A Fundamentalist Revival?

This is a fine essay by David French, noting the ideological rather than just the religious underpinnings of fundamentalist social movements.

In the US, the Left has embarked on a secular fundamentalist movement that is now reaching a fever pitch. It is a bit ironic that its proponents have strongly condemned conservative religious fundamentalism along the way while adopting the same social behavioral tactics. Fascism was/is a form of fundamentalism too, as well as communism and environmentalism. So is the more virulent form of right-wing Trumpism.

Fundamentalism comes with the territory when we all are expected to march in lockstep toward some abstract common good. Coercion is its necessary tool. But freedom and civic responsibility have always accomplished this task far better.

America Is in the Grips of a Fundamentalist Revival

But it’s not Christian.


“…yes, secular religion is breaking out across the land. That’s old news. Here’s what’s new—it’s growing so very dark. We don’t need to repeat all the recent excesses of cancel culture to know that many anti-racist progressives are in the midst of a hunt for ideological heretics, and even the oldest sins can’t be forgiven. Consider that on Friday a Boeing executive resigned after an employee complained about an article he wrote 33 years ago opposing women in combat.”



Another interesting passage that ties belief systems to the uncertainty that is the nature of the universe:

To understand the distinction between fundamentalism and, say, evangelicalism or other forms of devotion, I want to go back to Ecclesiastes 3:11 and quote the entire verse: “He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also put eternity in their hearts, but no one can discover the work God has done from beginning to end.”

Let me quote another verse, this one from the New Testament: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Both of these passages speak to the existence of an immovable, irreducible amount of uncertainty in this world, including mysteries about God Himself.

Recall the end of the book of Job, when the righteous, suffering man demands an explanation for his plight from the God of the universe, and the God of the universe responds with an extended soliloquy that essentially declares, “I’m God, and you’re not.” And what is Job’s response? “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth.”

As a consequence, while there are many, many things we can know about God—and many things we can learn—we must approach our faith and our world with a sense of existential humility.

Managing the uncertainties of our existence brings us back to social science, economics and the art of politics. It’s a deep well.

How the Enlightenment Ends

Science: In the Battle Between Faith and Reason


I recently was engaged in some interesting discussions about science and reason in tension with religious doctrine and faith, probably inspired by the publicity generated by the Catholic Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis. As a social scientist cautioned by skepticism when it comes to scientific or spiritual truths, I easily agree with the quote by Simone Weil above.

For me, the discussion resonated with the major theme of my first book, The City of Man: A Trilogy, that explored the dramatic story of an epic battle waged in 15th century Italy between these very forces that marked the transition of the Age of Faith into the Age of Reason. The clash of ideas lent itself readily to personification through the historical characters of the fundamentalist preacher Girolamo Savonarola and the first political modernist Niccolo Machiavelli. Yet, their story is far more nuanced and complex than a simple progression of man’s reasoning intellect.

I have excerpted my Author’s Note from the book to reprint here.

Author’s Note

Girolamo Savonarola can hardly be considered an obscure figure in European history. Many people are readily familiar with his infamous Bonfire of the Vanities and have a vague understanding of his relation to the art and politics of his day. I have always been astounded, however, by the way in which this friar’s tale, set within its particular historical circumstances, so closely approximates the great myths and legends that transcend both time and place. To borrow the words of one scholar, the life of Savonarola in Florence approximates “the battle between good and evil, played out against a background of order and chaos, fought for the redemption of fallen and painfully self-conscious man.”[1] In this sense we may appreciate its universalism and relevance. My interpretation is presented along three important dimensions of historical literature: context, character, and theme.

Context: Most of us have a basic knowledge of the Italian Renaissance, primarily within the context of art history and the genius of such figures as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael. Standard reference texts characterize this remarkable cultural period as one in which new conceptions of the individual in relation to the universe contributed to a great flourishing of scholarly, literary, philosophical, scientific, and artistic achievement. This novel arose from my desire to comprehend the richness of the Renaissance and the causality of historical events. How did such a great flowering of human achievement come about? Was it a historical accident? An unfathomable mystery? Cultural or religious destiny? Plain dumb luck?

The most helpful view in understanding the conceptual framework for this novel is the classic one that characterizes the Renaissance as a transition, a bridge between the Middle Ages and the early modern world. It was a rapid period of change between the Age of Faith and the Enlightenment, brought forth by an upheaval of social, economic, and political institutions. Such periods of transition and change are not unique in history. We may look to the Age of Pericles in Athens, the Age of Rome under Julius Caesar, the nineteenth century’s Industrial Revolution, and our own technological information age for parallels ancient and modern.

History, of course, is littered with winners and losers and every remarkable period of human advancement has been accompanied by rather less appealing characteristics and events. The great flowering of ideas and creativity during the Renaissance occurred on a continent beset with low life expectancy and high death rates due to famine, plague, and frequent wars. Medical and sanitary conditions were abysmal and the Black Death still haunted the urban landscape. Great disparities in wealth, combined with the tyranny of ruthless despots and oligarchs, resulted in constant economic and political instability. The imperialist nations of France, Spain and the Ottoman Turks were in their initial phases of expansionary conquest. The Roman Catholic Church engaged in corrupt practices, such as selling indulgences, and the Popes themselves were hardly paragons of virtue with their large retinues of mistresses and bastard children. The entire European countryside was largely mired in poverty, brutalized by war and famine, and ruled by despots and superstitions.

The two sides of the Renaissance—its glory and brutality—bring many important issues into sharp relief. Periods of social and cultural upheaval have motivated mankind to ponder deeper philosophical and religious questions concerning the purpose and meaning of existence. As the Renaissance bridged two periods classified as the Ages of Faith and Reason, such questions were particularly momentous because of the immediate conflict between the worldviews that defined these two eras. Prior to the Renaissance, the West was gradually becoming aware of new ways of relating to the universe. In fathoming the mysteries of the unknown, the intellect, employing reason and scientific inquiry, seemed to hold more promise than the traditional touchstones of spiritual faith and superstition. God and the universe became centered in Man, and the experience of man became paramount for understanding the world. As coincidence would have it, self-serving church leaders ensured that Faith was being corrupted just as Science and Reason were emerging as powerful cornerstones of a new philosophical humanism. Existing structures of power were challenged by the new usurpers to that power and the ensuing clash was violent.

The highest ethical objective of the new philosophical humanism became the salvation of the soul through the earthly good of humanity and the perfectibility of man. Such a philosophy justified the mass accumulation of wealth and power—ostensibly for the ultimate glory of God—and represented a significant shift away from the church’s moral teachings of poverty, humility, and penance. The result was an explosion of new expression through art, poetry, architecture and philosophy that overwhelmed the piety and reverent morality of Christian doctrine. Savonarola was acutely aware of the conflict in which he was engaged as his program of reform was symbolically represented by the transformation of the sinful, earthly city of Man (Babylon or Rome) into the heavenly city of God (the “New Jerusalem”).

These issues remain sharply delineated in our own societal distinctions between Church and State. Whereas we, in the modern West, presume a separation between religious and secular institutions, the concept of a unified religious state has been widely pursued in both western and non-western societies. The most obvious recent example is the rise of the Islamic fundamentalist state, but one must also consider the Victorian Age of morality, Puritanism, and modern Christian fundamentalism. From the perspective of the dramatist, these philosophical positions are often manifested in the attitudes and characters of real persons. Girolamo Savonarola can be viewed as the last vestige of the medieval age of faith while Niccolo Machiavelli can be celebrated (or vilified) as the harbinger of a new, enlightened age of science and reason. In my interpretation of the Renaissance I explore these two archetypal historical characters in depth.

Character: The character of Savonarola is particularly intriguing within the aforementioned historical context. Here was an obscure, ascetic monk who rose to the height of power and influence in the richest and most sophisticated city of his day. Under Savonarola’s guidance, Florence developed new institutions of government, economic justice and religious charity. Evidence suggests that many of Florence’s cultural icons—Michelangelo, Botticelli, Pico della Mirandola, to name only a few—were quite taken with the charismatic preacher’s message and became his devout followers. Ultimately, however, Savonarola became a victim to his own overreaching ambitions and emotional weaknesses. His story is a classic, earthly Greek tragedy. In posterity, Savonarola has been immortalized by history and his message has inspired religious reformers from Martin Luther to our present day.

Most modern characterizations of Savonarola appear to reflect a contemporary bias that finds horrifying any assault on the primacy of reason and scientific inquiry. Many studies portray him as a fanatic and a reactionary, a religious fundamentalist who resisted science and reason by burning books and art and condemning the enlightened views of his day. But if he were a madman, how are we to judge Michelangelo, Botticelli, Lorenzo de’Medici and thousands of other Florentines who were deeply impressed by him? Were they all mad as well?

Niccolo Machiavelli is another figure who holds a significant place in our cultural imagination and, like Savonarola, is in some need of reevaluation. Like Marx and ‘Marxist’, Machiavelli and ‘Machiavellian’ suffer a strained, uneasy relationship warped by time. Machiavelli was blessed with an analytical mind and is often cited as the first political scientist. He studied the human drive for power and sought to devise a strategy to harness that drive to the greater good. His reputation, however, has been hijacked throughout history in the service of those who pursue power as the means to any ends. In this he is certainly misunderstood—perhaps not wrongly, but surely not fully.

We have no writings and little knowledge of Machiavelli that predate a letter he wrote near the end of the Savonarolan episode. We can conjecture that many of Machiavelli’s early ideas derived from his experiences in Florence in the 1490s at which time he was a young man in his twenties. I have tried to employ his eyes to view the Savonarolan phenomenon from a modern perspective. I use Machiavelli’s The Prince, The Discourses and History of Florence from which to extrapolate back to those youthful experiences when he must have struggled to make sense of a rapidly changing world. In my interpretation Machiavelli seeks to impose order and restrain chaos by the most efficient means he can imagine. In this respect he is no different from Savonarola, who seeks the same through faith in God.

Theme: The Age of Reason that commenced more than five hundred years ago is the age in which we still reside. In this age, the immense and vast capability of man and his intellect is expected to solve all puzzles and answer all questions that plague existence. From such a perspective, Savonarola is inevitably dismissed as a reactionary who resisted a new world that he could not understand. But perhaps he understood it all too well. At the turn of the twenty-first century we have discovered that science overpromises, at least in the sense of immediate gratification, and that we need to recognize the limits imposed on reason. For Savonarola, the salvation of the soul was paramount, but certainly not to the exclusion of the development of the mind. The preacher was a man of considerable intellectual talents and was an avid proponent of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas (and, by implication, Aristotle) on the reconciliation of philosophy and Christian theology. The conflicts and tensions within the heart and mind of this one individual cannot be dismissed by caricaturing him as a zealot.

The story of Savonarola and Machiavelli is, above all, a story of the conflicts within the human spirit—what we might refer to as the soul of mankind. As the human soul is a prisoner of the body, the struggle of mankind, like that of Savonarola, is the struggle to free the soul from the body, or the flesh. The material world imposes itself on our sense of the spiritual world of the soul and, indeed, to reconcile the demands of the material with the needs of the spiritual has been the struggle of Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, and Jews alike. This struggle has profound dimensions, such as the search for a higher being or the experience of love, and also mundane ones, such as how to function within the world of industrial employment in order to secure a living. A long literary tradition addresses this struggle and includes works by such renowned and celebrated authors as Dostoyevsky, Hesse, Hugo, Kafka, Kazantzakis, Mann, Conrad, Camus, and Kundera.

I believe this eternal struggle of the soul is why the life of Girolamo Savonarola is so compelling. Today, more than five hundred years after his death, his story seems as relevant as ever to the universals of human experience. More Ancient Greek than modern Western hero, Savonarola is a man of shining virtues and tragic flaws, and in this he is all too human.

Through the struggle of the friar and the observations of Machiavelli, this novel also examines the question of mankind’s capacity for both extreme good and evil. The Florentines glorified Savonarola, and ultimately crucified him when he became an inconvenience. The guilt of this contradiction lives on today as humble citizens honor him with the memorial marking the site of his hanging and burning on May 23, 1498 in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. (Every May 23 flowers appear in the morning to cover the brass plaque in the Piazza.) The trials of history reveal that the barbarism of men extends well into our own time. Our collective experience defies our faith in both God and reason to fathom the depths of the human heart and soul. And this is, perhaps, how it should be. We are, and will remain, a mystery.

In addressing “The Modern Spiritual Problem,” Carl Jung captures the dilemma from the perspective of the psychoanalyst:

The modern man has lost all the metaphysical certainties of his medieval brother, and set up in their place the ideals of material security, general welfare and humaneness. But it takes more than an ordinary dose of optimism to make it appear that these ideals are still unshaken. Material security, even, has gone by the board, for the modern man begins to see that every step in material progress adds just so much force to the threat of a more stupendous catastrophe. The very picture terrorizes the imagination. What are we to imagine when cities today perfect measures of defense against poison-gas attacks, and practice them in “dress rehearsals”? We cannot but suppose that such attacks have been planned and provided for—again on the principle ‘in time of peace prepare for war.’ Let man accumulate his materials of destruction and the devil within him will soon be unable to resist putting them to their fated use.

…if [modern man] turns away from the terrifying prospect of a blind world in which building and destroying successively tip the scale, and if he then turns his gaze inward upon the recesses of his own mind, he will discover a chaos and darkness there which he would gladly ignore. Science has destroyed even the refuge of the inner life. What was once a sheltering haven has become a place of terror.[2]

Jung, writing in the 1930s before the conflagration of the Second World War, was eerily prescient of future experiences with terrorism and genocide. The evidence continues to accumulate that mankind is both good and evil, light and dark. One particular hypothesis explored in this book is that change, which we often label progress, can have corrupting influences on society, well apart from its positive effects. When it is the harbinger of chaos and crisis, change incites fear and lays bare the most base and cruel of human instincts. Only by understanding this dimension of ourselves, either consciously or intuitively, can we hope to resist the temptation to evil. Faith, whether it is in God or science, fellow man or self, is the only antidote to fear. Faith props up efforts to reestablish order and maintain control of human destiny. Savonarola put his faith in God and the Bible while Machiavelli put his in Cicero, the Republic and Realpolitik.

Background texts:

To tease out the thematic elements of the story, I have drawn heavily upon three principal texts: the Bible, Augustine’s City of God, and Dante’s The Divine Comedy. The Bible, especially the Old Testament, was the primary reference from which Savonarola drew his sermons and developed his prophesies. His particular gift was to draw parallels between the Old Testament and events of his day and in so doing, reiterate the teachings of the Gospels. His intellectual sources for the ideal organization of earthly society, along religious guidelines, were Augustine and Aquinas. Savonarola liberally used the Old Testament and Augustine’s City of God to delineate a clear moral distinction between the earthly and heavenly cities. He employed Aquinas’ writings on politics for practical implementation. His mission was to transform the earthly city of Florence into the heavenly City of God.

Dante’s The Divine Comedy can be viewed as a mythical, Christian text delivered from a more secular, historical perspective. Dante’s pilgrim takes us on a journey that first plunges into the depths of sin in Hell, finds redemption in Purgatory, and ultimately ascends to salvation in Heaven. On this journey Dante takes us through the Florence and Italy of his day, exposing the factionalism, conflict, and corruption that impedes the good and the just. In so doing he, much like Savonarola, provided a framework for common Florentine citizens to comprehend their everyday world. Dante is Florence’s most famous son and all Florentines were intimately familiar with his verse. Furthermore, his three-stage pilgrimage through condemnation, redemption, and salvation parallels Savonarola’s own brief journey across Florence’s stage.

This interpretation of the events of Savonarola’s life is uniquely my own and is intended to adhere closely to the historical record of Renaissance Florence, and to the words attributed to Savonarola, Machiavelli, Lorenzo de’ Medici, Pope Alexander VI and others. (The only purely fictional character is Chiara Corbinelli and those created by her circumstances, such as the Prioress. The relationships between Tommaso Soderini and Machiavelli, as well as those between Tommaso and the Compagnacci are inferred from historical evidence, but there is no indication that Tommaso and Niccolo were close friends. I have assumed they were because they were neighbors, close in age, and because a close mentor relationship did exist between Niccolo and Piero Soderini, Tommaso’s uncle.) Certain plot elements have been created to tie the characters together but do not, to the best of my historical research, contradict any historical evidence. The historical background is gleaned from the professional research of respected scholars and historians. Artistic license, though kept to a minimum, and mistakes, hopefully minimized as well, are my sole responsibility.

The Renaissance city of Florence was a moment of promise—a promise of the mind, body, and spirit of man; a sensual awakening, the puberty of modern civilization; the birth of l’uomo universale; the blossoming of intellectual discipline and humanistic interpretation. We have embraced its ideals and continue to uphold the myth. But we should always question how well it serves us and never forget that every man is modern to his times.

[1] Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: the Architecture of Belief.

[2] Carl G. Jung, from “The Modern Spiritual Problem,” in Modern Man in Search of a Soul [p. 204].


Margaret Thatcher, R.I.P.


Great address delivered by Lady Thatcher at Hillsdale College in 1994. We ignore such historical wisdoms these days.

The Moral Foundations of the American Founding

History has taught us that freedom cannot long survive unless it is based on moral foundations. The American founding bears ample witness to this fact. America has become the most powerful nation in history, yet she uses her power not for territorial expansion but to perpetuate freedom and justice throughout the world.

For over two centuries, Americans have held fast to their belief in freedom for all men—a belief that springs from their spiritual heritage. John Adams, second president of the United States, wrote in 1789, “Our Constitution was designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” That was an astonishing thing to say, but it was true.

What kind of people built America and thus prompted Adams to make such a statement? Sadly, too many people, especially young people, have a hard time answering that question. They know little of their own history (This is also true in Great Britain.) But America’s is a very distinguished history, nonetheless, and it has important lessons to teach us regarding the necessity of moral foundations.

John Winthrop, who led the Great Migration to America in the early 17th century and who helped found the Massachusetts Bay Colony, declared, “We shall be as a City upon a Hill.” On the voyage to the New World, he told the members of his company that they must rise to their responsibilities and learn to live as God intended men should live: in charity, love, and cooperation with one another. Most of the early founders affirmed the colonists were infused with the same spirit, and they tried to live in accord with a Biblical ethic. They felt they weren’t able to do so in Great Britain or elsewhere in Europe. Some of them were Protestant, and some were Catholic; it didn’t matter. What mattered was that they did not feel they had the liberty to worship freely and, therefore, to live freely, at home. With enormous courage, the first American colonists set out on a perilous journey to an unknown land—without government subsidies and not in order to amass fortunes but to fulfill their faith.

Christianity is based on the belief in a single God as evolved from Judaism. Most important of all, the faith of America’s founders affirmed the sanctity of each individual. Every human life—man or woman, child or adult, commoner or aristocrat, rich or poor—was equal in the eyes of the Lord. It also affirmed the responsibility of each individual.

This was not a faith that allowed people to do whatever they wished, regardless of the consequences. The Ten Commandments, the injunction of Moses (“Look after your neighbor as yourself”), the Sermon on the Mount, and the Golden Rule made Americans feel precious—and also accountable—for the way in which they used their God-given talents. Thus they shared a deep sense of obligation to one another. And, as the years passed, they not only formed strong communities but devised laws that would protect individual freedom—laws that would eventually be enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

Freedom with Responsibility

Great Britain, which shares much of her history in common with America, has also derived strength from its moral foundations, especially since the 18th century when freedom gradually began to spread throughout her society. Many people were greatly influenced by the sermons of John Wesley (1703-1791), who took the Biblical ethic to the people in a way which the institutional church itself had not done previously.

But we in the West must also recognize our debt to other cultures. In the pre-Christian era, for example, the ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle had much to contribute to our understanding of such concepts as truth, goodness, and virtue. They knew full well that responsibility was the price of freedom. Yet it is doubtful whether truth, goodness, and virtue founded on reason alone would have endured in the same way as they did in the West, where they were based upon a Biblical ethic.

Sir Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, wrote tellingly of the collapse of Athens, which was the birthplace of democracy. He judged that, in the end, more than they wanted freedom, the Athenians wanted security. Yet they lost everything—security, comfort, and freedom. This was because they wanted not to give to society, but for society to give to them. The freedom they were seeking was freedom from responsibility. It is no wonder, then, that they ceased to be free. In the modern world, we should recall the Athenians’ dire fate whenever we confront demands for increased state paternalism.

To cite a more recent lesson in the importance of moral foundations, we should listen to Czech President Vaclav Havel, who suffered grievously for speaking up for freedom when his nation was still under the thumb of communism. He has observed, “In everyone there is some longing for humanity’s rightful dignity, for moral integrity, and for a sense that transcends the world of existence.” His words suggest that in spite of all the dread terrors of communism, it could not crush the religious fervor of the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

So long as freedom, that is, freedom with responsibility, is grounded in morality and religion, it will last far longer than the kind that is grounded only in abstract, philosophical notions. Of course, many foes of morality and religion have attempted to argue that new scientific discoveries make belief in God obsolete, but what they actually demonstrate is the remarkable and unique nature of man and the universe. It is hard not to believe that these gifts were given by a divine Creator, who alone can unlock the secrets of existence.

Societies Without Moral Foundations

The most important problems we have to tackle today are problems, ultimately, having to do with the moral foundations of society. There are people who eagerly accept their own freedom but do not respect the freedom of others—they, like the Athenians, want freedom from responsibility. But if they accept freedom for themselves, they must respect the freedom of others. If they expect to go about their business unhindered and to be protected from violence, they must not hinder the business of or do violence to others.

They would do well to look at what has happened in societies without moral foundations. Accepting no laws but the laws of force, these societies have been ruled by totalitarian ideologies like Nazism, fascism, and communism, which do not spring from the general populace, but are imposed on it by intellectual elites.

It was two members of such an elite, Marx and Lenin, who conceived of “dialectical materialism,” the basic doctrine of communism. It robs people of all freedom—from freedom of worship to freedom of ownership. Marx and Lenin desired to substitute their will not only for all individual will but for God’s will. They wanted to plan everything; in short, they wanted to become gods. Theirs was a breathtakingly arrogant creed, and it denied above all else the sanctity of human life.

The 19th century French economist and philosopher Frederic Bastiat once warned against this creed. He questioned those who, “though they are made of the same human clay as the rest of us, think they can take away all our freedoms and exercise them on our behalf.” He would have been appalled but not surprised that the communists of the 20th century took away the freedom of millions of individuals, starting with the freedom to worship. The communists viewed religion as “the opiate of the people.” They seized Bibles as well as all other private property at gun point and murdered at least 10 million souls in the process.

Thus 20th century Russia entered into the greatest experiment in government and atheism the world had ever seen, just as America several centuries earlier had entered into the world’s greatest experiment in freedom and faith.

Communism denied all that the Judeo-Christian tradition taught about individual worth, human dignity, and moral responsibility. It was not surprising that it collapsed after a relatively brief existence. It could not survive more than a few generations because it denied human nature, which is fundamentally moral and spiritual. (It is true that no one predicted the collapse would come so quickly and so easily. In retrospect, we know that this was due in large measure to the firmness of President Ronald Reagan who said, in effect, to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, “Do not try to beat us militarily, and do not think that you can extend your creed to the rest of the world by force.”)

The West began to fight the moral battle against communism in earnest in the 1980s, and it was our resolve—combined with the spiritual strength of the people suffering under the system who finally said, “Enough!”—that helped restore freedom in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union—the freedom to worship, speak, associate, vote, establish political parties, start businesses, own property, and much more. If communism had been a creed with moral foundations, it might have survived, but it was not, and it simply could not sustain itself in a world that had such shining examples of freedom, namely, America and Great Britain.

The Moral Foundations of Capitalism

It is important to understand that the moral foundations of a society do not extend only to its political system; they must extend to its economic system as well. America’s commitment to capitalism is unquestionably the best example of this principle. Capitalism is not, contrary to what those on the Left have tried to argue, an amoral system based on selfishness, greed, and exploitation. It is a moral system based on a Biblical ethic. There is no other comparable system that has raised the standard of living of millions of people, created vast new wealth and resources, or inspired so many beneficial innovations and technologies.

The wonderful thing about capitalism is that it does not discriminate against the poor, as has been so often charged; indeed, it is the only economic system that raises the poor out of poverty. Capitalism also allows nations that are not rich in natural resources to prosper. If resources were the key to wealth, the richest country in the world would be Russia, because it has abundant supplies of everything from oil, gas, platinum, gold, silver, aluminum, and copper to timber, water, wildlife, and fertile soil.

Why isn’t Russia the wealthiest country in the world? Why aren’t other resource-rich countries in the Third World at the top of the list? It is because their governments deny citizens the liberty to use their God-given talents. Man’s greatest resource is himself, but he must be free to use that resource.

In his recent encyclical, Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul I1 addressed this issue. He wrote that the collapse of communism is not merely to be considered as a “technical problem.” It is a consequence of the violation of human rights. He specifically referred to such human rights as the right to private initiative, to own property, and to act in the marketplace. Remember the “Parable of the Talents” in the New Testament? Christ exhorts us to be the best we can be by developing our skills and abilities, by succeeding in all our tasks and endeavors. What better description can there be of capitalism? In creating new products, new services, and new jobs, we create a vibrant community of work. And that community of work serves as the basis of peace and good will among all men.

The Pope also acknowledged that capitalism encourages important virtues, like diligence, industriousness, prudence, reliability, fidelity, conscientiousness, and a tendency to save in order to invest in the future. It is not material goods but all of these great virtues, exhibited by individuals working together, that constitute what we call the “marketplace.”

The Moral Foundations of the Law

Freedom, whether it is the freedom of the marketplace or any other kind, must exist within the framework of law. 0thenvise it means only freedom for the strong to oppress the weak. Whenever I visit the former Soviet Union, I stress this point with students, scholars, politicians, and businessmen—in short, with everyone I meet. Over and over again, I repeat: Freedom must be informed by the principle of justice in order to make it work between people. A system of laws based on solid moral foundations must regulate the entire life of a nation.

But this is an extremely difficult point to get across to people with little or no experience with laws except those based on force. The concept of justice is entirely foreign to communism. So, too, is the concept of equality. For over seventy years, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union had no system of common law. There were only the arbitrary and often contradictory dictates of the Communist Party. There was no independent judiciary. There was no such thing as truth in the communist system.

And what is freedom without truth? I have been a scientist, a lawyer, and a politician, and from my own experience I can testify that it is nothing. The third century Roman jurist Julius Paulus said, “What is right is not derived from the rule, but the rule arises from our knowledge of what is right.” In other words, the law is founded on what we believe to be true and just. It has moral foundations. Once again, it is important to note that the free societies of America and Great Britain derive such foundations from a Biblical ethic.

The Moral Foundations of Democracy

Democracy is never mentioned in the Bible. When people are gathered together, whether as families, communities or nations, their purpose is not to ascertain the will of the majority, but the will of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, I am an enthusiast of democracy because it is about more than the will of the majority. If it were only about the will of the majority, it would be the right of the majority to oppress the minority. The American Declaration of Independence and Constitution make it clear that this is not the case. There are certain rights which are human rights and which no government can displace. And when it comes to how you Americans exercise your rights under democracy, your hearts seem to be touched by something greater than yourselves. Your role in democracy does not end when you cast your vote in an election. It applies daily; the standards and values that are the moral foundations of society are also the foundations of your lives.

Democracy is essential to preserving freedom. As Lord Acton reminded us, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” If no individual can be trusted with power indefinitely, it is even more true that no government can be. It has to be checked, and the best way of doing so is through the will of the majority, bearing in mind that this will can never be a substitute for individual human rights.

I am often asked whether I think there will be a single international democracy, known as a “new world order.” Though many of us may yearn for one, I do not believe it will ever arrive. We are misleading ourselves about human nature when we say, “Surely we’re too civilized, too reasonable, ever to go to war again,” or, “We can rely on our governments to get together and reconcile our differences.” Tyrants are not moved by idealism. They are moved by naked ambition. Idealism did not stop Hitler; it did not stop Stalin. Our best hope as sovereign nations is to maintain strong defenses. Indeed, that has been one of the most important moral as well as geopolitical lessons of the 20th century. Dictators are encouraged by weakness; they are stopped by strength. By strength, of course, I do not merely mean military might but the resolve to use that might against evil.

The West did show sufficient resolve against Iraq during the Persian Gulf War. But we failed bitterly in Bosnia. In this case, instead of showing resolve, we preferred “diplomacy” and “consensus.” As a result, a quarter of a million people were massacred. This was a horror that I, for one, never expected to see again in my lifetime. But it happened. Who knows what tragedies the future holds if we do not learn from the repeated lessons of history? The price of freedom is still, and always will be, eternal vigilance.

Free societies demand more care and devotion than any others. They are, moreover, the only societies with moral foundations, and those foundations are evident in their political, economic, legal, cultural, and, most importantly, spiritual life.

We who are living in the West today are fortunate. Freedom has been bequeathed to us. We have not had to carve it out of nothing; we have not had to pay for it with our lives. Others before us have done so. But it would be a grave mistake to think that freedom requires nothing of us. Each of us has to earn freedom anew in order to possess it. We do so not just for our own sake, but for the sake of our children, so that they may build a better future that will sustain over the wider world the responsibilities and blessings of freedom.

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