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On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding Hardcover – December 1, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-1893554344 ISBN-10: 1893554341 Edition: 1st
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"In one key respect, the way the story of the United States has been told for the past one hundred years is wrong," writes Michael Novak. "To read most philosophers and historians of the American polity today is to learn that America is an historical embodiment of secular philosophy, the Enlightenment." Nothing could be further from the truth, says Novak, who sets out to demonstrate just how important religious faith was to the founders. He makes a spirited case, noting, for example, that the very first act of the First Continental Congress, in 1774, was to make a public prayer. Of the 3,154 "citations in the writings of the founders," 34 percent are to the Bible. He provides dozens of similar examples. On Two Wings does not proceed as a traditional narrative; Novak favors extensive block quotations from his sources and conveys a whole chapter in question-and-answer format. In addition, a major part of the book is an appendix that provides brief sketches of the lesser-known founders. What the book lacks in narrative elegance it makes up for in forceful argument-- it pulls off the trick of being both brief and thorough. Readers who admire Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis will appreciate this book, especially if they are religiously inclined. --John Miller

From Library Journal

Novak (religion and public policy, American Enterprise Inst.; Belief and Disbelief) argues that religion played a central role in the lives of, and the documents by, the founders of the American republic. He further attempts to show how Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and others had in common a "humble faith." He is most convincing when presenting evidence that biblical language and allusions permeated the writings of these leaders but is less successful in showing that the religion they thought useful for others also held personal importance for them. The book is weakened by a definition of religious faith so broad that "humble faith" becomes merely religious sensibility. Novak is clearly passionate about his topic, but he relies heavily on secondary works, so that at times this is more of a summary than an addition to the topic. Useful for collections seeking differing viewpoints on American history. Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll., NC
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 235 pages
  • Publisher: Encounter Books; 1st edition (December 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1893554341
  • ISBN-13: 978-1893554344
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,167,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Novak, retired George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy from the American Enterprise Institute, is an author, philosopher, and theologian. Michael Novak resides in Ave Maria, Florida as a trustee and visiting professor at Ave Maria University.

Ever since The Open Church hit shelves in 1964, Michael Novak has been a voice of insight on American and Catholic culture. Author of more than 45 books on culture, philosophy, and theology, Novak continues to influence and guide right thinking. Winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize, Novak's Westminster Abbey address remains as instructive it was two decades ago. As a founding director of First Things and writer for many publications, Novak has sought to build up our institutions.

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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful By scott sirk on February 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The founders emphasis on God and the practice of religion receives its just due in Michael Novak's On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding. Novak argues the founders agreed on the importance of religion. Ben Franklin represented the founders thought with the statement "...that God governs in the affairs of men." (p.42) The faith of George Washington and his reliance on prayer during the trials of the Revolutionary War is representative of the founders in the truest and noblest sense. (see pp.18-20) Novak surprised me with documentation of Hamilton's faith. The author correctly gives John Adams credit for his leadership while stressing his faith in God and belief in justice as well as the importance of liberty. The author correctly points out how the founders believed liberty was desired by God for men, but may be easily lost by men in less than a generation.
The greatest gift of many in this book is the recognition of the forgotten founders. Novak reports on one of the greatest educators of American History John Witherspoon as well as George Mason, James Wilson and Charles Carroll. The most dramatic of the forgotten founders was the story of Joseph Warren and his heroics at Bunker Hill. Warren said prior to Battle of Bunker
Hill, "You are to decide the important questions upon which rest the happiness and liberty of millions not yet born." (p.124)
This book was very well documented. The footnotes are excellent. The book would have benefited from an Index worthy of this excellent book.
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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful By E. E Pofahl on June 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Michael Novak has written a profusely documented and succinct analysis of the influence of religion on the form and the founding of the United States government. The author writes, "On two wings the American eagle rose into the sky. On plain reason and humble faith." Discerning that American historical scholarship has greatly neglected the study of religion's influence on the form and character of our nation, Novak proceeds to answer the question "But how did the founders think of faith?" At the time of the Revolution, religion was important in American culture; the text states "During the years 1770-1776, the fires of revolution were lit by Protestant divines. . ." and continues "The very form of the Declaration was that of a traditional American prayer. . ." The author notes that the founders mentioned that faith provided at least seven contributions to the nation's founding which reason did not supply, and then he discusses each contribution.
George Washington was deeply religious. The text observes that "Washington does not call religion `optional'. The word he uses is `indispensable." As Commander of the Continental Army he "gave orders that each day begin with formal prayer, to be led by the officers of each unit." I'd hate to guess the outcome if the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff tried that one today. The text states that "The founders did not think the constitutional government they were erecting could survive without Hebrew-Christian faith." and continues on page 129 "Virtually all the signers of the Declaration and Constitution were churchgoing men."
Chapter Five is titled "TEN QUESTIONS ABOUT THE FOUNDING". The author answers and discusses ten critical questions. Question four asks, "When did things go wrong?" On page 112 Novak notes ".
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45 of 52 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what was in the hearts and minds of America's founders. Read John Adams, yes. Read Founding Brothers, yes. But don't think that you have the whole story until you read Michael Novak. He shows that our Founders were not a bunch of deists and pantheists; that they had no notion of establishing walls between their government and their God. They were profoundly and traditionally religious men whose passion for justice flowed out of the depths of their faith. This is a classic book that shows the role of faith at our founding and restores our Founders'identity as men of God first and men of the Enlightenment secondly.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Michael Novak on April 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Now in its third printing in four months, this is one of my favorites among all my books, and I dare to think it is one of the more important among them. For it deals with an utterly fundamental matter: How to interpret the American founding. And it presents an immense amount of evidence which shows, at least, that many commonly accepted views today are insupportable in historical fact. My works often fly in the face of conventional wisdom, so I have become accustomed to nasty reviews over the years. In this case, the reviews so far--First Things, National Review, The Wall Street Journal, and The Commonweal in particular--have been uncommonly good. For which I am grateful. I'm also grateful to Brian Lamb for putting the book on "Book Notes," and many kind radio personalities for doing the same. I'm trying to get accustomed to so many good notices. It will be time to go back to being annoying, soon enough. -- Michael Novak
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Alan E. Sears/Pam Andruch on December 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
One-winged birds can't fly. That's why Michael Novak, the author of "On Two Wings," asserts that the history of the United States has been taught incorrectly for the past 100 years. The American Republic took flight on two healthy wings, one called Faith and the other called Reason. American history, as taught now in our schools, would have students believe our Founders set flight with one wing only: Reason.

Novak, the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy and Director of Social and Political Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, makes a strong case for both wings working together. But today the wing of Faith is the one too severely clipped to work as it should.

For instance, most people today believe that the Enlightenment was more critical to the American Founders than the Old Testament. The historical record shows that it was the Old Testament that was far more important than the Enlightenment.

That's because the Founders held a "Hebrew metaphysic," which included the concepts of time having a beginning and an end, and of final judgment in the hereafter for human actions in this life. The Founders agreed with the Hebrews, that time is linear, not cyclical, as the ancient pagans believed. And the Declaration refers to God as "the Supreme Judge of the world."

This "metaphysic" - a mix of theology and philosophy - gave the Founders a wonderful nomenclature in which to express political ideas. The Founders wisely shunned specific theological terms, such as Savior, Trinity, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and used instead the imagery of the Old Testament. In this way, they charted a course for common ground. This book should be required reading in college political science programs.
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