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Reinventing the Wheel

Two Jesuits have recently written books on social ethics, the humane economy, and on liberating the poor. I know what you're thinking: two more liberation theologians using Marxist criteria for their analysis, and ruthlessly criticizing the free market. Think again.

Prevalent opinion traditionally associates the Society of Jesus with all forms of cabals, while a current version of this conspiracy theory identifies Jesuits with socialism and its religious expression, liberation theology. Yet, if stereotypes can be shortcuts to knowledge, they might just as easily be detours around it, and the appearance of these books by Jesuit Fathers James Schall and Enrique Urena (a Spaniard), both of which make a moral case for a free market, prove this fact. These works are made all the more relevant by the centenary of Rerum Novarum on May 15, the first of the papal social encyclicals, which will no doubt excite much debate about the connection between economics and morality.

Father Schall's collection of previously published essays is significant for two reasons. First, Father Schall, a political scientist at Georgetown University, defends the free market by retrieving from the Catholic tradition a respect for the rights to property and enterprise (a tradition superbly traced in Alejandro Chafuen's enormously important little book Christians for Freedom: Late-Scholastic Economics, 1986). Second, this...

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