John Armstrong Blog Series on "Writing from Left to Right"


 One of the most fascinating and engaging political stories that I have read in years is the recently published book, Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative (Image: New York, 2013). This unique memoir is written by Roman Catholic scholar Michael Novak. I found Novak’s memoir so deeply interesting, for both Christian and personal reasons, that I decided to write several blogs on the ideas of Novak, a foremost intellectual among serious social thinkers over the last four decades.  -- John Armstrong, ACT3 Network


 January 27, 2014

January 28, 2014

 January 29, 2014

Interview with Catholic Book Blogger

Catholic Book Blogger  Interview with Michael Novak

Published by Pete Socks at on January 5, 2014

PETE: In your latest book Writing from Left to Right you detail your personal experiences with some of the most important people and events in the past few decades. What thoughts came to mind as you wrote this book and pondered this?

MICHAEL NOVAK: My daughter Jana, the writer, urged me some years back, as my 80th birthday lay not too far ahead, that I should begin writing down a lot of the things that only I knew, about the episodes and adventures of my life. She even promised me that she would finish what I left unfinished, should a stroke or something stop me. She wisely advised me not to do any re-writing at first, just push steadily forward, so that what she wouldn’t otherwise know would be in her hands. This encouragement made the big job seem doable. I guess I got nearly 700 double-spaced pages done, the ending in sight, when I began serious re-writing. My first drafts always seem good to me as I saved them in the computer at night. But in daylight they look just awful. They need a lot of re-arranging and polishing, and above all cutting and tightening. I have had so many unexpected and exciting twists in my life that I began really to enjoy re-living them. Such wonderful, good people called me to meet them.

PETE: You have written many books but this is your first personal memoir. Why now?

MICHAEL NOVAK: I was almost 80 when I started work on it – well, 75ish. I have never promised myself another year to live. I have always thought I would die younger than 60 (maybe that’s why I wrote so fast and so much in my career, trying to get it all in before the buzzer). Besides, for old men reminiscing is a sweet, sweet pastime.

In volume I, as I call it, my editor wisely suggested I concentrate on the political and economic learning curve of my life, as more understandable and “objective” than my more personal and familial and religious story. Thus, I had to do a tremendous amount of cutting – more than a couple of hundred pages – to get volume I down to its current size. Some of my favorite parts – about my parents, my twelve years studying to become a priest of Holy Cross, meeting Karen and finding her the joy and axis of my life, our children and their sufferings and triumphs, my battles to engage the Catholic faith in public intellectual life, while making myself a radioactive nuisance to those “social justice” Catholics who (I thought) missed the great story of Catholic social and economic history – namely, how in America one of the poorest of Catholic bodies in the world, penniless immigrants (the “wretched refuse of the earth”) became in less than eighty years one of the most affluent and faithful.

PETE: What do you hope readers of your book Writing from Left to Right take away from it?

MICHAEL NOVAK: Maybe some will enjoy re-living the intellectual struggles of the last fifty years. Maybe others will enjoy discovering how many battles were won in the years since 1939 – and also how many things are now worse than then. The adventure of the Catholic faith in history is always tumultuous, and fraught with defeats and victories during the same historical period.

PETE: I would like to focus a bit on your experience at Vatican II. For those who have not read your book yet, you were there for the second session and your book The Open Church developed from it. How pivotal do you feel Vatican II was for the Church and do you feel the full effects of it have been seen or is there still more to come?

MICHAEL NOVAK: I was also at Vatican II for the Preparatory Session in its early part, and for the first weeks of the Third Session, while Karen stayed on for the full Third Session, working on her six etchings expressing visually each movement of T.S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday.” (At Ave Maria University in 2013, we had a reading of each stanza, with a brief commentary on each and then on Karen’s visual interpretation of it – a lovely event.)

We found the Second Session the most important, the spine of the whole. Karen enjoyed the whole experience as much as I did, the intensity of it, the triumph of the thing. The concentrated arguments, the bursts of news, the delays and the breakthroughs, the new things and the old. Much of this is expressed in my week-by-week account, The Open Church. Some other vivid detail and additional perspective fifty years later are offered in Writing from Left to Right. There will be more, from a more personal side, in volume II of WLR, if there is one.

One argument Karen and I used to justify our trip to Vatican II, just three months after our wedding, is that councils of the Church are held on average once every hundred years, and many of them have repercussions and transformative energies that last for centuries. We will be living with the energies from Vatican II for generations. Energies both good and flowing from “the smoke of Satan” (Paul VI).

PETE: In you impressive career you have had the opportunity to spend some time with a number of people that influenced the world as we know it. Of those, who most made an impact and why?

MICHAEL NOVAK: I love every one of those I worked with, from 1960 until the very end. I especially enjoyed meeting with Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy (a frequent guest at our home, and eloquent reciter by the hour of the lesser known odes of W.B. Yeats – it felt like listening to an after-dinner bard of long ago). Sargent Shriver was so deep a Catholic of faith and goodness that I often thought of him as one of those hidden saints unrecognized among us. George McGovern was also a really decent and brave man, an airman who faced immense dangers night after night over Germany in World War II. Bill Clinton seemed to me like the most talented “politico” of all American history, and jovial, and large-minded, even with all his faults and scandals.

But undoubtedly the three who affected me and changed me most importantly were that blessed threesome of the 20th century, Prime Minister Thatcher, President Reagan, and Pope John Paul II. I was very, very lucky to be asked to join them at significant points. In the memoir, those three get most attention, including the work on human rights that President Reagan assigned me. In the economics of joy, growth, opportunity, and the actual lifting of the poor, Jack Kemp and Steve Forbes brought me into many public policy “battles of ideas.”

PETE: This book covers your journey from liberal to conservative. Realizing multiple influences impacted your change in ideology, what were some of the greatest contributors to this?

MICHAEL NOVAK: The changes of direction by the political and cultural left from about 1968 on. The immense damage done to the family and young adults and children by the way the “War on Poverty” was carried out, especially in the moral and cultural sphere – even while great gains were made in reforms to help the elderly, who were much better off thirty years later than they had been in, say, 1960. The loss of will on the left to resist fighting for the advance of human rights and democracy in outlying vulnerable nations. I wanted to be loyal to John F. Kennedy’s “pay any price, bear any burden.” Many of my former companions started wilting away. They had some good reasons for doing this, while I thought (and think) that they were weakening just in the climactic moments.

I felt as if my Party, the Democratic Party, was pulling away from me, and going in new directions I didn’t always want to go. Suddenly, under Reagan some of my Republican friends seemed to become more internationalist, more eager fighters for human rights and democracy around the world, and much more practical about the economics of how actually to help the poor to rise, in dignity, self-worth, and working their way out of material indigence.

It seems odd, but I did think that the ground under my own feet stayed relatively constant, while the two political movements Left and Right virtually changed sides. By 2001, in the aftermath of the acts of terror on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the flight taken down by American resistance in the air over Pennsylvania, I felt again the spirit articulated so well by JFK. Year by year, my Democratic friends again wilted away. Good people all, but disappointing.

In fact, of course, I did learn a lot from year to year, and watched my old ways of thinking fail, met new ways that struck me as more correct than my old ones, and tried to follow the lessons of our public experience. And I deepened my mind in studies of poverty and welfare, and human rights abroad, and the ideas and religious principles behind the American founding.

PETE: In your career, how has your Catholic faith influenced you?

MICHAEL NOVAK: I began my studies for the priesthood at the age of 14, entering high school at the University of Notre Dame. From very early on I committed my life, in my own location, to “instaurare omnia in Christo,” as St Paul puts it. In my young mind I translated this as “to re-found all things in Christ,” to penetrate every profession and environment in this world with the yeast of the gospels. I prepared myself for twelve years for a priesthood of doing this. Then, after a very dark night of two years or more at the end, I came to see (and at last so did my spiritual director and religious superiors) that the Lord wished me to labor in the lay world. I felt a vocation to the missions – not overseas, but in the secular world around us. I felt called to work outside Catholic institutions, at the heart and center of American secular intellectual life, in the university and in journalism, and in study of foundational political and economic ideas. Naturally, all this was too big for me, and I failed a lot. None of it would have made any sense if I had not had that underlying commitment to the Lord – the Lord here and now, in this country, in the battles of my generation – or rather three generations, for we inherit the struggles of the preceding and find ourselves drawn into the rapidly coming fresh battles of the next.

PETE: Time for my signature ending question. This is a blog about books, what is on your bookshelf to read?

MICHAEL NOVAK: At 80, I find that I cannot read for as many hours as before. Still, books keep flowing into my home in a stream and I am quite weak-willed about ordering others online – in tune with all the main passion of my past. Right now, a re-reading of Bridehead Revisted. Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, on the newly shifted class will dividing American society. A new collection of what appear to be brilliant and provocative chapters on Muslim perceptions of the Crusades, Sir Walter Scott’s Crusades and Other Fantasies by Ian Warraq. The superbly tender new biography of her two parents, one Jewish, one Catholic, during the agonies of the Holocaust, I Kiss Your Hands Many Times by Marianne Szegedy-Maszak.

Finally, since I am to teach a course on the philosophy of John Henry Newman next spring, I have a solid list of re-readings to do.


 Michael Novak received the 1994 Templeton Prize, an award that has also gone to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Mother Teresa, and Charles Taylor. He has taught at Harvard and Stanford and has held academic chairs at Syracuse University and Notre Dame, and now holds the Jewett Chair in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. You can learn more about him and his work at his website

Patheos Review of Writing from Left to Right

Writing from Left to Right : My Journey from Liberal to Conservative

Published at by Pete Socks on January 1, 2014  

Personal memoirs can be an engaging read if you have interest in a particular person. Some, however, do more than just tell you about the life of the writer. Sometimes they pull back the curtains on a particular period of time and relate details about historical events. Such is the case with Michael Novak’s latest book Writing from Left to Right : My Journey from Liberal to Conservative.

For those those unfamiliar with Michael Novak, he is an accomplished author of 45+ books as well as a journalist appearing in many notable magazines such as National Review. His career really took off with his book The Open Church, published in 1964 detailing the second session of Vatican II.

In Writing from Left to Right, Michael shares his experiences and thoughts on some of the major events that have occurred in the past 50+ years. The book on its surface is what the the title suggests, his personal story about his journey from liberal to conservative. Along the way Michael sheds some light on the people and events that caused him to switch his ideological views.

The book begins with the influence of his father, than moving on to his 12 years of study for the priesthood which he ultimately determined was not his calling and his time in Harvard. He discusses influences from his days there that would leave an impression on him forever. Gabriel Marcel taught him that “When someones ceases being just an “it” to you and appears, even for a moment, as a “thou”, someone already known to you in the slightest way, you have stepped from the realm of objects to the realm of persons.” Marcel among other influential persons at Harvard would plant the seeds for Michael’s future humanitarian efforts. Perhaps the greatest contribution Harvard made on his life was that is where he met his future wife, Karen.

Michael would next spend time at Vatican II from September to December 1963. While there, his work would result in the book The Open Church. He brings to light in Writing from Left to Right the struggle at Vatican II between the established “conservative” wing and the “progressive” wing. Essentially, as he puts it, the progressives were more traditionalist than the conservatives. Karol Wotyla and Joseph Ratzinger led this school of thought. It is telling that they would one day both become Pope. Another thing Michael points out is how humbling Vatican II was for bishops around the world. “We found it a bit comical to watch all these important bishops, princes of the Church in their own dioceses, used to being chauffeured in shiny black cars, now forced to climb in and out of crowded school buses with everybody else.”

A point he made about the early 60′s really struck me. As Vatican II progressed there was a general feeling of hope of a new era dawning for the Church. The same thought was going on in the United States with the presidency of John F. Kennedy. It was quite interesting how he managed to tie both these events together to illustrate not just a nation but a world that held great expectations for the period in time they were in.

At it’s heart this book is a political memoir. Michael moves on to talk about writing speeches for Eugene McCarthy, Sargent Shriver, George McGovern and Bobby Kennedy. Michael praises each as being a great man and his admiration for them all shines through.

By this time Michael was a professor at Stanford. The assassinations of JFK and RFK, and Martin Luther King are perhaps the most recollected events of the 60′s. Michael had a personal encounter with the the loss of Bobby Kennedy. He received an invitation from Kennedy, who at the time was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, to fly to Los Angeles to be with him as the California primary returns came in (ultimately he did not go) — the very night the candidate was fatally shot. “An awful summer. An awful year. An awful five years.” as Michael states.

Perhaps what most shifted Michael from left to right was the economic debates of the 1970′s. This is when he realized the spending of Keynesian liberalism was not working and he came forward publicly as a supporter of capitalism. What follows I paraphrase from the book:

“I first realized I was a capitalist when all my friends began publicly declaring that they were socialists. Night after night I tried to persuade myself of the coherence of their logic. Nothing worked. Practical discussions seemed beyond the point. Finally I realized that socialism is not a political proposal, not an economic plan. Socialism is the residue of Judeo-Christian faith, without religion. It is a belief in the goodness of the human race and paradise on earth. That’s when I discovered I believe in sin. I’m for capitalism, modified and made intelligent and public-spirited, because it makes the world free for sinners. It allows human beings to do pretty much what they will.”

I found the closing chapters of this book to be the most interesting but perhaps that it because I am of the generation raised in the late 70′s and early 80′s. These chapters are spent dwelling on what Michael Novak has the called “The Big Three”: Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. You will read of Reagan’s appointment of Michael as the US Ambassador to the UN Commission of Human Rights. Admittedly Michael knew nothing of human rights law but it was a position he accepted and ultimately flourished at. As much as Michael has been influenced by those around him it must be said that he had just as much influence on them. From a story about his meeting with Margaret Thatcher: “She had turned from the hall to go back into her office. “Here, I want you to see this – it’s your book. All marked up.” She riffled through the book to show me underlinings and marginal notations on a great many pages. “I told you I was reading you. And I want you to believe it. There! You can see for yourself.”

Michael Novak has led quite a life. He has witnessed and played a part in many of the events of the past fifty years. His humbleness in all of this is one thing that shines through in every page of this book. It is also evident that his Catholic faith has played a major part in his role in everything he has done. This review only touches upon a few of the events and the people he discusses in these pages. I would encourage anyone interested at all in not only the political scene of recent years as well as those who have a desire to know more about events that have occurred in our lifetimes, to read this book.

I received a copy of the book for this review from Image Catholic Books. You can read more about the book at their website here.

Writing from Left to Right Review in The Washington Times

Throughout, Mr. Novak’s tone is conciliatory. He draws warm portraits of allies, but he’s also magnanimous toward political opponents. This marvelous political memoir deserves the widest possible readership.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Writing From Left to Right’

Published by Brian C. Anderson in The Washington Times on December 4, 2013

Catholic theologian, social thinker, diplomat, political speechwriter, journalist, influencer of prime ministers and popes, author of dozens of important books — Michael Novak has lived an extraordinary public life. “Writing from Left to Right” is his entertaining and wise memoir of that engagement with his age, and of his movement across the political spectrum.

Born in 1933 to a working-class Slovak family in Johnstown, Pa., Mr. Novak describes two stories from his childhood that colored his later politics. The first is of listening with his father to a crackling radio broadcast in 1939, announcing Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland. “Study all you can about the Nazis and the communists,” his father advised. “These will be the two movements that will shape the next forty years.” The second is of his Uncles Johnnie and Emil. Both worked at Bethlehem Steel and both offered a supply of gruff common sense. The adult Mr. Novak’s anti-totalitarianism and distrust of out-of-touch elites found a source in these early experiences.

“Writing from Left to Right” briefly chronicles Mr. Novak’s dozen years as a seminarian and his initial efforts, after leaving religious life, to become a writer, including publishing a first novel, “The Tiber Was Silver,” which sold 30,000 copies.

Another chapter tells of his graduate-student days at Harvard University, where a moving encounter with the Catholic existentialist Gabriel Marcel gave him a lifelong interest in the human “person,” a being “able to reflect on her own past, approve of some parts of it, disapprove of others, and choose among various roads into the future.” The Protestant thinker Reinhold Niebuhr, relentlessly warning about the unintended consequences of human action, became a second enduring influence from this period.

The memoir really takes off when Mr. Novak enters the political arena. He wrote speeches for Democratic stars Eugene McCarthy, Sargent Shriver, George McGovern and Bobby Kennedy, all of whom come off as decent and impressive men. A Stanford professor at the time, Mr. Novak received an invitation from Kennedy, then seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, to fly to Los Angeles to be with him as the California primary returns came in — the very night the candidate was fatally shot.

Five years earlier, Mr. Novak had been in Rome, covering the unfolding of Vatican II, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. That night, he and his wife Karen would dine with JFK friend John Cogley and “The Other America” author Michael Harrington, trying to make sense of the horror.

As these names attest, the Michael Novak of the ‘60s was on the left. Several things began to push him right. One was religious. Mr. Novak sympathized with Vatican II’s progressives, who wanted to renew the Catholic faith, which they felt had become too defensive and closed to new insights into the truth. Mr. Novak’s early book “The Open Church” embodied this vision.

Mr. Novak grew troubled as Vatican II began to be interpreted as calling for a complete transformation of the faith, along the lines laid down by secular elites. Such an agenda was distant from the “probing” traditionalism of Vatican II’s leading progressives, future popes Karol Wojtyla and Joseph Ratzinger, Mr. Novak believed, and, in his view, calamitously misguided.

By the early 1970s, those secular elites were rubbing Mr. Novak the wrong way in other ways, too, he recounts. “I had begun to notice the appearance of two lefts — one that included my whole family and what it represented, and the other a ‘new’ left, based on a suddenly emerging ‘constituency of conscience,’ no longer rooted among people who worked with their hands and backs.”

Wealthy, self-satisfied, partisans of a new, more “sensitive” and relativistic morality, the new leftists looked down on Mr. Novak’s “unmeltable ethnics” — the working-class, predominantly Catholic, and culturally conservative Americans of Eastern and Southern European descent who’d eventually become the Reagan Democrats. Mr. Novak rejected the new liberalism’s cultural and political views, though he still considered himself a man of the left.

Mr. Novak’s rightward drift was complete after he immersed himself in the study of political economy and came out a partisan of the free economy — albeit an economy molded by a morally serious culture and robust democratic political institutions. Joining a right-of-center think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, in 1978, where he would remain until his recent retirement (and where I worked for him for several years during the 1990s), Mr. Novak read and read Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, Max Weber, Alexis de Tocqueville and a vast literature of other social thinkers.

The research culminated in one of his most audacious books, 1982’s “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism,” a powerful defense of democratic capitalist societies based on the very real goods they provided, including the rule of law, respect for the person and widespread prosperity. Margaret Thatcher and Poland’s Solidarity leaders, among many others, would draw inspiration from it.

“Writing from Left to Right” covers lots more: Mr. Novak’s conflicted views on the Vietnam War; his late-‘60s run-in with left-wing campus lunacy at the experimental college of the State University of New York at Old Westbury; his stints as Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights; his tireless efforts during the 1980s and 1990s to build a consensus for welfare reform and to find new approaches to help the poor; and his profound respect for Pope John Paul II, whose encyclical on the free society, “Centesimus Annus,” he clearly influenced.

Throughout, Mr. Novak’s tone is conciliatory. He draws warm portraits of allies, but he’s also magnanimous toward political opponents. This marvelous political memoir deserves the widest possible readership.

Brian C. Anderson is editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal and author of “Democratic Capitalism and its Discontents” (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2007) and “South Park Conservatives” (Regnery, 2005).

The Catholic Thing Reviews Writing from Left to Right

Words of Gratitude    By Brad Miner Monday, 26 August 2013

I watched and heard history as I was coming of age, which was when Michael Novak was making history – a great coming-of-age story in its own way, that’s all in his elegant and entertaining new memoir, Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative. (It will be released a week from tomorrow and may be pre-ordered here.)

 I heard the news of JFK’s assassination over a scratchy school intercom and watched Ruby shoot Oswald on a black-and-white TV. A friend called my dorm to tell me Dr. King had been gunned down and – just two months later – heard on my transistor radio the news of Bobby Kennedy’s death.  

And there was that war we all watched on the nightly news, like we were picnickers at Bull Run.

 But Mr. Novak’s life directly intersected with all this. He was covering Vatican II on November 22, 1963 and shared a mournful dinner with his beloved wife, Karen, and with John Cogley – writer of JFK’s famous “Houston Speech” – and socialist Michael Harrington, author of The Other America.  

Michael Novak was then a man of the Left.

Among the stories he tells of the Sixties is calling his friend Eugene McCarthy to say he’d decided to support Bobby Kennedy in 1968. Mr. Novak was at Stanford University when Bobby called just before the California primary to ask him to fly to L.A. to be with the clan as returns came in. Novak declined; we all recall what happened that night.

 Later he worked with Sargent Shriver to elect Democrats to Congress. Between campaign stops, the two shared many long conversations about Catholic authors and theology. Novak admired Shriver’s basic, Catholic decency.

 George McGovern and Jimmy Carter sought his counsel, because Michael Novak was still a man of the left in the Seventies.

 But then came Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and John Paul II.

 Michael, who is our colleague, a founder of The Catholic Thing, writes: “I witnessed with my own eyes the almost immediate results of the switch from Carter’s economic policies to Reaganomics.” Entrepreneurship boomed, Reagan’s “creative tax and regulatory regime” gave rise to small businesses, and employment soared. The favorable climate suddenly propelled the emergence of new technologies.

 Michael’s visibility rose too, so much so that, although his prodigious writing continued, he took on a new career as a diplomat – for Reagan and for Bill Clinton.

 Today our brief era of prosperity and peace has come to an end, marked symbolically, if not actually, by 9-11. “Shovel-ready” economic recovery plans and ditch-digging foreign policy remind us that if the hole keeps getting deeper, stop digging. As Michael sagely writes, the trouble with statists is that they keep digging “until the state runs out of other people’s money.”

 The genesis of any political transformation is difficult to pinpoint exactly, but when Michael published The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics in 1972, and when both political parties took note of its arguments, something happened that, frankly, wounded him. His “liberal” comrades shunned him:

 I had never before understood how secular excommunication works – how effectively one can be banished from the innocent banter of old circles of trust, how even old friends change the flow of conversation as one approaches, signaling with a certain chill that one’s presence is no longer desired.

 It’s good, he notes, that he was still young: “One needs the toughness later.”

 In Unmeltable Ethnics, Michael, an “ethnic” himself (Slovak-American), had helped redefine, directly or indirectly, the political strategies of candidates from McGovern to Nixon by insisting that no single “homo Americanus” exists. But E Pluribus Unum is – must be – very real. How sad then for him to witness the downward spiral of multiculturalism, which “borrows the logic of relativism in order to assault the tradition of the Unum.”

 Undercutting its pretense of relativism, multiculturalism is aggressively hostile to certain cultures, chiefly our own, with our Jewish and Christian vision of the one and the many, the different people of the one Creator held to the same transcendent standards.

 Culture, he writes, is more important than either politics or economics. Culture, more than the hot-button issues of the day, is what touches hearts and moves souls. And, especially in its moral and religious dimensions, culture is what animates the decisions of real people. What is the Creed but a profound cultural statement?

 Creedal beliefs are what drove three people he came to know: Reagan, Thatcher, and Wojtyla – all of whom he portrays with remarkable insight: his and others’ – as in Jeane Kirkpatrick’s statement to him that Ronald Reagan was “the most secure man in the presence of a woman that she had ever met.”

 Margaret Thatcher congratulated him on his book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. “You are doing,” she said warmly, “the most important work in the world.” The great Irving Kristol, already acquainted with Thatcher, stood nearby and theatrically cleared his throat. “You too, Irving,” she quipped.

 A few years later, at 10 Downing Street, she would show him a dog-eared copy of the book, marked up with her notes.

 John Paul II once told George Weigel: “Novak says he is Slovak, but he is actually Polish.” (Long story.)

 Meeting the pope on one occasion, Michael brought Karen, a superb sculptor, who presented the Holy Father with a bronze crucifix. John Paul studied the figure of our Lord, His back arched. The Novaks were amazed to hear the pope say: “Exactly at the point of death” – exactly the artist’s intention.

 Michael concludes the book by describing the role he played in helping clarify certain points in the pope’s great encyclical, Centesimus Annus.

 “When it comes to life the critical thing,” G.K. Chesterton said, “is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” Michael Novak – scholar, diplomat, economist, sports fan, philosopher, Democrat, conservative, theologian, writer, husband, and father – has never taken anything for granted, for which his readers are most grateful.


Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National Review. The Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio.

Kirkus Review of Writing from Left to Right

The political and economic education of a remarkably accomplished man. Best known as a philosopher and theologian, Novak has also been a seminarian, professor, journalist, author, ambassador, speechwriter and all-round political handyman. Now 79 and retired from the American Enterprise Institute, he revisits each of the stages in his crowded and interesting life. On behalf of an obscure congressional candidate, Novak (All Nature is a Sacramental Fire: Moments of Beauty, Sorrow, and Joy, 2011, etc.) coined “the New Frontier,” a phrase famously adopted by John F. Kennedy. As a reporter, he covered the Second Vatican Council. He organized for Gene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy, studied philosophy at Harvard, taught religion at Stanford, acted as a dean for an experimental college, campaigned for McGovern, worked hard for and came to love Sargent Shriver, and attempted to counsel Carter. This same man learned new economic lessons from Jack Kemp and Steve Forbes and worked closely with Jeane Kirkpatrick. On behalf of Ronald Reagan, Novak represented the country at Geneva and Bern, became friendly with Margaret Thatcher (an enthusiastic fan of his books) and shared dinners with John Paul II. Charting his slow drift from left to right, Novak explains how he came to see the guiding passions of his life—fighting poverty, advocating for human rights—as better served by an enlightened capitalism and by democratic politics that restrained the well-intentioned but too often disastrously heavy hand of the state. His conversion cost him some old friends on the left, but it seems impossible to ascribe these ruptures to Novak. Throughout this warm, chatty memoir, he comes across as the ultimate happy warrior, a thoroughly decent man interested only in truth, looking for the best in people and acknowledging it without regard to political affiliation.

A rare thing from a public intellectual: a guileless, bileless apologia.

Read at

Ave Maria Herald Article on "Writing from Left to Right"

Michael Novak's Political Journey from Left to Right

Published in The Ave Herald on Thursday, 29 August 2013


Many who came to know Michael Novak relatively recently during his time in Ave Maria may have trouble imagining him as a radical left-wing socialist in the 1960s. But his reasoned approach to conservative philosophy and economics is the result of a political journey that started when he was "to the left of the Democratic Party." He worked hard to get left-wing Democrats elected in the 1960s and early 1970s. By the 1980s, he was working for Ronald Reagan and being hailed by conservative icons such as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Mr. Novak, who turns 80 years old Sept. 9, describes this political transformation in his latest book Writing from Left to Right, available right after Labor Day.

He's already written more than 45 books, and few men of letters in the United States have written so much, on such Ave review pic1varied topics, as Mr. Novak. His works have been praised by politicians, philosophers and religious leaders – and Sports Illustrated magazine also hailed his Joy of Sports as one of the 100 best sports books of all time.

Seemingly disparate topics, but not to him.

"The connection is this," Mr. Novak said in an interview, "My dream was to write about the philosophy, the theology of American culture -- and not because it was American, but because there was something different here and unique. It belonged to the whole human race, but we were pioneering it."

Mr. Novak entered academic life in the early 1960s after 12 years preparing for the Roman Catholic priesthood – leaving the seminary just months before his scheduled ordination. Right, Margaret Thatcher listnes to Michael Novak after he received the Templeton Prize for Religion in 1994.

He drifted to the more radical political left in the 1960s, teaching at Stanford University, where he was voted two out of three years "the most influential professor." He came to Bobby Kennedy's attention during his 1968 run for the presidency, and worked on the campaign.

"I loved working for the Kennedys," he said, "even though I didn't appreciate at the time the Kennedys' personal life. No one said anything in those days. Not even close up."

The day of the California primary in 1968, he recalled, "Bobby called me and asked me to join him on the plane down to Los Angeles for the returns," but he couldn't go because he had a new baby at home. "I presume I would have been walking with him into the hotel" where he was assassinated, Mr. Novak said.

He left Stanford for a new Experimental College of the State University of New York on Long Island. It was there, among "some real whacko students and some real whacko faculty" that his political right turn began.

"I was radical, but they were destructive," he said.

Change was driven in party when he started to see the results of various left-wing initiatives.

"I supported very strongly the War on Poverty," he said, "and then it just went belly up. Crime went up 600 percent. Marriages fell apart at unprecedented rates. Marriages didn't even form. And I thought, 'This is crazy I can't keep supporting that.' So I became more conservative."

His Catholic faith has remained constant throughout his political journey, although he says that Church leaders don't seem to grasp fundamentals of how people can overcome poverty.

"It just seemed to me that the 'preferential option for the poor' was just a disguised way of saying more government funds to give to the poor and keep them dependent. Keep them like on a plantation. Keep them like Animal Farm."

Ave review pic 2His admirers included Lady Thatcher and Pope John Paul II.

"One of the great blessings of my life was the friendship with John Paul II. He called me publicly, several times, his friend, and I had an open invitation to come by for a meal if he was free."

Although Mr. Novak had served for years on the Ave Maria University board of trustees, he didn't spend a great deal of time in Ave Maria until 2010.

"After my dear wife Karen died in August of 2009 . . . I began to realize I wanted to sell the house in Washington. I started sending my books to AMU. Then [former AMU President] Nick Healy said to me, 'Michael, your books are here. Why don't you come down?'"

"I really have loved it," he said. "I have enough strength to do a course a semester and the university provides somebody to team with and teach it with me which makes it a lot easier."

"As long as I live and as long as I have energy, I'll be coming back to Ave Maria."



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