The Universal Hunger for Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations Is Not Inevitable

October 6, 2004

Detail from book cover.


JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Merrill House Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I would like to thank you all for joining us as we welcome Michael Novak to our Books for Breakfast program.

This morning he will be discussing his book, The Universal Hunger for Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations is Not Inevitable.

One of the major challenges facing us today is how to modify the relationship between Islam and the West. In an attempt to understand what it is that has turned some Arabs toward Islamic extremism and against America, some individuals have only focused on the fault-lines that separate and divide Western and Eastern civilizations. Others, like our guest this morning, have tried to engage both the United States and its allies in a more positive approach, one that would invite a dialogue with Islam and emphasize our commonality, rather than magnifying our differences.

With an understanding that religion is bound to play a key role in world affairs in the twenty-first century, Mr. Novak looks to find the common threads that will unite Christians, Jews, and Muslims. He determines that the desire for individual dignity and the pursuit of liberty is just that thread. In The Universal Hunger for Liberty he lays out the philosophical groundwork for a new conversation, one in which the West can engage with Islam culturally, economically, and politically. His vision for democratizing the Islamic world is based not on a clash of civilizations but on a profound understanding of our common cause based in reason and faith.

After perusing Mr. Novak's résumé, I would have to confess that he is probably one of the great polymaths of our times. Some may describe our guest as a philosopher or theologian; others, familiar with his role as the UN Ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights or as head of the U.S. Delegation to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in the 1980s, might characterize him as a diplomat extraordinaire; and yet, there are others who know him best as the author of over twenty-five influential books, including his masterpiece, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism.

Just to highlight a few of the many honors bestowed upon him, I would like to call your attention to the following. In 1994, he received the million-dollar Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion and delivered the Templeton Address in Westminster Abbey. Governments and political leaders, from Margaret Thatcher to Vaclav Havel, and municipal governments in Germany, Italy, and France have all recognized him for his contributions to our further understanding of current religious, economic, and political thought.

Currently Mr. Novak holds the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., where he is Director of Social and Political Studies.

Please join me in welcoming to the Carnegie Council a very special individual, Michael Novak. Thank you for joining us this morning.


MICHAEL NOVAK: Thank you very much.

Part of my interest in writing this book was biographical. When I was an undergraduate, I was fascinated to learn that most of the writings of Aristotle had disappeared. The manuscripts vanished in the burning of various libraries in Alexandria and elsewhere, except that they had been translated into Arabic by monks in about the fourth or fifth century in the Middle East.

Islam came into this world in 630, and within a hundred years Islamic armies had conquered all of the Middle East and northern Africa and were up in Spain. They were finally rebuffed in Poitiers, France in 732. They held the whole bottom stream of the Mediterranean. Very suddenly, what had once been the heart of Christianity was now Islamic.

Then, they were rebuffed in Malta in 1565 and 1571, and at sea in Lepanto the same year. There was the attempt to close the pincers by coming up through the Balkans, and in 1683 they were barely repulsed on the plains of Vienna. If they had swept across that plain, we would all be speaking Arabic today.

Paris in 1100-1200 was still a cow town with only the beginning of the cathedral, the beginning of the university. Rome had been overrun in 410 by the barbarians and never returned to its former glory. There was still grass overrunning monuments in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries when the popes began to build up the Vatican library and some of the more modern medieval buildings of Rome.

In that period these tremendously vital texts of Aristotle, which represented the first attempt to use experimental knowledge to understand different departments of life—biology, politics, drama, and all sorts of associated sciences—and to take a view of the whole world as understood by reason—not in poetic or mythic terms but in philosophical terms, by clear definitions, by logic—were lost to the West and very much energizing Islamic intellectual inquiry.

In the late 1100s, a whole raft of the texts of Aristotle were discovered in a library. Some were translations in Arabic, but others were the Greek texts. A whole set of scholars, Jewish—Maimonides among others—Christian, and Muslim together were working on these manuscripts under the Bishop of Toledo. It is one of the most stirring stories in intellectual history.

My brother and I were both studying to be priests with the Congregation of Holy Cross at Notre Dame. My brother was ordained in France in 1960, the mother house of the community. It was a preaching and teaching community. It had both missionaries and it ran schools and universities. We both liked the community because we had a chance to use our talents in a broad range of ways. And since we were young, we didn't know exactly what we wanted to do.

We were both were struck by the role of Islam and Christianity and Judaism together, all arguing about God, truth, liberty and other central ideas.

I decided not to go into the priesthood, but my brother became a missionary. He was sent to Bangladesh, but he had also had taken time to study Arabic at McGill. He wanted to become the great Christian-Islamic expert. He was studying Arabic at university in Dakka when he was murdered in riots in 1964. There were huge Islamic-Hindu riots in the breakup of Pakistan, and unfortunately, while on a mission of mercy, he was caught in an unfortunate encounter.

The master idea that I have been trying to work in my whole professional life is that you can't understand a free society without understanding three different types of liberty, each of which operates by different rules and institutions. The three related elites typically are suspicious of each other; that is one of the protections of liberty itself.

1) We need a cultural and moral liberty, a personal liberty. Liberty of conscience, liberty of ideas, liberty of inquiry, liberty of expression, are the outer forms. But the inner form is the right to reflect, to think about our experience, to see our past life and not like parts of it, repent parts of it, and to look ahead and see choices.

I had a great deal of difficulty remembering Saint Augustine's birthday until somebody pointed out to me that it was exactly 1600 years before the Cleveland Indians first won the American League pennant. So subtract from 1954, you get 354. Saint Augustine used to stand on the shores and be dazzled by the millions of stars.

You get that same feeling of dizziness if you walk into a college bookstore. It's just overwhelming. In theology, if you did nothing your whole life but read all the material about the Dead Sea Scrolls, you couldn't keep up with that, let alone any other discipline.

Young people typically are overwhelmed by liberty today. Grandparents show you pictures of their grandchildren. Who knows where they are? Who knows what their politics are or what their religion is compared to the family? Liberty is quite overwhelming.

2) There is also political liberty. It is surprising in the history of the world how few people have lived under political liberty in which they have a chance to reject or approve, in which their rulers work for them and they hire them or fire them on some regular basis, and in which the people are sovereign, not the rulers. That is the difference between being a citizen and being a subject.

My grandparents, born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were subjects. They were serfs until the 1920s. You can visit castles there today where you see lists of the possessions of the owners, and they include so many cows and goats and men and women and children, all listed in the same list.

But when they came to America, they suddenly became citizens. They could no longer blame other people for what happened to them. They were responsible, and the rulers worked for them. They may not have been politically aware and active at first, but they had to learn what it meant to be an American, to take responsibility for themselves. If something is wrong, they have to organize to fix it.

3) Finally, economic liberty is the right to pursue your own initiative, your own ideas, to develop products that were never seen before.

An economy based on invention and discovery is a whole new idea in history. Even a new name had to be created for it, capitalism. It is a well chosen name—"caput," the head. What makes capitalism is not private property and markets. We have private property in the Bible:"Thou shalt not steal" makes no sense without the conception of private property.

And there was profit at that time as well. From what was the Temple of Solomon built up, except the contributions of people who were profiting? Jerusalem was nothing but a marketplace in the biblical period.

What makes capitalism are the laws supporting invention and discovery, making ideas much more valuable than land and transforming the whole face of the Earth.

In writing this book, I felt the way I did after September 11th, the position of Saint Augustine in 410 when Alaric and the Goths sacked Rome. Rome had gone out and sacked all the "barbarian" cities and brought the booty home. This was the first time that the Barbary, foreigners, had sacked Rome.

It was blamed on the Christians. If Christianity had not been legalized a century before, this would not have happened.

Saint Augustine sat down to write The City of God, writing from northern Africa. He was the greatest Latinist of this period, one of the great masters of Latin literature. He pointed out how all the virtues recommended by the Roman masters were also recommended by the Jewish and Christian Bible. They have one tone in Latin, another in Jewish scripture, and yet another in the Christian version. They have different emphases, but they are basically the same human material.

He also began to reflect on the meaning of Judaism and Christianity, the biblical vision, the story about the invisible city and the visible kingdoms, like Rhodes, which physically were destroyed, men and women carried off into captivity, aqueducts pulled down, buildings destroyed.

The City of God was one of the two or three books that was widely read by the fathers of the Church at the time of the founding of America. Protestant Christianity ignored a lot of Catholic history, but not Saint Augustine.

His profound sense of the perversity of human life in every generation led him, for example, to argue that we will never be free of wars. We long for peace. All of politics is the struggle for the tranquility of order, it depends on good international order, but there are always evil, ambitious, scheming, angry, hostile and resentful leaders who take power.

His argument was then that Christians will sometimes have an obligation to go to war. Though it is repulsive to them, and against what they stand for, they will have an obligation to go to war, to defend the weak or to defend international order. That was the meaning of just war, in the sense that it is morally required by justice.

It's not "War is basically evil but every once in a while you must do it." No. It is "International order is basically good and sometimes you must defend it." Let me use here a battle scene which I recreate in the book, the Battle of Lepanto. A Turkish-Arab Muslim navy, under the leadership of the Turks this time, is heading from Constantinople. It stops in Greece. The Christian world knows it is coming. It is heading for Italy. It takes a year to assemble the fleet.

And the Reformation has started, so the Christian powers are not interested in unity. The Pope has a deuce of a time raising a navy to fight it. He gets the Venetian and Spanish navies, and a few others, and they set off preemptively to attack the fleet while it is still in Greece.

Don Juan of Austria puts it together. They are heavily outnumbered, but full of spirit. In a word, they surprisingly defeat the Arab fleet. So confident of victory is it that the Sultan has his riches onboard his ship and is captured. It takes them a century to recover and make the overland attack in the next century in Vienna.

All these dates—Vienna, the Battle of Malta, Lepanto, Vienna, the sack of Rhodes, and the conquest of Jerusalem—are very fresh in the imagination of young Islamic students. They see it from the other way.

Even bin Laden talks about the Crusaders. He means all of us, Jews as well as Christians; he means Europe; he means non-Muslims from the part of the world we would describe as the West. And he speaks of the United Nations as the worst incarnation of that. If you think he thinks badly of the United States but highly of the UN, you have it wrong. It is the reverse. The United Nations is the hypocritical expression of "the Crusader" mentality.

What feeds the resentment that you see in the young terrorists? It is not Islam qua religion.

Imagine Toledo to Damascus to Baghdad in the thirteenth century: great cities, full of marble, tile, beautiful inscription, practically every art and science brought to the highest level that it has ever been to in civilization in those cities. The Western cities are struggling; they are mostly Barbarian people — uncultivated, illiterate — who have been slowly introduced to Latin culture. The first missionaries go to Germany in 800-something, to England in 600. The arrival of the cultural learning of Greece and Latin, making a civilization out of Europe is a slow process.

Whose image is on the Medal of Europe, given to the greatest artist or philosopher every year? Saint Benedict, the founder of the Benedictines in the 400s, because the Benedictine monasteries went out often to remote locations in different parts of the Christian world, and out of those grew cities, the first libraries, the first choirs, the first buildings in which paintings are put, and civilization.

They also taught agriculture, how to farm for a profit. They invented beer and brandy and other crucial elements of civilization. They also launched a number of modern industries, such as mining, lumbering, and woolmaking. They became the great economic agents of the transformation.

Europe is growing richer and stronger. From the fifteenth century onward, Islam begins its relative decline, or it is in stasis. Why?

The Islamic scholars—unlike their Jewish and Christian counterparts—never develop the idea of liberty. It is hardly mentioned in the Qur'an, and it didn't figure in their Reflections.

But Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas couldn't get around the idea of liberty. They took the notion that there are rewards and punishments, conscience. The center of the Bible is what happens in conscience. The great theme of biblical literature is that the axis of human history is what happens in the conscience of the individual. In one chapter King David is faithful to his Lord. In the next chapter he is not.

The force of the Bible in the world is to call attention to human liberty and that the Creator of the world cares more about that than anything else.

The Jewish and Christian approach to the world is that liberty is the most important concept in the universe. It is what distinguishes the human being, the ability to reflect and to choose and take responsibility for those choices.

They argued against the Muslims, saying, "You must believe this too because you have rewards and punishments." Fundamentally there must be a powerful theory of liberty buried in Islam. It has never been culturally, philosophically, politically, economically developed. It is there, but it has not been the center of reflection.

The reason the West took off, so Richard Rubinstein argues in Aristotle's Children, is that truth and liberty became the central focus of Western discourse, striving, understanding, the uniting of all fields. This is the great dynamism.

Experimental as Aristotle was—collecting specimens, looking at facts, developing and testing theories—there is a regulative idea of truth. We don't own the truth, but you have to respect other people because they know a little bit more than you do in some areas.

As John Adams, our second president, said, the greatest gift given to the world was the Jewish conception of a creator who knows and understands everything in his creation. Without this idea, civilization is not possible.

The idea that there is a truth makes conversation possible and necessary. We have to pursue what God knows and we don't, and we have to listen wherever it is. Truth doesn't come from us. It judges us.

We find ourselves today in a world of 6 billion people, out of which there are 1.2 billion Muslims, about 1.3 or 1.4 billion Catholics, and with the Orthodox and Protestants and others, you round it out to 2 billion.

At the start of the twenty-first century, we are seeing a tremendous resurgence of religion and of ethnicity. They seem to be the great energy behind so many movements in the world today, and intellectuals are struggling to catch up.

When we say Muslim, we must be careful to realize that there are considerably more Muslims in Asia than in the Middle East, and the greatest difficulties with democracy and liberty seem to be among Arab Muslims. The experiments in democracy seem to go somewhat better among Asian Muslims.

Among the Arab populations today, you don't have much political liberty and there is virtually no economic opportunity. It's very hard to start your own business. There is vast unemployment.

Even polygamy creates rivalry, political ambition, on the part of different wives for their sons, and great uncertainty and instability in the kingdoms where it occurs through the rivalry of brothers and cousins and kinship groups within the same family.

How do you explain it? You were once the great power and the center of great wealth and learning and ornament, when the West was markedly your inferior. There is a deep and abiding resentment that has been building up for two centuries now.

In the 1930s, Mussolini moves into Ethiopia and the Germans become very influential in Egypt and Iraq and elsewhere. Trying to break free from British colonialism, many of these people side with the Germans and the Italians.

Practically all of the ideas in the Arab world come from Europe. They learned socialism, so there is Arab socialism. And they also learned secret cells, organization in small groups with no contact with one another. They learned the use of terror. They learned the use of propaganda and mass mobilization. Their models are Hitler and Stalin. So you have to see the organizing principle.

In 2002, I was invited to go to Sudan by the State Department to give some lectures to the chiefs of the guerrilla organizations. About forty of them assembled. We met for a week in neighboring Eritrea. They wanted a week of lectures on religion and politics, religion and democracy, and some lectures on religion and economics.

The big surprise for me was that half of the leaders were Muslim. I had thought it was a Christian rebellion and an African religious rebellion against Muslim rule from Khartoum, but they pointed out to me that most of the Muslims in Sudan hate the Shari'iah law being imposed by the authorities in Khartoum.

They want to be Muslims. As one colonel explained to me, "I want to be Muslim. I consider myself a devout Muslim. That's why I'm here. But I don't want to live under seventh century Shari'iah law.

"Why did bin Laden when he came here choose Hitler and Stalin as his models? Why, if he wanted to bring Islam up to the twentieth century? Why didn't he go to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and democracy?

"I like Canada. Why can't we live like Canada and be Muslim? How can it be that only Jews and Christians can talk about human dignity and human liberty, and not Muslims? There must be a way to express this, to find the keys."

I explained to them how you can have an atheist theory for human dignity and freedom, and a Jewish theory for human dignity and freedom, and a Christian version.

I said, "I can't do the Islamic one for you, but it has to be roughly like this. It can't be that the same god who offers you rewards and punishments based on your choices has to value your choices.

The root of human dignity, in Jefferson, in Madison, lies in the fact that the Jewish and Christian God is spirit and truth and He cares what goes on in your conscience. He doesn't want you just to bow. He looks into your heart, into your soul, and judges that. That's why the relationship between you and God is inalienable. Your mother can't reply for you. Your father can't. God offers his friendship, and you reject or accept it. That's the great drama of creation for Jews and Christians and for Islam."

If you watch Muslims at prayer, they are down on their knees, touching their heads to the ground, saying, "Yes," and from this great peace flows. That's what Islam means. It's the kind of peace that comes from that submission.

But dignity comes from the fact that this is between you and your creator. No state can interfere in this. You have to make the decision. It belongs to you and you alone. That is the root of human dignity, the soul before God. That must be available in Islam as well.

We need, first of all, to defend ourselves. We can't have people beheading people. That is done to make us sick, to terrorize us. It is also done to recruit bloodthirsty murderers.

There are kids in England who have discovered that they can pick up the video recordings of the beheadings on their cell phones, and it's a great passion in certain circles to watch these beheadings again and again. It is meant to recruit a certain type of human being.

We can't tolerate that development. We have no right to just lie down in front of it, and we have to resist it.

We have to meet it with an alternative of a different structure of society, so that young people feel there is opportunity and dignity and a sense of their own self-control. They have to have a different model.

We also have to meet them in the realm of ideas. We are not afraid to talk about God, we are not afraid to talk about death, we are not afraid to talk about life, we're not afraid to talk about liberty and dignity, and we can give you a coherent theory of how all this fits together. You should be able to have an analog of it. This is a civilizational conversation.

We are saying, "You have an entry into this and we may learn some things from you." Islam has gone through some bitter experiences in the last hundred years—imposed secularism in Turkey, imposed Islam by the Taliban and Ayatollah, turmoil in Iran, and the pure secular, yet murderous and barbarous model of a Saddam Hussein.

There is a real turmoil on the path to liberty and democracy. They are not powerful in numbers, but there are very strong intellectual currents for democracy in many places in the Arab world of Islam. Our job is to elicit, strengthen and encourage those to give them some models to work with. If those models are successful, the power of example goes like lightning, as we have learned in the twentieth century.

JOANNE MYERS: Thank you. I'd like to open the floor to questions.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: Could you comment on how well we have done in opening channels for intellectual, philosophical, and theological discussion with leaders in places like Iran in the Middle East? And if we have not, what do we need to do?

MICHAEL NOVAK: We have the advantage of having attracted many young Islamic scholars to study here at our universities. But with a few exceptions, we have done almost nothing to engage them in dialogue about these questions.

In Washington, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, which had some relationships with CRIA [Council for Religion on International Affairs, the former name of the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs]was in the past, springs out of the same vein of thought, and was an attempt to do in Washington without Carnegie money what CRIA has done here for more than half a century now. It has a regular seminar with Islamic, Christian, and Jewish scholars on the theme of democracy.

There is a magazine put out in Virginia on Islam and democracy.

The National Endowment for Democracy is very active in establishing connections with groups throughout the Muslim world and funding, supporting and monitoring them very closely. I am on the board of the National Endowment for Democracy, so I speak with a little self-interest, but they do have a terrific track record of eliciting democratic responses in different parts of the world.

And television, as bad as television is, works with this. It gives images of people living in greater liberty. So they know it's possible.

QUESTION: I am a Muslim, but I agree with you that you should not approach Islam in a monolithic way, blurring religion and culture, because in Islam what makes Muslims uniform is only the rituals, but culturally it is different.

Sometimes here in the press it looks as if Muslims are Arabs and Islam is Arabs, and that is not the case. I am glad that you have stressed that in your remarks.

Secondly, on liberty and Islam, I hear from time to time in the mosque where I pray that in Islam there is a concept of ishtihad, where a person is given the right to contemplate, to reflect on the essence of life, on certain laws in Islam. So individual liberty is there already.

To follow up on the question by the previous speaker, what are the consequences of certain policies now that are limiting the contacts between America and the rest of the world? In Indonesia's case, there are so many young people who want to learn, who see values of importance here in America, but the reality now is that it is so difficult for them to study here or to experience life here.

MICHAEL NOVAK: This is what happens when freedoms to come and to study and are abused, as were done by the September 11th people. We have to find a way both to protect ourselves and to keep those channels open.

Towards the end of the book, I pick up on a poll—now out of date—in which about 40 percent of the people in Iraq thought that the experiment of democracy would work in Iraq. The numbers are now much higher—between 60 and 70 percent. The optimism in Iraq is much higher than here about "is your country going in the right direction?" for example.

And if all goes as planned we will have elections in Iraq in January. After all, in our own Civil War half the country didn't vote. All of Iraq will vote this time.

But if that works, the pressure on Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other countries is immense. That pressure already broke Libya. You will see a new dynamic.

QUESTION: Can we begin discourse between Muslims and Western thought if it doesn't seem possible for Muslims to have a moderate discussion amongst themselves?

MICHAEL NOVAK: I don't know what your experience is in this last election, but it is a little hard for Americans to have a discussion among ourselves at the moment.

Conditions of liberty do not exist in much of the Muslim world. I remember attending a meeting in Britain of leaders from a few countries in my ambassadorial days, and some Muslim leaders from Britain were saying quite wonderful things about liberty and pulling out some texts from the Qur'an.

Naively, I raised my hand and said, "Well, why don't you say these things publicly? It would go a long way toward to clearing the air and inviting a different view of Islam?"

The British Ambassador sitting next to me nudged me under the table and said, "You don't understand. He says that publicly and his children are kneecapped." So I shut up.

Our press is not giving a very accurate picture of what is going on. Just to give you an example from Iraq, how many auto dealerships have been opened in the last twelve months? How many television stores have been opened? We're not getting those reports. We are not getting reports from the dentists, what it's like practicing dentistry there. We are not getting a picture of what is happening in Iraq.

There are 200-and-some papers in Iraq now, and magazines, that were not there before. These discussions are out on the table.

My family comes from Central Europe, where not much good has happened in a thousand years. If you tell my grandmother good news, she says, "Eh! It's not going to last." If you tell her the world is going to end in ten years, she says, "Eh! How bad?" She knows it's going to be bad.

I get a little nervous about optimism. But I do want to say that we have a chance to do something world historical and different. Let's step up to the plate and do what we can. It doesn't guarantee success. Even the Bible has a lot of bad endings.

QUESTION: There is a suggestion that the reason that the West has been able to develop all of our science and reason is because of the Protestant Reformation, and that the problem in the Muslim world is that there never has been a religious reformation comparable to the Protestant Reformation. I would be interested in your observations about that.

MICHAEL NOVAK: As a Catholic I look at that a little differently. I'm glad for the Protestant Reformation. It unfroze the ice and allowed a lot of things to happen. It was important to break up an economic system and a cultural and political system of a certain kind.

But what needs to happen is a breakthrough of ideas and experiences rooted in a sense of dignity and liberty, which is happening for millions of Muslims around the world, who are educated and sophisticated and who are talking about this elsewhere.

Those Iraqis who came here as refugees and were here for ten or twelve years went back to Iraq and to Afghanistan with a whole different attitude towards liberties and towards the West based on fruitful experiences. And they want their children to come here.

There is a natural rhythm in religious life, which Lincoln called attention to. He referred to it in a speech he gave in his young years at Springfield as "the silent artillery of time." He was thinking about the American Revolution—the fervor which led the minority of Americans who wanted independence from Britain to endure the cold and the gangrene of Valley Forge; the heroism they showed in facing the greatest army and navy in the world without any army or navy, with just their own rifles.

The heroism they showed is admired by their sons, but it bores their grandsons to death, they have heard about it so much, and the grandsons have to go off in a different way. And so you get the erosion of the virtue. The second generation wants to be like the fathers, but can't quite, and the third generation is much softer. That is the great problem of democracy.

One of the reasons that de Tocqueville thinks you need religion in democracy is that you need to have a way of awakening a whole population to their original beliefs and practices. Reason doesn't do this.

We have in fact had three great awakenings in American history. Professor Fogel at Chicago, who is no believer, argues we are in the beginning of a fourth great awakening in this country—back to basics, back to traditional values, back to family, back to seriousness.

QUESTION: The Bible as literature is very much admired because of its terseness, the ability in one sentence to jump generations even, but that very aspect of the Bible makes it very open to interpretations of all sorts. You can read anything that you wish into the Bible.

One person's truth is not another person's truth. Does it upset you that politicians want to present themselves as having revealed truth, as opposed to someone else's truth? Is this something that operates well in a democratic nation?

MICHAEL NOVAK: I'm a lifelong Democrat, more conservative than I was when I was younger on a lot of fronts, but one thing I've always liked about the Left is the importance of the idea of commitment and standing up for principles. This is not only true of religious people.

I like to talk about a global positioning system for a universal conversation. We need a regulative idea of truth between us and Islam, between us and anybody—atheists, religious people.

That is, we need to agree that there is truth and that we each need to respect each other's view of it, but demand evidence on the table. "I don't accept it just because you say it; you don't accept it just because I say it. You want to see my evidence; I want to see yours. And I may learn from that. I have changed my mind often; you have changed your mind often. That is the way we move forward. But that means nobody possesses the truth but we hold the truth as an idea ahead of us."

We need the regulator of ideal truth, because if we descend into relativism, that is a license for the thugs and murderers. If there is no truth, if there is no justice, then the violent win, and we cannot allow that. So you have to maintain an ideal truth. Even though you insist nobody has it, we are all judged by it.

JOANNE MYERS: Thank you very much for being with us.

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