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The Vanishing TraditionPerspectives on American Conservatism$
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Paul Gottfried

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781501749858

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501749858.001.0001

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The Contradictions of Catholic Neoconservatism

The Contradictions of Catholic Neoconservatism

(p.85) 6 The Contradictions of Catholic Neoconservatism
The Vanishing Tradition

Jesse Russell

Cornell University Press

This chapter details the rise and fall of perhaps the most unusual bloc within the neoconservative movement: the Catholic neoconservatives. It traces how Michael Novak's best seller The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982) caused Catholic neoconservatives to shift American Catholic discussion of economics to a defense of “democratic capitalism” as the purest distillation of Catholic social teaching. This argument was reinforced when another Catholic neoconservative, George Weigel, seized the public image of John Paul II for political purposes with the publication of Weigel's biography Witness to Hope (1999). Once the neoconservatives were able to speak for conservative Catholicism in America, they rallied American Catholic celebrities to their positions on foreign interventionism, support for multinational corporations, and Jewish ultranationalism. Integral to this campaign was the success of Catholic neoconservatives in fashioning an American Catholic understanding of political philosophy, starting with the social teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. In The Hemisphere of Liberty, Novak dwells on a statement made by the English Catholic classical liberal Lord Acton in order to present St. Thomas as the “First Whig.” This was part of an arduous effort to reconcile medieval political philosophy with the neoconservative understanding of Anglo-American liberalism.

Keywords:   neoconservative movement, Catholic neoconservatives, Michael Novak, American Catholics, democratic capitalism, George Weigel, John Paul II, conservative Catholicism, conservative Catholicism

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