In Defense of Religious Liberty contains David Novak’s vigorous—and paradoxical—argument that the primacy of divine law is the best foundation for a secular, multicultural democracy. Novak presents his claim, which will astound both liberal and conservative advocates of democracy, in political, philosophical, and theological terms. He shows how the universal norms of divine law are knowable as natural law, that they are the best formulations of the human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that their assertion includes an explicit recognition of God as cosmic lawgiver. Furthermore, Novak maintains that the seemingly disparate ideas of divine command, natural law, and human rights can be integrated into one overall political theory.
Novak reveals this integration at work in the classical texts of his own Jewish tradition, as well as in the canonical philosophical tradition of the West, from Plato to the Stoics to Grotius to Kant. He also convincingly makes the case that those who reject any legitimate role for religion in discussions of public morality inevitably substitute arbitrary human power for divine command, arbitrary positive law for natural law, and arbitrary governmental entitlements for human rights that exist prior to the establishment of the state. Novak concludes that religious traditions like Judaism, precisely because they incorporate the doctrines of God the cosmic lawgiver, natural law, and human rights, provide the most coherent ontological foundation for democracy in today’s world.
What They're Saying...
“David Novak works his way through the sources of Jewish revelation and the many strands of philosophy to inquire whether a civil society can reasonably claim to be founded in a manner that withstands absolutist tyrannies. He notes that it is not within politics itself that the foundation of political good sense is found. It is found in the prior relation of citizens to God which a polity accepts as good but not of its own making. It is a most valuable effort to have these ideas spelled out so clearly and forcefully.”
— James V. Schall, S.J. Georgetown University
"This is the serious and thoughtful conservative work on law and religion that people who are not conservatives should read, and grapple with. Such people will find Novak's arguments by turns
illuminating and exasperating, and they will fight with the book, as I did, but they will learn a great deal in the process, and the sort of respectful engagement with opposing positions for which Novak has always stood in his career is what he richly deserves to get."
— Martha C. Nussbaum Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of
Law and Ethics, Law, Philosophy, and Divinity, University of Chicago
"Through the analysis of the books of Genesis and Exodus, Novak confronts the central claim of secularists that religion is somehow an enemy to human rights. . . . It is Novak's great achievement to lay out the necessity for a secular policy to acknowledge the need for religious belief, even as he challenges secularists to return to return to their own premises."
— Gerald J. Russello Touchstone
"Perhaps the most striking and distinctive aspect of In Defense of Religious Liberty is Novak's consistent, almost dogged, insistence that religion is not private, personal, or individual. . . . This work is a powerful and provocative defense of what Thomas Jefferson called our nation's boldest experiment in religious libery."
— First Things
“Novak continues his monumental effort to demonstrate the relevance of Jewish texts and traditions for contemporary political thought…He deserves a wider audience for his argument for the liberty of religious communities to influence the public square…Novak relies upon a concept of natural law in which philosophy and the Jewish tradition are able to meet…He constructs a stunning defense of religious liberty, albeit one that ultimately reads the tradition from a thoroughly modern perspective.”
— The Review of Politics
"A thought provoking examination of religion and democracy…In fact, the primacy of divine lawis the best foundation for a secular and multicultural democracy, Novak concludes."
— Catholic Library World