Writing for Canada’s National Post, Acton University lecturer Fr. Raymond de Souza calls our attention to the 25th anniversary this year of the defeat of communism and observes that “there are new questions about the unity of liberties.” In the 1980s, he writes, “when in the Gdansk shipyard the workers began to rattle the cage of communism, they demanded economic liberties (free trade unions), personal liberties (speech, the press), political liberties (democracy), legal liberties (against the police state) and religious liberty (the strikers insisted upon public worship in the shipyard itself).”
In continuity with older revolutions and even older political philosophy, he adds, “the liberties demanded were thought to be all of a piece. Liberty was not divisible, it was thought and often said. Today that question is is up for debate.”
For his National Post column, Fr. de Souza interviewed theologian Michael Novak — also lecturing at Acton U. in Grand Rapids, Mich., this week.
Novak argues that religious liberty is the first liberty, for if you do not have the freedom to believe what you will about ultimate questions, or the freedom to order your relationship to God, then what other freedoms are possible? If his inner sanctuary is violated, none of the other things man does and has are safe. Novak argues that economic liberty is the “second liberty.” It is not more important in principle than freedom of the press, but in practice it may be. Not everyone has something to say in public all the time; everyone engages in economic activity every day. If you wish to have a culture of liberty, economic liberty is worth paying attention to.
Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg told de Souza that “in authoritarian regimes such as China, expanding economic liberties can be a prelude to a greater demand for religious liberties.” That remains to be tested, Gregg cautions, though there is evidence that China’s economic liberalization has produced a more intense religious practice in the Chinese population.
“Once you grant more liberty in one area, it is hard to stop freedom from spreading to other spheres of life,” argues Gregg … “Economic liberty, for instance, requires and encourages people to think and choose freely. Without this, entrepreneurship and free exchange are impossible. It is, however, difficult to limit this reflection and choosing to economic questions. People start asking social questions, political questions, and, yes, religious questions.”
Read “Christians should support all liberties, not just religious liberty” by Fr. Raymond de Souza in the National Post.