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Rubin, “America, Aristotle, and the Politics of a Middle Class”

6065I’ve been re-reading Tocqueville for a writing project, and have been struck once again by the crucial role he sees for religion in the American character. Tocqueville saw religion as providing a necessary restraint in a liberal republic. “At the same time that the law permits the American people to do everything,” he observed, “religion prevents them from conceiving everything and forbids them to dare everything.” Religion inculcated humility, without which Americans might easily fall into prideful excess.

I thought of all this when I read the announcement of a very interesting-looking new book from Baylor University Press, American, Aristotle, and the Politics of a Middle Class, by the late scholar Leslie Rubin. Rubin argues that the America of the founding era manifested the virtues of modesty and moderation necessary for Aristotle’s vision of the best politics. I have to think the sober Protestantism of the founding era had much to do with it. Here is the description of the book from the publisher:

Aristotle’s political imagination capitalizes on the virtues of a middle-class republic. America’s experiment in republican liberty bears striking similarities to Aristotle’s best political regime—especially at the point of the middling class and its public role. Author Leslie Rubin, by holding America up to the mirror of Aristotle, explores these correspondences and their many implications for contemporary political life.

Rubin begins with the Politics, in which Aristotle asserts the best political regime maintains stability by balancing oligarchic and democratic tendencies, and by treating free and relatively equal people as capable of a good life within a law-governed community that practices modest virtues.

The second part of the book focuses upon America, showing how its founding opinion leaders prioritized the virtues of the middle in myriad ways. Rubin uncovers a surprising range of evidence, from moderate property holding by a large majority of the populace to citizen experience of both ruling and being ruled. She singles out the importance of the respect for the middle-class virtues of industriousness, sobriety, frugality, honesty, public spirit, and reasonable compromise. Rubin also highlights the educational institutions that foster the middle class—public education affords literacy, numeracy, and job skills, while civic education provides the history and principles of the nation as well as the rights and duties of all its citizens.

Wise voices from the past, both of ancient Greece and postcolonial America, commend the middle class. The erosion of a middle class and the descent of political debate into polarized hysteria threaten a democratic republic. If the rule of the people is not to fall into demagoguery, then the body politic must remind itself of the requirements—both political and personal—of free, stable, and fair political life.

Pitts, “Boundaries of the International”

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One of the many enjoyable nuggets in Patrick Deneen’s new book on liberalism is this one: John Stuart Mill, that great exponent of tolerance, argued that the West should impose liberalism on “‘uncivilized’ peoples in order that they might lead productive economic lives, even if they must be “for a while compelled to it,’ including through the institution of ‘personal slavery.'” By contrast, the Christian conservative Edmund Burke insisted, at an earlier moment in imperialist history, that colonial powers should allow local, non-European religious cultures to continue–as in India, for example. The difference is worth remembering, when people tell you how liberalism inherently promotes neutrality, and conservatism, bigotry. Things are a lot more complicated.

I thought about all this while reading the announcement for a new book from Harvard University Press, Boundaries of the International: Law and Empire, by University of Chicago political scientist Jennifer Pitts, which discusses both Mill and Burke. Looks interesting. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

It is commonly believed that international law originated in relations among European states that respected one another as free and equal. In fact, as Jennifer Pitts shows, international law was forged at least as much through Europeans’ domineering relations with non-European states and empires, leaving a legacy still visible in the unequal structures of today’s international order.

Pitts focuses on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the great age of imperial expansion, as European intellectuals and administrators worked to establish and justify laws to govern emerging relationships with non-Europeans. Relying on military and commercial dominance, European powers dictated their own terms on the basis of their own norms and interests. Despite claims that the law of nations was a universal system rooted in the values of equality and reciprocity, the laws that came to govern the world were parochial and deeply entangled in imperialism. Legal authorities, including Emer de Vattel, John Westlake, and Henry Wheaton, were key figures in these developments. But ordinary diplomats, colonial administrators, and journalists played their part too, as did some of the greatest political thinkers of the time, among them Montesquieu and John Stuart Mill.

Against this growing consensus, however, dissident voices as prominent as Edmund Burke insisted that European states had extensive legal obligations abroad that ought not to be ignored. These critics, Pitts shows, provide valuable resources for scrutiny of the political, economic, and legal inequalities that continue to afflict global affairs.

Swedberg, “Tocqueville’s Political Economy”

9780691178011“Heaven in the other world and well-being and freedom in this one”: that’s how Tocqueville described the sum of human desires in Democracy in America. It fascinated him that Americans seemed to combine effortlessly a restless quest for wealth and rock-solid Christian conviction, that they could be at once a commercial and a pious people. Christianity, he thought, operated as a salutary restraint on Americans’ economic drive, if only fitfully.

Princeton University Press has just released a new book that explores Tocqueville’s economic thought, Tocqueville’s Political Economy, by Cornell University sociologist Richard Swedberg. The publisher’s description follows:

 Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59) has long been recognized as a major political and social thinker as well as historian, but his writings also contain a wealth of little-known insights into economic life and its connection to the rest of society. In Tocqueville’s Political Economy, Richard Swedberg shows that Tocqueville had a highly original and suggestive approach to economics–one that still has much to teach us today.

Through careful readings of Tocqueville’s two major books and many of his other writings, Swedberg lays bare Tocqueville’s ingenious way of thinking about major economic phenomena. At the center of Democracy in America, Tocqueville produced a magnificent analysis of the emerging entrepreneurial economy that he found during his 1831-32 visit to the United States. More than two decades later, in The Old Regime and the Revolution, Tocqueville made the complementary argument that it was France’s blocked economy and society that led to the Revolution of 1789. In between the publication of these great works, Tocqueville also produced many lesser-known writings on such topics as property, consumption, and moral factors in economic life. When examined together, Swedberg argues, these books and other writings constitute an interesting alternative model of economic thinking, as well as a major contribution to political economy that deserves a place in contemporary discussions about the social effects of economics.

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Kengor, “A Pope and a President”

popeandpresident_frontcoverWe’re a little late getting to this, but last year ISI Books released this interesting-looking book: A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century. The author is Paul Kengor, a political science professor at Grove City College. The book explores the relationship between the Catholic Pope and the American President, and, in particular, their joint efforts against Soviet Communism in the 1980s. At the time, few people, certainly few political scientists, could have thought their efforts, and those of other opponents of the Soviet regime, would be successful. Yet both lived to see the fall of the Soviet Union in their lifetimes. Here is the publisher’s description:

Even as historians credit Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II with hastening the end of the Cold War, they have failed to recognize the depth or significance of the bond that developed between the two leaders.

Acclaimed scholar and bestselling author Paul Kengor changes that. In this fascinating book, he reveals a singular bond—which included a spiritual connection between the Catholic pope and the Protestant president—that drove the two men to confront what they knew to be the great evil of the twentieth century: Soviet communism.

Reagan and John Paul II almost didn’t have the opportunity to forge this relationship: just six weeks apart in the spring of 1981, they took bullets from would-be assassins. But their strikingly similar near-death experiences brought them close together—to Moscow’s dismay.

A Pope and a President is the product of years of research. Based on Kengor’s tireless archival digging and his unique access to Reagan insiders, the book reveals:

  • The inside story on the 1982 meeting where the president and the pope confided their conviction that God had spared their lives for the purpose of defeating communism
  • Captivating new information on the attempt on John Paul II’s life, including apreviously unreported secret CIA investigation—was Moscow behind the plot?
  • The many similarities and the spiritual bond between the pope and the president—and how Reagan privately spoke of the “DP”: the Divine Plan to take down communism
  • New details about how the Protestant Reagan became intensely interested in the “secrets of Fátima,” which date to the reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Fátima, Portugal, starting on May 13, 1917—sixty-four years to the day before John Paul II was shot
  • A startling insider account of how the USSR may have been set to invade the pope’s native Poland in March 1981—only to pull back when news broke that Reagan had been shot

Nancy Reagan called John Paul II her husband’s “closest friend”; Reagan himself told Polish visitors that the pope was his “best friend.” When you read this book, you will understand why. As kindred spirits, Ronald Reagan and John Paul II united in pursuit of a supreme objective—and in doing so they changed history.

 

 

Announcing the Fourth Biennial Colloquium in Law and Religion

Mark and I are pleased and honored to announce the fourth biennial (how many years is that?) Colloquium in Law and Religion, to be hosted in fall 2018. This seminar invites leading law and religion scholars to share their work before a small audience of students and faculty. Here is the slate of speakers:

September 17: Professor Robert Louis Wilken (University of Virginia, Emeritus)

October 1: Professor Philip Hamburger (Columbia Law School)

October 15: Professor John Inazu (Washington U. St. Louis School of Law)

October 29: Professor Micah Schwartzman (University of Virginia School of Law)

November 12: The Honorable Diane S. Sykes (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit)

November 26: Professor Vincent Phillip Muñoz (University of Notre Dame)

To read more about past colloquia, please see these links:

For more information about the 2018 colloquium, please contact me at degirolm@stjohns.edu or Mark at movsesim@stjohns.edu.

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“Priests, Lawyers, and Scholars: Essays in Honor of Robert J. Araujo, S.J.” (Hendrianto, ed.)

I was fortunate to have known Fr. Robert Araujo in the last decade of his life before his premature passing in 2015. For a time, we were working together on a translation of the great natural law scholar Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio’s “Saggio Teoretico di Diritto Naturale” (“Theoretical Essay on Natural Law”) into English (which, regrettably, we never finished). Taparelli was one of the major intellectual influences on Pope Leo XIII. Even as late as 2015, Bob was working on a large piece on the implications of Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom for the contemporary legal landscape.

I am in consequence very happy to notice this new book, a collection of essays in Araujocelebration of Bob’s life and work: Priests, Lawyers, and Scholars: Essays in Honor of Robert J. Araujo, S.J. (CUA Press), edited by Stefanus Hendrianto, S.J.

Robert J. Araujo, SJ, is a Catholic legal scholar. For more than twenty-five years, Fr. Araujo was a legal practitioner who devoted his life to defend the Church teaching in American public life and international arena. The present volume brings together twelve essays by noted scholars in honor of Fr. Araujo. The volume displays the influence of the Catholic intellectual tradition across issues such as natural law, Catholic social teachings, constitutionalism, religious freedom and public international law―in this way, the volume highlights the interconnectedness of philosophy, theology, law, and politics in the Catholic intellectual tradition.

Dumitrascu, “Basil the Great”

A fascinating entry in the “church and state in the early Christian world” catalog, here isBasil Basil the Great: Faith, Mission and Diplomacy in the Shaping of Christian Doctrine (Routledge), by Nicu Dumitrascu. The author focuses specifically on the church-state implications of Basil of Caesarea’s life and thought in the 4th century. I know St. Basil only a little bit because of his opposition to Arianism and other heresies. But this treatment looks like a splendid source to fill up all the many holes in my knowledge about this figure and period.

Regarded as one of the three hierarchs or pillars of orthodoxy along with Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom, Basil is a key figure in the formative process of Christianity in the fourth century. While his role in establishing Trinitarian terminology, as well as his function in shaping monasticism, his social thought and even his contribution to the evolution of liturgical forms have been the focus of research for many years, there are few studies which centre on his political thought. Basil played a major role in the political and religious life between Cappadocia and Armenia and was a key figure in the tumultuous relationship between Church and State in Late Antiquity. He was a great religious leader and a gifted diplomat, and developed a ’special relationship’ with Emperor Valens and other high imperial officials.

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