The essay printed here is the lecture delivered by Michael Novak at the annual dinner of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., on February 25, 1999. At that dinner, Mr. Novak received AEI’s Francis Boyer Award for 1999. The award was established in 1977 by SmithKline Beecham, in memory of its former chief executive officer, to recognize individuals who have made exceptional practical or scholarly contributions to government policy and social welfare. The complete roster of Boyer Award recipients is included in this volume.
The 1999 Boyer Award was presented to Michael Novak in recognition of his profound explorations of the ethical foundations of economic and political systems, which have secured his place as one of the most important thinkers of the late twentieth century. His groundbreaking book “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism” has influenced such leaders as Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher, Lech Walesa, and Václav Havel and was in wide underground circulation behind the Iron Curtain beginning in 1984. As a university professor, prolific author, journalist, and, since 1979, the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Novak has extended the boundaries of religious thinking into many areas of culture and politics—including capitalism and democracy, the American Constitution, ethnicity, sports, poverty, and economic growth.
All history is proof of a law of moral entropy. Civilizations, given time, end badly. Surrounded in Washington by monuments that echo Greece and Rome, we are reminded daily of the fall of great republics and democracies. What hope have we that our nation will end differently? There are lessons in this nation’s covenant with God, of which the Declaration of Independence is the primary jewel.
Michael Novak (born 9 September, 1933) is an American Catholic philosopher, journalist, novelist, and diplomat. The author of more than twenty-five books on the philosophy and theology of culture, Novak is most widely known for his book The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982). In 1994 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, which included a million-dollar purse awarded at Buckingham Palace. He writes books and articles focused on capitalism, religion, and the politics of democratization.
Novak served as U.S. chief ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1981 and led the U.S. delegation to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1986.
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