Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Michael Novak

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

"It is a mistake to base one’s hopes for happiness upon the enforcement of security and equality. In principle, both desires are insatiable... No individual or society is secure in a world of emergent probability and sin... To exercise liberty is to take risks, to embrace uncertainties."

"In God's eyes, there's not before and after. Every moment of time is simultaneous to God."

"Atheists in our midst are proof that all consciences can be accommodated here, even those that have no ground for holding that conscience is sacred, inalienable, and prior to civil society."

"Love is not a feeling of happiness. Love is a willingness to sacrifice."

"During the next hundred years, the question for those who love liberty is whether we can survive the most insidious and duplicitous attacks from within, from those who undermine the virtues of our people, doing in advance the work of the Father of Lies. “There is no such thing as truth,” they teach even the little ones. “Truth is bondage. Believe what seems right to you. There are as many truths as there are individuals. Follow your feelings. Do as you please. Get in touch with your self. Do what feels comfortable.” Those who speak in this way prepare the jails of the twenty-first century. They do the work of tyrants."

"Individual freedom is a Jewish idea, but it's one of the functions of Christianity to make this idea universal."

"The universe moves in the direction of Liberty."

"Christians must be Jews. The truth of what we believe depends on the truth of Judaism, depends on the first covenant."

"To know oneself is to disbelieve utopia."

"In most of history, societies have not been free. It's a very rare society that is free. The default condition of human societies is tyranny."

"We really feel happier when things look bleak. Hope is endurance. Hope is holding on and going on and trusting in the Lord."

"If a Catholic cannot feel confident in a time of globalization, what is the point in bearing the name ‘Catholic,’ which is another name for global? (The imperative for globalization began with the commission ‘Go preach the gospels to all nations,’ which turned Christianity away from being the religion of one tribe or one people only, and commanded it to see the whole human race as one people of God.) Globalization is the natural ecology of the Catholic faith."

"You're a sovereign as a citizen. If you're not involved in your government, you're not doing your job. In the long run that's very bad for the Republic."

"A democratic power has a tough time staying at war for a very long time ? because people have a vote. They begin to think the cost is too high. And it?s often very hard to understand what?s going on all around the world, why the war is so important. The impulse brought on by the bombing of the World Trade Center buildings in 2001 gave Americans the will to fight. We got to get those terrorists. First in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a quite monstrous man what he was doing to his own people. He went against the very treaties he had signed with Bush the First. A lot of young people volunteered. But as the going got tough, more and more people became more and more reluctant to support it. But it was coming along slowly. There had been more and more stories of democracy growing in the Middle East ? the most in 200 years. It was slowly turning those countries in a new direction towards democracy, towards human rights. That was giving young people in those countries a new [goal], instead of just rebelling and destroying others ? killing ? a lot of them began to get the vision of developing a better country. ?There?s no reason will all these oil wells that we have so many unemployed. We got to get going in building an economy so people can have a future.?"

"A great rival is a great gift. How can one extend oneself into fresh heights if there is no on to force higher? An artist of any sort who has no peers suffers from the lack. Great peers make one greater than on could become in solitude."

"A friend asks if I know the difference between a saint and a martyr: A saint is someone who radiates goodness and bears no faults. A martyr is someone who lives with a saint."

"A man is too insignificant to be preoccupied with his failures. All of the energy he has is required for attending to the loneliness, the pain, the needs of others."

"Athletic achievement, like the achievements of the heroes and gods of Greece, is the momentary attainment of perfect form?as though there were, hidden away from mortal eyes, a perfect way to execute a play, and suddenly a player or a team has found it and sneaked a demonstration down to earth. A great play is a revelation. The curtains of ordinary life part, and perfection flashes for an instant before the eye."

"Coaches and scouts seek out desire. Athletes with lesser talents but great desire are better fitted for actual contests than men [and women!] of vast ability but psychological reluctance."

"Command by instinct is swifter, subtler, deeper, more accurate, more in touch with reality than command by conscious mind. The discovery takes one's breath away."

"Each athlete in every sport discovers very early that others, in this way or that, are his superior. Each finds what he can do best. Each picks his level. Each labors to learn all that he has talent, endurance, and will to learn. Each must, sooner or later, cease pretending to be what he is not, cannot be, and rejoice in playing up to the limit given him. Life is not equal. God is no egalitarian. Prowess varies with every individual."

"Basketball is jazz: improvisatory, free, individualistic, corporate, sweaty, fast, exulting, screeching, torrid, explosive, exquisitely designed for letting first the trumpet, then the sax, then the drummer, then the trombonist soar away in virtuoso excellence."

"Baseball without cunning, trickery, and pressing for advantage would scarcely be a contest. Our sports are lively with the sense of evil. The evil in them is to be certain, ritualized, controlled, and channeled."

"Being, beauty, truth, excellence, transcendence?these words, grown in the soil of play, wither in the sand of work. Art, prayer, worship, love, civilization: these thrive in the field of play."

"Granted that I must die, how shall I live?"

"Half the pleasure of football is the contest between wit and brawn."

"I had a bartender friend in Philadelphia years ago, a devoted baseball fan, who told me, and he said this with tears in his eyes, that the most beautiful thing in the world, more beautiful than any blond, more beautiful than a mountain lake at sunset, was bases filled, two out, three and two on the hitter and everybody moving with the pitch."

"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."

"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."

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

"If I had to give one single reason for my love of sports it would be this: I love the test of the human spirit."

"If you've ever been in a position in your life where you just can't take any more, you just have to get through the next second, and the next second after that."

"Each sport is for most a teacher of humility and reconciliation."

"Even rock stars are entitled to privacy."

"In sports, dynasties rise and fall. No one dares to be too arrogant too long. Hubris and nemesis?"

"In the United States? the essence of the symbolic form of football is liberation: breaking away, running for daylight, escaping containment."

"Intercourse is the organic expression of two psyches, not a mechanical plugging in."

"It sounds like we are trying to make new law here and we are really not."

"Jews do not have to be Christians. Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism, but too utopian, too hopeful, too unrealistic a turn."

"Like the other fruits of civilizations, sports are not productive; they are expressions of liberty."

"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."

"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."

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

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

"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."

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

"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."

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

"Play belongs to the Kingdom of Ends, work to the Kingdom of Means. Barbarians play in order to work; the civilized work in order to play."

"Practically every movie that shows the pope or even a bishop as a character, and in much of western literature of the last 300 or 400 years, these are portrayed as awful figures."