Michael Novak


American Catholic Philosopher, Journalist, Novelist, Author and Diplomat, U.S. Chief Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights

Author Quotes

Millions of men look back nostalgically on their days in active athletics precisely because they experience there, as at few other points in their lives, a quality of tenderness, a stream of caring and concern from and toward others, suh as would make the most ardent imaginers of the androgynous ideal envious. Male bonding one of the most paradoxical forms of human tenderness: harsh, hazing, sweet, gentle, abrupt, soft. Blows are exchanged. Pretenses are painfully lanced. The form of compliment is, often as not, an insult. There is daily, hourly probing as to whether one can take it as well as dish it out. It is a sweet preparation for a world less rational, less liberal, than childhood dreams imagine. Among men, sports help to form a brotherhood for which, alas, sisterhood has no similar equivalent, and which is a highly human imperative to invent.

That just further underscores that this is not authorized.

Thus the insight most lacking in traditionalists is that intelligent and practical persons, acting freely and on behalf of their own practical wisdom, can in their free exchanges generate a spontaneous order, a form of catallaxy superior in its reasonableness to any order that might be planned, directed, or enforced from above.

No great, inspiring culture of the future can be built upon the moral principle of relativism. For at its bottom such a culture holds that nothing is better than anything else, and that all things are in themselves equally meaningless. Except for the fragments of faith (in progress, in compassion, in conscience, in hope) to which it still clings, illegitimately, such a culture teaches every one of its children that life is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

The basic reality of all human life is play, games, sport; these are the realities form which the basic metaphors for all that is important in the rest of life are drawn. Work, politics, and history are the illusory, misleading, false world. p. xii

To keep cool, to handle hundreds of details and call exactly the plays that work, to fights one?s way through opposition to do what one wills to do, against odds, against probabilities?these are to practice a very high art, to achieve a few moments of beauty that will delight the memory of those who watched, or listened, or read, for all their lives. What we mean by [sports] legend is what we mean by art: the reaching of a form, a perfection, which ordinarily the flesh masks, a form eternal in its beauty. It is as though muscle and nerves and spirit and comrades were working together as flawlessly as God once imagined human beings might.

None of us [kids on sandlot-neighborhood-sports] played in college. We had had our day, met our limits.

The British are an older, wiser culture, given to a certain matter-of-fact toughness and pragmatic amorality.

To win, one must defeat both the other team and Fate.

Not all of those who cry "The poor, the poor!" will enter the kingdom of heaven.

The choice to remain faithful to the drive to question (the fertile source of the experience of nothingness) brings with it an obscure joy. For to be faithful to that drive...is to be constantly expanding one's horizon, constantly losing one's life, and constantly regaining it. It is to be as alert to other persons, to situations, and to events as one can: to their fragility and terror, as well as to their obscure coherence and often veiled beauty. To be faithful to the drive to question is to accept despair as one's due, to accept risk as one's condition, and to accept the crumbs of discovery as joy. [...] The darkness is habitable...Those who accept the darkness as their lot are instantly secure, not through some newfound solidity but through the perception that insecurity is man's natural state, a truthful state, a healthy state.

Tradition lives because young people come along who catch its romance and add new glories to it.

Not enough young men and women who come to a university have ever had a punch in the nose, not enough have ever had a black eye, not enough have ever been involved in contact sports or personal physical combat? I think it would be good for us if we had some of those participant activities where everybody gains a sense of his own physical feelings?what it feels like to hurt a little, what it feels like to get bumped, what it feels like to be able to run faster, or to get caught, or to lose.

The ear, not the eye is the organ of human fact. And also of thought. The ear is personal (it carries tone and voice), holistic, stimulative. The eye distances, makes flat, kills, tames. To hear a great mind lecture is to have access to his though?and to his heart and seat of judgment?that reading his books does not supply. The liturgy of the churches, is, wisely, centered on the spoken Word. So ought the liturgies of sport to be?The eye is the most superficial sense. Television, the medium of the eye, cheapens us.

We are equal in the eyes of the Creator. But not to each other,

I have never met a person who disliked sports? who did not at the same time seem to me deficient in humanity. I don?t mean only that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, or Jill a dull ms. I mean that a quality of sensitivity, an organ of perception, an access to certain significant truths appear to be missing. Such persons seem to me a danger to civilization. I do not, on the whole, like to work with them. In their presence, I find myself on guard, often unconsciously. I expect from them a certain softness of mind, from their not having known a sufficient number of defeats. Unless they have compensated for it elsewhere, I anticipate that they will underestimate the practice and discipline required for execution, or the role of chance and Fate in human outcomes. I expect them to have a view of the world far too rational and mechanical.

Not that football satisfies everything. It doesn?t offer much guidance in how to understand a woman.

The great [athletes] attempt what the good ones let go by.

We are expected to sympathize with Larry Csonka when he abandons the Miami Dolphins for the World Football League and $3 million. I have to think of my family, he says. His family was not starving. If ballplayers cannot say no to money, if they will take the highest offer they can get and move away accordingly, they invite contempt. What they do is understandable enough, but wrong. It flies in the face of the rootedness and the fan?s identification with them which gives their professional inner power. If they think so little of their profession, why shouldn?t fans? p. 306

I need not to be afraid of the void. The void is part of my person. I need to enter consciously into it. To try to escape from it is to try to live a lie. It is also to cease to be. My acceptance of despair and emptiness constitutes my being; to have the courage to accept despair is to be.

Our Founders always wondered about how long it would last. The price of liberty is everlasting vigilance. You've got to be on your guard every minute or you will lose it.

The heart of human reality is courage, honesty, freedom, community, excellence: the heart is sports.

We can talk about human dignity, but where is it?

I relate this memory [of succeeding in sports at some level] indulge these dreams, only to indicate the pleasure that recognition of limits brings.

Our political institutions work remarkably well. They are designed to clang against each other. The noise is democracy at work.

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American Catholic Philosopher, Journalist, Novelist, Author and Diplomat, U.S. Chief Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights