Religion & Liberty Online

6 Quotes: Michael Novak on Freedom and Institutions

Michael Novak died last night at the age of 83. Novak was a theologian and thinker who cared deeply about liberty and wrote persuasively about what is necessary to preserve freedom for future generations.

In honor of his passing, here are six quotes by Novak on freedom and institutions:

Michael Novak / Catholic University of America

On truth and freedom: “The most critical threat to our freedom is a failure to appreciate the power of truth.”

On the future of liberty: “During the past hundred years, the question for those who loved liberty was whether, relying on the virtues of our peoples, we could survive powerful assaults from without (as, in the Battle of Britain, this city nobly did). During the next hundred years, the question for those who love liberty is whether we can survive the most insidious and duplicitous attacks from within, from those who undermine the virtues of our people, doing in advance the work of the Father of Lies. “There is no such thing as truth,” they teach even the little ones. ‘Truth is bondage. Believe what seems right to you. There are as many truths as there are individuals. Follow your feelings. Do as you please. Get in touch with yourself. Do what feels comfortable.’ Those who speak in this way prepare the jails of the twenty-first century. They do the work of tyrants.”

On political institutions: “Our political institutions work remarkably well. They are designed to clang against each other. The noise is democracy at work.”

On democracy and the poor: “There is an alternative to terror. It is called, in the political order, democracy. In the economic order, it is called the dynamic enterprise economy. . . It empowers poor people from the bottom up. . . . A dynamic economic sector is the poor’s best hope of escaping the prison of poverty. It is the only system so far known to human beings to take poor people and make them, quite soon, middle class, and some of them even (horrors!) rich.”

On utopia: “To know oneself is to disbelieve in utopia. To seek realism is to learn mercy.”

On the institution of marriage: “Marriage, the family unit, was the ‘original Department of Health, Education and Welfare.’”

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).