1) Introduction

Posted: May 15, 2010 in 1) Introduction, Category - Renewing America's Leadership



We are announcing the advent of new public policy organization focused on the intersection  between freedom, faith and free markets. As we begin our journey, we believe it’s appropriate to  explain the point of view and philosophy we’re bringing to the public policy process. This  document describes the core doctrine of Renewing American Leadership.
At a moment when the proponents of statism and collectivism appear ascendant, we think it’s  important to step back and review the founding of this nation and consider the continuing  relevance of that story. We’ll look at the primal clash between collectivism and private property  at the Jamestown and Plymouth colonies. We’ll summarize the key role of the First Great  Awakening in forming the American character. We’ll review the historical setting as well as the philosophy and insights into human nature embedded in America’s founding documents. Then  we’ll summarize the remarkable development process that made the United States the most  powerful force for good in the world since the pax romana.
We’ll draw on the work of a number of authors who have analyzed the factors that have  contributed to America’s success. Preeminent among these is Michael Novak, whose The Spirit  of Democratic Capitalism, explains the history of democratic capitalism, and how it grew out of  the theological understanding of the founding fathers. We’ll also examine the thesis of Frederick  Jackson Turner, whose theory on the influence of the American frontier was the dominant lens  Americans used to understand the exceptionalism of their country until the 1960s.
We will examine some of the reasons why the American model has been controversial  throughout our history, the persistence of anti-Americanism, and the alternative vision of  socialism and its American cousin, progressivism. We will then offer our initial prescription for  renewing American leadership for the generations ahead.
What Makes America Exceptional?
First we need to ask what has allowed this young nation to outperform so dramatically all the  older nations on earth? What allowed the United States, in less than 250 years, to become an  economic, cultural and military colossus that dwarfs every other country in recorded history? It’s  certainly not our size. Russia and Canada have more land. China and India have more people.  It’s not the length of our history. Nor is it our DNA. Americans are a composite of all races.
The answer is that America is exceptional because of the depth and breadth of our God-given  freedom. Never before has a nation been conceived in liberty and then overcome so many  obstacles to retain so much freedom for its citizens. The founding fathers gave America an  amazing legacy of freedom and opportunity. The United States is still unique in the world for its  vibrant faith, its limited government and its political and economic liberty.
America is also exceptional because later generations eagerly accepted the founders’ gift and  forged a unique American culture and national character from it.
British-born Professor Patrick Allitt, of Emory University, has compiled an insightful list of nine  distinctive characteristics that reveal the American character:
1. A lack of fatalism. The fates don’t rule here. If it’s broken, we must fix it.
2. A highly energetic approach to problem solving.
3. A strong commitment to human equality and democracy.
4. Belief in the boundless possibilities of economic growth.
5. A strong dedication to mass education and literacy.
6. A high expectation of progress—things will get better.
7. A continuing desire to live up to our ideals.
8. A potent blend of both practicality and idealism. And
9. A belief in equality of opportunity over equality of outcome.i
Combined with our God-given freedoms, these are the traits that make America an exceptional  country with a unique role to play in shaping history.
Why Focus on Freedom, Faith and Free Markets?
As we’ll see, the American Revolution and the launch of the American republic provided a  model to the world of a democratic political and economic system firmly grounded in the  precepts of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The truths affirmed by the Declaration of Independence  are based on a belief in a providential Creator. He alone is the source of the “inalienable rights”  the American founders asserted.
The success of their revolution, against the greatest world power of the 18th century, was  improbable at best. That military victory was followed by an the even more unlikely feat of constructing a unique new form of government that could inspire, unify and energize the  polyglot citizens of thirteen very different colonies. Together, the Revolution and the  Constitution generated a strong sense, both here and abroad, that God was indeed blessing  America.
But the socialism that grew out of the French Revolution provided an alternative model that has been just as hostile to free enterprise and Judeo-Christian morality as the American  Revolution was friendly. These two competing worldviews have waged a war of ideas for hearts,  minds and economies around the world ever since.
We do not accept the materialistic premise of socialism that seeks to separate the economic and  political spheres from morality. We believe that “Man cannot live by bread alone,” and it is  artificial to try to separate human aspirations for economic and material wellbeing from personal  commitments to faith, family and community. The purely economic man, homo economicus, is  extremely rare, if he exists at all. Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge is the classic archetype in  fiction. We haven’t met many people like him, and he certainly provides no model for public  policy.
The Mission of Renewing American Leadership (ReAL)
The mission of Renewing American Leadership is to preserve and champion America’s JudeoChristian heritage by defending and promoting the three pillars of American civilization:  freedom, faith, and free markets. We are dedicated to educating, organizing, training and  mobilizing people of faith to renew American self-government and America’s role in the world.
So it will be the purpose of our organization to strengthen and reinforce the natural political  alliance between business men and women with people and groups whose primary selfidentification is grounded in their faith.
We are dedicated to advancing and defending American civilization, and to  celebrating American exceptionalism. We will be offering programs to promote understanding  and cooperation between fiscal and social conservatives as well as events to recruit and train  candidates for public office.
We offer the following explanation of our core doctrine.
For the last two thousand years the moral and ethical codes of Judeo-Christianity have been vital  to the success of commerce and industry in the West. At the same time, the Christian and Jewish  faith communities have even older historical debts to merchants and tradesmen.
The Importance of Morality and Divine Revelation to Enterprise
First, history demonstrates that commerce and industry simply cannot thrive without a moral  code. Without an accepted moral code, and laws based upon it, business transactions more  complex than simple face-to-face barter are difficult and can’t be enforced. The commercial and  industrial ethos depends on vision, energy, planning, and deferred gratification. But a  predominant consideration is the ratio between risk and reward. The greater the risk, the higher  the hoped-for return (“hurdle-rate”) must be to justify taking the risk. While a few adventurers  may be willing to take high risks for potentially spectacular returns, the vast majority of commercial and industrial transactions are plain-vanilla and relatively low-profit exchanges that  aggregate into a solid national economy. But where there is no trust, risks skyrocket, trade  and industry go elsewhere, and communities shrivel.
Second, one of the most important ideas in Western Civilization is the concept of “progress.”  Western science and technology are under-girded by the belief that things improve as knowledge  accumulates. Author Robert Nisbit calls progress “one of the master ideas of the West.”ii We didn’t inherit it from the Greeks. They believed history moves in cycles, as do the eastern  religions. The Greeks saw change, but not progress. The idea that history had a specific  beginning, an end, and a purpose, began with the Hebrews and continued with Christianity. The  first four words in the Bible are “In the beginning God…” The Latin West built its civilization  and its science on this worldview for millennia before modern geology and astrophysics  confirmed it. The idea of “progress” is a secularized version of the Judeo-Christian concept of  linear history. Today we take linear history for granted, but the West received it through divine  revelation.
Finally, the alliance between business and faith is very important in helping business resist  government’s tendency to “steal their stuff.” When government makes unjust demands, it’s vital  for businesspeople to have alliances with people whose primary concern is the violation of the  moral code rather than their stake in business.
The Debt Judeo-Christianity Owes to Business and Enterprise
It’s not uncommon for people of faith to believe that business people are materialistic and prone  to greed. What they usually don’t consider is that faith communities in the West owe a  significant debt to enterprise and commerce for both the content of their faith and their ability to  accomplish their missions and good works.
When the Babylonian Empire destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple in 586 BC, they hauled  the Jews to Babylon for seventy years of captivity. It was a time of despair and soul-searching  for the captives, but they kept their faith. While they were in Babylon the Jews went back and  researched their records, examining the messages of their prophets to determine which of them had been proven right by what had happened, and which had been false. They also compiled and  edited the books of the Old Testament, and began the process of deciding which of them should  be accepted into the official canon of the Bible.
A new class of Jewish scribes and scholars who first arose in Babylon performed this work. Even  though they were captives in a foreign land, these scholars were able to work on their studies full  time because Jewish merchants and traders supported them. In his great History of the Jews,  historian Paul Johnson says “Mercantile wealth financed the scribal effort, and the work of  keeping the Jews in their faith.”iii These anonymous and un-sung businessmen made an  enormous, though largely invisible, contribution to Judaism, Christianity and indeed Western  Civilization. We owe them a significant debt.
On a more visible level, communities of faith have always depended on businesspeople and their employees to help build their buildings and carry out their ministries. Without support from business, our communities would be bereft of many of the hospitals, schools, orphanages,  churches, synagogues and a myriad of other essential charitable activities we now enjoy.
Michael Novak and The Theology of Democratic Capitalism
The scholar who has done more than any other to explain the intersection between enterprise and  faith is Michael Novak. His book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, (1982) is one of the rare  works that can be said to have changed the way the world thinks. Dr. Novak now chairs the  Social and Political Studies Program at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.   Author of 25 books, he began life as a committed Christian socialist in the Roman Catholic  tradition. His work chronicles his slow conversion into an articulate advocate of democratic  capitalism, and his emergence as a force within the Roman Catholic Church, calling for a  reexamination of the “pre-modern” skepticism toward capitalism that has long characterized  institutional Catholic thought.
Novak argues convincingly that democratic capitalism in America and a few other western  nations, can only be understood as an interdependent interweaving of free market economics,  democratic political structures, and pluralistic moral-cultural institutions like the press, the  universities, the church and voluntary associations. This “triune” system has generated more  freedom, opportunity, and wealth for more people than any other in history.
The Vocation of Christians and Jews
Novak begins his commentary on the intersection between enterprise and faith by explaining  how the Jewish and Christian view of “vocation” prepares them for the role they play in the  democratic capitalist system:
“Judaism and Christianity are distinctive among the world religions because they  understand salvation as a vocation in history. It is the religious task of Jews and  Christians to change the world as well as to purify their own souls; to build up “the  Kingdom of God” in their own hearts and through the work of their hands…Both Jews  and Christians are pilgrim peoples…Both see their religious task as working in and  through the institutions of this world. It is the vocation of the laypersons, in particular, to  fire the iron of politics, economics, and culture to Jahweh’s vision.”iv
John Locke Discovers the Theology of Democratic Capitalism
In tracing the emergence of free market capitalism, Novak’s explanation of John Locke’s  dawning consciousness of the potential bounty latent in nature, and the theological implications  of Locke’s discovery is a classic:
“Until the capitalist era, mercantilism—a state controlled economy—remained the  dominant theory and practice…Except in “free cities,” the state tended to control  economic activities…
“It may have been John Locke (1632-1704) who first articulated the new possibility  for economic organization. Locke observed that a field of, say, strawberries, highly  favored by nature, left to itself, might produce what seemed to be an abundance of  strawberries. Subject to cultivation and care by practical intelligence, however, such a  field might be made to produce not simply twice but tenfold as many strawberries. In  short, Locke concluded, nature is far wealthier in possibility than human beings had  ever drawn attention to before.
“Permit me to put Locke’s point in theological terms. Creation left to itself is  incomplete, and humans are called to be co-creators with God, bringing forth the  potentialities the Creator has hidden. Creation is full of secrets waiting to be discovered, riddles which human intelligence is expected by the Creator to unlock.  The world did not spring from the hand of God as wealthy as humans might make it.  After the Fall, ignorance, and disorder became commonplace.
“There was born in Locke’s vision a novel and invigorating sense of the human  vocation. History was no longer to be regarded as cyclical. After Locke, reflection on  God’s ways with the world—theodicy—was altered. The way God works in history  was now to be thought of as progressive, open, subject to human liberty and  diligence. The vocation of the human being came to seem ennobled. No longer were  humans to imagine their lot as passive, long-suffering, submissive. They were called  upon to be inventive, prudent, farseeing, hardworking—in order to realize by their  obedience to God’s call the building up and perfecting of God’s Kingdom on earth.  Slamming the doors of the monastery shut, as [Max] Weber put it, the Reformation  had carried the energy of certain human virtues out into worldly callings. Progress  and economic growth—not only personal but for the entire world—were seen to be  the will of God. Progress imposed its disciplines, a kind of “otherworldly asceticism.”  This earth was now seen to be full of promise for science, the arts, religion, and even  the humble comforts of human life. To be a good Christian and to evince the highest  of civic virtues would be, simultaneously to labor for human progress.”v
The “Triune” System of Economics, Politics and Religion
Novak explains the necessary role of each of his trinity of institutions in forming democratic  capitalism as follows:
“Democratic capitalism is not a free enterprise system merely. Its political system has  many legitimate roles to play in economic life, from protecting the soundness of the  currency to regulating international trade and internal competition. Its moral-cultural  system also has many legitimate and indispensable roles to play in economic life, from  encouraging self-restraint, hard work, discipline, and sacrifice for the future to insisting upon generosity, compassion, integrity, and concern for the common good. The economic  activist is simultaneously a citizen of the polity and a seeker after truth, beauty, virtue,  and meaning. The differentiation of systems is intended to protect all against unitary  power. It is not intended to protect anyone from a fully integrated personal life.”vi
The Threat of ‘Unitary Power’
Novak explains the motivation of the American founding fathers in creating the triune system:
“What the founders of democratic capitalism most feared is the gathering of all powers into  one. For this reason they separated moral-cultural institutions like the press, the  universities, the church, and voluntary associations of free speech from the state.
But they also separated economic institutions from the state… It is a distinctive invention  of democratic capitalism to have conceived a way of differentiating three major spheres of  life, and to have assigned to each relatively autonomous networks of institutions.…”vii Throughout his exposition, Novak compares and contrasts democratic capitalism with its  great rival, socialism:
“Ideas, always a part of reality, have today acquired power greater than that of reality.  One of the most astonishing characteristics of our age is that ideas, even false and  unworkable ideas, even ideas which are no longer believed in by their official guardians,  rule in the affairs of men and run roughshod over stubborn facts. Ideas of enormous  destructiveness, cruelty, and impracticality retain the allegiance of elites that benefit from them…The glaring inadequacies of actual socialist societies do not seem to discourage  newborn socialists. Entire nations, like Gadarene herds, cast themselves over the  precipice.”viii
Finally, Novak offers a benediction and comparative comment on the two systems:
“Democratic capitalism is neither the Kingdom of God nor without sin. Yet all other  known systems of political economy are worse. Such hope as we have for alleviating  poverty and for removing oppressive tyranny—perhaps our last, best hope—lies in this  much despised system.”ix
“The world of ‘scientific socialism,’ whose ultimate secrets Marx, Engels, and Lenin believed they had penetrated, moves upon iron tracks of necessity; no man can stay its  course, and those who wish to stand “on the side of history” can only submit with glad or  reluctant cooperation.
“By sharp contrast, Democratic capitalism did not emerge by cold logical necessity, or by  random accident. A few individuals saw new possibilities in human history, articulated  them, made a case for them against heavy opposition, and were sufficiently practical to  make their case prevail. They saw the importance of system. They saw that the design of  the system matters.”x
However long our new organization pursues its mission, we will be hard-pressed to improve on  the work that Michael Novak has done to explain our goals.
i Patrick Allitt, The American Identity, The Teaching Company, 2005
ii Robert Nisbet, The Making of Modern Society, New York University Press, New York, 1986, pg 42  iii Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, Harper & Row, New York, 1987, pg.83
iv Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, Touchstone Books, New York, 1982, pg 18  vNovak, pgs 39-49  vi Novak, pg 57 vii Novak, pg 56 viii Novak, pg 56 ix Novak, pg 28 x Novak, pg 76


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