Frazer, “God Against the Revolution”

The University of Kansas Press is known, for good reason, to be one of the most Loyalistsconsistently interesting and high quality presses for American legal and political history. Here is a fascinating new book about religious arguments against the American Revolution–a kind of obverse of what one sees in the Declaration of Independence (see, e.g., all that talk about what unalienable rights “endowed by their Creator” required of early Americans). The book is God Against the Revolution: The Loyalist Clergy’s Case Against the American Revolution (University of Kansas Press), by Gregg L. Frazer.

Because, it’s said, history is written by the victors, we know plenty about the Patriots’ cause in the American Revolution. But what about the perhaps one-third of the population who opposed independence? They too were Americans who loved the land they lived in, but their position is largely missing from our understanding of Revolution-era American political thought. With God against the Revolution, the first comprehensive account of the political thought of the American Loyalists, Gregg L. Frazer seeks to close this gap.

Because the Loyalists’ position was most clearly expressed by clergymen, God against the Revolution investigates the biblical, philosophical, and legal arguments articulated in Loyalist ministers’ writings, pamphlets, and sermons. The Loyalist ministers Frazer consults were not blind apologists for Great Britain; they criticized British excesses. But they challenged the Patriots claiming rights as Englishmen to be subject to English law. This is one of the many instances identified by Frazer in which the Loyalist arguments mirrored or inverted those of the Patriots, who demanded natural and English rights while denying freedom of religion, expression, and assembly, and due process of law to those with opposing views. Similarly the Loyalist ministers’ biblical arguments against revolution and in favor of subjection to authority resonate oddly with still familiar notions of Bible-invoking patriotism.

For a revolution built on demands for liberty, equality, and fairness of representation, God against Revolution raises sobering questions—about whether the Patriots were rational, legitimate representatives of the people, working in the best interests of Americans. A critical amendment to the history of American political thought, the book also serves as a cautionary tale in the heated political atmosphere of our time.

“Great Christian Jurists in Spanish History” (Domingo & Martinez-Torron, eds.)

Here’s a wonderful looking collection of essays on some of the major figures in Spanish Spanish Juristsjudicial history, focusing on their Christian thought. It includes better known judges such as Francisco de Vitoria and Juan Donoso Cortes, as well as several that are new at least to me. A very interesting project: Great Christian Jurists in Spanish History (CUP), edited by Rafael Domingo and Javier Martínez-Torrón.

The Great Christian Jurists series comprises a library of national volumes of detailed biographies of leading jurists, judges and practitioners, assessing the impact of their Christian faith on the professional output of the individuals studied. Spanish legal culture, developed during the Spanish Golden Age, has had a significant influence on the legal norms and institutions that emerged in Europe and in Latin America. This volume examines the lives of twenty key personalities in Spanish legal history, in particular how their Christian faith was a factor in molding the evolution of law. Each chapter discusses a jurist within his or her intellectual and political context. All chapters have been written by distinguished legal scholars from Spain and around the world. This diversity of international and methodological perspectives gives the volume its unique character; it will appeal to scholars, lawyers, and students interested in the interplay between religion and law.

Fraser, “Atheism, Fundamentalism and the Protestant Reformation”

In the “I knew it!” department. More seriously, here is a new book that argues for Frasercommon origins, intellectual dispositions, and weaknesses as between atheism and fundamentalism, all deriving ultimately from the Protestant Reformation: Atheism, Fundamentalism and the Protestant Reformation: Uncovering the Secret Sympathy (CUP) by Liam Jerrold Fraser.

In this study of new atheism and religious fundamentalism, this book advances two provocative – and surprising – arguments. Liam Jerrold Fraser argues that atheism and Protestant fundamentalism in Britain and America share a common historical origin in the English Reformation, and the crisis of authority inaugurated by the Reformers. This common origin generated two presuppositions crucial for both movements: a literalist understanding of scripture, and a disruptive understanding of divine activity in nature. Through an analysis of contemporary new atheist and Protestant fundamentalist texts, Fraser shows that these presuppositions continue to structure both groups, and support a range of shared biblical, scientific, and theological beliefs. Their common historical and intellectual structure ensures that new atheism and Protestant fundamentalism – while on the surface irreconcilably opposed – share a secret sympathy with one another, yet one which leaves them unstable, inconsistent, and unsustainable.

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.

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