Samuel Gregg on the legacy of the late Michael Novak
Religion & Liberty Online

Samuel Gregg on the legacy of the late Michael Novak

In a recent article for Public Discourse, Samuel Gregg articulates the great impact that the late Michael Novak had both on him personally, but also in promoting free market economics and moral living for a greater, more virtuous world. He says:

When news came of the death of the theologian and philosopher Michael Novak, the loss was felt in a particularly sharp way by those of us who knew him personally. Like many people of all ages, I was fortunate enough to benefit from his many kindnesses. Countless others can testify to the numerous ways in which his ideas shaped their thinking about questions of faith and liberty, especially their role in shaping his beloved United States of America.

Novak held a unique perspective when it came to promoting American liberal values. Given his Slavic heritage, he had a special understanding of the dangers of communism:

To know Novak was to know a man who was also proud of and close to his roots in the peasantry of that other country that loomed so large in his life: Slovakia. He often spoke with regret of not knowing how to speak the language of his ancestors.

…After Slovakia’s liberation from Communist oppression in 1989 and its eventual emergence as a sovereign nation in 1993, Novak invested time, energy, and resources in helping that country and its people understand the true meaning of freedom. In this regard, Novak believed that the American experiment in ordered liberty had much to teach the land that his forebears had left in search of freedom and opportunity.

Gregg affirms Novak as a principled, moral figure recognizing the strong conscience by which Novak was guided during his professional tenure. Gregg also lists his personal favorite Novak works:

Perhaps it had something to do with his Slavic roots and knowledge of the unhappy history of Central and Eastern Europe for most of the twentieth century, but Novak was very conscious of the reality of sin and human fallibility. That is one reason why he emerged in the late 1970s as a strong advocate of free market economies. Leaving aside the demonstrable failures of command economies and the evident crumbling of European social-democratic experiments, Novak appreciated Adam Smith’s insights into how people made economic choices, and thought it was unwise to ignore such truths about the human condition.

My personal favorites were his writings about the American Founding, particularly the book Washington’s God, coauthored with his daughter, Jana. Unlike any other book on Washington—whom Novak always called “General Washington”—the two Novaks brought the understated religious sensibilities of the Father of His Country alive in ways that I had not hitherto experienced.

Gregg concludes his article stating his recognition of Novak as so much more than a man of political economy, but also as a virtuous man who loved and cared for his community and his family, a man of immeasurable impact, and a brother in Christ:

Much more could be said about the life and work of Michael Novak. That includes his public service, his acquaintances with figures such as Tom Hayden, Ronald Reagan, Sargent Shriver, and Bobby Kennedy, and, perhaps above all, his great love for his grandchildren, his three children, and especially his late wife Karen Laub-Novak. After Karen passed away in 2009, I initially thought that some of the light had gone out of his eyes. I soon realized, however, that Novak firmly held, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, to the “hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will” (CCC 1821).

I too have the firm hope and confident expectation that Michael is now reunited with Karen and that together they will live an eternal life with Christ.

Réquiem ætérnam dona eis, Dómine,
et lux perpétua lúceat eis.
Requiéscant in pace.


Additional resources: To read the Public Discourse article, click here. Here is also a past article of Gregg on Novak, A Book That Changed Reality from The American Spectator, as well as a collection of essays for purchase on Novak by Gregg.