I am saddened to learn that Michael Novak has passed away. The American Enterprise Institute, where he was a resident scholar for many years, reports that:
Michael was an AEI scholar for three decades until his retirement in 2010, and remained a close friend of the Institute.
Michael arrived at AEI in 1978. ... And once here, he built a hugely distinguished career as our George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy.
The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982), likely Michael’s most important book, advanced a bold and important thesis: America’s system of democratic capitalism represents a fusion of our political, economic, and moral-cultural systems. No facet can exist apart from the others. This thread ran through Michael’s whole career, including his most recent book, a co-authored work entitled Social JusticeIsn’t What You Think It Is (2015).
George Weigel writes that:
Michael Novak loved the Catholic Church and the United States passionately. And with his death at 83, both Church and nation have lost one of their most imaginative and accomplished sons: a groundbreaking theorist in philosophy, social ethics, religious studies, ethnic studies, and economics; a brilliant teacher; a winsome journalist and apologist; a great defender of freedom, as both ambassador and polemicist; a man of striking energy and creativity, some of whose books will be read for a very long time to come, and in multiple languages.
And from the Wall Street Journal:
Over a long life Michael Novak traveled from writing speeches for George McGovern to serving as Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, reflecting an intellectual journey from socialism to capitalism. He died Friday at age 83, but in many ways he remained the boy forged in Johnstown, Pennsylvania: a working-class town of steel mills, coal mines and immigrant Slovak families trying to find their way in this new land called America.
Raised as a Roman Catholic, Novak believed as a young man that socialism was the ideal economic arrangement. But he began to notice a flaw: While socialism sounded good in theory, in practice it didn’t work—and non-elites fared the worst.
Capitalism had little high-minded theory, but in practice it literally provided the goods. If ordinary folks did so much better under capitalism, maybe the caricatures—e.g., that it is all based on greed—were wrong. Maybe free markets had their own virtues and were defensible, and even superior to other economic systems on moral grounds.
From this recognition sprang his most important work, “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism,” which changed America’s public debate when it was published in 1982. “Democratic capitalism,” he wrote, is “neither the Kingdom of God nor without sin. 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.”
I only had the privilege of meeting Novak on one occasion, but he had a huge impact on my life. It was reading his work on Catholic social thought as it relates to the corporation that provided the normative foundation for my own work but also provided the impetus and interest in Catholicism that eventually led to my conversion. Indeed, if one had to single out one person who pushed me across the Tiber, it was Novak.
Michael Novak, Toward a Theology of the Corporation https://t.co/70RnJTeb97— Professor Bainbridge (@ProfBainbridge) February 19, 2017
Rest in peace, Michael Novak. “As human lungs need air, so does liberty need virtue.”https://t.co/qiqpOFGSB4— First Things (@firstthingsmag) February 18, 2017