“Great Christian Jurists in French History” (Descamps & Domingo eds.)

Here is another in an extremely worthwhile series introducing readers to major French.jpgChristian jurists in various national histories. An earlier volume contained essays on Spanish Christian jurists. This one covers French Christian jurists. The book contains entries for more famous names like John Calvin and Jacques Maritain as well as less well known (at least to me!) but very interesting jurists including Ivo de Chartres and Stephen of Tournai. The book is Great Christian Jurists in French History (CUP), edited by Olivier Descamps and Rafael Domingo.

French legal culture, from the Middle Ages to the present day, has had an impressive influence on legal norms and institutions that have emerged in Europe and the Americas, as well as in Asian and African countries. This volume examines the lives of twenty-seven key legal thinkers in French history, with a focus on how their Christian faith and ideals were a factor in framing the evolution of French jurisprudence. Professors Olivier Descamps and Rafael Domingo bring together this diverse group of distinguished legal scholars and historians to provide a unique comparative study of law and religion that will be of value to scholars, lawyers, and students. The collaboration among French and non-French scholars, and the diversity of international and methodological perspectives, gives this volume its own unique character and value to add to this fascinating series.

Edelstein, “On the Spirit of Rights”

Perhaps playing on Montesquieu’s famous “On the Spirit of Laws,” here is a new book Rightsthat studies the etiology and intellectual history of the 17th and 18th century political phenomenon of rights: On the Spirit of Rights (U. Chicago Press) by Dan Edelstein.

By the end of the eighteenth century, politicians in America and France were invoking the natural rights of man to wrest sovereignty away from kings and lay down universal basic entitlements. Exactly how and when did “rights” come to justify such measures?

In On the Spirit of Rights, Dan Edelstein answers this question by examining the complex genealogy of the rights regimes enshrined in the American and French Revolutions. With a lively attention to detail, he surveys a sprawling series of debates among rulers, jurists, philosophers, political reformers, writers, and others, who were all engaged in laying the groundwork for our contemporary systems of constitutional governance. Every seemingly new claim about rights turns out to be a variation on a theme, as late medieval notions were subtly repeated and refined to yield the talk of “rights” we recognize today. From the Wars of Religion to the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, On the Spirit of Rights is a sweeping tour through centuries of European intellectual history and an essential guide to our ways of thinking about human rights today.

Legal Spirits Episode 003: Tradition in the Global Context

Tradition Project

In this episode, Center Director Mark Movsesian and Associate Director Marc DeGirolami discuss the upcoming meeting of the Center’s Tradition Project, set for Rome on December 12-13. This session, “The Value of Tradition in the Global Context,” features a keynote address by Justice Samuel Alito, a response panel of European jurists, and a series of workshops with scholars from both sides of the Atlantic. Mark and Marc discuss the relationship among tradition, liberalism, nationalism, and populism in today’s world and address recent works by Yascha Mounk, Mark Lilla, Patrick Deneen, and Yoram Hazony, as well as, on its 25 anniversary, Samuel Huntington’s famous essay on the clash of civilizations.

Grainger, “Church in the Wild”

The Garden and the Wilderness. The image is an eternal one, at least as old as Genesis. It Wildnerness.jpgdenotes what is a partition between the enclosed and the perfect from the external and the damaged–the garden of Eden from the wilderness of fallen man. It’s an image that was famously used by Mark DeWolf Howe in his landmark book on church-state relations in America. And it is interestingly reconceived in a new book about the central place of Evangelicals in the antebellum period in bringing the church to the wilderness, putatively for the benefit and reinvigoration of the former. The book is Church in the Wild: Evangelicals in Antebellum America (HUP) by Brett Malcolm Grainger.

We have long credited Emerson and his fellow Transcendentalists with revolutionizing religious life in America and introducing a new appreciation of nature. Breaking with Protestant orthodoxy, these New Englanders claimed that God could be found not in church but in forest, fields, and streams. Their spiritual nonconformity had thrilling implications but never traveled far beyond their circle. In this essential reconsideration of American faith in the years leading up to the Civil War, Brett Malcolm Grainger argues that it was not the Transcendentalists but the Evangelical revivalists who transformed the everyday religious life of Americans and spiritualized the natural environment.

Evangelical Christianity won believers from the rural South to the industrial North: this was the true popular religion of the antebellum years. Revivalists went to the woods not to free themselves from the constraints of Christianity but to renew their ties to God. Evangelical Christianity provided a sense of enchantment for those alienated by a rapidly industrializing world. In forested camp meetings and riverside baptisms, in private contemplation and public water cures, in electrotherapy and mesmerism, American Evangelicals communed with nature, God, and one another. A distinctive spirituality emerged that paired personal piety with a mystical relationship to nature.

As Church in the Wild reveals, the revivalist attitude toward nature and the material world, which echoed that of Catholicism, spread like wildfire among Christians of all backgrounds during the years leading up to the Civil War.

Reichberg, “Thomas Aquinas on War and Peace”

9781108730167Next month, Cambridge will release what looks to be a definitive study of the Just War theory of Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Aquinas on War and Peace, by Gregory Reichberg (Peace Research Institute Oslo). The book’s description from the Cambridge website speaks for itself:

Inquiring ‘whether any war can be just’, Thomas Aquinas famously responded that this may hold true, provided the war is conducted by a legitimate authority, for a just cause, and with an upright intention. Virtually all accounts of just war, from the Middle Ages to the current day, make reference to this threefold formula. But due in large measure to its very succinctness, Aquinas’s theory has prompted contrasting interpretations. This book sets the record straight by surveying the wide range of texts in his literary corpus that have bearing on peace and the ethics of war. Thereby emerges a coherent and nuanced picture of just war as set within his systematic moral theory. It is shown how Aquinas deftly combined elements from earlier authors, and how his teaching has fruitfully propelled inquiry on this important topic by his fellow scholastics, later legal theorists such as Grotius, and contemporary philosophers of just war.

Time’s Up for the Endorsement Test?

At the First Things site today, I have a post on The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, the Maryland Peace Cross case, in which the Court granted cert last month. I argue that the Court could use the opportunity to get rid of the endorsement test in Establishment Clause cases. Here’s an excerpt:

Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to consider an important Establishment Clause case from Maryland, The American Legion v. American Humanist Association. The case, which presents a challenge to a Maryland cemetery’s use of a 40-foot cross as a public war memorial, gives the Court a chance to clarify its views on the constitutionality of state-sponsored religious displays. In particular, the case provides an opportunity for the Court to do away with the so-called “endorsement test,” which holds that a display violates the Constitution if a hypothetical, reasonable observer would see it as an endorsement of religion. Conservatives have criticized the endorsement test for decades, and with a new majority on the Court, they may finally have the votes to discard it. American Legion could turn out to be one of the most significant Establishment Clause cases in a long time.

American Legion is also the subject of a recent “Legal Spirits” episode Marc and I recorded. But you have already listened to that. Right?

Sexton, “A Nation Forged by Crisis”

97815416172301I’m ambivalent about the current polarization here in America. Sometimes, it seems to me that we really are in the middle of an unprecedented crisis, in which two large parties, secular progressives and religious conservatives, truly distrust one another and can find nothing in common. At other times, it seems to me that things aren’t so bad, in historical terms. Early 19th Century America, before the Era of Good Feelings, was pretty rough. Just go back and read some of the campaign literature from 1800. There was a fair amount of political violence at the end of the nineteenth century. Two presidents were assassinated in the space of less than 20 years. There were the 1960s. And of course we did have a Civil War in this country.

History is a good antidote to despair. It teaches us that things have been bad before–and will no doubt be again! A new history of America, A Nation Forged by Crisis: A New American History, from Basic Books, highlights the contingencies of our past. The author is Jay Sexton (University of Missouri). The publisher’s description follows:

A concise new history of the United States revealing that crises–not unlike those of the present day–have determined our nation’s course from the start.

In A Nation Forged by Crisis, historian Jay Sexton contends that our national narrative is not one of halting yet inevitable progress, but of repeated disruptions brought about by shifts in the international system. Sexton shows that the American Revolution was a consequence of the increasing integration of the British and American economies; that a necessary precondition for the Civil War was the absence, for the first time in decades, of foreign threats; and that we cannot understand the New Deal without examining the role of European immigrants and their offspring in transforming the Democratic Party.

A necessary corrective to conventional narratives of American history, A Nation Forged by Crisis argues that we can only prepare for our unpredictable future by first acknowledging the contingencies of our collective past.

Guroian, “The Orthodox Reality”


9780801099342The Orthodox Churches–and here I speak broadly of Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian Eastern Churches–lack a major presence in the United States. Actually, that’s an understatement, at least in terms of numbers. A recent Pew Survey put the percentage of Americans who are Orthodox Christians at only 0.5%. Many Orthodox Christians are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Yet Orthodoxy has established a foothold in this country, and attracts a steady trickle of converts, especially among intellectuals. And American Orthodoxy has established seminaries and monasteries that contribute to the Orthodox theological tradition.

Vigen Guroian, now retired from the University of Virginia, is a good example of an Orthodox (Armenian) theologian working in the US. Unlike many theologians, his work is accessible to the lay reader. His latest book, on Orthodoxy, culture, and modernity, should appeal to followers of our Center’s Tradition Project. The book is The Orthodox Reality: Culture, Theology and Ethics in the Modern World, from Baker Academic. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

This is a book about the struggle of Orthodox Christianity to establish a clear identity and mission within modernity–Western modernity in particular. As such, it offers penetrating insight into the heart and soul of Orthodoxy. Yet it also lends unusual, unexpected insight into the struggle of all the churches to engage modernity with conviction and integrity. Written by one of the leading voices of contemporary Orthodox theology, The Orthodox Reality is a treasury of the Orthodox response to the challenges of Western culture in order to answer secularism, act ecumenically, and articulate an ethics of the family that is both faithful to tradition and relevant to our day. The author honestly addresses Orthodoxy’s strengths and shortcomings as he introduces readers to Orthodoxy as a living presence in the modern world.

Scruton on Culture

Culture-Counts-2018-310x460Last year, we were honored to host Sir Roger Scruton as the keynoter for the second session of our Tradition Project, on culture and citizenship, here in New York. (You can view the video on the sidebar to the right, or on our Videos page). This fall, Sir Roger published a book on the subject of culture for Encounter Books, Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged. Looks very worthwhile. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

What is culture? Why should we preserve it, and how? In this book renowned philosopher Roger Scruton defends Western culture against its internal critics and external enemies, and argues that rumours of its death are seriously exaggerated. He shows our culture to be a continuing source of moral knowledge, and rebuts the fashionable sarcasm which sees it as nothing more than the useless legacy of ‘dead white European males’. He is robust in defence of traditional architecture and figurative painting, critical of the fashionable relativists and urgent in his plea for our civilization, which more than ever stands in need of the self-knowledge and self-confidence that are the gift of serious culture.

Next Week in Rome: Tradition Project III

Tradition ProjectWe’re delighted to announce we’ll hold the third session of the Tradition Project, “The Value of Tradition in the Global Context,” next week in Rome. This session will feature a public address, on December 12, by Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., of the Supreme Court of the United States., and four private workshops on the conference themes. The event is hosted by our partners at LUMSA Università and is co-sponsored by Villanova’s Eleanor H. McCullen Center for Law, Religion and Public Policy. Details are available here, Programma12-13dicembre2018. Forum readers in Rome, stop by and say hello on December 12!

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