Michael Novak: Biographical Information

Michael Novak - Columns and Articles in CRISIS Magazine

Interviews with Michael Novak

Michael Novak on the Hunger for Liberty -- an interview with Zenit.org.
  1. Part 1: On the Need for Morality to Safeguard Freedom
  2. Part 2: The Clash of Civilizations
  3. Part 3: On Europe's Lost Desire for Freedom

Books by Michael Novak


Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative
Image Books. September 2013.
Engagingly, writing as if to old friends and foes, Michael Novak shows how Providence (not deliberate choice) placed him in the middle of many crucial events of his time: a month in wartime Vietnam, the student riots of the 1960s, the Reagan revolution, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Bill Clinton's welfare reform, and the struggles for human rights in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also spent fascinating days, sometimes longer, with inspiring leaders like Sargent Shriver, Bobby Kennedy, George McGovern, Jack Kemp, Václav Havel, President Reagan, Lady Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II, who helped shape—and reshape—his political views.

Yet through it all, as Novak’s sharply etched memoir shows, his focus on helping the poor and defending universal human rights remained constant; he gradually came to see building small businesses and envy-free democracies as the only realistic way to build free societies. Without economic growth from the bottom up, democracies are not stable. Without protections for liberties of conscience and economic creativity, democracies will fail. Free societies need three liberties in one: economic liberty, political liberty, and liberty of spirit.

Novak’s writing throughout is warm, fast paced, and often very beautiful. His narrative power is memorable.

Presentations

Reviews

The Myth of Romantic Love and Other Essays: 0
Transaction Publishers (February 2013)

Written by noted Catholic philosopher Michael Novak, the selections in The Myth of Romantic Love and Other Essays highlight the arc of his intellectual career. Collectively demonstrating the fundamental unity of Novak’s work, the sixteen essays in this book span a broad range of political, economic, and social topics.

The selections offer clarity of thinking for the sake of concrete ends. For example, "The Myth of Romantic Love," the chapter from which the title of this work is drawn, sharply distinguishes the "love" that popular culture portrays from the true Christian vision of love. And "The Family out of Favor" argues, "if things go well with the family, life is worth living; when the family falters, life falls apart." Thus, true Christian love manifest in marriage and family life is a greater resource for civilized society than any other institution.

Although this collection shows that Novak’s viewpoints did evolve over time, he remains a thinker that is clearly rooted in the ancient and medieval Catholic tradition. From his discussions of gender relations, to economics, culture, and politics, his perspective honors the primacy of man and his immediate experience, and thereby ultimately glorifies the Creator. Novak’s writing will infuriate some readers, and inspire many others—but both comrades-in-arms and intellectual opponents will find the clarity and intensity of his writings undeniable.


No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Unbelievers
March 2006.

Surveying the contemporary religious landscape, the division between atheist and believer seems stark. However, having long struggled to understand the purpose of life and the meaning of suffering, Michael Novak finds the reality of spiritual life far different from the rhetorical war presented by bestselling atheists and the defenders of the faith who oppose them.

In No One Sees God, Novak brilliantly recasts the tired debate pitting faith against reason. Both the atheist and the believer experience the same “dark night” in which God’s presence seems absent, he argues, and the conflict between faith and doubt stems not from objective differences, but from divergent attitudes toward the unknown. Drawing from his lifelong passion for philosophy and his personal struggles with belief, he shows that, far from being irrational, the spiritual perspective actually provides the most satisfying answers to the eternal questions of meaning. Faith is a challenge at times, but it nonetheless offers the only fully coherent response to the human experience.

Ultimately, No One Sees God offers believers and unbelievers the opportunity to find common ground by acknowledging the complicated reality of the human struggle with doubt. Novak provides a stirring defense of the Christian worldview, while sidestepping the shrill tone that so often characterizes the discussion of faith, and given the challenges faced in the present age, all who value liberty will find hope in his new way of conversing.

Related


Washington's God
March 2006.

Though historians have frequently identified George Washington as a deist rather than a Christian, the Novaks vigorously dispute this characterization. Through careful scrutiny of Washington's religious pronouncements, they establish that the master of Mount Vernon worshipped the God of scripture, not the absentee clockmaker of deism. Like other Christians of his time, Washington recognized the Deity as a living--albeit often inscrutable--influence in his personal life and in the fortunes of his country. Readers even revisit specific events (such as the improbable retreat from New York under cover of a life-saving fog) in which Washington detected the hand of the Almighty. To be sure, the Novaks acknowledge that Washington generally kept his Christian convictions private, but the language and conduct of this Anglican vestryman reflect marks of real devotion, not the mere shell of social conformity. Perhaps more important, we recognize the substance of religious faith informing a military career during which Washington insisted that soldiers attend the sermons of their Christian chaplains and a political career during which he repeatedly summoned the nation to prayers of reverent thanksgiving. Much-needed light on an enigmatic icon. Bryce Christensen (American Library Association)

Reviews


The Universal Hunger For Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations Is Not Inevitable
September 2004.

Starting with 9/11 and continuing with the struggle for peace in Iraq, the West has been forced to interact more fully with the civilization of Islam. In The Universal Hunger for Liberty, statesman and award-winning author Michael Novak sets forth a new model for facing this challenge-and for healing a still violently fractured world. In place of ongoing conflict, he offers a surprisingly optimistic vision of how the concept of fundamental human liberty-shared by the Islamic and Judeo-Christian traditions-can heal our cultural, economic, and political differences.

Reviews

On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding
April 2003

The U.S. isn't officially Christian, but Novak demonstrates that the men who created it rooted the country conceptually in the Bible. The characterizations of God in the Declaration of Independence derive from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), probably deliberately, because all Christian denominations accepted them. Faith in God was ubiquitous among the founders, who regarded religion as necessary to maintain a just and equitable society. Only a moral (because religious) society would foster responsible citizens; pursuing freedom without religion, individuals would create a chaos of competing self-interests. Finally, the founders' conception of rights derived more from Acquinas than from Enlightenment philosophers. Quoting so often from the founders and their influences that this is practically a documentary history, Novak is compelling on those major propositions and others. He concludes by answering 10 common questions about religion and the founders, and he appends comments on some lesser-known important founders and the Revolution's great fellow traveler, Thomas Paine, who believed in God despite disapproving all the religions he knew. Hard but invaluably informative reading. Ray Olson (American Library Association)

Reviews

Three in One: Essays on Democratic Capitalism
April 2001

Throughout his many writings, Michael Novak, one of the leading Catholic social theorists of our times, has urged us to adopt a tripartite system of democratic capitalism including a market economy, a democratic polity, and a moral-cultural system that would nourish the values and virtues on which free societies depend. "Three in One" introduces the reader to Novak's portrait of democratic capitalism.

On Cultivating Liberty: Reflections on Moral Ecology
March 1999

On Cultivating Liberty brings together Novak's essays on "moral ecology": the ethos that must be cultivated and preserved if liberal democratic societies are to survive. Novak argues in defense of a free and virtuous society by examing the family, welfare reform, free markets, self-government, and the American Founding, and includes a series of remarkable intellectual studies on figures ranging from Jacques Maritain to St. Thomas Aquinas. Along with a biographical essay and an introduction by Brian C. Anderson, On Cultivating Liberty is indispensable for anyone concerned about the future of democracy.
Tell Me Why: A Father Answers His Daughter's Questions about God
September 1998

This book all started with a fax. As the prolific author of numerous titles (The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism; Business as a Moral Calling; etc.), former politician and theologian Michael Novak is no stranger to answering challenges regarding his faith in relation to the world of politics and philosophy. However, when he receives a lengthy fax from his recent college graduate daughter, Jana, this father's skill in communication is put to the test. Jana Novak, a writer and poet, ponders the deep issues of faith in modern society. She relates questions and concerns to her father through candid, sincere requests for evidence in helping determine what part God and religion will play in her life. The book, written in a Q&A format, allows both Novaks to bring forth fresh insights and beg the reader to consider the difficulties of living out one's faith in a cynical, amoral society. Jana poses her faxed questions by focusing first on the foundations of religion in general. Why, she asks, "Does religion matter?" "Why so many different religions?" "What is God like?" Michael Novak's second series of responses stresses the particulars of religious experience. Jana wonders, "Why is our family Catholic?" "Must I take the Bible literally?" Finally, Jana considers the practicalities of faith. "What is Christian sexual love?" "What about abortion?" and "Do I need to be a Mother Theresa?" Interspersed throughout this dialogue between father and daughter are the writings of C.S. Lewis and other Christian writers who address the struggle between faith and doubt. Although Jana's questions about life, faith and God are often difficult to answer in simple statements, Michael Novak does an excellent job of creating a "learning atmosphere" for his daughter by providing her with a solid foundation of biblical principles and Catholic traditions to contemplate.

Book Reviews

  • Review by John J., Jr. Diiulio. National Review, Oct. 12, 1998.
  • Gen-X Apologetics, by David Neff, Christianity Today.
Business As a Calling: Work and the Examined Life
August 1996

In straightforward language, Novak (Belief and Unbelief) sets out to refute the popular conception that business leaders are materialistic and rapacious, asserting that "business not only creates social connections, lifts its participants out of poverty, and builds the foundation of democracy, but also can and must be morally uplifting." His central conceit is that, like the work of priests and ministers, the labors of businessmen and -women are often animated by a sense of calling. Novak cites a 1990 poll that found that after military officers, "more people in business attended church every week than any other elite." While it remains to be proven that the morals espoused in church or temple can and do hold sway on the battlefields of market competition, Novak's meditations should cause those who believe "enlightened capitalism" to be an oxymoron to think twice. (Publisher's Weekly)
The Fire of Invention: Civil Society and the Future of the Corporation
January 1997

Book Reviews

    Review - BrothersJudd.com. March 17, 2001.

Unmeltable Ethnics: Politics and Culture in American Life
December 1995 (2nd edition; originally published 1972)
The Catholic Ethic & The Spirit of Capitalism
February 1993

Novak declares that Max Weber's 1904 classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism missed the mark. In place of Weber's ethos of discipline, hard work and acquisition of wealth, the neoconservative thinker, himself a Roman Catholic, outlines "a Catholic (and catholic) ethic" that stresses the creativity, liberty and responsibility of the individual. Arguing that democratic, pluralistic, capitalist societies are the best hope for ending world poverty and ethnic violence, Novak draws on papal social thought from 1891 to the present in reinterpreting social justice as a personal virtue realized by citizens working cooperatively. He faults U.S. government programs for fostering welfare dependency among the poor urban blacks, and he sets forth an arsenal of reforms, from job training and self-governing public housing projects to measures designed to help the poor build assets. This challenging manifesto will stimulate thinkers at all points on the political spectrum.
Will it Liberate?: Questions About Liberation Theology
July 1991

Book Reviews

  • Review by Lee Cormie. St. Michael's College. Theology Today Vol. 45, No. 3, October 1988.
The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism
June 1991

Book Reviews

This Hemisphere of Liberty
November 1990.

Book Reviews

  • A Catholic Whiggism for Latin America, by Richard J. Neuhaus. Washington Post Book World. Jan 6, 1991. [Future of Freedom Foundation]
  • Review, by Richard M. Ebeling, May 1991. Freedom Daily The Future of Freedom Foundation.
  • Review by Jeffrey A. Tucker. The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty October 1991. The Foundation for Economic Education.

The Guns of Lattimer
July 1996

Freedom with Justice: Catholic Social Thought and Liberal Institutions
February 1989
[2000 reprint]

Book Reviews

  • Review by John T. Pawlikowski, O.S.M. Theology Today Vol. 42, no. 2. July 1985.
  • Review by John K. Williams. The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty Foundation for Economic Education. December 1985.


Free Persons and the Common Good
January 1988

Articles on Michael Novak

Book Reviews by Michael Novak

  • What "Dark Ages"?. Review of The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, by Rodney Stark. The New Criterion February 1, 2006.
  • In Defense of Globalization. Review of the book by agdish Bhagwati (Oxford University Press, 2004).
  • The Last Liberal. Review of Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver, by Scott Stossel. Weekly Standard May 24, 2004.
  • Is It Bad Culture or Bad Laws That Keep Some Countries Poor?, by Michael Novak. Review of Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress, edited by Lawrence E. Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington. The Weekly Standard. January 15, 2001.
  • An Authentic Modernity. Review of The Ethics of Authenticity, by Charles Taylor. (Harvard University Press). First Things 33 (May 1993): 40-42.
  • A Smith For All Seasons. Review of Adam Smith in His Time and Ours: Designing the Decent Society, by Jerry Z. Muller. (Free Press). First Things 35 (August/September 1993): 52-55.
  • The Secularist Faith. Review of The Wealth & Poverty of Nations, by David S. Landes (Norton). First Things 85 (August/September 1998): 58-61.
  • A Good Life. Review of The Life of Thomas More, by Peter Ackroyd. The Weekly Standard. Dec. 28, 1998.

Michael Novak: Washington's God

Washington has long been viewed as the patron saint of secular government, but in Washington's God, Michael Novak and his daughter, Jana, reveal that it was Washington's strong faith in divine Providence that gave meaning and force to his monumental life. Narrowly escaping a British trap during the Battle of Brooklyn, Washington didn't credit his survival to courage or tactical expertise; he blamed himself for marching his men into certain doom and marveled at the Providence that delivered them. Throughout his career, Washington held fast to the conviction that America's liberty was dependent on our faithfulness to God's will and our trust in Providence.

Washington's God shows Washington not only as a man of resource, strength, and virtue, but also as a man with deeply held religious values. This new presentation of Washington-as a man whose religion guided his governance-will bring him into today's debates about the role of faith in government and will challenge everything we thought we knew about the inner life of the father of our country.

Reviews

Related Discussion

Michael Novak on the Moral and Religious Principles of America's Founding

On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding
Encounter Books (August 2001).

The U.S. isn't officially Christian, but Novak demonstrates that the men who created it rooted the country conceptually in the Bible. The characterizations of God in the Declaration of Independence derive from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), probably deliberately, because all Christian denominations accepted them. Faith in God was ubiquitous among the founders, who regarded religion as necessary to maintain a just and equitable society. Only a moral (because religious) society would foster responsible citizens; pursuing freedom without religion, individuals would create a chaos of competing self-interests. Finally, the founders' conception of rights derived more from Acquinas than from Enlightenment philosophers. Quoting so often from the founders and their influences that this is practically a documentary history, Novak is compelling on those major propositions and others. He concludes by answering 10 common questions about religion and the founders, and he appends comments on some lesser-known important founders and the Revolution's great fellow traveler, Thomas Paine, who believed in God despite disapproving all the religions he knew. Hard but invaluably informative reading. [Source: Ray Olson, Booklist]

Michael Novak on Pope John Paul II & the election of Pope Benedict XVI

Michael Novak on Democratic Capitalism and Social Justice

Michael Novak on Human Dignity and Religious Freedom