says that a free enterprise system that is not underlaid with values — and we should all think about the way we conduct our lives — yes, free enterprise is great, profits are great, but there have to be some values that underlay it, and they need a good ethics lesson on Wall Street on a regular basis to keep them in check so we, the people, do not lose.

I was struck by the way Kasich used Novak.  Usually when Christians employ Novak they do so in order to make an argument that capitalism is compatible with the aims and goals of Christianity.  I am sure Kasich would agree with this reading of Novak.  But Kasich also appears to have read Novak in a different way, or at least with a different emphasis. Unlike most free-market Christians, Kasich used Novak to defend the moral regulation of free enterprise and capitalism.  It is rare to hear someone lead with the moral restraint dimensions of Novak’s argument.  (Much like it is rare to hear people discuss Adam Smith by leading with his reference to the “invisible hand.”).