The political and economic education of a remarkably accomplished man.
Best known as a philosopher and theologian, Novak has also been a seminarian, professor, journalist, author, ambassador, speechwriter and all-round political handyman. Now 79 and retired from the American Enterprise Institute, he revisits each of the stages in his crowded and interesting life. On behalf of an obscure congressional candidate, Novak (All Nature is a Sacramental Fire: Moments of Beauty, Sorrow, and Joy, 2011, etc.) coined “the New Frontier,” a phrase famously adopted by John F. Kennedy. As a reporter, he covered the Second Vatican Council. He organized for Gene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy, studied philosophy at Harvard, taught religion at Stanford, acted as a dean for an experimental college, campaigned for McGovern, worked hard for and came to love Sargent Shriver, and attempted to counsel Carter. This same man learned new economic lessons from Jack Kemp and Steve Forbes and worked closely with Jeane Kirkpatrick. On behalf of Ronald Reagan, Novak represented the country at Geneva and Bern, became friendly with Margaret Thatcher (an enthusiastic fan of his books) and shared dinners with John Paul II. Charting his slow drift from left to right, Novak explains how he came to see the guiding passions of his life—fighting poverty, advocating for human rights—as better served by an enlightened capitalism and by democratic politics that restrained the well-intentioned but too often disastrously heavy hand of the state. His conversion cost him some old friends on the left, but it seems impossible to ascribe these ruptures to Novak. Throughout this warm, chatty memoir, he comes across as the ultimate happy warrior, a thoroughly decent man interested only in truth, looking for the best in people and acknowledging it without regard to political affiliation.
A rare thing from a public intellectual: a guileless, bileless apologia.