Monday, March 13, 2017
The Heritage Foundation hosted a lovely live-streamed lunch-time panel today on the life and legacy of the late Michael Novak. Panelists included friends, collaborators, and students of the celebrated (if controversial) theologian who died last month. (As a participate in the Tertio Millenium Seminar in Poland, I number myself among his many grateful students--and was honored and delighted to spend time with him at Ave Maria and CUA over the last year.) Hosted by Ryan Anderson, panelists Catherine Pakaluk, Samuel Gregg, George Weigel and Mary Eberstadt offered intelligent and moving accounts of their friendship with Novak and his enduring legacy.
Catherine Pakaluk, a Harvard-trained economist and now assistant professor of economics at the Busch School of Business and Economics at CUA, made the case for Novak as a true economist, articulating similar themes in the beautiful tribute she scribed for NRO last month:
The economics curriculum at my university (and Penn was not unique in this) suffered acutely from the problem identified by James M. Buchanan in his 1964 article “What Should Economists Do?” What frustrated Buchanan, who went on to win the Nobel prize in economics in 1986, was that to most economists “our subject field is a problem or set of problems, not a characteristic human activity” (emphasis mine). He argued that this mistake would lead inexorably to the disintegration of “economics as a well-defined area of scholarship.” What he did not say but might have said is that a set of merely technological problems cannot inspire, cannot ennoble, and risks a sort of massive irrelevancy with respect to the great questions of human life. I raise this point because it seems to me that there is no better way to describe Novak’s work than to say that he never touched on a subject as anything other than “a characteristic human activity.”
It is worth noting that Novak’s formal education in philosophy, theology, and religious studies was much more like that of Adam Smith than like that of any modern-day economist. This has profound implications for higher education and may explain why Novak was such a fan of religious colleges, helping to found Ave Maria University and finishing his academic career at The Catholic University of America. We should expect, I hope, many initiatives in the coming years, especially at religious institutions, which seek to unpack the importance of philosophy and theology for economics and social science at large.
Catherine offers her own brilliant unpacking in a paper she wrote on the occasion of receiving the Acton Institute's 2015 Novak Award (which recognizes "outstanding scholarly research that examines the relationship between religion, economic freedom, and the free and virtuous society.") The paper, now available online (behind the paywall at the Journal of Markets and Morality, but more readily at academia.edu), is entitled, "Dependence Upon God and Man: Toward a Catholic Constitution of Liberty." Putting Catholic social thought in conversation with liberal thinkers such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, Catherine seeks to develop what she calls a "'liberty of dependence'...a doctrine of freedom in society that isn't quite a manifesto of personal liberty as Hayek might have wanted it--but rather a manifesto of social freedom in which freedom for the individual is required so that he can be dependent and responsible."
As one who also has written of late on the theme of dependency as an essential and forgotten element of the human condition--and as one happy to call Catherine a dear friend--I heartily recommend this deeply philosophical and learned approach to political economy. Catherine is a mentor to many, an intellectual force for good, and a true gift to the Church. She is also the mother of eight very blessed children.