He was always eager to share his passion for public policy and politics. In speeches to college graduation classes, Bob distilled the essence of his years-long ruminations on America for young people just starting out in life:Fellow columnists pay tribute here. Human Events pays tribute here.
“Always love your country — but never trust your government!
“That should not be misunderstood. I certainly am not advocating civil disobedience, must less insurrection or rebellion. What I am advocating is to not expect too much from government and be wary of it power, even the power of a democratic government in a free country.
“Ours is one of the mildest, most benevolent governments in the world. But it too has the power to take your wealth and forfeit your life. ... A government that can give you everything can take everything away.”
That sounds like good advice, whether you’re a conservative or a liberal. And Bob most definitely was a conservative, though he never let his political inclinations blind him to what he saw as the realities of the world, even when it angered his natural allies. Bob’s dissent from the Bush administration’s rush to topple Iraq’s Saddam Hussein earned him the ill will of other, perhaps less insightful conservatives. In one of those incomprehensible moments that occasionally mar the nation’s political discourse, Novak found himself labeled as one of America’s “unpatriotic conservatives” in a cover story in National Review magazine.
Bob’s disagreement with the mainstream of conservative thought on Iraq exemplified his independent spirit, his dedication to a robust discussion of the great issues facing the nation and his belief in the values underpinning our society.
Bob saw America as the inheritor, greatest manifestation and guardian of the best of Western civilization. He was introduced to those values at the University of Illinois through a freshman course on the history of Western civilization. Recalling that time in his 2007 memoir The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington, Bob wrote, “It was a golden moment for a 17-year-old boy from Joliet, leading to four years of exploration in the riches of our heritage: Plato, Aristotle, Chaucer, Castiglione, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Milton, John Donne, Hawthorne, Melville, T.S. Eliot — dead white men all. How barren would be my life without that background?”[Editor's emphasis]
In later years, Bob became worried about the retreat from those values on the college campus. Typically, he resolved to do something about it. To help perpetuate the education of America’s youth in those values and traditions, Bob in 2000 endowed at his beloved University of Illinois the Robert D. Novak Chair of Western Civilization and Culture.
Update: One of the best tributes is written by Jeffrey Bell.
"Requiescat in pace."