This book may be my most important since The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982). It is a look ahead into the shape of the 21st century to come--its politics, economics and culture. Its focus is that bright crimson thread of human history, the search for liberty in all three spheres, in accord with the human hunger to understand and to choose freely and to take responsibility (and to evade it). I spell out why the 21st century begins locked within World War IV. (World War III, in retrospect, was "the Cold War.") Though not an expert, I try to meet the spiritual challenge of that false version of Islam (the religion), "Islamism" (a politicized desire to destroy others, dressed up falsely as the religion of Islam). I show how the desire of hundreds of millions of Muslims for prosperity, opportunity, and freedom from secret police and tyranny need not be in vain. Indeed, it may come to fruition in this century. I am not altogether optimistic, but there is a good chance that this may happen--and we must take work to make that happen. You cannot defeat terrorism by killing terrorists, but only by helping create a positive alternative, economic opportunity and political liberty, for young males especially (the source of so much violence),in the Islamic world. --Michael Novak, Washington, DC [A summary of the book may be found on my website, at [...]
Novak challenges Muslims to find within their own religious and philosophical tradition the resources for justifying cooperation with the West in embracing a free and democratic social order. Along the way he revisits topics familiar to readers of his earlier works (the relationship between Catholicism and democracy; moral virtue and a capitalist economy). While much attention these days is paid to Islamic fundamentalist apologists for a war on the West, Novak has apparently done his homework and demonstrates the possibilities for moral renewal within Islam by appeal to their own tradition (the case made, in large part, not just by Novak but Muslims themselves).
Due to the unfortunate stigma attached to "neoconservatives" in the wake of the U.S. war on Iraq, I'm not sure how many would be inclined to read this book -- but their ignorance would truly be their loss. As with all of Novak's books, I learned a great deal (not only about Islam, but about Catholic social doctrine and political philosophy). I would encourage those with truly open minds to consider Novak's proposals for themselves. It is a book that deserves an answer.
This is a very interesting book about an extremely important topic. While many people band about words like globalization, multiculturalism, and clash of civilizations, Michael Novak has attempted to sketch an outline of a successful world civilization, a Caritapolis, in which all the world's religions and cultures could participate without losing their identity. More specifically, he is attempting to answer the question whether Islam can be incorporated into the benefits of democratic society without being untrue to its essence. He is especially to be commended for trying to describe the spiritual core of democracy and capitalism, that is the virtues and dispositions of character that enable the free society to function successfully. In short, this is the kind of book that deserves to be read and discussed by those concerned about the possibilities for a free and prosperous 21st century around the world.
Its main defect is that, in 230 pages, it attempts to sketch a picture of a possible world civilization, show how to best aid the world's poor and the environment, detail how Catholicism has dealt with the modern democratic movement, and show whether and how Islam can be reconciled with democracy. Because of this many things are asserted that need to be argued: for example, despite his frequent references to the Judeo-Christian inspiration of democracy and capitalism there is little attention paid to parts of the Bible that would seem to support an authoritarian society, divergences between Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic interpretations of concepts central to democracy and capitalism like free choice, or even the Catholic magisterium's explicit condemnation of many elements of democratic society in the 19th century. In fairness, a book that attempted to cover all the topics he treats thoroughly would probably span a 1000 pages or more and perhaps the book would lose some of its appeal if it was less broad in scope.
Nevertheless, despite its shortcomings, this is a book that deserves to be widely read and disseminated.
The Universal Hunger for Liberty is a beautifully written and insightful book, unsurpassed in its depth of understanding. Michael Novak, one of the world's foremost theological thinkers, has demonstrated convincingly that the promise of democracy offers the best hope to people of all religions. His important message, if heeded sincerely, will serve to eliminate the most vexing problems that face us today.