Goodbye to All That

'Writing from Left to Right'

My Journey from Liberal to Conservative
Michael Novak
Image, $24, 336 pp.

Michael Novak is now eighty years old. For almost half his life and nearly two-thirds of his public career, he has been a leading apologist, in the proper, nonpejorative sense of that word, for American-style capitalism. Judged by this account, those decades have been highly productive, intellectually satisfying, and richly rewarding in terms of influence and acquaintance with the great and powerful. Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, the presidents Bush, and Pope John Paul II all make cameo appearances here.

But that does not explain the “journey” of his book’s subtitle. Michael Novak was a political radical, by his own dating, for four years, from 1967 to 1971, and except in some of his rhetoric a “guarded” (his word) radical at that, always insisting on nonviolence and never scorning electoral politics. Before that, he was a bright Slovak-American kid who entered the seminary in 1947, after eighth grade, and didn’t emerge until he was twenty-six. In January 1960 he set out to make a career as a writer in New York City. Less-than-happy spells doing graduate work at Harvard were interrupted by unusual success as a reporter and interpreter of Vatican II, which in turn led to similar success teaching religion at Stanford. It was there, in 1967, that he became a tribune of the student-led opposition to the U.S. war in Vietnam. His criticism of the war morphed into harsh judgments on the United States, its culture, economy, and politics. This...

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About the Author

Peter Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal and religion writer for the New York Times, is a University Professor Emeritus at Fordham University and author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.