Lawler & Reinsch, “A Constitution in Full”

Authored by the incisive Peter Augustine Lawler (he died tragically and untimely last year) Reinschand by our friend, Richard M. Reinsch, here is a very interesting book to conclude the week, published by the consistently excellent University of Kansas Press: A Constitution in Full: Recovering the Unwritten Foundation of American Liberty. The thesis of the book is that the concepts and ideas manifested in the text of the Constitution cannot be understood without immersion into the social, cultural, religious, and political assumptions of the period. That is, without recourse to the several traditions that were widely shared by the founders. For those interested in the nature and political theory of constitutional government, it’s a must-read book.

When political debates devolve, as they often do these days, into a contest between big-government progressivism and natural rights individualism, Americans tend to appeal to the “self-evident” truths inscribed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But Peter Lawler and Richard Reinsch remind us that these truths understood in the abstract are untethered from a prior, unwritten constitution presupposed by the Framers—one found in culture, customs, traditions, experiences, and beliefs. A Constitution in Full is Lawler and Reinsch’s attempt to return this critical context to US constitutionalism—to recover a political sense of individualism in relation to country, family, religious community, and nature.

Power, the authors suggest, is a public trust, not a form of obedience to either majoritarian suppression of particular liberties or the endless rights-claims lodged by autonomous individuals against society. Instead, power is ordered to the demands of a shared political enterprise that emerges from man’s social nature. Building on political insights from Alexis de Tocqueville, Orestes Brownson, John Courtney Murray, and others Lawler and Reinsch seek to restore the relational person—the individual grounded in family, work, faith, and community—to a central place in our understanding of republican constitutionalism. Their work promotes the ongoing development of constitutional self-government rooted in our historical, legal, and religious foundations.

The shared middle-class values that once united almost all Americans as well as any confidence in democratic deliberation or political liberty are rapidly atrophying. This book aims to rebuild this confidence by helping us think seriously about the complex interplay between political and economic liberties and the relational life of creatures and citizens.

Philpott, “Religious Freedom in Islam”

Here’s certainly a book at the intersection of law and religion, a very worthwhile lookingMuslim study from an expert in the law and politics of international religious freedom on the condition of religious liberty in the Islamic world. The book is Religious Freedom in Islam: The Fate of a Universal Human Right in the Muslim World Today (OUP), by Daniel Philpott, who very much adopts a universalist perspective on the right of religious freedom as a matter of international law.

Since at least the attacks of September 11, 2001, one of the most pressing political questions of the age has been whether Islam is hostile to religious freedom. Daniel Philpott examines conditions on the ground in forty-seven Muslim-majority countries today and offers an honest, clear-eyed answer to this urgent question.

It is not, however, a simple answer. From a satellite view, the Muslim world looks unfree. But, Philpott shows, the truth is much more complex. Some one-fourth of Muslim-majority countries are in fact religiously free. Of the other countries, about forty percent are governed not by Islamists but by a hostile secularism imported from the West, while the other sixty percent are Islamist.

The picture that emerges is both honest and hopeful. Yes, most Muslim-majority countries are lacking in religious freedom. But, Philpott argues, the Islamic tradition carries within it “seeds of freedom,” and he offers guidance for how to cultivate those seeds in order to expand religious freedom in the Muslim world and the world at large.

It is an urgent project. Religious freedom promotes goods like democracy and the advancement of women that are lacking in the Muslim-majority world and reduces ills like civil war, terrorism, and violence. Further, religious freedom is simply a matter of justice–not an exclusively Western value, but rather a universal right rooted in human nature. Its realization is critical to the aspirations of religious minorities and dissenters in Muslim countries, to Muslims living in non-Muslim countries or under secular dictatorships, and to relations between the West and the Muslim world.

In this thoughtful book, Philpott seeks to establish a constructive middle ground in a fiery and long-lasting debate over Islam.

“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.

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.

Jacob, “The Secular Enlightenment”

The 17th, and especially the 18th, century Enlightenment–and particularly certain distinctively French strands of it–is often associated with the rejection of Christianity as a governing political, social, and intellectual force. Here is a new book that seems again to confirm the point, but also argues that the rejection of Christianity was not “wholesale.” Yet some of the book’s descriptions of what was rejected–by great and lesser minds alike–do, in fact, seemEnlightenment distinctively and unequivocally Christian (“People entered churches not to pray but to admire the architecture….”). The book is The Secular Enlightenment (Princeton University Press) by Margaret C. Jacob.

The Secular Enlightenment is a panoramic account of the radical ways that life began to change for ordinary people in the age of Locke, Voltaire, and Rousseau. In this landmark book, familiar Enlightenment figures share places with voices that have remained largely unheard until now, from freethinkers and freemasons to French materialists, anticlerical Catholics, pantheists, pornographers, readers, and travelers.

Margaret Jacob, one of our most esteemed historians of the Enlightenment, reveals how this newly secular outlook was not a wholesale rejection of Christianity but rather a new mental space in which to encounter the world on its own terms. She takes readers from London and Amsterdam to Berlin, Vienna, Turin, and Naples, drawing on rare archival materials to show how ideas central to the emergence of secular democracy touched all facets of daily life. Human frailties once attributed to sin were now viewed through the lens of the newly conceived social sciences. People entered churches not to pray but to admire the architecture, and spent their Sunday mornings reading a newspaper or even a risqué book. The secular-minded pursued their own temporal and commercial well-being without concern for the life hereafter, regarding their successes as the rewards for their actions, their failures as the result of blind economic forces.

A majestic work of intellectual and cultural history, The Secular Enlightenment demonstrates how secular values and pursuits took hold of eighteenth-century Europe, spilled into the American colonies, and left their lasting imprint on the Western world for generations to come.

Wexler, “Our Non-Christian Nation”

Here is a new book by Boston University law professor, Jay Wexler, celebrating, or perhaps offering a sympathetic view about, what has been noted as a matter of sociological reality by Mark Movsesian and many others: that the United States is decreasingly Christian and increasingly “none” or otherwise. Wexler’s book seems to be at the very least in part a celebration of the political, legal, and cultural egalitarianism that the more recent profusion of religious sects in America portends.

The book is Our Non-Christian Nation: How Atheists, Satanists, Pagans, and Others Are Demanding Their Rightful Place in Public Life (Stanford University Press). (For anotherWexler view about religious pluralism in the context of the religious accommodation debate, see this essay.)

Less and less Christian demographically, America is now home to an ever-larger number of people who say they identify with no religion at all. These non-Christians have increasingly been demanding their full participation in public life, bringing their arguments all the way to the Supreme Court. The law is on their side, but that doesn’t mean that their attempts are not met with suspicion or outright hostility. In Our Non-Christian Nation, Jay Wexler travels the country to engage the non-Christians who have called on us to maintain our ideals of inclusivity and diversity. With his characteristic sympathy and humor, he introduces us to the Summum and their Seven Aphorisms, a Wiccan priestess who would deck her City Hall with a pagan holiday wreath, and other determined champions of free religious expression. As Wexler reminds us, anyone who cares about pluralism, equality, and fairness should support a public square filled with a variety of religious and nonreligious voices. The stakes are nothing short of long-term social peace.

Sunstein, “On Freedom”

The acclaimed and prolific Cass Sunstein has written on just about every subject one could conceive. In my own work, I know him best as advocating (rather early, as these things go) a comparatively restricted, anti-libertarian reading of the freedom of speech. Sunstein has generally argued that free speech, and so our regulation of that freedom, ought to serve and promote various sorts of liberal democratic ends, projects, and ways of life.

He has consistently held this position–a position that emphasizes the positive, SunsteinRousseauian side of Isaiah Berlin’s negative/positive freedom dyad. It is not surprising, although of course it is very interesting, to see this new book by Sunstein: On Freedom, to be published by Princeton University Press in the spring of 2019. Must reading for those that follow this sort of thing.

In this pathbreaking book, New York Times bestselling author Cass Sunstein asks us to rethink freedom. He shows that freedom of choice isn’t nearly enough. To be free, we must also be able to navigate life. People often need something like a GPS device to help them get where they want to go—whether the issue involves health, money, jobs, children, or relationships.

In both rich and poor countries, citizens often have no idea how to get to their desired destination. That is why they are unfree. People also face serious problems of self-control, as many of them make decisions today that can make their lives worse tomorrow. And in some cases, we would be just as happy with other choices, whether a different partner, career, or place to live—which raises the difficult question of which outcome best promotes our well-being.

Accessible and lively, and drawing on perspectives from the humanities, religion, and the arts, as well as social science and the law, On Freedom explores a crucial dimension of the human condition that philosophers and economists have long missed—and shows what it would take to make freedom real.

Foster, “African Catholic”

Some of the most interesting new Catholic leaders and intellectual voices come from what is crudely described as “the global South,” to include the continent of Africa. To give only one example, the Guinean-born Robert Cardinal Sarah is a brilliant and insightful thinker and leader of the Church.

Here is a new book that describes the rise of the African Church in the colonial and postAfrican-colonial period, African Catholic: Decolonization and the Transformation of the Church (HUP) by Elizabeth A. Foster.

African Catholic examines how French imperialists and the Africans they ruled imagined the religious future of French sub-Saharan Africa in the years just before and after decolonization. The story encompasses the political transition to independence, Catholic contributions to black intellectual currents, and efforts to alter the church hierarchy to create an authentically “African” church.

Elizabeth Foster recreates a Franco-African world forged by conquest, colonization, missions, and conversions—one that still exists today. We meet missionaries in Africa and their superiors in France, African Catholic students abroad destined to become leaders in their home countries, African Catholic intellectuals and young clergymen, along with French and African lay activists. All of these men and women were preoccupied with the future of France’s colonies, the place of Catholicism in a postcolonial Africa, and the struggle over their personal loyalties to the Vatican, France, and the new African states.

Having served as the nuncio to France and the Vatican’s liaison to UNESCO in the 1950s, Pope John XXIII understood as few others did the central questions that arose in the postwar Franco-African Catholic world. Was the church truly universal? Was Catholicism a conservative pillar of order or a force to liberate subjugated and exploited peoples? Could the church change with the times? He was thinking of Africa on the eve of Vatican II, declaring in a radio address shortly before the council opened, “Vis-à-vis the underdeveloped countries, the church presents itself as it is and as it wants to be: the church of all.”

O’Collins, “Tradition: Understanding Christian Tradition”

Not too much explanation necessary for this book note, in light of our long-standing 9780198830306interest here at the Center for Law and Religion in the subject of tradition and its relationship to law, politics, culture, and religion. This book studies the nature of tradition as a source of interpretation and authority in Christianity specifically: Tradition: Understanding Christian Tradition (OUP) by Gerald O’Collins, S.J. The way that the title is phrased makes me wonder whether Oxford is planning a series of volumes about tradition in different religious contexts. At any rate, here is the description.

A 1963 report on tradition from the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches signalled a substantial convergence between the churches over Christian tradition and its relationship to Scripture. However, since the 1960s theologians have regularly ignored the theme of tradition. The few who have discussed this theme have not used the help provided by some sociologists towards understanding the role of tradition in human and religious life: for instance, as being all-pervasive and as shaping the identity of various societies and groups. The process and presence of Christian tradition embrace baptism and other sacraments, Bible, creeds and other doctrines, art, architecture, hymns, pilgrimages, literature, the celebration of Christmas, Easter and other feasts, and much else besides. Particular traditions can call for scrutiny and reform. Tradition: Understanding Christian Tradition proposes various criteria (e.g. the message of the Scriptures and spiritual experience) for discerning and evaluating specific traditions. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the risen Christ himself is the central Tradition (upper case) at the heart of all Christian traditions. The Spirit remains the primary bearer of the Church’s tradition; the secondary agents of tradition include not only ordained ministers but also all the baptized faithful. In the history of Christianity, tradition has interpreted and actualized the Scriptures, but has also been interpreted and challenged by them. An appendix explains the insights coming from specialists in the study of collective memory; their work also sheds light on the workings of Christian tradition.

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