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Journal of Business Ethics

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This essay seeks to start a dialogue between two traditions that historically have interpreted the economy in opposing ways: the individualism of classic economic liberalism (CEL), represented by Adam Smith and Milton Friedman, and the communitarianism of Catholic social teaching (CST), interpreted primarily through the teachings of popes and secondarily the U.S. Catholic bishops. The present authors, an economist and a moral theologian who identify with one or the other of the two traditions, strive to clarify objectively their similarities and differences with the opposing perspective. Section one focuses on each position's perspective of love of self and love of others. We find both CEL and CST saying that self-love, rightly understood, constitutes a moral good and that the love of others serves as an important principle in the political economy. We find less agreement in section two regarding justice and rights, but even here, we discover a few surprises. Both traditions uphold justice (giving to each party what is due) as essential to the political economy, and recognize some similarity in that type of justice called commutative. We note, however, substantial differences regarding a second type of justice that we call "public justice." First, they differ over the extent to which government should be involved. Here the meaning of rights, especially that of individual freedom, arises. Secondly, the traditions diverge over whether benevolence as a motivator ought to serve as a partner for public justice. Thirdly, CEL in general opposes CST's emphasis on social justice that calls upon institutions to be proactive in helping citizens and groups to become active participants in the economy. We conclude our essay by summarizing our discoveries and by suggesting areas for further dialogue.


Cima, Lawrence R. and Schubeck, Thomas L. Self-Interest, Love, and Economic Justice: A Dialogue Between Classical Economic Liberalism and Catholic Social Teaching. Journal of Business Ethics (2001) 30 (3); 213-231.

The original publication is available at
DOI: 10.1023/A:1006475229374.