BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Michael Novak, what is the origin of your book, "On Two Wings"?
MICHAEL NOVAK, AUTHOR, "ON TWO WINGS": Well, back in 1987, on the 200th anniversary of the Constitution, I was asked to do a series of lectures at Notre Dame, where I was teaching for a semester, University of Notre Dame. And I did those on the Constitution, but I wasn't quite happy with them. There were some things about the Founding I didn't feel I really had hold of. And there was a series of objections against the interpretation of the Founding that I had that I felt I had to meet.
So I'd been reading and filling files and keeping things, and I wanted to write a love letter to the United States, thanks for all it's done for my family. It was 100 years ago last year that my grandfather started out by foot from the mountains of Slovakia, the little village of Brutovca (ph), and walked to the West. And we had an anniversary celebration there, some cousins and my sister and brother and I, on the 100th anniversary of July 4th of 2000. And that was -- that was very touching. Very touching.
But anyway, I just wanted to say a thank you for what the country's done for us.
LAMB: Why did your grandfather come here?
NOVAK: Probably to evade service in the Hungarian army. There was at the time a forced Magyarization, as they called it. Everybody had to speak Hungarian in the schools and be drafted into the army, and so forth. And then also, as people began to live longer, the bigger families couldn't keep subdividing the land. The older son got the land, and what would the youngers do? So four of his -- four of eight brothers came, and came to -- mostly to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, but some to Connecticut.
And it's the most interesting migration in the history of the world. Thirty million people came between about 1880 and 1910, but they didn't come as big tribes, all at once. They came one by one, but they weren't alone. They usually came in chains. They usually knew somebody -- an uncle, a cousin, a brother, a husband, a wife. And -- and they just kept coming and -- the "wretched refuse," you know? "Welcome, ye wretched refuse." That was my -- my grandparents.
LAMB: The two wings stands for what? What are the two wings?
NOVAK: The two wings -- common sense, the -- the reason, but in the understanding of common sense understanding that everybody shares. You see what belongs with what and how to reason about it and how to think about it.
It's the -- it's the -- the attitude that the Federalist Papers, those letters written to the citizens of New York to get them to support the Constitution, appealed to. Don't think of your own immediate interest. Think long range, what this will mean for your children and your grandchildren. Don't think only of yourself but of the country as a whole. Set aside your passions and your -- your immediate interests. Think of your long-term interests.
Don't forget your interests, but -- and we don't want this to be a land where it's divided into five different nations, in alliance with five different nations in Europe, recreating all the wars of Europe. That sort of reasoning, common sense to -- to appeal to...
And the American Founding would not have got off the ground without that kind of reasoning. And on the other hand, what I call "humble faith," the kind of faith that comes from knowing your faith isn't the only faith in the world. And in order to be faithful to it, you have to also -- at least, if you're Jewish and Christian, you have to also figure out how to behave with people of other faiths. And that was the early struggle of this country. And I don't think the American republic would have got off the ground without both wings. You know, you need the beat of both wings.
It wasn't exactly common sense to make war on the greatest military power in the world, maybe not the best army but certainly the best navy and second-best army. And we didn't even have a munitions factory this side of the ocean. So to fight a war of independence and think we had a chance to win was a bit more than common sense. There was a certain faith that the God who made us made us to be free. And if we did our bit by him, he could hardly turn his back on an experiment in liberty.
LAMB: When did your own family become Catholic?
NOVAK: As far as I can tell, a thousand years ago, back -- one of my uncles did some family research and -- and at least as the story came to me, he had traced the family back to the 1200s in the little village of Brutovca. And there's -- there -- a little church. It's dedicated to St. Lawrence, which I found very touching. St. Lawrence is a Roman priest killed in the 4th century, martyred in the Coliseum or the like. And he was -- he was roasted alive. And one of the lines of his -- recorded the -- "I'm done on this side. You can turn me over." You know, it's a witticism as he -- as he -- as he lay dying.
And to have in these remote mountains in the center of Europe a figure from Rome just seemed to me quite amazing 1,000 years afterwards. And the symbol of the village to this day is a little grill.
My -- we learned a touching story I hadn't known before. When my grandfather left -- he had told me -- my grandfather didn't speak English very well and was very taciturn. But he had told me he'd put a little cross on a tree before he left. And when I'd visited in 1974, they -- they said there was no cross on a tree beside the road. And then somebody remembered they'd changed the road, and there was an old road. And they took me out there. Somebody knew it, took me out, and by gosh, there it was.
But he had sent back -- after a couple of years in Johnstown, he'd sent back $100 or something so that they could make a little iron cross, a little iron fence. And it's all rusted now, but it's still there. It was to me very moving. And they say -- this year they told us, when we celebrated, that the village walked out with him, and they sang a hymn with him before he left. And off he went into the sunset on foot, 16 years old.
LAMB: How long did you live in Johnstown, Pennsylvania?
NOVAK: Well, I grew up there and lived there till I was 14, and then I went out to Notre Dame, to a little seminary, to high school at South Bend. And my family continued living in Johnstown. My parents lived there till their death about five or six years ago.
LAMB: So you thought you were going to be a priest.
NOVAK: Yes, that's what I wanted to be from a very young age. My parents didn't want it, but I thought that's what I wanted to be. And I decided I'd better go when I'm -- I love playing football. I've got very big hands. I like girls a lot. And I thought, "If I don't go now, I'm not going to go." Western Pennsylvania's great football territory, and I'd have got caught up, I think, in a different -- different world, a different life. And so I went out, and I -- I stayed pretty long in my studies. I stayed 12 years altogether.
And I left really just before ordination, and I realized I just couldn't do all the things I wanted to do. I wanted to write fiction, thought I might want to run for politics, run for Congress. I didn't know you could be a priest and run for politics in those days, but that came later. But I didn't think you should, and I -- I -- anyway, I decided that that really isn't my vocation.
LAMB: How long did you stay at Notre Dame in the Holy Cross Center?
NOVAK: Four years for high school. Then we had a choice. Either -- they were starting a new province. It's Holy Cross fathers in the east. Either go east or stay at Notre Dame. I love Notre Dame. It's one of my favorite places in the whole universe. Try to go out every year now that I can afford it for a game when I can.
But -- but I thought it would be more in the Notre Dame spirit, more in the spirit of Holy Cross if I joined the pioneering province in the east. And so I went to Stonehill College in Massachusetts, which was just a new college and we were just building it up. We built our seminary out of an old barn and, you know, I was there in the very early days, when we were just really -- had just cleared out the animals and were putting in the wall -- putting up the walls and floors. Built a lovely chapel, and so on.
I remember shingling the roof. You can still see the slightly crooked lines of the shingles from amateur work that we did, but...
LAMB: Did you -- did you go on to more schooling after Stonehill?
NOVAK: Yes, and after Stonehill, I -- I was sent by the community to Rome to study for two years. And it was there I was beginning to think, "No, this is not the way I want to go." I wanted to go, but it's not the way I should go. And my superior suggested, "Don't make up your mind overseas. Come back to your home country. Be in familiar surroundings." He laid out what he would like me to do, study either philosophy or literature wherever I wanted to.
And -- and -- so I thought that was -- I hated it, but I thought it was good advice. So I took another year and a half and thought it through. And I'm glad I did because when I left, I knew I was doing the right thing. I never looked back, so to speak, and -- I miss my friends. They're a great bunch of guys, and so on. But -- but I knew I did what I had to do. Yes.
LAMB: So total number of years spent in the pre-priesthood, the seminary?
NOVAK: Twelve years.
LAMB: Twelve years. So at what age did you go out into the world, then?
NOVAK: Twenty-six, I think I was.
LAMB: In what, then?
NOVAK: Got $100 from my father and went to New York to finish a novel, and was determined not to go to work, and I managed to find book reviews and little articles to write. In those days, I planned to live on $3 a day. I could just about do it. Feed myself. I found an apartment for $10, believe or not. It was the kind of apartment where to open the dresser, I had to put my feet up on the bed. But it was a -- you know, a garret room, but it was good. And good Irish family up near Fordham. And -- and I sold the novel, and I got accepted at Harvard and went on to graduate school there.
LAMB: Did you get a Ph.D.?
NOVAK: I didn't get a Ph.D. I got a master's degree at Harvard.
LAMB: Was that the end of school for you?
NOVAK: Yes. Yes, with a long -- long course of studies, college...
LAMB: But 25 books later...
NOVAK: Yes, 25 books later.
LAMB: How many of those are novels?
NOVAK: Two. There's a couple novels in the drawer, but -- and I'm working on one. I would very much like to finish next or sometime soon a novel on the Johnstown Flood. David McCullough beat me to it in doing the book on the flood. Coming from Johnstown, I'd collected books since I was a little kid and -- and I wanted to tell that story. But he told it so very well, I decided not -- to set that project aside.
And then my son named his son Stephen (ph), which was my grandfather's name -- not the one I described, but the other one, from a village about 20 kilometers away in Slovakia. And we didn't know anything about my grandfather Stephen. He died when my father was 1. He was a miner. We have a picture of him outside a mine. And -- and we know he was married twice. And other than that, we -- we -- we hardly know anything. And at the baptism of my grandson, I was so touched that Stephen, the name, came back into the family.
I thought, "Holy smokes. I don't need to know anything about my grandfather. I can invent it. I know a lot about that generation and their coming to Johnstown, and I'll put him in the flood. And I'll describe the flood from the point of view of somebody who went through it." And I had some wonderful first-person descriptions of that that I collected over the years. And so I'll invent a life for him and tell -- tell the story of that generation.
LAMB: This book is 235 pages long, but you got a big appendix on the back. And one of the things you do in the appendix is talk about the Founders, list them, 86 signers of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, but only 6 signed both.
NOVAK: That's right.
LAMB: And you say only 3 Catholics in all that.
NOVAK: That's right.
LAMB: Were any -- any Jews in all that?
NOVAK: Not in that first number, but there were -- there were -- there were small communities of Jews in -- in several different cities around the country.
You know, George Washington, as president, one of his first acts as president was to address a letter to all the different religious communities. He wanted, as the president of the United States, to have them feel included and called upon. And one of the most beautiful is to the Hebrew community of -- as he called it, of Newport in Rhode Island. It's a -- it's the letter in which he says, "In this country, we give to bigotry no sanction, and we offer to our fellow citizens -- tolerance is too weak a word, not tolerance, but respect." It's just a lovely letter.
And Washington understood, as he said in his farewell address, that you can't have a republic, meaning a society that's self-governing, without people able to govern themselves, without virtue. By "virtue," they meant the habits of reflection and deliberation, the ability to think ahead what your actions are going to do and take responsibility for them. When you say yes to it, you mean it. People can take that to the bank. You don't need to write it down. It -- you know, you're reliable. That's what they meant by "character." You have to have people like that because if they can't govern themselves, how can they govern the republic?
And he didn't think you could do that or most people could do that most of the time without religion. Most people get their signals about the big ideas of life -- what's right, what's wrong, which direction are we going to in, the fact that liberty is the central thread of life -- that's a religious point. That's every story in the Bible. It's the great gift of the -- one of the two great gifts of the Hebrews to civilization is that every story in the Bible hinges on the decision made by each individual.
The story is that God offers his friendship to David, to Judith, to Adam, to everybody. And -- but they have to decide whether to accept it or not, and in what degree. And -- and so doing that, they declare their own destiny. They're the architects of their own destiny. And the red thread of human life is liberty.
And the other idea, which John Adams pointed out, is the idea of truth. He thought the Jews were the greatest benefactors of the human race. He said, "I'd say this even if I were an atheist" because they taught the human race that there is a creator, all-wise and all-knowing, who made the world and understands it, saw that it was good. And that means there's a truth in all things. There's a right way and a wrong way in all things. And if we put our minds to it, if we search out the evidences, we can -- we can get there -- maybe not you alone, maybe not me alone, but correcting each other, we'll get there. And -- or at least, ideally, we can get there.
And he says that makes all progress and all civilization possible because now you have the measure of what's up and what's down, what's progress, what's decline. And -- and now you have a way of -- of -- it's worthwhile looking for the evidence. Barbarians club one another. Civilized people reason with one another. They argue. They present the case. And if you listen to evidence, you can make some progress.
LAMB: We stopped at -- in your career at age 26 or so. Did a little bit of Harvard. But what about Washington, D.C., and the American Enterprise Institute? How long have you been here?
NOVAK: Twenty-two years, twenty-three years now. It's been a long -- it's pretty good without tenure, I think.
LAMB: You made a million dollars a couple years ago with the Templeton Prize?
NOVAK: I received -- you know, I received an award from the Templeton -- from -- yes, the Templeton Prize. There was no prize in the Nobel Prize in the field of religion. So Sir John Templeton, wonderful American from Tennessee, thought he'd fix that. And he did another neat thing. He decided he would always pay more than the Nobel Prize pays. Now, he's got a friend, another investor, who's been investing the funds for the Nobel Foundation. He's been making it tougher for Sir John because the Nobel Prize keeps going up. But anyway, in my year, it reached just shy of a million dollars.
LAMB: And that's just for you. You can do anything you want to do with it.
NOVAK: After the tax man took 40 percent, or whatever it was, and the District of Columbia took another 9 percent, or whatever it was.
LAMB: What year?
NOVAK: In 1994.
LAMB: Did you ever think that you would get that kind of money for writing about religion?
NOVAK: No. When my -- when my father-in-law heard that his daughter, his precious oldest daughter, was dating a young fellow at Harvard studying the history and philosophy of religion, his heart sank, I think. He -- he was hoping his daughter would marry a lawyer. And an ex-seminarian studying the philosophy of religion didn't seem to him to be going to make a very good living for his daughter.
He -- we got to be good friends, and he used to refer to me, I think, with affection, as his "son-in-law, the celestial physicist." He used to pull my leg every chance he got and...
LAMB: Didn't you just write a book with your daughter?
NOVAK: I did.
NOVAK: Three years ago.
LAMB: What was it about?
NOVAK: "Tell Me Why" it's called. My daughter, Yanna (ph), who works here as a speech writer, and so on, here in Washington, works in the Congress -- she's my bright and tough-minded daughter. And she wrote me a long fax saying, "Why should I believe in God? And OK, that's not so hard, but what difference does it make anyway? What does he care? And how does that effect my life? And why are we Catholic, anyway? What difference does it make? My boyfriend at the time is Presbyterian," and she rather liked that -- his church better than any of the Catholic churches.
And you know -- you know, "Do I have to have 13 children? And what is all this teaching about sexuality and marriage? And what's wrong with homosexuality, after all, and abortion and -- and" -- you know, a real long list, about 16 questions, this long fax. And it came to me while I was in Europe. And I was lecturing, and I had some time in the afternoon, so I sat down right away and started writing an answer to one of them. I said I'd deal with one at a time.
Then she wrote back her criticism of my answer. This is the first book I know of written by e-mail, but -- I said, "Oh, my gosh, Yanna. I'm willing to do this, but I have to set aside what I'm doing and take a year. Would you mind doing that? And if it comes out all right, would you mind publishing it?" And she's a very good writer. I think she's going to be a better writer than I am. And she said, "Sure."
So we -- we did it. And then, at the end, she committed the greatest indignity of all. She said, "I got to shorten it some." She cut out 70 pages or so of the most beautiful prose in the world, all mine, and -- and said to me, "We need to keep it short." And then I looked through it, and I thought, "You know, she did -- she showed very good judgment in the editing. All that stuff she cut out -- it really is better out." One or two paragraphs I have -- one page I asked to put back in.
LAMB: What did you call this book?
NOVAK: "Tell Me Why?"
LAMB: "Tell Me Why?" Published by?
NOVAK: Pocket Books.
LAMB: How many kids have you had?
NOVAK: Three. We have three kids.
LAMB: So you didn't have 13.
NOVAK: Oh, we didn't have 13, no. We had 3.
LAMB: Go back to the -- the signers of the Declaration and of the Constitution. Why were there six that signed both?
NOVAK: Well, it's just the way things worked out, that not -- you know, they were -- they were elected by their -- by their states for these assignments, or chosen by their states for these assignments. And different ones went in different directions after the -- after all, it was a pretty long time, 11 years, between the two, between the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
So there was a natural change of leading personnel. And some of them would have been awfully young at the Declaration, and they were still young at the Constitution. But -- but anyway, that's how it happened.
LAMB: One of those who signed both is someone you think a lot of, say he's maybe one of the brightest people ever in our early -- among the Founders, James Wilson.
LAMB: Was he a Pennsylvanian?
NOVAK: Oh, he's a Pennsylvanian.
LAMB: Does that have anything to do with you being from Pennsylvania?
NOVAK: No. No. I -- I was just struck that I didn't know so many of these people. I give a little list in the book, and I give it partly because when I looked down that list, I couldn't have told you -- I couldn't have told you the names of -- anything about the lives of most of them. Have a tag line for a few, but a stunning number I didn't -- I didn't recognize. And I kept running into little references about how -- how brilliant and how learned James Wilson was, and similarly with Benjamin Rush. And I decided I wanted to learn more about them, so I looked for biographies of them. And with Rush, of course, there are some biographies. With Wilson fewer. And -- and began to learn a little bit more about them.
Wilson had some wonderful lectures on law. He -- they're just fine. They're very -- they're transparent, translucent to read, very easy to read and very common-sense arguments all the way through. And Rush was the founder, in effect, of the medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, and he was one of the leaders in knowledge of science in the -- in the colonies. His correspondence with John Adams is terrific, and -- different ones of them would -- would say of Adams or of Jefferson or of Rush or Wilson that each was the most learned or the brightest man in the colonies. So they were all men of some heft.
LAMB: In the appendix, number 7 is the three Catholic cousins. Right out here in the suburbs is a place called New Carrollton, Maryland.
NOVAK: That's it. It's named for them, John Carroll of -- he's the only one who signed the name of the -- the location, so the British could find him, on the Declaration. And John Carroll is really interesting because he was the great -- what can you say -- father figure of the family and was one of the wealthiest men in the colonies.
The Carrolls had received the endowment for the Maryland colony, which was originally a Catholic colony, where they started, I'm very happy to say, given all the sins of Catholics in this regard over the years, a regime of religious liberty, which was ended when they were overpowered by a group of Protestants who -- who ended that. And the Catholics ended up being in the position where they couldn't have their own schools here -- he had to send his sons abroad to be educated -- and where they couldn't serve office.
And he became a friend of George Washington's. He was one of those sent on one of the missions to Canada, for instance, to appeal -- to try and win the sympathy of the -- the Catholics of Quebec for the American cause. And he appealed -- Washington asked him about what Catholics were thinking about the future country, and he said to him the most important item in the Constitution would be -- the new Constitution would be no religious test for public office, that public office should be open to everyone because it bothered him deeply that given his ability, he was kept out of office in -- in Maryland. And then his sons and nephews followed in his footsteps.
LAMB: John Carroll signed the Declaration? And what other Carrolls signed anything?
NOVAK: What is the name -- it's Charles...
LAMB: There's a Daniel.
NOVAK: Daniel and...
LAMB: Charles is a signer of the Declaration.
LAMB: But did John Carroll of John Carroll College?
NOVAK: I think it's the same
LAMB: Same family?
NOVAK: I think it's named for him. I think John Carroll College is named for him.
LAMB: You say that Daniel's brother, John (ph), became a Jesuit.
NOVAK: Yes. And then eventually archbishop, first archbishop of Baltimore.
LAMB: One of the things that struck me is -- three Catholics out of the 86 signers, no Jews, nobody from the Islamic religion. And we often hear people talk about the original intent and the original Constitution. Seems like when you read back, nothing then is like it is today.
NOVAK: Well, think, though, how much they shared in this. The -- we owe so much to that Protestant generation, or generations, really, for this country, and through their own bitter experience because the different Protestant colonies also had rather ragged records on religious liberty. You know, Massachusetts was terrible to Quakers, for instance, beating and killing some, and whipping and tarring and feathering them was their -- their punishment. And -- but they gradually learned from that, following mostly the example of Pennsylvania here. Pennsylvania had the most benign, open experiment in religious liberty.
It was to celebrate that, by the way, that the Liberty Bell was cast specially on the 50th anniversary of the religious liberty declaration of Pennsylvania, 1701, 1751. And then the Liberty Bell rung for independence, and so on, later.
But they gradually learned how to -- how to find a way they could take religion seriously without imposing it on others, without coercing the consciences of others and allowing others the -- as it came to be said in the First Amendment, the free exercise of religion.
But this Protestant generation deeply loved the Jewish testament. You can see in the names they gave to their children -- Sarah and Abigail, Ruth and Judith and -- and Zachary, and so on, Abraham. And they loved those stories because they found resonance in their own lives from them. As -- as the Jewish people were in exile and wandering across the desert, so they often felt in exile from Europe, from their homes, and wandered across the ocean. As the Hebrews were trying to build up the new city on the hill, a new Zion, that was the great aspiration, so the Americans were trying to build a new city, a new commonwealth, a new type of civilization, a new world on a different basis from the old.
And almost all the political teaching of the Bible is in the Jewish testament. So -- so that's where they went. Most of the -- the preponderance of the sermons of the founding era take their text from the Hebrews because here's a people struggling against kings, struggling to find a way to govern themselves, first with kings, then later tried to move away from the kings. And they found much nourishment in -- in this story.
In the New Testament, there's not very much about politics. A very important thing, "Give to God the things that are God's and to Caesar the things that are Caesar's." It's a very important, sharp observation. But other than that, the New Testament was mostly for people everywhere, in all cultures, in all regimes, in all times. And it isn't the history of one people in the same way the Hebrews were a people.
LAMB: What's the story of James Madison and the Baptists?
NOVAK: Oh, that's -- John Noonan, the judge out in California, tells this story, and it's the first time I encountered it, in "The Luster of Our Country," his book on religious liberty. On a farm not far from the Madisons' place in Orange County in Virginia, in southern Virginia, a Baptist preacher was preaching in a field to several thousand people. That was -- that happened often in those days. They would seek a declivity, a natural amphitheater, because they had no microphones or anything, and then preach.
And he was preaching near a tree, and an Anglican posse rode up. Now, there's a kind of oxymoron, I kind of think, an Anglican posse, but there it was in those days -- came up and galloped up, and the leader plunged the butt of his whip into the preacher's mouth. The others jumped from their horses, stripped the shirt off the man and whipped him. They gave him lashes. And there were 30-some or 60-some over the next few years imprisoned in that way. They were preaching without a license. The Church of England was the established church of -- of the time.
And the Baptists argued that "Our license comes from the Bible. We don't need a license from the government. We have a command to go preach this good news to everybody." And so they refused to ask for licenses.
Well, Madison was deeply touched by that, and his teacher at Princeton, John Witherspoon, who had been cajoled by three visits to come take the place of the great Jonathan Edwards as the new president of Princeton, from his home in Scotland -- had to persuade his wife and daughter to come to Princeton. John Witherspoon was a great demon on religious liberty. He believed that civil liberty and religious liberty ever go together. And it was one of his great arguments with the Catholic church. One of the reasons for the Reform, in his view, is to achieve this religious liberty.
John Witherspoon was a great preacher, and he kept his politics out of his sermons, but he -- he -- he was very much in favor of loyalty to the king. He didn't want to see independence. And gradually, seeing how badly the king misunderstood what was going on in America, he came over slowly to the side of independence.
Well, anyway, Witherspoon kept Madison at -- at Princeton for an extra year. Madison was studying Hebrew and studying liberty. And Madison became deeply imbued with the idea that religion -- he meant Christianity, in particular -- thrives best without the support of the state and should be intermingled as little as possible with the state.
And he formed what in the spectrum of the other members of the top 100 Americans at that time was a fairly extreme position, so pure, for example, that when he was president in the 1812 war, he had not wanted the government to provide even chaplains for the military. Well, that caused an outcry and he relented on that. And later on, he said he was wrong to have relented.
He really thought that government should do nothing for -- that's an extreme position that always had -- compare it with Washington, who commanded all men under his command to come out for public -- line up every morning and recite prayers under the direction of a chaplain, with their officers present and insisted that every day begin that way.
So Madison was so affected by this -- the story of the punishments of the Baptists that he became a kind of champion of them, and as a young lawyer, assisted them. It then happened, when Patrick Henry was angry at Madison for political fight they'd had, also over religious liberty -- he had Madison redistricted out of his congressional area that he knew well. And Madison didn't know so many people in the new district, but not quite a majority but almost, a significant proportion of them, were Baptists. And they came to his support, remembering what he'd done for them. So he managed to come back to the Congress.
But they made him promise that when he went back to Congress, he would lead the fight for the Bill of Rights. They would add a Bill of Rights to the Constitution. Madison, Hamilton were against that. They said, "Your rights are already in the Constitution. If you write down another set of rights, people are going to think you don't have any rights except those that are written down." The Baptists said, in effect, we don't trust the Anglicans. We want them written down." And he said OK.
And then he determined that when he went back to Congress, he would lead the fight for the Bill of Rights and try to do it as much as possible his way, to keep it from being destructive with the structure of the Constitution.
LAMB: So is that a raw, up-close example of what politics is all about? I mean, was it principle for Madison, or was it staying in office that forced him to go after the Bill of Rights?
NOVAK: Well, it's a mixture of both, I think, and I think that's perfectly appropriate. This is not a government of angels, it's a government of men. And constituents have a right to say to you, "Look, this is what we want. If you're going to be our representative, this is the kind of representative we want." And you have a right to think it over and think, "Well, OK. I think it's clear in the Constitution, but if it's not clear enough for you"...
And they were getting this argument from many other places than in Virginia. I mean, there was a lot of movement in Massachusetts and elsewhere for a Bill of Rights. So Madison began to think, "Well, the Bill of Rights is coming. It better be done correctly." And therefore, he tried to -- to write out the rights. And he practically single-handedly got the Bill of Rights through.
When the first Congress met, you know, they needed a post office. They needed excise taxes. They needed -- they needed all kinds of things -- roads, dams. They had all kinds of practical problems, money problems, the -- the security of money, the banks. And -- and they didn't want to go back to a philosophical argument about the structure of the country again. But Madison quite quietly and steadily kept on track, got his committees, got the legislation and got it through.
And when the Bill of Rights got through, it was announced to the world by President Jefferson -- excuse me -- Secretary of State Jefferson as -- as in with fisheries and -- and roads. And you know, it was no -- there was no big announcement. It -- it just -- it was not -- it was not greeted with the great acclaim that we now give it today. And it fitted in the general pattern of the Constitution.
LAMB: There are a lot of little things in here that I wanted to ask you about. I mean, they're not little in importance but just mentions that I hadn't seen before. You write, "I recall being stunned when I first read of Alexander Hamilton's tender request that the Holy Eucharist might be brought to him on his deathbed." Why were you stunned?
NOVAK: Well, I didn't think of Hamilton as a religious man. Not at all. And I -- you know, I'd read a good bit about Hamilton, and -- and the religious side of their lives is not treated very much by biographers, contemporary biographers. And I -- it was so touching. And you have to remember -- the story itself is very touching. His son, with the same revolvers, had been involved with a duel, and his son had been struck in the stomach. And he lay -- he lay dying, and Madison lay with him, with his son in his arms, for more than a day, while his son died.
And now a few years later, he himself was involved in a challenge with Aaron Burr, which he doesn't think he can turn down except to the disgrace of his family and himself. And so he agrees to the duel. But as with his son, he -- he determines not to fire at -- not to fire a true shot at Burr. And there's some long dispute about the -- the event, which need not detain us, but he also is struck and slowly dies over two days. And the bishop comes to see him, and the bishop refuses him the Eucharist because this is outside the bounds, duelling.
LAMB: Would this have been a -- what kind of -- an Episcopal bishop or a...
NOVAK: Episcopal bishop.
LAMB: ... an Anglican?
NOVAK: Yes. And -- and -- but Hamilton appeals in so touching a way, so gentle a way, and so long -- with so much longing for the Eucharist, the bishop thinks better of it. And when he comes back the second day, he brings the Eucharist. He says, "I think there will be no danger of scandal from this. It's clear the man has repented and that I owe him the comfort of the -- of the sacrament in the last days." And the letter that he wrote to his -- his wife in the sweet expectation of eternal life, and so forth, is...
It's just more than I had -- you know, I'd -- I'd sort of taken in the line when I was younger that these men were mostly deists, not very -- not very religious, really. They were just publicly religious because people were, but they didn't really feel it very keenly. Well, I was amazed to see how much they did.
LAMB: This footnote -- and you got a lot of them -- how many? Did you count them?
NOVAK: No, I didn't count them. But again, you know, I -- I'm -- I was going against the conventional wisdom, I thought, and -- and I didn't want it to seem merely pious gestures, so I wanted to show where everything came from.
LAMB: "Church services were held in the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court as soon as the government moved to Washington in 1800. Jefferson also allowed the War Office and the Treasury buildings to be used for church services. Ministers of all denominations preached at these services. Jefferson permitted members of the Marine band, executive branch employees, to play in the House church services." It goes on.
Was that new to you?
NOVAK: That was new to me. Stunning! The largest church service in the United States during the Jefferson administration was held in the U.S. Capitol building. Jefferson himself often attended, red prayer book under his arm. And he saw to the paying of the Marine band to provide the music on these occasions. I sometimes …where was the ACLU when we needed them? But -- but...
LAMB: Would you -- your own personal philosophy -- do you like this, what you hear?
NOVAK: Yes. I think that -- I think that the Founders were right. For most people in a country like this, in any case, the ground of their moral convictions is in religion. And these need to be exercised and exemplified and they need to have -- need to have a public reality in order to resonate in lives and to set up some markers in a republic. As Toqueville later commented, there are many things that the Americans, although they're free to do, would never do. And he -- he pointed out that was one of the services that religion provided. It was a kind of unwritten law about what's right and wrong.
LAMB: When did they stop these services in the Capitol, you know?
NOVAK: I don't know the answer to that, but on into the 1850s the Supreme Court building, too, was used for Sunday services. But I -- I -- I don't know. I learned this from -- by the way, from a Library of Congress exhibit. The Library of Congress had a magnificent exhibit on -- under James Hudson's leadership on religion at the Founding. And they just went into their -- their holdings and came out with all sorts of things we didn't -- at least I didn't appreciate before.
LAMB: You reference the "God bless America" at the end of speeches by politicians. Did you have -- get any sense of when that started?
NOVAK: Oh, it goes all the way back. It's not necessarily "God bless," but there's some invocation to God in every Inaugural address, all -- all the way back. I remember a teacher of mine at Harvard, Robert Bellah, had pointed that out. He wrote a book on what he called "civil religion" in America, and he was not entirely in favor of it. He was rather critical of it.
But -- but there's a danger in mobilizing religion to the -- to the purposes of a civil society, but there's a countervailing strength in having a religious judgment on society. You know, when you say "One nation under God," you mean one nation under judgment. We have some things we better live up to because God is not impressed by power or wealth or whatever else.
LAMB: In the -- again, the appendix, when you talk about the Founders, it struck me -- and your longest piece is on John Adams.
LAMB: But the thing I could not find -- I just wanted to ask you about it. There's no reference to David McCullough's "John Adams." Was that on purpose?
NOVAK: No, I did this before David McCullough's book.
NOVAK: In fact, I -- I had a conversation with David McCullough when he was doing the book -- he was planning to do the book on Jefferson and Adams, and I was leaning myself towards Adams. I remember expressing to him some enthusiasm for Adams and...
LAMB: But you made a -- a reference in the -- about there's not much been written about John Adams.
NOVAK: Yes. Well, I -- in fact, I wrote a book review at the time I was writing this book, in "the Weekly Standard" on July 4th, I guess, 2000, I think it was, talking about Adams as the neglected Founder, and certainly one of the top four, with Washington -- Washington, Madison and Jefferson. Adams certainly ought to be the fourth leg of that stool. It was a disgrace that we knew so little about him.
LAMB: Well, then, this sentence, especially if you've read the John Adams book and you know what at least Mr. McCullough thought of Thomas Jefferson -- you write this. "Jefferson boldly denied to President Washington that he had libeled Vice President Adams, but the evidence of his guilt was available in writing both private and public."
NOVAK: Yes. Washington had a letter, and a letter that appeared in the newspaper...
LAMB: Well, Thomas Jefferson isn't...
LAMB: ... making out too well in recent...
NOVAK: No. No, he...
LAMB: ... couple years.
NOVAK: Well, you know, look, every man in a long life does some things he's ashamed of, and -- and there -- I do think, in that early period, Jefferson's political ambitions led him to be much crueler to Adams, even against Jefferson's own standards, than -- than Jefferson would like to have appeared. Abigail called his bluff. You know, David McCullough has that -- tells that beautifully how John Adams was willing to forgive Jefferson those hurts, which just deeply wounded Adams for years, but Abigail wasn't ready to forgive. She never -- she never forgave those lies.
LAMB: Tom Paine you write about.
NOVAK: Another story that's surprising.
LAMB: I mean, most people think he was an atheist.
NOVAK: I -- well, he -- no, he was not an atheist, but he certainly rejected the Bible. I was astonished to discover that the man sailed to France to beg the French to turn away from atheism at the time of their revolution, that if they -- if they persisted, they would undermine all their claim to rights. And he wrote a beautiful reflection while he's in prison in France for this preaching about how he's ready to meet his judge and how he -- he looks toward eternity with a certain equanimity. And it -- it's -- so he's not -- he is -- no doubt he wants to reject the Bible, but the influence of the God of the Hebrews on his imagination is just powerful.
LAMB: This book...
NOVAK: Judge, creator...
LAMB: This quote you have in the book from him. "I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman Catholic church -- by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church."
NOVAK: There he is! There he is. But he does accept a lot of the -- he gets it from the -- from the atmosphere, I think, the idea of creator, judge, governor of the universe. That -- that's the ground on which he stands. And that's the God who gave him his reason, which he wants to use to its utmost.
LAMB: In the -- you alluded to this earlier in our conversation, about the influences on the society about God after World War II. And one of them I want to ask you about is -- you say, "And finally, although Hollywood got its start much earlier by the post-war era of the 1950s, intellectual and artistic elites acquired even more formidable powers over the public ethos through the appearance of two new technologies of communicating: slick national news magazines and television."
Talk more about that.
NOVAK: Well, it was in the 1930s, as I recall, that Henry Luce and his friends had invented for them a quick-drying ink which made possible the publication of a -- huge numbers of a magazine, and put them in a mail on a Saturday and have them in people's hands by Monday, made possible a national publication designed for a fairly sophisticated audience all across the country, who could be reading the same things.
And at that moment, I believe -- and I think radio and -- and -- and movies and a few other events, and gradually television completed this -- created a national culture made by national elites. Instead of having just the writers in New York do for New York and Washington for Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, suddenly you had a national culture. And I think that national culture rather dramatically changed the -- the ethos, the -- the moral ecology of the country.
NOVAK: Because it tended to be less rooted in the localities, less rooted in the diverse religious traditions of different places. Therefore, a little more secular, not -- they might have been religious, but they couldn't make reference to it so well and still communicate to others. But in fact, it was more secular. And if you do studies of the -- they're always being done -- of the political and religious views of people who produce the national news, they are rather different from the people in the local environments, much less religious.
LAMB: Have you changed your own philosophy or your own attitude about faith and reason and all that since you were a seminary -- seminarian?
NOVAK: Oh, it's grown. It's grown. It's...
LAMB: Faith has grown?
NOVAK: Yes, but also my -- my -- but my understanding of how the two interpenetrate and what the differences are and what the faults of each are. You know, it's a great strength of reason to moderate and to struggle for civility, to make distinctions, to be careful about assertions. Those are great strengths.
It's the great strength of faith to give you a second chance when you've fallen, when -- when you -- when you've done badly, when you find yourself going in the wrong course over a period of years, to have an awakening, as the Founders used to talk about. A whole country can have an awakening and get a new start.
And we've had three very big ones in our history, and they made a -- they made a big difference. One before the War of Independence, in which people, even the poorest people, became convinced they're as good as the king, that they're made in the image of God, too, and a real strong sense of their own dignity and rights.
And the Temperance movement of the 1830s and '40s becoming the Abolition movement, leading toward a more Godly understanding of America, as people thought of it. Sunday School movement by the end of the -- the 19th century -- I forget the percentage but enormous percentage of Americans attending some Sunday School, young people. And crime goes way down. Drunkenness goes way down, and so forth. But the emancipation of the slaves came out of that.
And then at the end of the 19th century, the social gospel movement and the battle to do something about the slums and the tenements and the abuses of industry, and so forth, has a powerful effect upon American politics. And Professor Vogel at the University of Chicago has written a book about the fourth great awakening, which he already saw coming, and it seems to me September 11 really pushed that along somewhat.
LAMB: So you think that's going to change things?
NOVAK: Well, I think there is a slow -- you know, you have to be careful because things change slowly in history. It's a huge aircraft carrier, so to speak, and you don't turn it very fast, history. And you get some deceptive movements that turn out not to be much. So I'm not really sure, but there's a good chance. People are cocooning, as they say, thinking a little more deeply about the meaning of their lives since September 11, for instance. But even before that, it was starting -- valuing their families more, spending more time with their families, thinking about family life a little more carefully, what's really important, in the end.
LAMB: You talk about the -- the big hundred back when this country started -- all white men, mostly Protestants. And then you talk about your own church, the Catholic church -- all men in the ministry, in the priesthood. Why only men? And what do you think of that?
NOVAK: Well, to take the Founders first -- men played the warrior role, the hunter role. Women in great difficulty and under great stress nurtured and protected the children for the long years that children need to grow. Human children as distinct from animals, need many, many seasons to grow. And it was a fairly natural division of labor for some time. And you saw it even at the time of the Founding. So I -- so you understand -- you understand that.
I think the Catholic understanding of priesthood is -- is the nub of the matter here. If the priest is a minister to people, to comfort, to console, even to preach, and so forth, any man or woman can do that. And deacons and deaconesses did it from the beginning of the church. And in the Protestant churches, where they have -- those Protestant churches that have diminished the priestly eucharistic role, the priestly role, if I can put it that way, the liturgical role, and think of the clergy as ministers, have very little difficulty having female ministers.
The Catholic church has a very strong sense of the human body and the differences the human body makes and has a very strong commitment to the notion that Jesus, for whatever reasons, called men, in an era in which there were priestesses in other religions, and that it is men who are -- who alone are called to this vocation. And that has always been the teaching and the -- the practice of the church. It annoys -- annoys some people. My -- my wife and daughter are not so fond of that. But they do see a reason for it. And I -- you know, I expect it's going to stay that way. If not, you know, the change -- the change will come and come in due time.
LAMB: What would cause it to change, you think?
NOVAK: Well, there is an argument being made that -- that -- well, there's a very practical argument, the need for priests. But there's another argument being made, that in fact, many good women feel called to this and that maybe the voice of the Holy Spirit's speaking throughout the church and that this -- that this should be respected.
My own view is that this argument has only gotten under foot in this generation, and it's wise to let these things mature and see who they go for a while, a generation or two. And the decision will be made in due course. And most of us could live with it either way, but there's a strong sense that -- the church is not master of the teaching that is given it. It's -- it's the receiver of it, and it needs to be faithful to it.
There's something very important in the -- in the human body for Christianity in general and for Catholicism in particular. It's the only religion which talks about the resurrection of the body at the end. Talks about male and female, he made them. And somehow, God is mirrored in the relationship between male and female. Each have a separate role in that relationship. We speak of God, the father, and Jesus as his son. That language is so old and so traditional and so gender …that it's hard to imagine reversing it.
Many of the Christian ministries go out of focus and out of phase when you try to do that. So these are very subtle matters of -- culture and profundity with which you want to -- to mess, I think, very slowly and very carefully -- very carefully, if at all.
LAMB: What's next for Michael Novak?
NOVAK: Well, I hope -- I would like to finish the novel that I mentioned to you about the Johnstown flood. I've also thought of doing a kind of memoir or autobiography. And finally, I'm wrestling with a book on taxes, of -- what's the argument for the progressive income tax? Why isn't it proportional? Everywhere else, justice is proportional, equal proportions. If you make more money, you pay more tax. But it should be proportional. Why not? Why do we make an exception in the case of justice in this thing? I'd like to address that argument, look at the way the courts have done it over the years, and so forth.
LAMB: Michael Novak, "Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding." "On Two Wings" is the name of this book. Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute, thank you very much for joining us.
NOVAK: Good fun, Brian. Thanks very much.
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