“In heavy seas, to stay on course it is indispensable to lean hard left at times, then hard right. The important thing is to have the courage to follow your intellect. Wherever the evidence leads. To the left or to the right.” –Michael Novak
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.
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Q&A with Michael Novak
Q. You have written many books, but this is your first memoir. What prompted you to write this book?
A. My 80th birthday, gratitude to Providence for a wonderfully eventful life, sadness for things not done well, joy in the hundred tough battles fought.
Q. What do you hope to accomplish with this book?
A. Allow others to meet the great persons – George McGovern, Sarge Shriver, President Reagan, Prime Minister Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, and many others – it was my joy to spend some time with.
Q. You are known as an important voice in American Catholicism. What role has your faith played in your ideological evolution?
A. Yes, I am extremely grateful to the Catholic Church. And I hope I have been an “important voice” in the whole of American life, too, because I am very grateful to this country. As Tocqueville predicted, Catholics might one day be the best interpreters of the American creed, and America might be a vibrant meeting place of Jewish-Christian religion and political liberty.
Q. Is there a person or experience that had a significant impact on the development of your faith?
A. My grandfather, my parents, the scores of my “best friends who have been dead for many hundreds of years,” whom I met through reading and study, and the many hundreds of others I’ve been privileged to work with in person. Saints and sinners, both. As James Joyce wrote, “Catholicism is ‘here comes everybody!’” And America itself is the first country made up of every other people on earth, the first “planetary” nation.
Q. Who is the target audience for your book?
A. I hope all my friends and critics read it, and that millions and millions of others enjoy it!
Q. What are some of the highlights of the book?
A. Some of my favorites are the adventures of my days of reporting on the Vietnam War, the ups and downs of all the political campaigns I have participated in since 1960, the battles in the Catholic Church before, during, and after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). I think there are some good, funny stories here, some crushing defeats, some heartwarming and joyful moments.
Q. Anything else you’d like to add?
A. I hope this book represents a faithful witness to the tumultuous events of our country and the Church from 1960 through 2005. I have had a series of wonderful adventures, which Providence sent my way, usually unexpected. I hope this is a faithful mirror of our time, from a singular point of view.About the Author:
MICHAEL NOVAK is one of the world's most influential living social philosophers. Since the 1960s he has played a prominent role in American political life, writing on everything from the ethics of the free market and welfare reform to the faith of the Founding Fathers. He has taught at Harvard and Stanford, and held chairs at Syracuse, Notre Dame, and the American Enterprise Institute, a leading international think tank. In 1994 Novak received the Templeton Prize (“the Nobel Prize of the life of the spirit”), an honor he shares with Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Charles Taylor. His writings have been translated into every major western language, as well as Chinese and Japanese. He has received the highest medals the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland can give to a foreigner.
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