Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Whyte, “Hoover”

9780307597960I’ve often thought that Herbert Hoover is an under-appreciated and under-studied figure. One of the great humanitarians of the twentieth century, whose executive skill was essential in feeding millions in Europe after World War I, he is, I suspect, unfairly assigned too much blame for the Great Depression. (Even Harry Truman said so, as I remember). And he is also, I suspect, unfairly blamed for one of the last anti-Catholic campaigns in American history, the election of 1928, in which he soundly defeated New York Governor Al Smith, who carried only the solid South. Hoover didn’t make religion an issue in that campaign, although his surrogates did–and Hoover certainly benefitted. Anyway, it seems to me wrong simply to dismiss Hoover, as so many do. A new book from Penguin Random House offers what looks like a valuable rehabilitation. Here’s a description of the book, Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times, by author Kenneth Whyte, from the publisher’s website:

The definitive biography of Herbert Hoover, one of the most remarkable Americans of the twentieth century–a revisionist account that will forever change the way Americans understand the man, his presidency, and his battle against the Great Depression.

A poor orphan who built a fortune, a great humanitarian, a president elected in a landslide and then routed in the next election, arguably the father of both New Deal liberalism and modern conservatism–Herbert Hoover is also one of our least understood presidents, conventionally seen only as a heartless failure for his handling of the Great Depression.

Kenneth Whyte fully captures this rich, dramatic life: from Hoover’s difficult childhood to his meteoric business career, his work saving hundreds of thousands of lives during World War I and after the 1927 Mississippi floods, his presidency, his painful defeat by Roosevelt, and his return to grace as Truman’s emissary to help European refugees after World War II. Whyte brings to life Hoover’s complexity and contradictions–his modesty and ambition, ruthlessness and extreme generosity–as well as his political legacy. Here is the epic, poignant story of the poor boy who became the most accomplished figure of his time, who worked ceaselessly to fight the Depression yet became the public face of America’s greatest economic crisis. Here, for the first time, is the definitive biography that captures the full scale of this extraordinary life.

Schewel, “Seven Ways of Looking at Religion”

c6280932b49dc826a8e2e7ce5a059c97Religious freedom is, to put it as neutrally as one can, a contested concept nowadays. One reason for the controversy is that our culture, and therefore our law, no longer agrees exactly what religion is. So it’s important to grapple with the question, what is religion and why do we protect its exercise? A new book from Yale University Press, Seven Ways of Looking at Religion, by Benjamin Schewel (University of Groningen) may be helpful, if only to categorize our confusion. Here’s a description from the Yale website:

Western intellectuals have long theorized that religion would undergo a process of marginalization and decline as the forces of modernity advanced. Yet recent events have disrupted this seductively straightforward story. As a result, while it is clear that religion has somehow evolved from its tribal beginnings up through modernity and into the current global age, there is no consensus about what kind of narrative of religious change we should alternatively tell. Seeking clarity, Benjamin Schewel organizes and evaluates the prevalent narratives of religious history that scholars have deployed over the past century and are advancing today. He argues that contemporary scholarly discourse on religion can be categorized according to seven central narratives: subtraction, renewal, transsecular, postnaturalist, construct, perennial, and developmental. Examining the basic logic, insights, and limitations of each of these narratives, Schewel ranges from Martin Heidegger to Muhammad Iqbal, from Daniel Dennett to Charles Taylor, to offer an incisive, broad, and original perspective on religion in the modern world.

Matthew Hale on the Law of Nature (Postema, ed.)

9780199234929It is impossible really to understand the American church-state arrangement without knowing something about the English Civil War, which loomed so large in the Framers’ imagination. Yesterday, I posted a new treatment of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Today, I’ll point out another new work on seventeenth century England, an edition of Matthew Hale’s writings, edited by University of North Carolina professor Gerald Postema: Matthew Hale: On the Law of Nature, Reason, and the Common Law: Selected Jurisprudential Writings (Oxford). Here’s a description of the book from the publisher’s website:

Lawyer, judge, public figure, historian, theologian, and amateur natural philosopher, Sir Matthew Hale worked and wrote in the middle decades of the seventeenth century, perhaps the most turbulent period of English political history. His reflections on reason, law, and political authority, unpublished in his lifetime, are collected in this volume. It sets Hale’s previously unpublished Treatise on the Nature of Laws in General and touching the Law of Nature and his “Reflections on Mr Hobbes his Dialogue of the Laws” in context of other key works of legal and constitutional theory. The Treatise reveals a complex general understanding of law and of moral and legal reasoning. “Reflections” brings these general considerations to bear on English law, in his critical response to Hobbes’s all-out attack on common-law jurisprudence. “Reflections” suggests a conception of judicial reasoning, and a view of political authority, that deepens the view Hale defends in the longer and more systematic work. His views on practical reasoning are elaborated and related explicitly to the discipline of law in his “Preface to Rolle’s Abridgement” and in parts of his History of the Common Law. In the Treatise, Hale argues that human law is necessarily instituted in the practices and customs of specific communities, manifesting their consent; this view is enriched and deepened in the History and “Considerations touching Amendment of the Law”. His views on the foundations of political authority, sounded in the Treatise, are argued at length in Prerogatives of the King and “Reflections”. “Reflections” argues for necessary legal limits of ruling power and Prerogatives offers a systematic discussion of the nature and limits of political authority. Taken together, these writings offer a rich and subtle articulation of a classical common-law understanding of law, reason and authority. Gerald J. Postema presents these seminal writings in a modernized text for readers from philosophy, law, political theory, or intellectual history. He contributes an extended introduction setting out the theoretical and historical context of the works.

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Poole, “Milton and the Making of Paradise Lost”

9780674971073-lgBesides being one of the greatest poets in the English language, John Milton was a major public figure, an official in the Commonwealth government and a political writer whose works addressed many church-state issues, including divorce laws (he favored their liberalization) and religious toleration (he favored that. too). A new book from Harvard University Press, Milton and the Making of Paradise Lost, by Oxford scholar William Poole, touches on Milton’s political and religious writings as well as, obviously, his greatest poem. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

Milton and the Making of Paradise Lost tells the story of John Milton’s life as England’s self-elected national poet and explains how the single greatest poem of the English language came to be written.

In early 1642 Milton—an obscure private schoolmaster—promised English readers a work of literature so great that “they should not willingly let it die.” Twenty-five years later, toward the end of 1667, the work he had pledged appeared in print: the epic poem Paradise Lost. In the interim, however, the poet had gone totally blind and had also become a controversial public figure—a man who had argued for the abolition of bishops, freedom of the press, the right to divorce, and the prerogative of a nation to depose and put to death an unsatisfactory ruler. These views had rendered him an outcast.

William Poole devotes particular attention to Milton’s personal situation: his reading and education, his ambitions and anxieties, and the way he presented himself to the world. Although always a poet first, Milton was also a theologian and civil servant, vocations that informed the composition of his masterpiece. At the emotional center of this narrative is the astounding fact that Milton lost his sight in 1652. How did a blind man compose this staggeringly complex, intensely visual work? Poole opens up the epic worlds and sweeping vistas of Milton’s masterpiece to modern readers, first by exploring Milton’s life and intellectual preoccupations and then by explaining the poem itself—its structure, content, and meaning.

Shea, “Newman’s Early Roman Catholic Legacy”

Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman, whose Feast Day has just passed by (October 9–Newman.jpegthe date of his conversion), was one of the most interesting, penetrating, and important minds by which the Church has been graced. Cardinal Newman is the author of, among other things, one of the greatest explications and defenses of the university ever written (“The Idea of a University”), countless magnificent theological works (including many memorable sermons), a fascinating religious autobiography and defense of his views against attack (the “Apologia Pro Vita Sua,” containing one of my favorite lines: “I account it a gain to be surveyed from without by one who hates the principles which are nearest to my heart, has no personal knowledge of me to set right his misconceptions of my doctrine, and who has some motive or other to be as severe with me as he can possibly be.”), and many others. His influence was enormous and he is insufficiently studied today (perhaps one reason is that he so rarely wrote about politics). Here is a very interesting looking new work by C. Michael Shea on his early writing and impact on his Catholic contemporaries, Newman’s Early Roman Catholic Legacy, 1845-1854 (Oxford). Here is the description.

For decades, scholars have assumed that the genius of John Henry Newman remained underappreciated among his Roman Catholic contemporaries. In order to find the true impact of his work, one must therefore look to the century following his death. Newman’s Early Roman Catholic Legacy, 1845-1854 unpicks this claim. Examining a host of overlooked evidence from England and the European continent, C. Michael Shea considers letters, records of conversations, and obscure and unpublished theological exchanges to show how Newman’s 1845 Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine influenced a host of Catholic teachers, writers, and Church authorities in nineteenth-century Rome and beyond. Shea explores how these individuals employed Newman’s theory of development to argue for the definability of the new dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary during the years preceding the doctrine’s definition in 1854. This study traces how the theory of development became a factor in determining the very language that the Roman Catholic Church would use in referring to doctrinal change over time. In this way, Newman’s Early Roman Catholic Legacy, 1845-1854 uncovers a key dimension of Newman’s significance in modern religious history.

Kukla, “Patrick Henry”

Patrick Henry: committed anti-federalist and constitutional skeptic, brilliant orator and Henryattorney, and eloquent expositor of the Washingtonian view of Christianity and civil religion. Here is a new biography, Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty (Simon & Schuster) by John Kukla on this somewhat neglected founder.

This authoritative biography of Patrick Henry—the underappreciated founding father best known for saying, “Give me liberty, or give me death!”—restores him and his fellow Virginians to their seminal place in the story of American independence.

Born in 1736, Patrick Henry was an attorney and planter, and an outstanding orator in the movement for independence. A contemporary of Washington, Henry stood with John and Samuel Adams among the leaders of the colonial resistance to Great Britain that ultimately created the United States. The first governor of Virginia after independence, he was re-elected several times. After declining to attend the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Henry opposed the Constitution, arguing that it granted too much power to the central government. Although he denounced slavery as evil, like many other southern slave-owners he accepted its continuation. Henry pushed vigorously for the ten amendments to the new Constitution, and then supported Washington and national unity against the bitter party divisions of the 1790s. He was enormously influential in his time, but his accomplishments, other than his oratory, were subsequently all but forgotten. Kukla’s biography restores Henry and his Virginia compatriots to the front rank of advocates for American independence.

Jon Kukla has thoroughly researched Henry’s life, even living on one of Henry’s estates. He brings both newly discovered documents and new insights to the story of the patriot who played a central role in the movement to independence, the Revolution, the Constitutional era, and the early Republic. This book is an important contribution to our understanding of the nation’s founding.

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“Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression” (Temperman & Koltay, eds.)

These are complex times for the freedom of speech, and one of the most interesting of Blasphemythe new complications is the revival of blasphemy laws, once thought vanquished by secular thinkers and political actors. This new book, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression: Comparative, Theoretical and Historical Reflections After the Charlie Hebdo Massacre (CUP), edited by Jeroen Temperman and András Koltay, explores subjects at the intersection of free speech, hate speech, and blasphemy.

The tension between blasphemy laws and the freedom of expression in modern times is a key area of debate within legal academia and beyond. With contributions by leading scholars, this volume compares blasphemy laws within a number of Western liberal democracies and debates the legitimacy of these laws in the twenty-first century. Including comprehensive and up-to-date comparative country studies, this book considers the formulation of blasphemy bans, relevant jurisprudential interpretations, the effect on society, and the ensuing convictions and penalties where applicable. It provides a useful historical analysis by discussing the legal-political rationales behind the recent abolition of blasphemy laws in some Western states. Contributors also consider the challenges to the tenability of blasphemy laws in a selection of well-balanced theoretical chapters. This book is essential reading for scholars working within the fields of human rights law, philosophy and sociology of religion, and comparative politics.

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