I received the sad news that Michael Novak died Thursday.
Novak was an outstanding scholar and the author of numerous books, among them The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism and Business as a Calling:Work and the Examined Life. He was also a kind, thoughtful person and had a gift for entertaining conversation.
A few years ago, shortly after the founding of the Center for Faith and Enterprise, I invited him to speak in California. To my surprise, I received a call from his assistant accepting my invitation; the result was a speaking tour sponsored by the CFE. I will always remember the almost two and half days we spent driving from venue to venue, engaged in conversation. It was a great time — he was an excellent conversationalist, a source of important insight, and an encouraging voice.
Michael had an extraordinary life. He wrote or edited more than 50 books on subjects as diverse as economics, spirituality, and sports. Early on he studied for the priesthood but then decided he could be more useful outside the clergy. He is said to have had considerable influence over Pope John Paul II’s view of economics. He was the subject of considerable controversy when he moved from left to right politically (he joked about how he became “radioactive” on college campuses because of his political transformation), but nevertheless maintained strong friendships on both the left and the right.
In Business as a Calling, he observed that business is a community building process — we build community as we work together towards mutual objectives — and that entrepreneurs and others in business usually have to serve the needs of others to be successful. He also noted that business is a morally serious enterprise, meaning that those of us in business are called upon to make moral decisions and that these decisions have consequences. These were all important, and I think valid, insights
In the Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, he spoke of the necessary connection between capitalism, virtue, and human wellbeing. He argued persuasively and with research that capitalism, set in societies with an adequate moral framework, had unleashed the creativity that had enabled much of humanity to leave poverty.
I can remember him telling business students at one of our events that now the primary mission of business is to end poverty. Business enterprise and markets have been the primary way that most people have left poverty, of course, but I think this was a revelation to them. I was told by one of their professors that this was a topic of discussion for days afterwards, and had had an inspirational effect.
Michael Novak had an important influence on many of us, including the Center for Faith and Enterprise, and will be missed.
(His friend Rev. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute has recorded a moving tribute.)