'I Row, God Steers'

By Michael Novak and Elizabeth Shaw Andreas Widmer doesn’t know what God has in store for the future, but he sees the marks of God’s providence all over his past. “God is constantly giving us a surprise party,” he muses, “and He’s saying, ‘Just wait and see what wonders I have in store for you next!’”

Andreas is a cradle Catholic, but he really did not make the faith his own until early adulthood. The post-Vatican II religious instruction he received growing up in the 1970s was not very rigorous. By the time he finished school, Andreas jokes, “I probably knew more about Buddhism than Catholicism.” But he does recall his First Communion as a significant event in his early life—the moment when he first sensed the palpable impact of the sacraments.

Through adolescence into early adulthood, Andreas was never hostile toward the faith. It just wasn’t a big deal to him one way or the other. At 18 he applied to be a member of the Swiss Guard, the elite group charged since the sixteenth century with the duty of protecting the pope. Anyone who has been to the Vatican knows their colorful striped uniforms and distinctive headgear. Andreas was accepted by the Guard and moved to Rome at age 20.

He describes the decision to join the Swiss Guard as “providential in hindsight.” At home in Switzerland he had been having trouble finding his niche. He was restless. Trying to figure out what he was going to do with his life, he just couldn’t find the right “fit” anywhere. With all the enthusiasm and bravado of a strapping, six-foot-nine young man, Andreas thought being a bodyguard was “the coolest thing in the world.” A glamorous, exciting job. Andreas was searching for his identity when he decided to apply to the Guard. “But,” he recalls, “what I found there, when I was looking for myself, was God.”

While in Rome Andreas had what he calls a conversion. One of the duties he had to carry out as a guard may have helped prepare him for that experience. Every guard has to learn to stand still, silently on watch at his post, for two to three hours a stretch, up to three times a day. Each guard on duty in this manner is accompanied by an older guard companion, who is permitted to move about and talk. Sometimes the older guard will pose thoughtful, probing questions: Have you ever thought about your life? What is your earliest memory? Think of each year… How have you experienced God? Andreas found that he really benefited from this opportunity to pause, both physically and mentally, for introspection. It may be a difficult discipline to master, but an invaluable one for spiritual growth.

As one of Pope John Paul II’s bodyguards, Andreas was in the privileged position to observe on a daily basis the private life of the real man, not the iconic public figure who routinely drew crowds of hundreds of thousands. And what he saw in the pope was so shockingly genuine—the depth and sincerity of his prayer, his words, his feelings, his peace. It did not take long for Andreas to conclude: “Whatever he has, I want it.”

Andreas was amazed by the pope’s very earthly connection to God, his ability to “read” God in the people and circumstances all around him. John Paul II was acutely sensitive to the situations of those in his presence, and he even reached out to Andreas personally. The pope, whom Andreas considers his “spiritual father,” encouraged him to pray the rosary and develop other “Godly habits,” including receiving the sacraments frequently.

Thinking back on his time with John Paul II, Andreas notices that this was his first experience of God’s providence at work in his life. “God really does take care of things; we just need to relax a bit,” Andreas reflects. We try to script our lives carefully, to plan, deliberate, and decide what we will do and when we will do it. But then we see things take a different turn. God intervenes. He calls us to be holy as he made us, not as we wish to be. So we need to be a little more naïve, a little more childlike. We need to stop trying to coax God to give us what we want. We need to start trusting in his benevolence, and cooperating with his will. Andreas uses a metaphor: “God and I are two people in a boat. I row, and he steers. he’s not going to row; I have to do that. But when I row, I have to trust him to steer.”

The pope’s spirituality was refreshing and uplifting, and it awakened Andreas to his first understanding of his vocation. In contrast to the downward-looking, authoritarian sense of God Andreas knew from his Germanic heritage, the God John Paul II showed him was more like a good coach—someone who wants you to be the very best you can be, someone who believes in your potential, has great goals for you and wants to help you achieve them.

From the pope Andreas discerned that God creates each of us the way he does for a reason: to be happy. We need to trust that, and to pursue our happiness by using our God-given gifts and talents. For each of us our vocation is something very real, very here and now, not something faraway or exotic. It’s not doing the most difficult thing you can think of. “God made me a hammer,” says Andreas, “so I have to look for nails!” Each of us is on a daily mission from God, and recognizing this fact underlines the dignity of our ordinary lives. Vocation is all about using what we have and acting in the circumstances right in front of us. That’s all God is asking of us, and that’s how we find our fulfillment and happiness.

With the encouragement of John Paul II, Andreas grew more serious in his prayer life, which led to a deepening, profound sense of the presence of God. Andreas began considering the priesthood. Perhaps he would try to become an Augustinian. His constant prayer was: “Lord, what would you have me do?” Then one day he met a young American student, Michelle, who was studying in Rome. Within moments, Andreas recalls, he knew he had met his wife-to-be. But he didn’t speak English, and she lived in America. No matter. Andreas had learned from John Paul II to be more open to God’s will. “God has speaks to me through the events in my life right now. He put this person in front of me and I have sincere feelings and peace about it,” he reasoned. “This is what he is calling me to do now.”

So he left Swiss Guard in order to pursue Michelle. He moved to Boston, and he matriculated at Merrimack College. There he learned English and got a degree in business. Michelle finished college. The two married shortly thereafter.

Andreas was cooperating with God’s plan for his vocation. Along the way he discerned a new “Godly desire”—a good desire, implanted in him by God—to provide for his wife and the family they might have together. He also heard God’s providential voice speaking to him through Michelle. In the months before they married, she counseled Andreas to take an unpaid internship. “Don’t worry about money,” she said. “If you do good work you’ll get paid in due time.”

Andreas followed her advice and took an unpaid internship at a high-tech firm in the Boston area. He didn’t have much expertise on the tech side of things, but his language skills made him invaluable to the firm. (Andreas speaks German, English, Italian, French, and some Spanish.) Here he was applying the lesson on vocation he had learned from John Paul II: “All I need to do is to pursue excellence at work—at what I know and can do well.” Just trust in God, who made me this way for a reason, and who made me to be happy. This gave him confidence and a sense of peace.

Over the next several years Andreas found enormous success at a handful of other tech companies. His vocation in business was wonderfully fulfilling. He loved the creative process of building and growing a company. But he found out the hard way that business can be very powerful and very dangerous. It’s an environment all too hospitable to the deadly sin of pride. “When you’re successful, it’s so easy to start thinking it’s all you—you’re the man,” says Andreas. He didn’t stop going to church, but his spirituality waned. Other things became more important to him.

In business there is always the risk of being subsumed by profit. Short-term goals and the bottom line take precedence over the company’s original vision. “When that happens, you cut the soul out of the thing,” Andreas reflects. It turns out that’s not good for business, either.

One of Andreas’s firms achieved great success—75 percent of the market share worldwide—developing and marketing a new speech recognition interface for computers. When Andreas and his colleagues decided to sell the company, they went with the highest bidder, a competitor they had always thought of as unethical. “For money, you get blinded,” he explained. The deal was executed, and Andreas and his colleagues were paid not in cash but in the purchaser’s stock. With that deal, Andreas had made more money than he could ever have imagined.

As is common in such transactions, Andreas and his colleagues were subject to “golden handcuff” rules—certain time restrictions on how soon they can cash out the stock that’s been paid. When a short window opened up, and Andreas had a day or two to cash out, Michelle encouraged him not to hold on to the stock in hopes that its value might rise even higher, but to sell it right away. “How much money do you need? Sell it!” was her reasoning. Andreas brushed off her advice. The value of this stock could skyrocket, and they’d be even better off! When Michelle persisted, Andreas sold “just enough to have a nest egg.”

Not long afterward, odd reports began appearing in the news. Something fishy was up. Criminal violations—the purchasing company was pulled from NASDAQ! Andreas’ company had been sold, the stock he got in exchange was worthless, and the money they could have had—all gone.

A dark, depressive period followed for Andreas. How could he ever recover? It was hard on Michelle, and on their marriage, too. But Andreas now sees the episode as a “tap on the shoulder” from God. It was a crash course in humility. “It’s not all you; you’re not the man”—that message came through loud and clear. “You cannot hear God unless you are humble,” Andreas reflects. Maybe God humbles us to make us ready to listen.

Later Andreas and Michelle went to confession, as they try to do every three months. Andreas entered the confessional first, told his sins and in the process spoke about the awful preceding months, the unkindness toward his wife, and all the rest. The priest gave him absolution and a run-of-the-mill penance. Then it was Michelle’s turn. Not surprisingly, the details of her confession overlapped quite a bit with the one Father had just heard. It didn’t take long for him to figure out the situation. He gave Michelle absolution, and then considered her penance. “Did you come here by car today?” he asked. They had. “As part of your penance, you must talk to your husband about all this – before you get out of the car on your way home today.” The graces of the sacraments, both penance and marriage, were poured out to Andreas and Michelle that day.

Since they married Andreas and Michelle had always been open to having children. For years their attitude was, “if it happens, it happens”—but it hadn’t happened. Doctors were recommending various infertility treatments, but Andreas and Michelle weren’t game. They left the matter in God’s hands.

Then they had what Andreas calls a “Road to Emmaus epiphany.” They had driven out to Albany to attend the wake of a woman who had died far too young. They were deeply moved by the young woman’s mother, so upset and grieving by the casket. Afterward, on the long and somber drive back to Boston, Andreas and Michelle had been silent for a while. Then one of them broke the silence. Should they adopt? In the past, they discussed the idea but decided against it—they had too many concerns about it. But now, as if by direct revelation, they both realized this was what they were meant to do. It was one of those situations where suddenly you “just know,” according to Andreas. Shortly thereafter, the couple began the process and about a year later they welcomed a six-month-old son into their home.

Following a series of professional ups and downs, Andreas took a six-month sabbatical at age 40. Drawing on the economic thought of John Paul II, he spent some time writing about creativity and entrepreneurship as vital solutions to poverty. But after six months he was itching to get back into the high-tech world.

While he was busy trying to get a new firm off the ground, the Templeton Foundation approached him. They were interested in his ideas on entrepreneurship and poverty. They asked him to write a business plan for them, which he did. His mind and efforts then focused on his own start-up, until it became clear that his new firm wasn’t going anywhere. Looking back, Andreas sees the disappointment in a positive light—it was another needed dose of humility, helping him to hear God’s voice and cooperate with his will.

As it turns out, Templeton was keen on Andreas’s plan, but unwilling to move forward on their own. Today he and Michael Fairbanks are the co-founders of the SEVEN (Social Equity Venture) Fund, a non-profit promoting research and models of enterprise-based approaches to wealth creation and poverty reduction.

“When we work, we don’t just make more—we become more,” Andreas reflects, echoing a key element of the economic thought of John Paul II. In this regard, he sees his work in business as intimately bound up with his vocation, his calling from God. Enabling people to be creative and to work, Andreas points out, both underscores their dignity as persons and opens up seemingly limitless possibilities for human development.

In addition to his work at SEVEN, Andreas writes on the intersection of faith and entrepreneurship at his blog, Faith & Prosperity Nexus. He also lectures, and has contributed to a volume titled In the River They Swim: Essays from Around the World on Enterprise Solutions to Poverty . His book on what he learned from John Paul II during his two years as a Swiss Guard and how it applies to business life is due out in the fall of 2011 from Emmaus Road Publishing.

Looking back on his first 45 years of life, Andreas sees his vocation as a lay person as “a process with many stages.” Swiss Guard, entrepreneur, husband, father, writer, lecturer. Vocation is all about meeting God in the twists and turns of our lives. And trusting in his will along the way. As Andreas puts it: “The older I get the more I realize how little I know. But one thing I am more and more certain of is that God exists and that he cares. God is accompanying each one of us on the marvelous journey that leads to him.”

Published in First Things Online December 6, 2010

Christmas Shopping With NRO

The following is part of a National Review Online 2010 Christmas gift recommendation symposium. To see the entire article, click here. Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy and C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed ­tell serious and heart-wrenching stories of loss, faith, and love.

First published in 1977, A Severe Mercy is a memoir recounting how, through the friendship of C. S. Lewis, Sheldon Vanauken and his wife Davy became Christians while at Oxford. Upon their return to the U.S., Davy faced a swift and untimely death in 1955. Vanauken continued to receive counsel from Lewis, whose own wife, Joy, was struggling with a terminal illness at the time. Lewis was able to illuminate for Vanauken how the loss of Davy was a manifestation of God’s mercy — “a mercy that was as severe as death, a death that was as merciful as love.” Only by losing Davy could Vanauken’s heart be readied for its true fulfillment in God.

A Grief Observed was first published in 1961, the year following Joy’s death. It is also a “therapeutic” book of a sort, in which Lewis hashes out his personal experiences of bereavement within the context of Christian belief. But the feelings of pain and desolation, of looking for and not quite yet finding God’s comfort, are palpably conveyed. Still, the lesson is one of promise: “My jottings show something of the process, but not so much as I’d hoped.…There was no sudden striking and emotional transition. Like the warming of a room of the coming of daylight. When you first notice them they have already been going for some time.”

Published in National Review Online November 26. 2010

God Bless the Tea Party

I doubt that what happened in the United States on November 2 could have occurred in any European country. In fact, it was almost unprecedented in the United States. No president in American history has ever been so thoroughly discredited after two years as Barack Obama. When Pres. Bill Clinton’s party lost 54 seats in 1994, that number was shockingly high. But in 2010, the Democrats have lost at least 60 seats in the House (the branch closest to the people) and six in the Senate. Counting as allies some conservative Democrats, the Senate Republicans, while slightly less numerous than Democrats, might emerge with a working majority, though not the two-thirds necessary to override a veto.

In his first two years, the president convinced many millions of Americans that he wants to make the U.S. more like European welfare states. The American people hate the very idea, and they simply rebelled.

What is most striking about this election is the rising up of a huge popular movement with virtually no visible national leader — a movement spontaneously arising out of the refusal to lose the country our Founding Fathers (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the others) built solidly on certain fixed, eternal principles: firm principles about the dignity and responsibility before God of every woman and man, about the freedom of the economy from State management (but not from necessary State regulation), and about the universal opportunity of every citizen to rise as far as their talents and hard work will take them.

President Obama pays obeisance to these principles, but his heart is not in it. He mainly trusts government, national government, one powerful central government. The record of his two years in office is repellent — and many, many Americans simply refuse to march in that direction. The Democrats have controlled everything for two years, and their leadership, with too much left-wing enthusiasm, allowed President Obama to take the bit into his mouth and run pell-mell toward the European model.

He could not get all that far, in this deeply whig country. “Whig” is a way of saying “the party of liberty,” the party of personal responsibility, the party of economic opportunity and personal creativity, the party fiercely committed to the defense of liberty (whence the eagle as our national symbol, the eagle with seven arrows in one claw and a large olive branch in the other). The whig tendency in America has always been suspicious of government (as the source of most abuses of human rights, as inefficient, as a breeding ground of corruption). The Whig party, transformed into the new Republican party after 1856, became the party that abolished slavery, and is alive and well today in the Tea Party movement. It is the party of the individual — not the atomized individual, the individual alone, but the civic individual in free cooperation with other individuals.

In recent years, I have wondered how much longer God would continue to bless America, that country so favored by Providence for so long. The mass-media culture of America, its movies, its glitzy magazines, and its public speech (even in churches) are becoming more and more decadent, less and less under the sway of personal moral responsibility, more relativist, less under the self-control of reason. That “superculture” of the media hangs over the nation like a miasma of moral smog. Below it, thank God, there are still tens of millions willing to resist it.

That is the hope of America today. It rises up from the people not yet incapacitated by the moral decline of our elites.

The election of 2010 signified a moral revolution, a cultural revolution, much more profoundly than a political revolution.

We will see how long it can endure and grow from strength to strength — or whether it will self-destruct, as so many movements do.

God, if You can no longer bless the whole nation, please bless the Tea Party movement.

Published in National Review Online November 8, 2010

A Tribute to Michael Novak

By Christopher DeMuth (These remarks were given at a retirment party for Michael Novak, who had worked at AEI for 32 years.) Michael Novak and his work during the past thirty-five years have been abundantly feted. Celebrants have expounded on his brilliance, his prolificacy, and his influence. But brilliance and industriousness, although highly important virtues, are not nearly as rare as the total Novak phenomenon. And influence, although highly admired, is not a virtue at all—it puts Michael in the company of Eliot Spitzer and Peter Singer. So I would like to take a different tack and remark on Michael’s character, in particular his ambition and his bravery.

He spent the first twenty years of his professional life in academics. To the brilliant and industrious, university life offers wonderful opportunities for achievement and fulfillment. Michael could have continued to hold the best chairs at the best schools and to win all the teaching awards. But the academy favors work on discrete, manageable problems “in the literature” and can punish departures from certain orthodoxies. At some point in the 1970s Michael decided that he would go after bigger game.

I have often marveled that, in the midst of the Jimmy Carter administration, the hard-headed businessmen on the America Enterprise Institutes’s Board of Trustees would countenance the appointment of a theologian, and moreover a theologian with a colorful paper trail in left-wing politics and Democratic Party electioneering. But it was Michael who took by far the greater risk in accepting the offer—throwing away tenure and respectability for God knew what (but He wasn’t talking, not even to Michael.)

Since then his vocation has been the conquest of momentous, difficult, contentious problems. Problems with large practical and political components, where his philosophical learning provided a foundation but everything else was left to his own wits and experience. Today we recognize the moral architecture of democratic capitalism because Michael built it for us—even the terms were unknown before he and Irving Kristol started their work.

And he has provided many elaborations and applications: the moral architectures of economic development, of escape from the welfare trap, of nuclear deterrence, of the corporation and business-as-a-calling, of the income tax, intellectual property, mediating structures, ethnic politics, and even sports (the last however limited to Notre Dame football). If you listen in on Michael debating the progressive income tax with a professional economist, you will get an idea of the moral clarity he has brought to questions that everyone knew to be terribly complicated and endlessly nuanced.

Along the way he has dispatched many cherished liberal shibboleths and theological wrong-turns. In recent years has grafted back the second wing of faith onto the long-prevailing narrative (even at AEI) of the American founding as a secular exercise in institutional ingenuity. Bravest of all, he has provided religious instruction to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

What Michael’s greatest projects have had in common is audacity. In taking them on, he was committing himself to originality, which risked failure, and to unflinching truth-telling, which risked elite derision if he succeeded. His brilliance may have given him the confidence to take the big risks; his industriousness may have been inspired by fear of failure. But they alone cannot explain what Michael achieved. They had to be coupled with guts—sheer obstinate confrontational Johnstown guts.

Michael’s toughness is often masked by his sweet, magnanimous disposition. Don’t be fooled. If you have watched him make a big concession in a debate, or respond sympathetically to a hostile questioner, or provide a generous account of an opposing view in a book or essay, then you know that his kindliness is often the sign that serious intellectual vivisection is about to commence.

And then there’s his vast philosophical mastery: he already knows Argument No. 27 better than the other guy, and he also knows that it is conventionally trumped by Argument No. 8—but he also knows that it is completely annihilated by Argument No. 131-C, which he derived himself fifteen years ago.

But most of all, Michael’s sweet magnanimity is genuine and in fact reflects the ambition and bravery of his intellectual position. For it expresses his certainty that there is good in human nature—good that calls for earnest entreaty on its own terms. Among career pundits and haut thinkers, nothing could be more politically incorrect, more embarrassingly naïve. Yet in Michael’s choices of projects, and in the particulars of his arguments, one sees three overarching propositions constantly at work.

First, that man for all his failings is ardently concerned to know what is right and just. Second, that politics for all its flaws is capable of pursuing social betterment and sometimes finding it. Third, that reason for all its frailties can help us find our way. To dedicate a lifetime to such propositions in late twentieth-century America one had to be not only brave but downright reckless. That the endeavor has proven so astoundingly fruitful is reason to doubt the cynicism of the age and to work, as diligently as he has, for a return of the better angels.

Let us then drink to Michael’s continuing good health, good spirit, and good works.

Christopher DeMuth is D.C. Searle Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and was AEI’s president from 1986 through 2008. These remarks were given at a retirment party for Michael Novak, who had worked at AEI for 32 years. Michael Novak is a long-time member of First Things editorial and advisory board.

Published in First Things Online October 6, 2010

The Liberating Balance

In his great book The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, Daniel Bell argued that capitalist systems are composed of three complementary but distinct social systems: the political, the economic, and the moral/cultural. That their values are mutually complementary makes their unity possible. That they are distinct institutions with competing interests enables them to act as checks and balances upon each other. But sometimes one system becomes too strong for the other two. When this happens, the poor are the primary victims. We see something of the effect of this new imbalance in the current economic crisis. There seems to be virtually universal agreement that the crisis began in the U.S. housing bubble. But what caused the housing bubble? Which of the three systems overpowered the other two?

My economist colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute predicted this collapse nearly a decade before it happened. They identified one immensely destructive Congressional policy: promoting mortgage lending to people of very low income through off-budget guarantees and lax lending standards (rather than explicit, on-budget subsidies), which disguised the substantial risks to the financial system as a whole.

The two giant “GSEs” (government-sponsored enterprises) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac supplied hundreds of billions of dollars of government-guaranteed loans for “subprime” mortgages, while the bank regulators pressured banks to relax traditional lending standards dramatically and to increase their mortgage lending. Much public praise (including, alas, from me) was lavished on “Fannie and Freddie” for making millions of poor families the owners of their own homes. What was overlooked was that the homes were really owned by the banks and other lenders—and that the families had been loaded with far more debt than they could afford when and if housing prices fell, as of course they did.

Government policy was not alone responsible for the current crisis, but it did play an originating part. And the poor were, as I said, the primary victims of the unintended consequences of government’s good intentions, good intentions that would not have had such effect if the balance between political and economic had been maintained. During the first thirty years of the new millennium, the main moral task is to reduce the numbers of the world’s poorest persons drastically. There is no reason written in the stars why this earth should have so many poor people. Poverty is directly linked to poorly designed human systems for creating new wealth, and an abysmal failure to teach all peoples how to shape their habits and daily practices to become creators of new wealth. Sound economic habits and skills of enterprise and invention are quite natural to the human species, and only need to be taught and encouraged in order to blossom, if external restrictions and impediments are removed.

“If you had your way, what programs would you propose in order to end poverty such as we recently saw in Bolivia and Brazil?” Pope John Paul II asked me more than once at the dinner table in his apartment. I always made three simple yet basic recommendations. The effect of these is to restore the balance Bell described, in a way that frees the natural energy and creativity of people to create wealth and improve their lives.

First, since the most dynamic form of capital is human capital, give priority in social spending to expand and improve education. Along with that, put new emphasis on economic creativity, enterprise, wit, and invention, which in Centesimus Annus the Holy Father identifies as the chief cause of the wealth of nations today.

Second, in order to supply the millions of new jobs desperately needed among the unemployed and underemployed in many poor countries, make it easier for poor persons to form economic associations such as small businesses, under the protection of limited liability, so that they do not put at risk the whole well-being of their families in their new ventures. Most new jobs are created by new small businesses employing three to twenty-five persons, and the rate of small-business formations is the best indicator of progress against unemployment and underemployment. Without rapidly increasing employment in the private sector, a nation is unlikely to grow out of poverty.

Any nation wishing to escape poverty must help unleash the economic creativity of the poor. Human beings have a natural right to association (first vindicated by St. Thomas Aquinas in Contra Impugnantes Religionem), and it is virtually criminal to exclude the poor from the right to form business associations, and to form them quickly and cheaply.

Third, since poor people lack the personal capital to buy materials or to pay collaborators before they begin operations, governments must establish small credit bureaus in every locality. These will offer practical advice because they want their lenders to succeed, and thus to pay back in a regular stream the moneys they have borrowed. These mini-loans, once successfully paid back, can then be recycled to still other entrepreneurs.

Such progress at the bottom is the best method for bringing the fruits of new wealth to the grassroots of society, where in a relatively short time (as we learn from all the “Asia tigers”) persons of considerable economic genius will begin to emerge. For the Lord has spread economic talents abroad like the sower sowing his seed.

The usual motivation for denigrating capitalism has been to collect more power in the hands of the State. The usual rationalization has been to “regulate,” “correct,” and “direct” the market, which would otherwise malfunction, to the advantage of the rich and the continued oppression of the poor. Myths such as “global freezing” in the 1980s and “global warming” since the 1990s have stimulated new lusts for government control over economic activism and economic creativity, for motives held to be intrinsically pure and good. The lust of political elites for more and more control over economic activity is always a danger against which wise societies take strong precautions.

Up to a point, regulation is advantageous to the economy itself. Businesses often ask for regulation, in order, for example, to protect patents or ensure fair markets. But carried too far, regulation injures the economy and the people it is supposed to protect. There seem never to be lacking those who would suffocate economic activists and creators of new wealth in the name of “helping” them. But experience shows us wise ways to regulate as well as unwise ways, ways that actually liberate the poor from poverty and unemployment by liberating them to be creative economic activists.

This we have seen played out in the real world (the world of actual experience), where the policies and practices just described have quite recently worked wonders in freeing from poverty an immense proportion of the world’s population, even while the world’s population has doubled three times since the year 1800. The system sometimes denigrated as “capitalist” is a system with many serious faults. It is a poor system, until compared to all the others. It has no peer in lifting the world’s poor out of poverty.

It was only about two hundred years ago that the Christian West moved (against Malthus) to lift the cruel burden of poverty from the whole human race, when the dream of “universal affluence” was first voiced by Adam Smith in tiny and then not very wealthy Scotland. The persisting aim has been to help today’s poor to live at standards of living unattainable by even the wealthiest persons in 1776 by freeing their economic drive and creativity. His language was not Bell’s, but he would have agreed with the need to balance the political, economic, and moral/cultural for the good not of the wealthy but of the weakest and most vulnerable.

For example, in China and India alone, since 1980, more than 500 million of the world's poorest people have now moved out of poverty. Never have so many poor people moved out of poverty in so short a time. Deliberate encouragement of economic creativity among the poor led to these sterling successes, along with new access to open markets in parts of the West. Let us hope that poor nations do at least as well in liberating their poor in the next twenty years.

Michael Novak is the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute and is a member of the editorial board of First Things. “The Liberating Balance” is adapted from a talk he gave to the Pontifical Association of Social Sciences in Rome on May 1, 2010.

Published in First Things Online blog On The Square May 4, 2010

They Recognized Him in the Breaking of the Bread

For Hadley Arkes, on the day of his Baptism, April 24, 2010 We all have laughed with Hadley We have admired him for years. We love his civic reasoning On law and natural right.

We love his love for Lincoln And for Martin Luther King— Who using natural law and right Thrice made dear freedom ring!

I remember Judy telling me-- Oh! it was many years ago— Hadley is already one of you, But the time is not yet ripe. . This news that made me happy, Made swim my ag-ed head. So I dared to say to Hadley, “I miss you / at the breaking of the bread.”

It seemed to me he believed like us In God, in law, in love; Even in the Word in Whom All things come from above.

He hadn’t quite met Jesus yet, And needed time for that. He read and thought and then --surprise!-- ’Twas after all the Church that knocked him flat.

He met with Jesus through the Church That bravely, bravely spoke the truth Before the Courts, Planned Parenthood. Media elites, and New York Times forsooth!

Dostoievsky, scholars say, Read from the Gospels every day. Come follow me, one day they say,. Come follow, come what may.

It takes a bit of trust, Lord knows, Until a man is sure. He has to try it out a while, Confess, be rendered pure.

Part of the meal one has to eat Includes a spoon of bitters, Spinach and a bowl bitter p-p-porridge In Hadley’s case it took a lot of c-c-courage!

Now we will know when Hadley’s Joined us, on Peter’s barque, on board? We recognized him breaking bread with us, At the Table of the Lord.

As many grapes one wine do make As many grains one bread So one with us will Hadley be At the Table of the Lord.

A unity with him much deeper Than we ever knew before. So shall we laugh, so shall we sing, Tell jokes and drink once more.

But now our joy will richochet Through heavens’ hosts and horde, All the centuries will eat with us At the Table of the Lord.

In the beginning only Jews did come To the Table of the Lord. So Hadley comes back home again To the Table of His Lord.

Thank God for Hadley! Thank God! All ye – Greeks and Poles And Englishmen, Ye Ethiopes, and Jews, Italians, and Frenchmen, Ukrainians and Rus--

Ye Chinese , ye Japanese, All ye from India and from the Philippines, Ye Mexicans, Chileans, And even Argentines—

Here, O Lord! comes everybody! To the Table of the Lord, Thank God! Comes everybody To the Table of the Lord.

Imagine the Loss of the Christian Holy Places

On Easter Sunday, I was able to sit in prayer for a while at the Shrine run by sweet Italian nuns on top of the Mountain of the Beatitudes, the most famous of Sermons. It was infinitely peaceful, and I needed it. Later it hit me: What if the mad leader of Iran fulfilled his pledge to wipe Israel from the map with the Iranian nuclear weapon, coming soon? What would we Christians do without the Mount of the Sermon?

Without Capernaum? Without Nazareth? Without Cana?

Without the lovely and mystical city of Jerusalem–without Golgotha, and the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Tomb?

Without Bethlehem?

Without the Sea of Tiberius (the Sea of Galilee), where Jesus after his Resurrection had Peter and the others cast their net on the other side of their boat?

Back in the 1940’s, when Reinhold Niebuhr started Christianity in Crisis to support the war against Nazism, he abandoned his earlier pacifism, and his earlier too-simply pious way of wishing evil away, and called for a new tough-minded Christian realism.

He rooted this realism in the writings of St. Augustine on the observable presence of sin wherever men live and act – even in the courts of law, even in marriage, to name two of the better human institutions.

Augustine voiced the awful conclusion that there will always be wars, despite the pious dreams of many. For wars flow from the inner heart of the City of Man, its egotism, pride, ambition, and other sins–that is, distorted acts of all kinds.

Because he rooted his new political realism in his own theological conversion–his new meditation on the wisdom and trustworthy observations of Augustine–Niebuhr called the new movement he called for by the theological name, Renewed Orthodoxy or Neo-Orthodoxy.

We again need such Christian realism. Such tough-mindedness. The most dreadful war of all time is just ahead of us, is already well begun. Many of us want to save the Christian Holy Places, and Israel, too–our best ally in the world, the creator of the most economically creative and democratic society in its region.

Fulfilling this desire will not be easy in the next twelve months, fateful months, clock-ticking months. If the nuclear capacity of Iran is not destroyed before functioning nuclear weapons are in their silos or other weapons platforms, the whole world will experience blackmail.

To make an object lesson, one nation in particular is on notice that it is listed as first for destruction.

How will we live with ourselves if Israel is annihilated with nuclear bombs? How will we survive? How will our understanding of the Word of God survive, if the fleshly, tangible heart of Jewish and Christian faith is obliterated?

Yes, we need a new, tough Christian Renewal of Orthodoxy, Neo-Orthodoxy, Christian realism. We face tough actions in the next month and the months after. In the next month, because Congress is about to work out a reconciliation of its two strong bills (in the Senate and in the House) setting in place very threatening sanctions against Iran’s capacity to function.

That bill then will go to the desk of President Obama, who may or may not sign it. Great pressure will have to be exerted, life-or-death pressure, to guarantee that that bill is signed. Our future depends on it.

If sanctions do not work, it will not be moral simply to take the easy road of allowing the Iranians to outwit us and outlast us. They intend to go ahead with their mad scheme. They calculate that we lack the moral strength to stop them.

Who is ready to say that as the last of all resorts the Iranian nuclear effort must be destroyed by force before it comes to term? I for one do say it. Maybe some can show that Christian realism, Neo-Orthodoxy, can be satisfied by an easier path. I do not think so, but I am open to argument.

What are the reasons against? What are the reasons for?

We do not have much time to wait before getting that argument going. We must get it done soon, in order to be able to act in time.

What is at stake is whether any future Christians will be able to sit and pray where Our Lord Jesus once preached the unforgettable Sermon. And much else besides.

Published in the First Things blog First Thoughts April 19, 2010

Our Lady’s University

Relocating temporarily from Washington, D.C., to Florida from January 10 to February 20 was a kind providence. True, Florida had its coldest weather in 50 years, but don’t cry for me, northern America. Down there, “cold” means about 45 degrees Fahrenheit early in the morning, rarely below that. Some afternoons it hit 70 degrees. Meanwhile, Washington had some three feet of snow. My visiting nephew had to have the flat part of Karen’s studio roof shoveled after each of the two storms, lest the weight of the snow and backed-up ice do serious damage. But the great joy for me was not the weather. It was teaching a mini-course on “Religion and the U.S. Founding” at Ave Maria University. It reminded me that my true vocation, next to writing, is teaching young people. I loved all ten of the “kids” in my seminar. We covered much ground in a short amount of time (and they got it), and we had good talks including a weekly lunch. They took down clear outlines of key points, and had a lot of laughs at my stumbling efforts to recover old skills at teaching. (I meander more than I used to.) Each student wrote two papers — for extra credit, some wrote a third — and they were all really quite good.

Nearly all the students were sophomores or juniors. They hailed from everywhere from the Philippines to Honduras; from Goa, India, to Toronto, Canada; as well as from Texas and California to Bethesda, Md. One was a very impressive Marine, another an aspiring (and already experienced) political leader in Canada. There are about 850 others like them on campus at Ave Maria University this year. Incoming classes now number 300 or more — 500 soon, we hope.

I have never lived in a more Catholic culture than Ave Maria’s — well, maybe once before, in St. Pius X Seminary during my college years at Stonehill College. From my room on the Piazza to the Oratory, embraced by the Piazza like a horseshoe, the distance was about 75 yards, and to the Adoration Chapel on the side of the Canizaro Library, 100 yards. All day and all night, students and staff are found in the latter according to formal voluntary shifts, and as the Spirit moves a steady trickle all day. On Sundays, some 97 percent of the whole town goes to Mass, and on weekdays about 65 percent of the students.

What most impressed me, though, was what Dostoevsky called the “humble charity” of those one meets — the good manners, the willingness to help and even to seek occasions to help. One of the storeowners came out on the sidewalk to ask if she could bring me food or other things from Publix on her trip later that afternoon; two days later, she stopped at Walgreens in nearby Naples for a prescription I needed.

Further, I was invited out to dinner often by faculty members, and rejoiced in the big families a great many had underfoot. I met a lot of holy people. I admired the serious learning of a remarkably committed and self-sacrificing faculty, and (according to students) the seriousness and impressiveness of their teaching. Prof. Mark Guerra with a colleague from another university won a huge grant from the University of Chicago, from a field of 700 applicants and 40 finalists.

Michael Waldstein of Austria is one of the most distinguished theologians in the world, who under Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna in the 1990s established the International Theology Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family. He now lives, teaches, and writes at Ave Maria (praise be to God). He is also a warm, pleasant, light-hearted, learned man, with a very keen and clear mind. Professor Waldstein wrote recently that he, too, has found the Catholic environment at Ave Maria the most impressive he has ever known, including even that of the ITI, which he himself had founded:

Profoundly fruitful contemplation, characteristic of a genuinely Catholic intellectual life, is taking place [at Ave Maria University] among the theology professors and graduate students. I know of no better program for forming future theologians. I include in this judgment the program of ITI, which I helped to build up. The impression I have of the undergraduates in my classes and of faculty and students in other departments is similar. The University, as I have experienced it first hand, is genuinely Catholic. A particular love for John Paul II and Benedict XVI is a hallmark of its life.

So I must report that I have come to love Ave Maria deeply, and feel a very strong pull to live out my final years in such a place. The Board of Trustees (of whom I am one) do not wish Ave Maria to be a small Christian enclave, a hothouse, but a large, cosmopolitan university, ultimately the size of Princeton. Already the University’s students have a proportion from overseas that, at 13 percent, may be among the highest in the land. They already include three or four Muslim students.

The university does not yet have a large body of alumni, but it does effectively own a thousand acres of great Florida land, on which one major new golf course is being planned. The university will also benefit from a half interest in another 9,000 acres surrounding the campus and forming the town of Ave Maria, which already boasts a very fine golf course, retail shops, and extensive parks and recreation areas. Ground has been broken for the Golisano Gymnasium, which should be up by next October, and a Fine Arts Center is on the drawing boards. Last year, our development office brought in $12 million, and in the first seven months of this fiscal year $16 million. More is on its way to being pledged or given outright, and bequests from people we have not even met keep arriving. The Oratory is drawing some 50,000 visitors per year. A great new Carrara marble sculpture of the Annunciation will be lifted up on its façade within the next year. It is being patiently but boldly carved on the green in front of the Oratory by the great Hungarian sculptor Márton Váró.

It was great to have our local ordinary, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Fla., and his teacher Adam Cardinal Maida of Detroit join our Board at this February’s meeting.

As I read Catholic history, every time there is a great work of God in the making, the Prince of Lies sows a cloud of mischief trying to disrupt it. By that sign, Our Lady really wants this University. The Lord has, as is His wont, given it obstacle after obstacle to surmount. Just as He set before Our Lady in her own life.

This has been for me these past weeks, right on site, a good place to magnify the Lord.

Published in National Review Online March 1, 2010

On Loving Karen

Karen Laub-Novak

Karen Laub-Novak 1937-2009 Portrait by Igor Babailov

Thank you, lady, for reminding me what it was like To fall in love with Karen Fifty years ago. It was her eyes that did me in, Blue as the sapphire stones She bought along the Indian Ocean. Blue, with sadness deep behind them, And merriment like candle's flames on golden foil.

Eyes incapable of malice, Radiant from her heart. We talked and talked, newly met, Though we had known Each other ever since forever.

We knew the darkness and the night — That may have been our deepest bond. We weren’t afraid of night. A woman who has suffered much, as Tolstoi wrote, Inflames a lover's heart.

I cannot say if Karen loved me. That was a word she rationed, As if in uttering it she lost her self – Which fighting to hold safe so many years, Impressionable and unconflictive (As she wished to be) she could not give away.

To say would utterly destroy her, poof! Like dust she’d blow away. No, it was crucial that she act with love But seldom say the word. Crucial that she trust. Crucial to stay the Self She had, so much embattled, won.

But oh! I loved her And loving her burst into joy, An oven suddenly ignited.

Who could not love her shyness, Her evasive smile of pleasure. Her self-dramatizing humor about herself? Her idle dream had been to be an actress A comedienne of dance and music, Light of heart and blithe. What she really wanted Was to be the next Picasso. Kokoschka had told her that she could.

She was self-mockingly insistent That her I married, for her mind, To which I readily agreed Although not wholly true. Yes, Without her darkness of experience, Without her wit, Without her flashes to the heart of things, My soul could not have been so deeply wounded. But I was stricken also by her figure And her shy, shy smile.

Still later, then, her works of art I saw, Which took my breath away. A woman always struggling, Always suffering, Conflicted, active, bold. Uncompromisingly, She stripped away the skin from straining sinews And showed live bones in pain (Or maybe only tension) And underneath each face the mask of death. She saw life truly In its awfulness and joy.

Fiercest angels did she wrestle. “Every angel,” her Rilke wrote, “is terrible.”

Parting (in 1962), I handed her my novel, About a soul stripped down to nothingness Yet rejoicing in the dark (Where alone God can be found). Her favorite books were Avila’s, And The Dark Night of the Soul. Mine, too.

She thought I'd been pretentious, She later wrote, For handing her my book. But she read it on the plane One end to the other. She slyly hinted that she liked it.

So we were free to love like children Who had learned to trust, Yet knew the fingers on the windowpane, In darkness and in rain. We were made to meet. Or so I felt in thirty minutes Across the booth from her in Harvard Square.

Most extraordinary thing: I had described her in my novel Two years before we met. Lovely girl, an artist, Upon Bernini’s bridge at midnight When the Tiber turned to silver Beneath a silver moon.*

So I knew that I had known her And would marry her. Knew, but didn’t say a word. For four days we did nothing But go out together. She was fearless driving Boston streets. That was what convinced me She was tough. More tough than I. Which was in my dream.

I knew I loved her, almost bam! It took her longer: Three close suitors in hot pursuit, Each one aspiring lawyer as if In answer to her lawyer father’s prayers. One did love her mightily, I later learned. Thank God she took a leap toward me.

We were apart all summer, She at the Worcester School of Art, And I in Europe, steadily describing to her All I saw, and quietly insinuating... We were meant to meet. A hundred letters sent in all-- Desperate to hold her heart.

Just last month, My sister found her photo, Sitting on my parents’ lawn In September, 1962. My brother Dick (whom K. had met at Harvard) Was on his way to Bangladesh, And Karen planned her drive from Iowa To pick me up, both Harvard-bound, To bid dear Dick farewell. (Little did we know it was forever.)

She sits upon the lawn her knees drawn up In short black shorts, a Vee-striped blouse Of orange and brown, and on her head A turban striped the same. A skinny, gawky kid in shell-rimmed glasses Sits as close to her as decency permits. Can that be me? Even then I asked myself, Can this be me? How can that fellow sit with such a one In total inner peace?

Our honeymoon some ten months thence, On Minnesota’s Forest Lake-- My beloved walked into the bath, A towel on arm but not a stitch of clothes, And closed the door. Let out a piercing shriek, fell back, Slid downward noisily onto the floor. Had burglers broken in?

Leaping to the door, I saw a bat attacking her. I pulled her out, and stepped inside To face the bat, and illumination struck my mind: “So this is what a married man is for?” Gulping folded up a towel to swing And watched its swoops As closely as a pitcher’s wicked curve When it buzzed in and dove at me. I caught it fairly, brought it down But in the motion felled myself.

Here Karen showed her wit, Broke in, a basket in her hands Which she slapped down upon the now-dazed bat. “How do we get it out of here?” I asked with weak male reason. She answered me with motion, Returning with a cardboard square To slip beneath the basket. Cool as a cop she marched it to the darkened door And flicked it up into the night. What a cool, cool girl, I marvel, Then and now.

She also showed me what a coward I could be When once at dinner little three-year-old Began to choke, in desperation turning red. I froze. Not K. She leapt across the kitchen Plunged her finger down the throat, Pulled out the villainous blob. Not the first or only time She moved with wit and bravery While I sat panicked, turning pale.

St Thomas (Aquinas) wrote, “Of all friendships, Marriage is by far the greatest.” I used to tell my classes that, And say that it is true. The only thing – I used to warn – is this: If you don’t like the truth about yourself, Then don’t get married. When you live close in, Illusions are expensive. So once the honeymoon is over, Your lover's duty is To puncture every one of yours -- One by painful one. My lover pricked an awful lot of mine. Especially my conceits.

Annoying faults my lover also had, So I did edit them, much to her pain. She had a low opinion of herself, So one more fault was more than she could bear. I added to her pain. I'm sorry that I did.

Oh, Glory! I loved Karen, Love her still. Irradiant soul. Valiant, courageous, strong, Yet soft and vulnerable. Beautiful with full and loving sensual beauty. Funny, amusing, telling tales about herself – Confessing all her silly faults Before I found them out.

She was wonderful to hug. She loved to hug. She needed many hugs – Or maybe I did.

And now she seems so close to me. I commune with her incessantly Since now she sees me even to my inner self. I hear her laughing quite a lot As I go bouncing light to light And wall to wall, a pinball In a slanted box. She enjoys My blunders. Always has.

It seems she has told everyone (Before she died) I worried her-- “He doesn’t know a thing around the house. “He cannot do it for himself.” It isn’t true, of course. I do okay. But in an obvious sense, b'god, The girl was right.

There is no other like her. She is unique. I was lucky, lucky, lucky, To be with her for nearly fifty years. That is why I look at photos, Read old letters, and let the burning Burn my soul.

Published in First Things Online February 14, 2010

* I here compress the actual plot.