- Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative by Michael Novak
- Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative
- American Catholic Studies
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Best known as a philosopher and theologian, Novak has also been a seminarian, professor, journalist, author, ambassador The important thing is to have the courage to follow your intellect. Wherever the evidence leads. To the left or to the right. Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative. Yet through it all, as Novak's sharply etched memoir shows, his focus on helping the poor and defending universal human rights remained constant; he gradually came to see building small businesses and envy-free democracies as the only realistic way to build free societies. Without economic growth from the bottom up, democracies are not stable.
Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative by Michael Novak
Without economic growth from the bottom up, democracies are not stable. Without protections for liberties of conscience and economic creativity, democracies will fail.
Free societies need three liberties in one: His narrative power is memorable. Hardcover , pages. Published September 3rd by Image first published January 1st To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
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To ask other readers questions about Writing from Left to Right , please sign up. Be the first to ask a question about Writing from Left to Right. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Sep 24, Katie Krombein rated it really liked it. This book is a journey of a man who began his career as a democrat, writing for presidential political campaigns, teaching religion and philosophy and politics at Harvard, and Stanford and SUNY, etc, starting in the late 50s.
He then gradually, through working in politics, shifted as he watched policies unfold and thought through underlying assumptions and sought logical dialogues among politicians. As early as he stated that there didn't seem to be effective logical conversation in the po This book is a journey of a man who began his career as a democrat, writing for presidential political campaigns, teaching religion and philosophy and politics at Harvard, and Stanford and SUNY, etc, starting in the late 50s.
As early as he stated that there didn't seem to be effective logical conversation in the political arena Not only did that review not help my reputation; but the reviewer accused me of spreading hate the insult our elites hurl when they are being unmasked. Really tough to take. I did not then know the fury of the Left when it marks someone as beyond the pale of acceptability. I had never before understood how secular excommunication works--how effectively one can be banished from the innocent banter of old circles of trust, how even old friends change the flow and tone of a conversation when one approaches, signaling with a certain chill that one's presence is no longer desired.
All this is a good thing to go through when one is young. One needs the toughness later. In , my mind was in a fruitful turmoil regarding my left-wing tendencies. I had begun to notice the appearance of two lefts--one that included my whole family and what it represented, and the other a "new" left, based on a suddenly emerging "constituency of conscience," no longer rooted among people who worked with their hands and backs.
Instead, secure in its own affluence and in its own suburbs , this new left was now expressing a more refined "morality. More interested in "peace. The New Left was no longer of the old left--which was patently more vulgar, unsophisticated, and unrefined. Curiously, even in the s and maybe even the s , writers with Democratic sympathies thought Republican "moderates" were Republicans who voted with Democrats.
They were blind to how far out on the extremes of the cultural and moral fronts their own positions now extended. They thought "conservatives" were those who were moving left, but more slowly. They had full confidence that history was inexorably leading everyone leftward. It never occurred to them that, in the eyes of a growing majority of the public, those on the left were now extremists.
In short, my first thought was: Socialism is a pretty good idea; it's just that we haven't found a way to make it work yet. Then I couldn't help thinking: But after scores of attempts around the world to make it work, all of which failed, maybe there's something wrong with the basic idea. Margaret Thatcher would later famously put it: It is wealth consuming it consumes the wealth of others ; it is parasitical. These insights nudge me toward another nest of puzzles.
Isn't capitalism based on self-interest? That sounds like selfishness and greed, and it seems verified when economists concentrate all their attention on the "bottom line. There is more practical brainpower in the thousands of families whose livelihood depends on good decisions than in the smartest hundred government planners.
Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative
You can see here the beginnings of my full-blown theory that a good society is composed of three interrelated systems: Cultural, political, and economic, each depending on the others; each checked and balanced by the others. But so imperfect is this world that even virtuous, idealistic, humanitarian attempts by government "often gang awry. One wrong way is for government--especially a distant, impersonal, federal government--too easily to become a tyrant, too easily to become inefficient, meddling, bureaucratizing, corrupting, enervating.
Even Franklin Delano Roosevelt recognized this truth. Though usually though of as the founder of the welfare state in America, FDR very early recognized a grave danger our nation had better avoid. Roosevelt warned Congress in , as no Democrat after Lydon Johnson could have written: To dole out relieve How I wished I could be as left as they. Night after night I tried to persuade myself of the coherence of their logic; I did my best to go straight. I held up in the privacy of my room pictures of every socialist land known to me: North Korea, Albania, Czechoslovakia land of my grandparents , and even Sweden.
They all said to me: They loved the idea of socialism.
Will we have a Pentagon of heavy industry? Nor did they think my other suggestion witty, that under socialism everything would function like the Post Office. Finally I realized that socialism is not a political proposal, not an economic plan. Socialism is the residue of Judeo-Christian faith, without religion. It is a belief in the goodness of the human race and paradise on earth.
It allows human beings to do pretty much what they will. Socialism is a system built on a belief in human goodness, so it never works. Capitalism is a system build on belief in human selfishness; given checks and balances, it is nearly always a smashing, scandalous success. But God did make human beings free. There is an innate tendency in socialism toward authoritarianism. Capitalism accepting human sinfulness, rubs sinner against sinner, making even dry wood yield a spark of grace.
If your kids can keep more money in their own pockets, they will start businesses, and that means they won't have to do the sweaty work that you did all your life. And they will send their kids to college without skimping on nice things for the Mrs. I'm for tax cuts, not for higher rates. I'm for letting you keep your own money, to spend better than government can. To sum up what I learned just before and during the Reagan administration: First economics is often counterintuitive. It would seem that the common good would be improved by a government supervising the economy from the top down, just as common ownership of property would produce a higher common good than private property.
But real experience since the time of Aristotle, Cicero, and Thomas Aquinas has shown that social ownership in practice reduces personal incentives and personal responsibility and induces a common lassitude. A professor I had met in Russia in , who had known only socialism, voiced sharp, sarcastic thrusts about the Soviet system: Praise and incentives excite it. The main point is that for welfare programs to do their proper job, they need an ethical component, a signaling function, a call for a bond of mutual obligations between helpers and helped.
The community must reach out to suffering individuals; the recipients must do what they can to contribute to the community. For an entire century the world had been testing two propositions, one political, the other economic: Dictatorship is better for the people than democracy; and socialism is better for the people than capitalism. The bloodiest century had shown that the answer to both propositions was no: The Nazis exterminated some 16 million people, the Soviets upward of 53 million for further readings, consult The Black Book of Communism.
What had been neglected for a century was the third component of the free society: That is the deepest system, and the inner dynamic within the two others. A good economy is indispensable for human flourishing; a sound, limited, law-abiding government is necessary for such an economy; and a truly humanistic cultural system is the indispensable life support for the other two systems.
Economics begins in the mysticism of creativity. Politics begins in the mysticism of common action. Culture supplies the mysticism for both. At one time in human history the highest value was the silent contemplation of the inner light of creative truth at the center of everything that is. No human could know all that truth. But in the search for each fragment of it, evidence beyond the power of human altering became the judge of who was closer to, or farther from, the truth.
In short, there is truth to be uncovered--intersubjective, durable truth.
American Catholic Studies
Humans are not masters of that truth; they are only able to glimpse it, expand their comprehension of it, hold to it in tough times, and reverence it. As Jefferson wrote, the mind may rightly bend the knee only to evidence, and be bound only by evidence. Only down that way of seeing reality is the advance of science possible. Only down that way is the inner realm of individual conscience seen to be inalienable.
Evidence can animate action only when it is grasped and pursued by individual conscience--each conscience at its own pace and in its own way. How else can evidence shape the soul of individuals? Toward the end of the twentieth century, however, it seemed that hardly anyone in the world knew how to talk about such things Sometimes, Manhattan's wise old Jesuit John Courtney Murray once said, two people cannot come to real disagreement without sticking to the argument for a very long time--maybe long enough to work through a case of brandy together as they ruminate.
Careful dissection of differences, endless goodwill. And, if possible, infinite good humor. There are a few things that, after some back-and-forth reflection, we can all agree on; other things we recognize that, in the limited time we have, we just cannot agree on; and for still others we can over time narrow some of our differences. We do this by finding the point where we began missing each other.
I like the lesson of my teacher Reinhold Niebuhr: In my own views, there is always some error; and in the views of those I disagree with, there is always some truth. Still, I am more discouraged in than I have ever been over the determination of so many to refuse to talk with those with whom they disagree.
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I seldom hear pro-life people, for example, make an effort to understand what those who are pro-choice are actually thinking, or try to probe their reasons for that position. The reverse is also true. And I believe I have never watched a television news program in which the time is taken to hear out both sides calmly. On such matters the temptation is to be absolutist: It is the same with other issues. Conservatives do not try often enough to grasp the motives of those who disagree with them, and liberals very seldom see the good and responsible reasons why conservatives think as they do.
Worse, each side too easily tends to stereotype, even demonize, those on the other side.
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