Appeared in Winter 1991, Vol. XVII, No. 4

In his writings on Centesimus Annus, Michael Novak has stressed the impact of the American experiment in ordered liberty on both the teaching of the encyclical and the broader development of Catholic social doctrine of which it is a part. He is quite correct, I think, in doing so. Nevertheless, if it is true that the church’s social teaching has learned from the American experience, it is also true that this teaching contains some important lessons for contemporary America. To adequately understand just what these lessons are, we must first situate Centesimus Annus in its proper historical context.

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