I recently finished Mark Levin’s Aug 2013 book The Liberty Amendments and immediately recommended it to “The Ed,” a valued contributor to this blog. We’ll soon see what originalist reflections he might sprout from that seed corn.
Over the weekend I picked up the next book that’s risen to the top of my “must read” stack.
Published in Sept 2013, it’s called Writing from Left to Right: My Journey From Liberal to Conservative. It’s a memoir by theologian Michael Novak. Here is an excellent review of the book by The American Spectator.
I hadn’t even finished the 9-page prologue – the page numbers were still Roman numerals, for goodness sake! – before finding a couple passages that struck me square in the forehead with their stark clarity. I feel they stand alone excellently, so I share them here.
From pages xviii – xx, of Mr. Novak’s prologue:
A philosopher and theologian by training, I grew up with a deep interest in how ideas change history – and how history changes ideas. Providence – held by America’s founders to be that “Great governor of the universe” – arranged that I should live through movements both from history to ideas and from ideas to history.
At eighty I look back over the events I have witnessed, and I revisit the lessons I learned the hard way. Events and facts forced me to change my mind about the ideas with which my education imbued me, eager pupil that I was. I worked out my changes of mind publicly in articles and books. As my new direction became clear, I lost many close friends. My phone stopped ringing. Angry letters from dear friends pleaded with me to desist. I was shunned at professional meetings, even by the closest of old colleagues. Some refused to appear with me ever again on any academic program. This was a common experience among those of us who moved from left to right in our time.
Why? Because the two metaphysical beliefs of the Left are that progress is unstoppable, and that progress means always turning left. Any turning toward the Right contradicts this metaphysics and must be shunned.
Even today, when feelings have mellowed, old acquaintances josh me for having changed my mind on several key matters. I josh them back: “How on earth, seeing what we saw, living through what we lived through, did you not change? I thought the rule was open-mindedness, revision as facts warrant, and fresh judgments of reality.”
Many persons today are again wrestling with political and economic beliefs they have long held and are beginning to drift away from them.
I may be quite wrong in how I dealt with my own doubts and inquiries during my adulthood. Perhaps the record of how I believed, and then doubted, and found what seemed to me a better way to reach our goals may help others to avoid mistakes I made and take better and surer steps on their own.
. . .
. . . I have lived long enough to see economic errors repeat themselves over and over. Dostoyevsky predicted this: Humans claim to want liberty but then shuck it off when its attendant responsibilities become irksome. I have come to judge “progressivism” itself to be a well-intentioned but deadly error. It overrates human innocence and goodness and underrates human weakness and preference for getting things for free rather than as a result of arduous work. It claims to want equality, but it does not grasp how that demand undermines the motive for initiative and hard work. It is a form of statism, trying unsuccessfully to drape the smaller garments of small government and liberty around its gigantesque frame. And the trouble with statism is that it works only until the state runs out of other people’s money.
By 2013 the United States has done that. Most government spending today is financed by debt, most of it owed to foreign powers. That is a symptom of the greed of progressives, feeding boundless appetites for utopian schemes, to be paid for at the severe expense of future generations. I find this disgusting. For me it is just plain stealing from our grandchildren. I can hardly face my own, Emily and Stephen, Wiley and Julia. Our generation’s thievery from our children is perpetrated in the name of the unprecedented “compassion” of our generation – a compassion that we ourselves are not paying for.
I am glad that I am in my eightieth year and will not live to see the suffering, and perhaps bitterness, of these grandchildren. How they will despise us!
About Michael Novak, from the Random House, Inc. dust jacket:
Michael Novak is one of the world’s most influential social philosophers. Since the 1960s he has played a prominent role in American political life, writing on everything from the ethics of the free market and welfare reform to the faith of the Founding Fathers. He has taught at Harvard and Stanford, and held chairs at Syracuse, Notre Dame, and the American Enterprise Institute, a leading international think tank. In 1994 Novak received the Templeton Prize (the Nobel Prize of the life of the spirit), an honor he shares with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Charles Taylor. His writings have been translated into every major Western language as well as Chinese and Japanese. He has also received the highest medals awarded to a foreigner by the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland.