Brague, “The Kingdom of Man”

We were fortunate in the fall of 2016 that the French historian of philosophy and religion, Rémi Brague, could join us in New York for the first of our Tradition Project events concerning the relationship of tradition, law, and politics. Brague is among other things the author of a trilogy of books (the first two were called “The Wisdom of the World” and “The Law of God”) concerning the progress, if such it can be called, of moral and political anthropology in the West.

Here is the final volume in the trilogy: The Kingdom of Man: Genesis and Failure of the BragueModern Project (Notre Dame Press).

Was humanity created, or do humans create themselves? In this eagerly awaited English translation of Le Règne de l’homme, the last volume of Rémi Brague’s trilogy on the philosophical development of anthropology in the West, Brague argues that with the dawn of the Enlightenment, Western societies rejected the transcendence of the past and looked instead to the progress fostered by the early modern present and the future. As scientific advances drained the cosmos of literal mystery, humanity increasingly devalued the theophilosophical mystery of being in favor of omniscience over one’s own existence. Brague narrates the intellectual disappearance of the natural order, replaced by a universal chaos upon which only humanity can impose order; he cites the vivid histories of the nation-state, economic evolution into capitalism, and technology as the tools of this new dominion, taken up voluntarily by humans for their own end rather than accepted from the deity for a divine purpose.

Brague’s tour de force begins with the ancient and medieval confidence in humanity as the superior creation of Nature or of God, epitomized in the biblical wish of the Creator for humans to exert stewardship over the earth. He sees the Enlightenment as a transition period, taking as a given that humankind should be masters of the world but rejecting the imposition of that duty by a deity. Before the Enlightenment, who the creator was and whom the creator dominated were clear. With the advance of modernity and banishment of the Creator, who was to be dominated? Today, Brague argues, “our humanism . . . is an anti-antihumanism, rather than a direct affirmation of the goodness of the human.” He ends with a sobering question: does humankind still have the will to survive in an era of intellectual self-destruction? The Kingdom of Man will appeal to all readers interested in the history of ideas, but will be especially important to political philosophers, historical anthropologists, and theologians.

“The Oxford Handbook of Italian Politics” (Jones & Pasquino, eds.)

Twentieth century Italian politics has for decades almost been an anti-model for the United States. While in the US, we have “separation of church and state” as developed in the caselaw of the Vinson, Warren, and Burger courts, in Italy the dominance of the Christian Democratic party is the most notable phenomenon. Can one even imagine a Christian Democratic party in the United States? Hard to do so in light of American traditions of church-state thought. Still, the particular combination of social conservatism and economic progressivism that has made Christian Democracy in Italy so durable does show some signs of life in US politics today, though one should not expect the creation of a third party in American politics any time soon.

Here is a useful introduction to Italian politics–itself in great ferment today, with the rise Italian Politics.jpegof the League and Five Star coalition–focusing especially on the nature of Christian Democracy as a political force. The book is The Oxford Handbook of Italian Politics (OUP), edited by Erik Jones and Gianfranco Pasquino. Italy’s “past” does not come in for very favorable treatment in the blurb, while its rather belated (1947) constitution is lionized. Yet one might think that at least some features of Italy’s past might be socio-political strengths rather than weaknesses

The Oxford Handbook of Italian Politics provides a comprehensive look at the political life of one of Europe’s most exciting and turbulent democracies.

Under the hegemonic influence of Christian Democracy in the early post-World War II decades, Italy went through a period of rapid growth and political transformation. In part this resulted in tumult and a crisis of governability; however, it also gave rise to innovation in the form of Eurocommunism and new forms of political accommodation. The great strength of Italy lay in its constitution; its great weakness lay in certain legacies of the past. Organized crime–popularly but not exclusively associated with the mafia–is one example. A self-contained and well entrenched ‘caste’ of political and economic elites is another. These weaknesses became apparent in the breakdown of political order in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This ushered in a combination of populist political mobilization and experimentation with electoral systems design, and the result has been more evolutionary than transformative. Italian politics today is different from what it was during the immediate post-World War II period, but it still shows many of the influences of the past.

Around the Web

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

“Let There Be Enlightenment” (Matytsin & Edelstein, eds.)

The relationship of enlightenment rationalist thought to religion is often thought to be one of opposition. Enlightenment rationalism was in part intended as an emancipatory program to repudiate and advance beyond the benighted and hidebound tradition of Christianity.

A new book of collected essays seems to put the supposition that Enlightenment andEnlightenment religion are inherently opposed in question: Let There Be Enlightenment: The Religious and Mystical Sources of Rationality (Johns Hopkins Press), edited by Anton M. Matytsin and Dan Edelstein.

According to most scholars, the Enlightenment was a rational awakening, a radical break from a past dominated by religion and superstition. But in Let There Be Enlightenment, Anton M. Matytsin, Dan Edelstein, and the contributors they have assembled deftly undermine this simplistic narrative. Emphasizing the ways in which religious beliefs and motivations shaped philosophical perspectives, essays in this book highlight figures and topics often overlooked in standard genealogies of the Enlightenment. The volume underscores the prominent role that religious discourses continued to play in major aspects of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century thought.

The essays probe a wide range of subjects, from reformer Jan Amos Comenius’s quest for universal enlightenment to the changing meanings of the light metaphor, Quaker influences on Baruch Spinoza’s theology, and the unexpected persistence of Aristotle in the Enlightenment. Exploring the emergence of historical consciousness among Enlightenment thinkers while examining their repeated insistence on living in an enlightened age, the collection also investigates the origins and the long-term dynamics of the relationship between faith and reason.

Providing an overview of the rich spectrum of eighteenth-century culture, the authors demonstrate that religion was central to Enlightenment thought. The term “enlightenment” itself had a deeply religious connotation. Rather than revisiting the celebrated breaks between the eighteenth century and the period that preceded it, Let There Be Enlightenment reveals the unacknowledged continuities that connect the Enlightenment to its various antecedents.

Around the Web

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

Wald, “The Foundations of American Jewish Liberalism”

The relationship of the most ancient and long-standing religious traditions to the dominant political theory of modernity, liberalism, is of perennial interest. Here’s a veryJewish Liberalism.jpg interesting looking new study of the ways in which Judaism has accommodated itself to, and even embraced, liberalism in the United States: The Foundations of American Jewish Liberalism (CUP) by Kenneth D. Wald.

American Jews have built a political culture based on the principle of equal citizenship in a secular state. This durable worldview has guided their political behavior from the founding to the present day. In The Foundations of American Jewish Liberalism, Kenneth D. Wald traces the development of this culture by examining the controversies and threats that stimulated political participation by American Jews. Wald shows that the American political environment, permeated by classic liberal values, produced a Jewish community that differs politically from non-Jews who resemble Jews socially and from Jewish communities abroad. Drawing on survey data and extensive archival research, the book examines the ups and downs of Jewish attachment to liberalism and the Democratic Party and the tensions between two distinct strains of liberalism.

John Inazu at the Colloquium in Law and Religion Today

We are delighted to welcome Professor John Inazu to the Colloquium in Law and Inazu.jpegReligion today.

John will be discussing the newly released edition of his recent book, Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference. Welcome, John!

Saiya, “Weapon of Peace”

“Weaponization” is all the metaphorical rage these days when it comes to the rights of religious freedom and free speech. Critical uses of the metaphor are legion: most people tend to use it when they want to describe the deployment of these rights as “harmful”–or as somehow like physical assault. But sometimes people speak of “weaponization” in positive terms. Recently I read a law review article in which a law professor at a prominent school was speculating about whether it was possible to “weaponize” free speech to advance the politically progressive causes he favored (he did not think so).

And here is a new book that speaks of religious freedom as a weapon, but also in positiveWeapon.jpg terms: Weapon of Peace: How Religious Liberty Combats Terrorism (CUP) by Nilay Saiya.

Religious terrorism poses a significant challenge for many countries around the world. Extremists who justify violence in God’s name can be found in every religious tradition, and attacks perpetrated by faith-based militants have increased dramatically over the past three decades. Given the reality of religious terrorism today, it would seem counterintuitive that the best weapon against violent religious extremism would be for countries and societies to allow for the free practice of religion; yet this is precisely what this book argues. Weapon of Peace investigates the link between terrorism and the repression of religion, both from a historical perspective and against contemporary developments in the Middle East and elsewhere. Drawing upon a range of different case studies and quantitative data, Saiya makes the case that the suppression and not the expression of religion leads to violence and extremism and that safeguarding religious freedom is both a moral and strategic imperative.

Congratulations to Board Member Richard Sullivan


Judge Richard Sullivan

Congratulations to Center Board Member Judge Richard Sullivan! Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Rich to a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. For people keeping track, Rich is the second participant in our Center’s Tradition Project to be named to the federal appeals court. The other is Stephanos Bibas, now on the Third Circuit. We like to think our record speaks for itself.

Lanier, “Torah for Living”

9781481309820I’m delighted to close out this week’s book posts with this forthcoming volume from Baylor University Press, Torah for Living: Daily Prayers, Wisdom, and Guidance, by Mark Lanier. Mark has been a faithful friend of our Center and has hosted both me and Marc for talks at the amazing Lanier Theological Library in Houston. The lecture I gave at the library in 2014, on Mideast Christians, was one of the best experiences of my academic career.

The publisher’s description of the book follows. Congratulations, Mark!

A trial lawyer by trade, a Christian by heart—author Mark Lanier has trained in biblical languages and devoted his life to studying and living the Bible. Living daily with the demands of his career and the desire for a godly life, Lanier recognizes the importance and challenge of finding daily time to spend in God’s Word. His study of the first five books of the Bible—the Torah, the Law—has brought Life to his life.

In Torah for Living, Lanier shares a year’s worth of devotionals—one for each day of the year. In each devotional, Lanier reflects on the biblical text, relates the text to the struggles facing faithful readers of the Bible, and concludes with a prayer for the day.



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