Sunday, January 29, 2006

Michael Novak's Memories of JPII; New Website by Rocco Buttiglione

From Michael Novak's website, remembrances by the Catholic philospher on his friendship with the Pope, with some great stories: discovering his mutual "Polish" ancestry"; the underground publication of The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism by the movement Solidarity, and meetings over dinner to discuss economics and Catholic social doctrine:

One night in the autumn of 1991 I was invited to have dinner with the Holy Father. It would be difficult to describe my excitement. I think I barely said a word at dinner, set for just five of us, as I recall: the Pope, his two secretaries, my Italian friend Rocco Buttiglione, and me. Rocco and I were planning a seminar on the free society, to help bring young Americans and Eastern Europeans together. He had been a friend of Karol Wojtyla for years, ever since their mutual philosophical work in Poland, well before the young bishop/philosopher was elected Pope. Rocco and the Pope did most of the talking — and joshing — that evening. The Pope did ask me what I would recommend as the best way to help the millions of poor whom he had just seen in Latin America. I don’t recall his being terribly convinced by my three points, telegraphically put forth. They had much to do with micro-enterprises, and changing education and the law to favor the starting of many small businesses. (Today I note with pleasure that, for instance, India and China between them have raised more than half a billion people out of poverty since 1980. So it can be done, where enterprise is permitted and rewarded.)

I do recall praising the Pope for the good words he had put into his recent letter-to-the-world, Centesimus Annus. As we were leaving, he told me he liked very much the article of mine that had been translated in the Polish Catholic paper Tygodnik Powszechny just that week. It had been translated from my lecture in London, on the theme of the shift in the Pope’s understanding of “capital” from Laborem Exercens (1981) and the 1991 letter ten years later. You understand my thought very well, he said generously — words that have warmed my hear ever since, in many a cold and difficult season.

In Laborem Exercens, he linked capital solely to things, to matter. In Centesimus Annus he pointed to the capital fostered within the human subject: human capital, in the form of knowledge, know-how, invention, and other fruitful economic habits. The virtues he listed are not unlike the habits Max Weber had pointed out in The Protestant Ethic, but with a new, original emphasis upon the creativity of the human person, made in the image of the Creator. A neat emphasis for a Pope living so near the Michelangelo ceiling of the Sistine chapel.

From many more meetings with the Pope, I have the impression that he was skeptical about my hopes for a creativity-informed and law-abiding capitalism, but interested. He and his secretaries used to press me quite hard, and test me and my friends, on this and other issues. We used to have lunch or dinner with him, not every year, maybe an extra time or two in a given blessed year, and nearly always on his days off, when there was a little more time and he had on his calendar no one more important or long-ago-scheduled.

"To the best of my knowledge," Novak recalls, "we at Crisis were the first to put the name "John Paul the Great" in print." I remember the publication of the Crisis Magazine special edition years ago -- 1997, to be exact -- with the cover proclaiming him "John Paul The Great." I still have it. It's a great issue, with stirring tributes by a host of Catholic authors. Worth getting if you can.

Novak's friend, the Italian Minister of Culture Rocco Buttiglione has started a new webpage -- -- which tanslates as 'Thinking Christian.'

The Catholic news Agency blog Catholic Outsider has the details behind this fascinating figure, "Formed by the movement Communione e Liberazione and its late Founder, Msgr. Luigi Giussani, key advisor in the writing of Centesimus Annus," published in Crisis and by the Acton Institute . . .

WHAT?!? a member of 'Communion and Liberation' fraternizing with dreaded Catholic neocons and proponents of liberalism?

Say it is not so! ;-)