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What is the Purpose of the Universe?
by Peter & Helen Evans
14 October 2003Michael Novak

An interview with Michael Novak, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Many have pondered that perennial question: "What is the purpose of the universe?" and not found a satisfactory answer.  Yet, in a recent interview with Michael Novak, he gives us a profoundly simple and understandable answer.  It also answers our question of, "What is America for?"  Along the way we also touch on the question of what legacy we want to leave to future generations.... spotted owls, obscure mosses or a free republic?

Michael Novak is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, author of On Two Wings and over twenty other books.

What follows here is a selection from our interview.

Helen: So when people say it's not ‘cool’ to be political, or they are not aware of how government affects them, they are just not aware of their responsibility.

Mr. Novak: You're a sovereign as a citizen and 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. The whole condition for keeping what we have is that people act as sovereigns. So we must pay attention, we must be aware, we must be very jealous of our power. Don't let that power get away from you.

Peter: There are two aspects to this. The republic depends very much on the quality of the people and the quality of the people depends very much on the quality of self government.  Big government seems to go hand in hand with the decline of individual sovereignty.

Mr. Novak: If people don't care about politics and don't learn about politics they are leaving a vacuum into which government expands. They go hand in hand. Those people who do not care are turning this country into another country of big government and their children will not inherit a free society. If that's what they want, it's too bad. They should just know that's what they are choosing when they don't become involved.

Peter: They are choosing by not being aware of the implications of their choices.

Mr. Novak: They are choosing by not fulfilling their responsibility. They're just not acting like sovereigns.

Helen: One of the things people forget about the Great Experiment is that it is indeed an experiment in human freedom and liberty and that, because freedom is freedom, we can't predict any outcome or how it will progress.

Mr. Novak: That's why 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. 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.  Every society's inclination is toward tyranny, unless you resist it constantly.

Helen: Talking about the sovereign, I'd like to get to the idea presented in your book On Two Wings that there is a present misconception that the Founding Fathers were simply “men of reason.” However, you say that they based this new society on two wings: faith and common sense. Can you tell us where this misconception came from, that the Founding Fathers didn't bring faith in a higher power into the making of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution?

Mr. Novak: There was no misconception about this idea until well into the 20th century.  It was well understood that, in the beginning, our Founders would not have declared war on Great Britain in search of their independence unless they had faith that God was the God of Liberty.  Great Britain was the greatest military power in the world. It had the greatest army and the greatest navy.  We had no army, we had no navy, we had barely a munitions factory on this side of the water. Yet they dared to make war on this great power because they knew from their Bible that God created the whole universe with all the vast space and silence so that somewhere there would be some creature in it, male or female, that could recognize what He did and could accept His friendship. He offered His friendship, but He wanted the friendship of free men and women, not slaves.  So, He had to make them free.

Ben Franklin said that "where there is friendship, there must be freedom."  That's why the very first article of the charters in Pennsylvania is the charter of religious freedom.  In the Society of Friends, the Commonwealth of Friends, its first city, Philadelphia, is called the City of Brotherly Love.  Where you have Brotherly Love -- which is a form of friendship -- you must have freedom. And Jefferson said the same thing, "The God who gave us life gave us Liberty at the same time."  So the whole purpose of the Universe is Freedom. Therefore a whole people cast its fate on the cause of freedom. They knew God wasn't a Pollyanna God.  The good guys don't always win; they sometimes take a terrible beating.  So it wasn't guaranteed we'd win, but it was a good shot. It was in accord with the general momentum of the universe. The universe moves in the direction of Liberty.  So they trusted in that and they wrote in the Declaration of Independence, "with a firm reliance on Divine Providence." Well, if you don't have a munitions factory you'd better rely on Divine Providence!

The rest of the interview can be read at Peter and Helen's website.

Peter & Helen Evans, international teachers and authors, write articles and teach a philosophical approach to conservatism. Their website is http://peterandhelenevans.com.

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