Moyn, “Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World”

Building on his prior historical studies of human rights (see here and here for prior postsMoyn at the Forum on his work), Yale Law professor Samuel Moyn has a new book that sounds similar human-rights-skeptical themes: Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World (Harvard University Press). While in previous work, Moyn explored the early 20th century Christian elaboration of human rights, in this work, he seems to focus to a greater extent on the post-War period and the ways in which economic inequalities have been largely ignored (or worse) by human rights advocates and the human rights movement. Worth checking out as a kind of capstone to Moyn’s human rights trilogy.

The age of human rights has been kindest to the rich. Even as state violations of political rights garnered unprecedented attention due to human rights campaigns, a commitment to material equality disappeared. In its place, market fundamentalism has emerged as the dominant force in national and global economies. In this provocative book, Samuel Moyn analyzes how and why we chose to make human rights our highest ideals while simultaneously neglecting the demands of a broader social and economic justice.

In a pioneering history of rights stretching back to the Bible, Not Enough charts how twentieth-century welfare states, concerned about both abject poverty and soaring wealth, resolved to fulfill their citizens’ most basic needs without forgetting to contain how much the rich could tower over the rest. In the wake of two world wars and the collapse of empires, new states tried to take welfare beyond its original European and American homelands and went so far as to challenge inequality on a global scale. But their plans were foiled as a neoliberal faith in markets triumphed instead.

Moyn places the career of the human rights movement in relation to this disturbing shift from the egalitarian politics of yesterday to the neoliberal globalization of today. Exploring why the rise of human rights has occurred alongside enduring and exploding inequality, and why activists came to seek remedies for indigence without challenging wealth, Not Enough calls for more ambitious ideals and movements to achieve a humane and equitable world.

“Religious Exemptions” (Vallier & Weber, eds.)

It is difficult to pinpoint precisely when the debate about religious accommodation became the single most important topic in academic and legal debates about religious freedom, but two things are nearly certain: (1) it has now decisively displaced the issue of religious displays and religion in public as the preeminent question in the field; (2) that displacement was driven by an American political, legal, and cultural turn against traditional forms of Christianity, which in turn drove traditional Christians to seek exemptions–something that was unheard of at an earlier period when law, politics, and culture were more aligned. Once legal exemptions might be used to accommodate those sorts of believers, exemptions became more controversial than ever before.

Here is a new collection whose essays explore the exemption question from a Exemptionsphilosophical point of view: Religious Exemptions (OUP), edited by Kevin Vallier and Michael Weber.

Exemptions from legal requirements, especially religious exemptions, have been a major topic of political debate in recent years. For example, bakers in various states have sought the right to refuse to make wedding cakes for gay and lesbian couples, despite the Supreme Court’s validation of same-sex marriage. Many parents are granted exemptions from vaccinating their children, despite public health laws requiring otherwise. Various religious organizations as well as some corporations have sought an exemption from the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage in employee healthcare plans, as required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Religious exemptions have a long history in the United States, but they remain controversial. Exemptions release some people from following laws that everyone else must follow, raising questions of fairness, and exemptions often privilege religious belief, raising concerns about equal treatment. At the same time there are good reasons to support exemptions, such as respect for the right of religious freedom and preventing religious organizations from becoming too closely intertwined with government.

The essays in this volume represent valuable contributions to the complex debate about exemptions from legal requirements. In particular, they contribute to the moral dimensions of religious exemptions. These essays go beyond legal analysis about which exemptions are constitutionally appropriate, and ask instead when religious exemptions are morally required or morally prohibited.

Thompson, “Montaigne and the Tolerance of Politics”

In discussions of pluralism and difference, it is a common assumption that what is required of good citizens is a rather philosophically thick version of tolerance–not just discussion with others, but the sort of exchange of views, or “dialogue,” in which the parties are sympathetic and completely open to one another’s positions. But perhaps this version of tolerance is too demanding; indeed, perhaps its demands are such that parties with differing views on fundamental questions are driven not to talk at all, lest they fail to live up to the strictures of tolerance.

So seems to argue an interesting looking new book, Montaigne and the Tolerance of Politics (OUP) by Douglas I. Thompson, which recovers Montaigne’s philosophicallyMontaigne thinner and less demanding understanding of tolerance–one that emphasizes not deep moral commitments but particular political practices and dispositions of engagement. Perhaps this sort of tolerance may be more achievable in our own day of radical fracture.

At the heart of Montaigne’s Essais lies a political conception of religious tolerance that we have largely forgotten today. In contemporary popular and academic discourse, tolerance of religious and other differences most often appears as an individual ethical disposition or a moral principle of public law. For Montaigne, tolerance is instead a political capacity: the power and ability to negotiate relationships of basic trust and civil peace with one’s opponents in political conflict. Contemporary thinkers often argue that what matters most for tolerance is how we talk to our political opponents: with respect, reasonableness, and civility. For Montaigne, what matters most is not how, but rather that we talk to each other across lines of disagreement. In his view, any effective politics of tolerance requires actors with a sufficiently high tolerance for this political activity.
Using his own experience negotiating between warring Catholic and Huguenot parties as a model, Montaigne investigates and publicly prescribes a set of skills, capacities, and dispositions that might help his readers to become the kinds of people who can initiate and sustain dialogue with the “other side” to achieve public goods – even when respect, reasonableness, and civility are not yet assured. Montaigne and the Tolerance of Politics argues that this dimension of tolerance is worth recovering and reconsidering in contemporary democratic societies, in which partisan “sorting” and multidimensional polarization has evidently rendered political leaders and ordinary citizens less and less able to talk to each other to resolve political conflicts and to cooperate on matters of common public concern.

“The Many Hands of the State” (Morgan and Orloff, eds.)

There is arguably no greater influence on the direction and scope of religious freedom in the 20th and 21st centuries than the unprecedented growth of the American state. As I’ve written before, “[i]n a society in which the government assumes an increasingly large role in the life of the citizenry, more injuries are transformed into legally (and perhaps even constitutionally) cognizable rights. The number and type of state interests that qualify as “compelling” swell to match the new dignitarian and other harms caused by permissive religious accommodations. And the protection of rights becomes a zero sum game, as every win for religious accommodation is a legally cognizable, but unvindicated, loss for somebody else.”

Here is a book we are late in noticing that evinces cross-disciplinary study of the growth State.jpgof the state: The Many Hands of the State: Theorizing Political Activity and Social Control (CUP), edited by Kimberly J. Morgan and Ann Shola Orloff. Perhaps more such efforts will be in the offing, including some that explicitly include religion.

The state is central to social scientific and historical inquiry today, reflecting its importance in domestic and international affairs. States kill, coerce, fight, torture, and incarcerate, yet they also nurture, protect, educate, redistribute, and invest. It is precisely because of the complexity and wide-ranging impacts of states that research on them has proliferated and diversified. Yet, too many scholars inhabit separate academic silos, and theorizing of states has become dispersed and disjointed. This book aims to bridge some of the many gaps between scholarly endeavors, bringing together scholars from a diverse array of disciplines and perspectives who study states and empires. The book offers not only a sample of cutting-edge research that can serve as models and directions for future work, but an original conceptualization and theorization of states, their origins and evolution, and their effects.

Breidenbach, “Conciliarism and the American Founding”

In the book, “Silence,” by Shusaku Endo, concerning the, shall we say, cool reception of Jesuit missionaries in Japan, there is a powerful line uttered by the despairing old Jesuit about Japanese resistance to Christianity: “This country is a swamp…a more terrible swamp than you can imagine. Whenever you plant a sapling in this swamp the roots begin to rot, the leaves grow yellow and wither. And we have planted the sapling of Christianity in this swamp.”

I thought about this in reading historian Michael Breidenbach’s careful and superb article (which I am late in noticing), Conciliarism and the American Founding (unfortunately behind a pay wall, but well worth it). Breidenbach argues that the extension of toleration to Roman Catholics in America was highly unusual: so what explains it?

Breidenbach points to one issue in particular: early American Catholics’ rejection of papal infallibility and their preference for “conciliarism”–the location of true ecclesiastical power in councils rather than in popes. Breidenbach writes, “Conciliarists provided important intellectual contributions to the transition from the hierocratic, church-over-state arrangements of the Middle Ages to early modern theories on the juridical separation of church and state.” Conciliarism smoothed the way for Catholics to “fit” their religion within the overarching political theory of the United States (including, I would add, its potent and still-thriving civil religion), and in consequence made toleration for their views more probable. Breidenbach includes a long and illuminating history of the Jansenist defense of conciliarism in 17th century France–again, well worth your time–that was important in the development of conciliarism.

Connected to the conciliarism of American Catholics was their rejection of any political aspirations for the Church–a kind of non-interventionism which rendered them possible subjects for toleration in the new American dispensation. The civil state was the unquestioned sovereign for these Catholics, not the Church.

Breidenbach writes as a historian, of course, and does not openly praise or condemn these developments. The plant of Christianity (and Catholicism specifically) obviously did not encounter the same type of soil that it did in Japan. The soil changed the plant–made the plant accommodate itself to the soil’s demands, or else die. Indeed, it is often said that in America, all religions become Americanized, and the talk of conciliarism reminds me a bit of Professor Sally Gordon’s discussion of the flattening out (hierarchically speaking) of Christianity in America once it adopted the corporate form. Breidenbach’s article made me wonder, in the long run and as the American state continues to grow, which soil actually will prove the less hospitable. Read Breidenbach!

Besançon, “Protestant Nation”

The eminent French historian, Alain Besançon, specialized early in his writing life on communist Russia. One of his better-known themes is that the Soviet Union was one of the first cases of the purely “ideological” regime–the regime founded solely on political ideas disconnected from the lived experience of its people. Besançon has more recently written interestingly and controversially about Islam, arguing that Islam is neither a “revealed” religion nor a “natural” religion (in the way Roman paganism was), but instead represents a “third way”–as embodying “the natural religion of the revealed God.”

Here is a new book in which Besançon turns his attention to the United States: Protestant Nation: The Fragile Christian Roots of America’s Greatness. The publisher is St.Besancon Augustine’s Press.

Alain Besançon’s studies, over decades, on Russia, France, Islam, and art have convinced him that “that nothing is comprehensible if one neglects the religious choices that determine a historical destiny.” His aim is to comprehend the most powerful nation on the earth, and he was convinced that Protestantism was the key to America. The question of Protestantism and its origins implicated, in turn, the origins of the Reformation and thus the problem of the moral and political meaning of Christianity itself. And Besançon traces theological dynamic that was to stamp the Reformation, behind Luther’s break with Rome, to the late medieval nominalists’ failure to maintain the fragile communion that Thomas Aquinas had articulated between love and intellect.

This then is the ambition of this elegant and magisterial essay: to explore the question of the spirit of America as bound up with the most fundamental and most problematic promise of Christianity: the union of heart and mind. This exploration leads the reader, after a deft analysis of Nominalism, through a luminous tour of the sources of modern Christianity that includes the revival of speculative mysticism in authors such as Meister Eckhart and Tauler, the devotion moderna, the main figures and movements of the Reformation proper, a brilliant digest of Anglicanism, and a survey of Puritanism in England and America. This uniquely synoptic exploration concludes with the emergence of a democratic religion of humanity, a faith whose future is as uncertain as its grasp of the modern spirit’s Christian sources that Alain Besançon has so judiciously laid bare.

Galston, “Anti-Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy”

Influential policy adviser in the Clinton Administration (including in matters respecting Galstonreligion) and in the campaigns of several other Democratic presidential candidates. Prominent exponent of liberal pluralism (see, for example, his eponymous book, which was, at the time, a sort of practical manual for implementing Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism in contemporary American political life). William A. Galston has been a leading American public intellectual for the last several decades. In this interesting looking new book, Anti- Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy (Yale University Press), Galston takes a hard look at some of the foundational challenges to his own favored and long-defended liberal pluralism that have emerged in recent years, and that are likely to persist in the future.

The Great Recession, a growing divide between urban and rural prospects, and failed efforts to effectively address immigration have paved the way for a populist backlash that disrupts the postwar bargain between political elites and citizens. Whether today’s populism represents a corrective to unfair and obsolete policies or a threat to liberal democracy itself remains up for debate. Yet this much is clear: these challenges indict the triumphalism that accompanied liberal democratic consolidation at the turn of the century. To respond to today’s crisis, good leaders must strive for inclusive economic growth while frankly addressing fraught social and cultural issues encompassing legitimate demographic anxiety. Although reforms may stem the populist tide, liberal democratic life will always leave something to be desired. This is a permanent source of vulnerability, but liberal democracy will endure so long as citizens believe it is worth fighting for.

“Homo Religiosus” (Shah & Friedman, eds.)

The problem of defining religion–or even of identifying its core–is one of the mightiest peaks in the law and religion sierra. Many have attempted to scale it; but the mountain has beaten back more than a few aspirants. The difficulties in definition are so great that an increasing number of scholars has concluded that there is nothing “special” about religion as a category of legal rights (which, of course, is not the same as saying that religious freedom should not be protected, constitutionally or otherwise, though such a conclusion does have implications for the nature of that protection). Others have responded that religion is “special enough”–distinctive enough, as compared with other rights such as the right to free speech, to warrant separate legal protection (I am probably somewhere in this group, since I believe that the reasons for any right’s protection are historically and contingently grounded). And still others, particularly among the sociologically and philosophically-minded, have been prompted to undertake new studies and explorations of religion’s essence or true nature.

Here is a new volume in the last category, Homo Religiosus: Exploring the Roots of Religion and Religious Freedom in Human Existence (CUP), edited by Timothy SamuelHomo Religiosus Shah and Jack Friedman. The book is nicely organized as a series of principal essays by leading scholars on the subject followed by (what appear to be highly critical) responses.

Are humans naturally predisposed to religion and supernatural beliefs? If so, does this naturalness provide a moral foundation for religious freedom? This volume offers a cross-disciplinary approach to these questions, engaging in a range of contemporary debates at the intersection of religion, cognitive science, sociology, anthropology, political science, epistemology, and moral philosophy. The contributors to this original and important volume present individual, sometimes opposing points of view on the naturalness of religion thesis and its implications for religious freedom. Topics include the epistemological foundations of religion, the relationship between religion and health, and a discussion of the philosophical foundations of religious freedom as a natural, universal right, drawing implications for the normative role of religion in public life. By challenging dominant intellectual paradigms, such as the secularization thesis and the Enlightenment view of religion, the volume opens the door to a powerful and provocative reconceptualization of religious freedom.

Gingras, “Science and Religion: An Impossible Dialogue”

We are delayed in noticing this book by Yves Gingras, a historian of science, concerning Gingrasthe very popular idea of “dialogue” between religion and science. Gingras takes the unfashionable view that there may be nothing much to talk about in Science and Religion: An Impossible Dialogue (Wiley Press). Indeed, “dialogue” is one of those platitudes that is easily mouthed for seemingly all occasions of conflict, as if talking is both a kind of cure-all for conflict and an independently desirable end. Gingras clearly does not agree:

Today we hear renewed calls for a dialogue between science and religion: why has the old question of the relations between science and religion now returned to the public domain and what is at stake in this debate?

To answer these questions, historian and sociologist of science Yves Gingras retraces the long history of the troubled relationship between science and religion, from the condemnation of Galileo for heresy in 1633 until his rehabilitation by John Paul II in 1992. He reconstructs the process of the gradual separation of science from theology and religion, showing how God and natural theology became marginalized in the scientific field in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  In contrast to the dominant trend among historians of science, Gingras argues that science and religion are social institutions that give rise to incompatible ways of knowing, rooted in different methodologies and forms of knowledge, and that there never was, and cannot be, a genuine dialogue between them.

Wide-ranging and authoritative, this new book on one of the fundamental questions of Western thought will be of great interest to students and scholars of the history of science and of religion as well as to general readers who are intrigued by the new and much-publicized conversations about the alleged links between science and religion.

And I should also point out this highly critical review of the book by Peter Harrison, which is illuminating in its own right. The review covers a lot of ground, but here is an especially interesting reflection on the book that has considerable application to law as well.

More generally, on a number of occasions, Gingras makes much of prohibitions and book censorship on the assumption that this is a sign of an enduring battle between science and religion, or at least between the institutions that stand in for them. But this reading results from a failure to understand the universality of regimes of censorship and their ultimate goal. Legislative restrictions placed on the expression of religious, political, moral — and, in a small minority of cases, scientific — views might have served to maintain the power of particular institutions, but their goal was also the preservation of social order. It is patently clear, moreover, that religious views were far more likely to be subjected to the coercive powers of the state (and, in those cases where it could exercise temporal power, the Church) than were scientific ones. The most determined and courageous instances of resistance to such attempts at control, overwhelmingly, were religiously motivated. The history of censorship, then, does not pick out anything distinctive about science and religion, since “religion” itself was the most common target of censorship.

Wuthnow, “The Left Behind”

In the late 1980s, the noted sociologist, Robert Wuthnow, reconceived and Wuthnowcriticized the idea of American “civil religion” made famous by Robert Bellah in prior decades. In his book, The Restructuring of American Religion, Wuthnow argued that Bellah’s communitarian and unifying American civil religion had fragmented into two competing and utterly irreconcilable religious visions for the country: a conservative vision that saw the legitimacy of American government as dependent on its Christian past; and a progressive vision that saw American legitimacy as dependent on its efforts systematically to overcome the injustices and inequalities of its Christian past.

This was the 1980s. The dynamics are quite different today, notwithstanding popular distortions. And now comes a new book from Wuthnow, The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America, in which Wuthnow studies an American demographic that was not helped much at all either by the previous generation’s religious conservatives or progressives. The publisher is Princeton.

What is fueling rural America’s outrage toward the federal government? Why did rural Americans vote overwhelmingly for Donald Trump? And, beyond economic and demographic decline, is there a more nuanced explanation for the growing rural-urban divide? Drawing on more than a decade of research and hundreds of interviews, Robert Wuthnow brings us into America’s small towns, farms, and rural communities to paint a rich portrait of the moral order–the interactions, loyalties, obligations, and identities—underpinning this critical segment of the nation. Wuthnow demonstrates that to truly understand rural Americans’ anger, their culture must be explored more fully.

We hear from farmers who want government out of their business, factory workers who believe in working hard to support their families, town managers who find the federal government unresponsive to their communities’ needs, and clergy who say the moral climate is being undermined. Wuthnow argues that rural America’s fury stems less from specific economic concerns than from the perception that Washington is distant from and yet threatening to the social fabric of small towns. Rural dwellers are especially troubled by Washington’s seeming lack of empathy for such small-town norms as personal responsibility, frugality, cooperation, and common sense. Wuthnow also shows that while these communities may not be as discriminatory as critics claim, racism and misogyny remain embedded in rural patterns of life.

Moving beyond simplistic depictions of the residents of America’s heartland, The Left Behind offers a clearer picture of how this important population will influence the nation’s political future.

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