In May, Michael Novak, the Roman Catholic religious philosopher and social critic, became the twenty-fourth recipient of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, an honor that places him among a distinguished group of individuals: Past recipients include Charles Colson, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Novak's life is a story of extraordinary religious scholarship, social commentary, and intellectual courage. On issues as complex as capitalism, socialism, liberation theology, human rights, welfare reform, and the role of churches in a pluralistic world, Novak has set a standard for critical and literate debate.
Formerly on the Left politically, Novak's experience in liberal environments led him to ever-deeper dissent-first on foreign-policy issues, then on cultural issues such as abortion, the family, and crime. Gradually, he became a trailblazer in what came to be called "neoconservativism."
Novak's books, lectures, and essays on the moral basis of democracy and capitalism have been applied by a variety of world leaders-both political and religious. In her 1993 book, The Downing Street Years, former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher praised Novak's work, noting 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.' " In Czechoslovakia, the dissidents of Charter 77 and Vaclav Havel's Civic Forum used Novak's The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism in their clandestine study groups. And in Chile and Argentina, proponents of democracy sought guidance from his writings on the value of free markets and from his critiques of liberation theology.
Long before the ...1