Larsen, “John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life”

John Stuart Mill is an absolutely critical thinker for understanding so much of the philosophical basis of contemporary American law. From balancing tests to ideas of “harm” to the defense of free speech (at least a defense in a particular libertarian vein–see, e.g., Book II of On Liberty), one must know Mill to see how law speaks in the ways that it does.

Here is a new book that emphasizes the secularism of Mill’s thought: John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life (OUP) by Timothy Larsen. But in doing so, it also illuminates (as Maurice MillCowling once did from, as it were, the other direction) the deeply religious quality of Mill’s philosophy as the great “Saint of Rationalism.”

John Stuart Mill observed in his Autobiography that he was a rare case in nineteenth-century Britain because he had not lost his religion but never had any. He was a freethinker from beginning to end. What is not often realized, however, is that Mill’s life was nevertheless impinged upon by religion at every turn. This is true both of the close relationships that shaped him and of his own, internal thoughts. Mill was a religious sceptic, but not the kind of person which that term usually conjures up. The unexpected presence and prominence of spirituality is not only there in Mill’s late, startling essay, ‘Theism’, in which he makes the case for hope in God and in Christ. It is everywhere–in his immediate family, his best friends, and his vision for the future. It is even there in such a seemingly unlikely place as his Logic, which repeatedly addresses religious themes. John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life is a biography which follows one of Britain’s most well-respected intellectuals through all of the key moments in his life from falling in love to sitting in Parliament and beyond. It also explores his classic works including, On LibertyPrinciples of Political EconomyUtilitarianism, and The Subjection of Women. In this well-researched study which offers original findings and insights, Timothy Larsen presents the Mill you never knew. The Mill that even some of his closest disciples never knew. This is John Stuart Mill, the Saint of Rationalism–a secular life and a spiritual life.

Fea, “Believe Me”

Here’s one in the style of Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind–a book by an feaEvangelical Christian historian that is extremely critical of Evangelical politics, particularly the embrace by some Evangelicals of Donald Trump. The book is Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (Eerdmans), by John Fea.

“Believe me” may be the most commonly used phrase in Donald Trump’s lexicon. Whether about building a wall or protecting a Christian heritage, the refrain has been constant. And to the surprise of many, a good 80 percent of white evangelicals have believed Trump—at least enough to help propel him into the White House.

Historian John Fea is not surprised, however—and in these pages he explains how we have arrived at this unprecedented moment in American politics. An evangelical Christian himself, Fea argues that the embrace of Donald Trump is the logical outcome of a long-standing evangelical approach to public life defined by the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for an American past.

As insightful as it is timely, Fea’s Believe Me challenges Christians to replace fear with hope, the pursuit of power with humility, and nostalgia with history.

9780231141833Along with The LDS Church, Pentecostalism qualifies as America’s most lasting contribution to world religion. Pentecostalism is also America’s most successful religious export. A growing number of Christians around the world are Pentecostals, especially in Latin America. Columbia University Press has released a new study of the movement, Pentecostals in America, by religious studies scholar Arlene M. Sánchez Walsh (Azusa Pacific University). Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

Pentecostalism is one of the most significant modern movements in global Christianity today. A mixture of ecstatic expression and earnest piety, metaphysical nuance and embodied spirituality, it is far more than the stereotype of a supernatural sideshow. In this presumably secular era, Pentecostalism continues to grow, adapting to a diverse religious marketplace and becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Originally an American phenomenon, it is now a globe-spanning religion.

In this book, Arlene M. Sánchez Walsh provides a thematic overview of Pentecostalism in America, covering Pentecostal faith and practices, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, trends and offshoots, and the future of American Pentecostalism. She also considers Pentecostalism’s spiritual lineages, examining colorful leaders, ordinary adherents, and prominent outliers, as well as its deep roots in American popular culture. She examines Pentecostalism as a narrative performance, aiming to explain what Pentecostalism is through the experiences and stories of its adherents. Sánchez Walsh treats this Christian movement with the critical eye it has often lacked, and places it in context within the larger narrative of American religious history. An indispensable introduction to Pentecostalism, rich with insights for experienced readers, Pentecostals in America is an essential study of a vibrant religious movement.

DeGirolami at Princeton in Spring 2019

Just a quick piece of happy Center news. I’ll be a visiting fellow at the James Madison Program in Princeton University’s Department of Politics next spring. Mark has enjoyed a very fruitful period there this spring, and I’m looking forward to learning from all of the wonderful folks who run and will participate in the program, as well as taking advantage of all that Princeton has to offer. I’ll be working on a book project (with my sometime co-author, Kevin Walsh) investigating the church-state worldview of George Washington, Patrick Henry, and John Marshall, and what happened to it over time, and why it did so.

Reynolds, ” The Qu’ran and the Bible”

d45d6afd5a9ec42573dba326d65fb632From Yale University Press, here is a new comparative study of the scripture of three religions – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The author is the noted Notre Dame scholar Gabriel Said Reynolds. The book is The Qu’ran and the Bible: Text and Commentary. Here is the publisher’s description:

While the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are understood to be related texts, the sacred scripture of Islam, the third Abrahamic faith, has generally been considered separately. Noted religious scholar Gabriel Said Reynolds draws on centuries of Qur’anic and Biblical studies to offer rigorous and revelatory commentary on how these holy books are intrinsically connected.

Reynolds demonstrates how Jewish and Christian characters, imagery, and literary devices feature prominently in the Qur’an, including stories of angels bowing before Adam and of Jesus speaking as an infant. This important contribution to religious studies features a full translation of the Qur’an along with excerpts from the Jewish and Christian texts. It offers a clear analysis of the debates within the communities of religious scholars concerning the relationship of these scriptures, providing a new lens through which to view the powerful links that bond these three major religions.

Bandoch, “The Politics of Place”

9781580469029_1Here is an interesting-looking new book from the University of Rochester Press: The Politics of Place: Montesquieu, Particularism, and the Pursuit of Liberty, by scholar Joshua Bandoch. One typically thinks of the Enlightenment as a universalist project, meant to apply everywhere in the same way. That is one of the project’s main flaws. This book argues that Montesquieu, at least, saw things differently. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

Many Enlightenment thinkers sought to discover the right political order for all times and all places, and scholars often view Montesquieu as working within this project. In this reassessment of Montesquieu’s political thought, Joshua Bandoch finds that Montesquieu broke from this ideal and, by taking into account the variation of societies, offered a more fruitful approach to the study of politics.

Through a careful reading of Montesquieu’s political writings, Bandoch shows that for Montesquieu the politics, economics, and morals of a society must fit a particular place and its people. As long as states commit to pursuing security, liberty, and prosperity, states can — indeed, should — define and advance these goals in their own particular ways. Montesquieu saw that the circumstances of a place — its religion, commerce, laws, institutions, physical environment, and mores — determine the best political order for that place. In this sense, Montesquieu is the great innovator of what Bandoch calls the “politics of place.” This new reading of Montesquieu also provides fresh insights into the American founding, which Montesquieu so heavily influenced. Instead of having discerned the “right” political order, Bandoch argues, the Founders instituted a good political order, of which there are numerous versions.

Rhodes, “The Debasement of Human Rights”

9781594039799_FC-310x460Several recent books, most notably Patrick Deneen’s “Why Liberalism Failed,” argue that liberalism is collapsing on itself, a victim of its own success. These arguments are resisted by classical liberals, who maintain that the problem is not liberalism, but newer, progressive corruptions. A new book from Encounter, The Debasement of Human Rights, by author Aaron Rhodes, fits into the latter camp. Rhodes sees a problem with contemporary human rights law – one of liberalism’s great achievements – but says the problem is that human rights law has departed from its natural law roots and become statist. Readers can judge for themselves. Here is the publisher’s description:

The idea of human rights began as a call for individual freedom from tyranny, yet today it is exploited to rationalize oppression and promote collectivism. How did this happen? Aaron Rhodes, recognized as “one of the leading human rights activists in the world” by the University of Chicago, reveals how an emancipatory ideal became so debased.

Rhodes identifies the fundamental flaw in the Universal Declaration of Human of Rights, the basis for many international treaties and institutions. It mixes freedom rights rooted in natural law—authentichuman rights—with “economic and social rights,” or claims to material support from governments, which are intrinsically political. As a result, the idea of human rights has lost its essential meaning and moral power.

The principles of natural rights, first articulated in antiquity, were compromised in a process of accommodation with the Soviet Union after World War II, and under the influence of progressivism in Western democracies. Geopolitical and ideological forces ripped the concept of human rights from its foundations, opening it up to abuse. Dissidents behind the Iron Curtain saw clearly the difference between freedom rights and state-granted entitlements, but the collapse of the USSR allowed demands for an expanding array of economic and social rights to gain legitimacy without the totalitarian stigma.

The international community and civil society groups now see human rights as being defined by legislation, not by transcendent principles. Freedoms are traded off for the promise of economic benefits, and the notion of collective rights is used to justify restrictions on basic liberties.

We all have a stake in human rights, and few serious observers would deny that the concept has lost clarity. But no one before has provided such a comprehensive analysis of the problem as Rhodes does here, joining philosophy and history with insights from his own extensive work in the field.

Schwartz & Tatalovich, “The Rise and Fall of Moral Conflicts in the United States and Canada”

9781442637269From down here, South of the Border, Canada seems a remarkably quiet place, especially when it comes to religious and social conflict. American politics is continually roiled by fights over moral issues like abortion and same-sex marriage; Canada, not so much. Perhaps that is because Canada is a more secular place and there is less to quarrel about; perhaps Canadians are just more peaceable. A new book from the University of Toronto Press, The Rise and Fall of Moral Conflicts in the United States and Canada, compares the two countries. The authors are sociologist Mildred Schwartz (University of Illinois-Chicago) and political scientist Raymond Tatalovich (Loyola University Chicago). Here is the publisher’s description:

In The Rise and Fall of Moral Conflicts in the United States and Canada, sociologist Mildred A. Schwartz and political scientist Raymond Tatalovich bring their disciplinary insights to the study of moral issues. Beginning with prohibition, Schwartz and Tatalovich trace the phases of its evolution from emergence, establishment, decline and resurgence, to resolution. Prohibition’s life history generates a series of hypotheses about how passage through each of the phases affected subsequent developments and how these were shaped by the political institutions and social character of the United States and Canada.

Using the history of prohibition in North America as a point of reference, the authors move on to address the anticipated progression and possible resolution of six contemporary moral issues: abortion, capital punishment, gun control, marijuana, pornography, and same-sex relations. Schwartz and Tatalovich build a new theoretical approach by drawing on scholarship on agenda-setting, mass media, social movements, and social problems. The Rise and Fall of Moral Conflicts provides new insights into how moral conflicts develop and interact with their social and political environment.

Mitchell, “The Limits of Liberalism”

For this June Friday, a book right down the Tradition Project fairway, which may be Liberalismuseful reading for the upcoming gathering of the Project in Rome, Italy, in the winter of 2018 (more soon about this): The Limits of Liberalism: Tradition, Individualism, and the Crisis of Freedom (ND Press), by political scientist Mark T. Mitchell.

In The Limits of Liberalism, Mark T. Mitchell argues that a rejection of tradition is both philosophically incoherent and politically harmful. This false conception of tradition helps to facilitate both liberal cosmopolitanism and identity politics. The incoherencies are revealed through an investigation of the works of Michael Oakeshott, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Michael Polanyi.

Mitchell demonstrates that the rejection of tradition as an epistemic necessity has produced a false conception of the human person–the liberal self–which in turn has produced a false conception of freedom. This book identifies why most modern thinkers have denied the essential role of tradition and explains how tradition can be restored to its proper place.

Oakeshott, MacIntyre, and Polanyi all, in various ways, emphasize the necessity of tradition, and although these thinkers approach tradition in different ways, Mitchell finds useful elements within each to build an argument for a reconstructed view of tradition and, as a result, a reconstructed view of freedom. Mitchell argues that only by finding an alternative to the liberal self can we escape the incoherencies and pathologies inherent therein.

Greenfield, “Corporations Are People Too (And They Should Act Like It)”

Citizens United v. FEC (2008) and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores (2014) were important Supreme Court cases in establishing corporate rights of free speech and religious freedom (the former constitutionally, the latter statutorily). They were and are also loudly criticized for extending these rights of “personhood” to the artificial person of the corporation. Certainly in the religious freedom context, but also in the speech context, the disagreement over corporate rights tracks a more fundamental difference with respect to the fundamental location of the right of religious liberty: the “church” or the individual.

Here is a new book that argues that corporations do have rights under certain Yalecircumstances, but that this imposes on them certain responsibilities–responsibilities which, the author claims, are imposed on individuals as rights-bearers. I’m curious to see just which responsibilities he has in mind. The book is Corporations Are People Too (And They Should Act Like It) (Yale UP) by Kent Greenfield (image only available in the Yale catalogue at present).

Are corporations people? The U.S. Supreme Court launched a heated debate when it ruled in Citizens United that corporations can claim the same free speech rights as humans. Should corporations be able to claim rights of free speech, religious conscience, and due process? Kent Greenfield provides an answer: Sometimes. With an analysis sure to challenge the assumptions of both progressives and conservatives, Greenfield explores corporations’ claims to constitutional rights and the foundational conflicts about their obligations in society. He argues that a blanket opposition to corporate personhood is misguided, since it is consistent with both the purpose of corporations and the Constitution itself that corporations can claim rights at least some of the time. The problem with Citizens United is not that corporations have a right to speak, but for whom they speak. The solution is not to end corporate personhood but to require corporations to act more like citizens.

%d bloggers like this: