‘Intellectual godfather’ Michael Novak made case for democratic capitalism


Michael Novak came to my rescue when I had just been defrauded of millions of dollar, says analyst Andreas Widmer. It was late 2001, and the high-tech wave of the ’90s had ended for me with a devastating wipeout, he writes for The Washington Post:

It was then I stumbled upon “Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life,” my first encounter with the man whose ideas about human freedom won him the Templeton Prize and helped fuel the Polish Solidarity movement that brought down Soviet communism. A man of the left who wrote and thought his way to the right (as he chronicled in his memoir), Novak wrote more than 45 books on disparate subjects, served the United States as its U.N. ambassador for human rights under President Ronald Reagan, and received from three nations their highest honor available to a foreign citizen.

Credit: AEI

It was with great sadness that the Board of Directors and staff of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) learned of the passing of former NED Board member Novak who died February 17, at the age of 83.

Novak, who was a scholar at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute for three decades and focused on the role of religion in public life, was a member of the NED Board of directors from 2000 – 2008 and served as the Board regional expert for Europe.

“Michael Novak was a great intellectual and a great American whose devotion to the cause of democracy was appreciated by everyone who knew and worked with him,” said NED president Carl Gershman. “We will miss his intellectual leadership, and also his friendship and human warmth. We are all enriched for having known him.”

Mr. Novak was among several scholars who “brought serious religious thought to Washington in a way that it had not been present before,” said George Weigel, a distinguished senior fellow at the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Novack was the co-founder, with social democrat Penn Kemble, of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

Novack’s influence “was nowhere greater than in his belief that all economic arguments must have a moral basis in human dignity,” writes Arthur C. Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute:

This was definitively clear in what I believe is his greatest book of all, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, which he published in 1982. “Democratic capitalism is neither the Kingdom of God nor without sin,” he wrote with characteristic toughness. “Yet all other known systems of political economy are worse. Such hope as we have for alleviating poverty and for removing oppressive tyranny — perhaps our last, best hope — lies in this much despised system.”

“His training in theology gave him insight into the spiritual dynamics that animate us far more deeply and powerfully than the material ones that are so thoroughly studied by the technocratic experts who dominate our political scene,” said RR Reno, the editor of First Things. “This gave Michael a deep intellectual freedom. He was not wedded to ideologies.”

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