The irony of Michael Novak: Niebuhr, democratic capitalism, and climate change

Menno R. Kamminga*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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    The late influential American intellectual Michael Novak was a self-declared devotee of Reinhold Niebuhr, arguably the foremost twentieth-century American theologian. Novak’s The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982) was an attempt to fill the political-economic lacuna in Niebuhr’s thought. The present article offers a Niebuhrian irony–focused response to Novak’s democratic capitalism in view of climate change as probably the greatest threat facing humanity. Novak quite successfully extended Niebuhrian ideas into a theology-based vision of democratic capitalism as the only political-economic system effective in widely lifting people out of poverty. Yet he failed to acknowledge human-induced climate change as beyond reasonable doubt and rooted in the predominantly American invention of a fossil energy–based capitalist political economy. This article’s thesis is that Novak’s democratic capitalism entails Niebuhrian irony: the virtue it displays about resources becomes a vice due to Novak’s irresponsible post–Spirit of Democratic Capitalism attempt to represent democratic capitalism as innocent of any dangerous climate-change implications.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)5-28
    Number of pages24
    JournalPhilosophia Reformata
    Issue number1
    Early online date23-Dec-2020
    Publication statusPublished - Apr-2021


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