Skip to content

Michael Novak on the Hunger for Liberty (Part 2 of 3)

A Clash of Civilizations?

WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 13, 2005 (Zenit) - The elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the demand for balloting in other Islamic countries, seem to support the idea of what Michael Novak calls a universal hunger for liberty.

Novak is author of "The Universal Hunger for Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations Is Not Inevitable" (Basic Books). He holds the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

He shared with us why the clash of civilizations -- and the conflict among the followers of Christianity, Judaism and Islam -- is not inevitable.

Part 1 of this three-part interview appeared Thursday.

Q: What is the "clash of civilizations" and why is it not inevitable?

Novak: The clash of civilizations arises from bitter conflict, exploding in sudden violence as it did in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. This clash was at first defined in terms of such contrary views as the meaning of truth, freedom and even God that there seemed to remain no common ground. Some could see only a long struggle to the death of one civilization or another.

To speak all too simply, by contrast, my hypothesis was that even in Muslim civilization, for which the terrorists of September 11 presumed, falsely, to speak, there was a religion of reward and punishment after death.

As Thomas Aquinas and Moses Maimonides long ago pointed out during the golden age of Jewish, Christian and Muslim dialogue of several centuries ago, such a religion was bound to hold deep within it a theory of freedom, even if its philosophers and theologians had not yet made much of that theory, or grasped its full implications, or drawn out all its possibilities. Without freedom, reward and punishment after death make no sense.

In short, there is plenty to discuss -- about truth, liberty and God -- among Christians, Muslims and Jews today and in the centuries to come. And such a conversation can most profitably go forward under certain agreed upon rules appropriate to inquiries in the light of truth, liberty, and our poor and inadequate and yet inwardly demanding ideas about God.

When I was writing "Universal Hunger for Liberty" in 2002 and 2003, such a dialogue seemed nowhere in sight.

But in the express desire for liberty manifested in the elections of Afghanistan and Iraq -- and the still newer demand for them in Lebanon, Egypt, Iran and other Islamic cultures in the months since then -- the topic of freedom is very much on the universal agenda.

It is so, not only in the political sense concerning democracy, but also in the cultural and human sense -- what human virtues, insights and practices are essential to it?

We have begun to move in the direction of Caritapolis one painful and small step at a time, under the force of necessity. The alternative is indescribably bleak, and also unnecessary, wasteful and fraught with immense suffering for all.

Q: You seem to suppose that Islam is open to liberty. But the very word "Islam" means to submit. What makes you believe that Muslim cultures can foster liberty, given this tension between authority and liberty?

Novak: The great American poet T.S. Eliot wrote that the most beautiful line in human poetry occurs toward the end of "The Divine Comedy," where Dante writes in early Italian a line that we translate succinctly into English this way: "In His will, our peace."

In Christian and Jewish thought, too, there are tensions between God's authority and human liberty, as there are between truth and liberty. These difficulties force us to deepen our own thinking and linguistic capacities, our ability to make distinctions and even our creativity in imagining solutions to seemingly insoluble puzzles.

It should be noted, too, that contemporary relativists, who face no difficulties in regard to the authority of God, in whom they have no belief, nonetheless face immense difficulties of their own. Why do they value liberty, instead of coercion? How do they find anything to be evil, without merely stating an arbitrary preference, with which others are free to disagree?

Their systematic relativism appears to turn decision-making, in the end, over to the most thuggish among them. If truth is of no relevance, the only source for resolving disagreements seems to be naked power.

In the universal dialogue among civilizations in the future, by contrast, under the regulative ideal of truth, I believe each of us will teach some lessons to others, and learn from them as well.

About the great questions of how to conceive of and speak rationally about liberty, truth and God, there is much for all of us to learn. And there is great merit in each of us plumbing as deeply into our own traditions as we can, in order to bring old and revered and still fecund treasures into the universal patrimony.

[Saturday: Europe's lost desire for liberty]

Contact

Catholic Online
http://www.catholic.org CA, US
Catholic Online - Publisher, 661 869-1000

Email

info@yourcatholicvoice.org

Keywords

Novak, Morality, Liberty, Truth, Freedom

More Catholic PRWire

Showing 1 - 50 of 4,718

A Recession Antidote
Randy Hain

Monaco & The Vatican: Monaco's Grace Kelly Exhibit to Rome--A Review of Monegasque-Holy See Diplomatic History
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

The Why of Jesus' Death: A Pauline Perspective
Jerom Paul

A Royal Betrayal: Catholic Monaco Liberalizes Abortion
Dna. Maria St.Catherine De Grace Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

Embrace every moment as sacred time
Mary Regina Morrell

My Dad
JoMarie Grinkiewicz

Letting go is simple wisdom with divine potential
Mary Regina Morrell

Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media
Catholic Online

Pope's Words to Pontifical Latin American College
Catholic Online

Prelate: Genetics Needs a Conscience
Catholic Online

State Aid for Catholic Schools: Help or Hindrance?
Catholic Online

Scorsese Planning Movie on Japanese Martyrs
Catholic Online

2 Nuns Kidnapped in Kenya Set Free
Catholic Online

Holy See-Israel Negotiation Moves Forward
Catholic Online

Franchising to Evangelize
Catholic Online

Catholics Decry Anti-Christianity in Israel
Catholic Online

Pope and Gordon Brown Meet About Development Aid
Catholic Online

Pontiff Backs Latin America's Continental Mission
Catholic Online

Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education
Catholic Online

Full Circle
Robert Gieb

Three words to a deeper faith
Paul Sposite

Relections for Lent 2009
chris anthony

Wisdom lies beyond the surface of life
Mary Regina Morrell

World Food Program Director on Lent
Catholic Online

Moral Clarity
DAN SHEA

Pope's Lenten Message for 2009
Catholic Online

A Prayer for Monaco: Remembering the Faith Legacy of Prince Rainier III & Princess Grace and Contemplating the Moral Challenges of Prince Albert II
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe

Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness
Sally Connolly

Glimpse of Me
Sarah Reinhard

The 3 stages of life
Michele Szekely

Sex and the Married Woman
Cheryl Dickow

A Catholic Woman Returns to the Church
Cheryl Dickow

Modernity & Morality
Dan Shea

Just a Minute
Sarah Reinhard

Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!
Hugh McNichol

Edging God Out
Paul Sposite

Burying a St. Joseph Statue
Cheryl Dickow

George Bush Speaks on Papal Visit
Catholic Online

Sometimes moving forward means moving the canoe
Mary Regina Morrell

Action Changes Things: Teaching our Kids about Community Service
Lisa Hendey

Easter... A Way of Life
Paul Spoisite

Papal initiative...peace and harmony!
Hugh McNichol

Proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection!
Hugh McNichol

Jerusalem Patriarch's Easter Message
Catholic Online

Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa
Catholic Online

Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
Catholic Online

Cardinal Zen's Meditations for Via Crucis
Catholic Online

Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Catholic Online

Pope Benedict XVI On the Easter Triduum
Catholic Online

Holy Saturday...anticipation!
Hugh McNichol

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Information
Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Services
Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

The California Network
Inspiring streaming service

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on catholic.org

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Catholic Online Singles
Safe, secure Catholic dating

The California Studios
World-class post production service

Education
Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

Catholic Online MasterClass
Learn from experts

School Teachers
Teacher lesson plans & resources

Catholic Media Missionaries
The New Evangelization

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Socials
Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.