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Doux Commerce?

At the Liberty Law site today, I have a review of Nate Oman’s important new book on markets and morals, The Dignity of Commerce. The book is a great contribution to contracts scholarship, thoughtful and beautifully written. Nate and I have a friendly disagreement, though, about the cause-and-effect relationship between markets and morals, so it’s no surprise that I find myself disagreeing with one of the book’s main claims:

Liberals maintain that markets create wealth, promote mutual gain, and unlock talents and resources in individuals and nations. And, they say, markets have political benefits. Since the Enlightenment, liberals have argued that markets promote civic pluralism by making people more reasonable and prudent; less given to political and, especially, religious enthusiasm; and eager to avoid divisive debates about deep commitments.

That markets have these advantages is known as the doux commerce thesis. (That’s doux as in soft, or having a softening effect.) The thesis is most closely associated with the Baron de Montesquieu and Voltaire, though David Hume and Adam Smith endorsed it, too. In a very fine new book, The Dignity of Commerce: Markets and the Moral Foundations of Contract Law, contracts scholar Nathan B. Oman advances a version of the theory, updated to take account of current contract doctrine. Oman, a law professor at William and Mary Law School, combines immense learning and sophistication with a lightness of touch that makes his book a pleasure to read.

All of that said, I remain unpersuaded about doux commerce. Edmund Burke had it right, I think. Markets don’t inevitably lead to liberalism. Rather, the liberal tradition itself creates the sort of markets liberals admire.

You can read my full review here. For more information on Nate’s book, click here.

Mullins, “Father of Liberty: Jonathan Mayhew and the Principles of the American Revolution”

Here’s an interesting new book by Marquette scholar J. Patrick Mullins on a figure of the MayhewAmerican founding that was not known to me: Jonathan Mayhew. Typical of the founding period, note the association of the natural rights thinking so foundational to the early Republic and the Congregationalism of that period. The publisher, University of Kansas Press, has the following description.

Dr. Jonathan Mayhew (1720–1766) was, according to John Adams, a “transcendental genius . . . who threw all the weight of his great fame into the scale of the country in 1761, and maintained it there with zeal and ardor till his death.” He was also, J. Patrick Mullins contends, the most politically influential clergyman in eighteenth-century America and the intellectual progenitor of the American Revolution in New England. Father of Liberty is the first book to fully explore Mayhew’s political thought and activism, understood within the context of his personal experiences and intellectual influences, and of the cultural developments and political events of his time. Analyzing and assessing his contributions to eighteenth-century New England political culture, the book demonstrates Mayhew’s critical contribution to the intellectual origins of the American Revolution.

As pastor of the Congregationalist West Church in Boston, Mayhew championed the principles of natural rights, constitutionalism, and resistance to tyranny in press and pulpit from 1750 to 1766. He did more than any other clergyman to prepare New England for disobedience to British authority in the 1760s—and should, Mullins argues, be counted alongside such framers and fomenters of revolutionary thought as James Otis, Patrick Henry, and Samuel Adams. Though many commentators from John Adams on down have acknowledged his importance as a popularizer of Whig political principles, Father of Liberty is the first extended, in-depth examination of Mayhew’s political writings, as well as the cultural process by which he engaged with the public and disseminated those principles. As such, even as the book restores a key figure to his place in American intellectual and political history, it illuminates the meaning of the Revolution as a political and constitutional conflict informed by the religious and political ideas of the British Enlightenment.

Call for Papers: Oxford Symposium on Religious Studies

The Oxford Symposium on Religious Studies has issued a call for papers for two symposia later this year:

The Oxford Symposium on Religious Studies is a forum for discourse and presentation of papers by scholars who have a particular interest in the study of religion. Canon Brian Mountford MBE, former Vicar of St Mary’s Church and Fellow of St Hilda’s College in the University of Oxford, will host the meeting.

You are invited to make a presentation and lead a discussion of a relevant aspect of religious studies, or you may wish to participate as a panel member or as an observer. Your disquisition must adhere to an abstract of about 300 words approved by the Programme Committee of the Symposium. You are, also, encouraged to submit a paper, in keeping with your abstract, which may be published in an appropriate journal, book of conference proceedings. All papers presented for publication or inclusion in books or sponsored journals will be subject to peer review by external readers.

Suggested topics include “Religion, Politics, and Public Discourse,” Separation of Church and State,” and “State Funding of Church Schools.” Further details can be found here.

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Florensky, “Early Religious Writings” (Jakim, trans.)

As readers of this blog know, the Center co-sponsored a conference last week at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler in Trent, Italy on tradition in American and Russian thought. One thing the conference made clear to me is that, to understand Russian traditionalism, and its implications for law, one must engage with the writings of Orthodox scholars. Sadly, these writings are often untranslated. But here is a new Eerdman’s translation of the writings of one such scholar, Fr. Pavel Florensky: Early Religious Writings, 1903-1909. Florensky, whom the Communists executed in 1937, is known for his insistence on the importance of intuition and experience, rather than reason, as the basis for communion with God, a point some of our Russian interlocutors made at our event last week. Here’s a description of the book from the Eerdman’s website:

9780802874955Profound writings by one of the twentieth century’s greatest polymaths

“Perhaps the most remarkable person devoured by the Gulag” is how Alexandr Solzhenitsyn described Pavel Florensky, a Russian Orthodox mathematician, scientist, linguist, art historian, philosopher, theologian, and priest who was martyred during the Bolshevik purges of the 1930s.

This volume contains eight important religious works written by Florensky in the first decade of the twentieth century, now translated into English—most of them for the first time. Splendidly interweaving religious, scientific, and literary themes, these essays showcase the diversity of Florensky’s broad learning and interests. Including reflections on the sacraments and explorations of Russian monastic culture, the volume concludes with “The Salt of the Earth,” arguably Florensky’s most spiritually moving work.

Tonnelat & Kornblum, “International Express”

One reason it’s so appropriate to have a center for law and religion here at St. John’s is that our main campus sits in perhaps the most religiously diverse county in the nation–the Borough of Queens in New York City. Queens, for those of you who haven’t been here, is the embodiment of Joyce’s observation about the Catholic Church: “Here comes everybody.” Nowhere is that more apparent that on the Number 7 train, the elevated subway line that runs through the borough. In my brighter moods, it seems to me the diversity one finds along the 7 train is a good example of the kind of religious tolerance America, and New York, has traditionally shown, especially for immigrants. At other moments, it seems to me the tolerance more reflects the fact that the communities largely keep to themselves and avoid more than passing contact with one another.

A new book from Columbia University Press, International Express: New Yorkers on the 7 Train, by sociologists Stéphane Tonnelat (Paris-Nanterre) and William Kornblum (CUNY), describes what one can find on the line to Main Street, Flushing. The publisher’s description follows:

9780231181488Nicknamed the International Express, the New York City Transit Authority 7 subway line runs through a highly diverse series of ethnic and immigrant neighborhoods in Queens. People from Andean South America, Central America, China, India, Italy, Korea, Mexico, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, and Vietnam, as well as residents of a number of gentrifying blue-collar and industrial neighborhoods, fill the busy streets around the stations. The 7 train is a microcosm of a specifically urban, New York experience, in which individuals from a variety of cultures and social classes are forced to interact and get along with one another. For newcomers to the city, mastery of life in the subway space is a step toward assimilation into their new home.

In International Express, the French ethnographer Stéphane Tonnelat and his collaborator William Kornblum, a native New Yorker, ride the 7 subway line to better understand the intricacies of this phenomenon. They also ask a group of students with immigrant backgrounds to keep diaries of their daily rides on the 7 train. What develops over time, they find, is a set of shared subway competences leading to a practical cosmopolitanism among riders, including immigrants and their children, that changes their personal values and attitudes toward others in small, subtle ways. This growing civility helps newcomers feel at home in an alien city and builds what the authors call a “situational community in transit.” Yet riding the subway can be problematic, especially for women and teenagers. Tonnelat and Kornblum pay particular attention to gender and age relations on the 7 train. Their portrait of integrated mass transit, including a discussion of the relationship between urban density and diversity, is invaluable for social scientists and urban planners eager to enhance the cooperative experience of city living for immigrants and ease the process of cultural transition.

Cutterham, “Gentlemen Revolutionaries”

Here is an interesting looking new book from Princeton on the Framers’ generation, Gentlemen Revolutionaries: Power and Justice in the New American Republic, by historian Tom Cutterham (University of Birmingham). Among other things, Cutterham addresses the clash between conservative supporters of religious establishment, mostly from New England states, and populists who wished to use the Revolution as a tool to break the hold of traditional religious authority. Here’s the description from the Princeton website:

k11021In the years between the Revolutionary War and the drafting of the Constitution, American gentlemen—the merchants, lawyers, planters, and landowners who comprised the independent republic’s elite—worked hard to maintain their positions of power. Gentlemen Revolutionaries shows how their struggles over status, hierarchy, property, and control shaped the ideologies and institutions of the fledgling nation.

Tom Cutterham examines how, facing pressure from populist movements as well as the threat of foreign empires, these gentlemen argued among themselves to find new ways of justifying economic and political inequality in a republican society. At the heart of their ideology was a regime of property and contract rights derived from the norms of international commerce and eighteenth-century jurisprudence. But these gentlemen were not concerned with property alone. They also sought personal prestige and cultural preeminence. Cutterham describes how, painting the egalitarian freedom of the republic’s “lower sort” as dangerous licentiousness, they constructed a vision of proper social order around their own fantasies of power and justice. In pamphlets, speeches, letters, and poetry, they argued that the survival of the republican experiment in the United States depended on the leadership of worthy gentlemen and the obedience of everyone else.

Lively and elegantly written, Gentlemen Revolutionaries demonstrates how these elites, far from giving up their attachment to gentility and privilege, recast the new republic in their own image.

 

Writeup of Last Week’s Event in Trent

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Last week’s gathering at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler in Trent, Italy

 

The Fondazione Bruno Kessler has posted this report of our conference on tradition and traditionalism in American and Russian thought. The conference, at the Fondazione’s headquarters in Trent, Italy, was a very worthwhile event. The discussions revealed significant differences, and some similarities, in how American and Russian scholars perceive tradition and tradition’s proper role in law and politics.

For me, the most interesting discussions were those that revealed the differences among us. From the American side, some of us were concerned with carving out space for traditional communities in the larger society; others were more interested in placing tradition at the center of legal debate. Some argued that tradition is already more central to that debate than it sometimes seems.

On the Russian side, some participants took the Russian Church’s recent advocacy of traditional values as a serious critique of liberalism, one that resonates with consistent themes in Orthodox thought. Others, by contrast, argued that “traditional values” are a recent, post-Soviet construct, even a pretext.

The Postsecular Conflicts Project will publish an online collection of participants’ essays later this year. Meanwhile, let me say thanks again, on behalf of the Center, to Kristina Stoeckl, Pasquale Annicchino, Marco Ventura, and their very capable staffs, for being such good hosts. Let’s do it again soon!

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