On Two Wings

Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding


The leaders of the American Revolution, unlike the leaders of the French revolution, did not set out to erase religion. Indeed, the very first act of the Continental Congress was to pray to Divine Providence in the face of the British bombardment of Boston. In establishing a new model of self-government, the Founders believed that they were not only acting according to reason and common sense, but also obeying a religious duty. Benjamin Franklin proposed as their motto: “Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God.”

In telling the story of the forgotten—if not deliberately ignored—role of faith in America’s beginnings, Michael Novak probes the innermost religious conviction of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and other of our Founders. He shows that while the American eagle could not have taken flight without the empirical turn of mind embodied in John Locke’s teaching on the ends of government and the consent of the governed, the men who made America also believed that liberty depends as much on faith as on reason.

In the course of his illustrious career, Michael Novak has written several prize-winning books on theology and philosophy. In On Two Wings he has created a profound mediation on American history, and on human nature and destiny as well.

Originally Published: 2002


“I thought I appreciated the role of religion in the American founding, but I was unprepared for the massive documentation and powerful reasoning of Michael Novak’s On Two Wings. The book is an original and indispensable contribution not only to the history of our country but to an understanding of its essential character.”

Gertrude Himmelfarb

“I can’t remember the last time I had such a rush of enthusiasm upon reading a book manuscript. It’s sensationally good, and terribly important. I am only one of many who will be grateful to Michael Novak for having written it.”

Irving Kristol
Editor, The Public Interest

“In his engaging new book, Michael Novak explains why Americans of the founding era thought themselves favored, and consequently tested, by God—and argues that, without such faith, the fledgling Republic would never have gotten off the ground… In this important book… he proves the point convincingly.”

Charles R. Kesler
National Review

“A lively, marvelously accessible, and infectiously enthusiastic book, packed with unforgettable quotations from the leaders of the American Revolution and the founders of the American republic, On Two Wings is both a restorative and a touchstone. It should be required reading for every American who wants to grasp the whole truth about the nation’s neglected religious heritage…”

Wilfred M. McClay
First Things

“Michael Novak has performed a great public service in this masterful work, a piece of elegant writing filled with sudden, surprising insights. Must reading for all who treasure America, and especially touching for Jews and Christians.”

Chuck Colson
Prison Fellowship Ministries

“No one who reads Michael Novak’s On Two Wings will ever think of the founding fathers and their religious beliefs the same way… It should lead to a substantial rewriting of American history and political science textbooks.”

Newt Gingrich

“On Two Wings is a forceful and often beautifully written affirmation of something Tocqueville observed long ago: American civilization is ‘the product of two perfectly distinct elements which elsewhere have often been at war with one another but which in America it was somehow possible to incorporate into each other, forming a marvelous combination. I mean the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom.’”

Lee Bockhorn
The Wall Street Journal

“Jews have always felt particularly at home in America. But not until I read the first chapter of Michael Novak’s new book, on ‘Jewish Metaphysics at the Founding,’ did I fully understand why. Rich in its insight and analysis, Michael Novak’s discussion brilliantly illuminates the Hebrew influence upon the American founding, the ways in which the Jewish vision of the world outlined in the Hebrew Bible shaped the political thought of the Founding Fathers. It is more than coincidence that the political writings of the Founders were replete with references to the Hebrew Bible. As Novak reminds us, the idiom of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was a religious lingua franca for the founding generation.”

Rabbi David Dalin
co-author of "The Presidents of the United States and the Jews and Religion and State in the American Jewish Experience"