Michael Novak


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

Author Quotes

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

Sports are not merely entertainment, but are rooted in the necessities and the aspirations of the human spirit? Sports do provide entertainment, but of a special and profound sort.

There are not many activities that can unite janitors, cafeteria workers, sophomores, and Nobel Prizes winners in common pleasure.

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

Sports are religious in the sense that they are organized institutions, disciplines, and liturgies; and also in the sense that they teach religious qualities of heart and soul?they recreate symbols of cosmic struggle, in which human survival and moral courage are not assured.

There is a new female recognition (something men have always known) that there are important lessons to be learned from sports competition, among them that winning is the result of hard, sustained, serious training, cool, clever strategy that includes the use of tricks and bluffs, and a positive mind-set that puts all reflex systems on go. This knowledge, and the chance to put it in practice, is precisely what women have been conditioned to abjure.

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

Sports are the high point of civilization?along with the arts, but more powerfully than the arts?

There is no rage like that of the pacifist insisting on nonviolence.

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

Suppose you are an anthropologist from Mars. You come suddenly upon some wild, adolescent tribes living in territories called the United States of America. You try to understand their way of life, but their society does not make sense to you. Flying over the land in a rocket, you notice great ovals near every city. You descend and observe. You learn that an oval is called a stadium. it is used, roughly, once a week in certain seasons. Weekly, regularly, millions of citizens stream into these concrete doughnuts, pay handsomely, are alternately hushed and awed and outraged and screaming mad. (They demand from time to time that certain sacrificial personages be killed.) You see that the figures in the rituals have trained themselves superbly for their performances, the combatants are dedicated. So are the dancers and musicians in tribal dress who occupy the arena before, during, and after the combat.

Those who have not known the rigors of competitive team athletics do not easily find other social and institutional frameworks in which such skills in self-knowledge may be experienced and perfected. That is why there is a special comradeship among former athletes, a bond of thrust within which athletes understand one another swiftly and with few words. And why there is a silent tension between athletes, who have known these fires, and non-athletes, or anti-athletes, who have not. The latter seem not to live as gracefully with defeat, humiliation, or self-betrayal, they seem less conscious of their own complicity in weakness?in other words, with their own sense of being sinners. They pretend more. They have been defeated less.

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.

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