Ambassador Michael Novak recently joined the faculty of the Busch School, teaching Special Topics in Management, as well as doing a series of public and guest lectures on campus. He is the retired George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy from the American Enterprise Institute and is an author, philosopher, and theologian. The Presidents of three nations – the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia – have given Michael Novak the highest award they can bestow on a foreign citizen. Each cited Novak’s work as human rights ambassador under Ronald Reagan, his eleven years of service on the boards of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, and the pre-1989 influence of his book The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982), translated and distributed by underground presses behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s. As one reviewer said of that volume, it “may prove one of those rare books that actually changes the way things are.”
Ambassador Novak considers his greatest honor to be that Pope John Paul II several times mentioned him in public as his friend. Margaret Thatcher has highly praised him and his work.
Novak is the author or editor of more than forty-five books, including two novels and one book of verse. His books have been translated into every major Western language, as well as Bengali, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese.
Novak’s whole life has been a story of religious scholarship, social commentary, and intellectual independence. His insights into the spiritual foundations of economic and political systems and his articulation of the moral ideals of democratic capitalism have secured his place as an original thinker of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
On issues as diverse as capitalism versus socialism, human rights, faith, labor union history, sports, ethnicity, peace, liberty and justice, the American presidency, families, welfare reform, television, and the role of the churches in a pluralistic world, Novak has provided critical and literate debate in his books, syndicated columns, and innumerable lectures, articles, and commentaries.
His work has been effectively applied by a variety of world leaders – from Eastern Europe to Latin America, from Beijing to London. Indeed, Novak’s work on the moral basis of democracy and capitalism may be more widely celebrated outside the United States than within it. In her 1993 book, The Downing Street Years, Lady Thatcher praised Novak’s “new and striking language” and “important insights,” and added that his writing on the morality of political economy “provided the intellectual basis for my approach to those great questions brought together in political parlance as ‘the quality of life.’”
Behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia, the dissidents of Charter 77 and Civic Forum used The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism and The Experience of Nothingness (1970) in their clandestine study groups. In El Salvador, former president Alfredo Cristiani once noted that after hearing Novak lecture in San Salvador and reading Novak’s work, he committed himself to running for the presidency of that war-torn land, in order to work for a just peace. In Chile and Argentina, proponents of democracy from right to left – including, often, Christian Socialists – turned to Novak’s writings on democracy and free markets for guidance. So it was also among democrats in South Korea in the early 1980s. In Poland in 1984, a great debate raged within Solidarnosc over whether to risk the underground publication of The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. In a very close vote, supporters triumphed. Many today look back upon that vote as a watershed in the movement away from socialism and toward a new ideal.
His reflections on religious, political, and economic issues have been consistently marked by foresight. He has repeatedly staked a lone position that eventually became mainstream thought.
Ambassador Novak has been granted twenty-six honorary degrees (including four in Latin America and three in Europe), the Friend of Freedom Award from the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, the George Washington Honor Medal from the Freedom Foundation, and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, among numerous other honors. His selection as recipient of the 1994 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion capped a career of leadership in theological and philosophical discourse.
Novak has taught at Harvard, Stanford, SUNY Old Westbury, Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Ave Maria universities and is pleased to join us here at CUA. His most recent books are Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative and Social Justice Isn't What You Think It Is, with co-author Paul Adams.
I’m delighted to be back at Catholic University, especially at the Busch School's Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship because of its mission to show the power of Catholic social doctrine to lift people out of poverty and encourage human flourishing. If, as a teacher, you want to reach the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, many of whom are poor, where better to be?– Michael Novak
In His Words ...
Office: 315 McMahon Hall
Bachelor's of Theology Pontifical Gregorian University, Cum Laude
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