Johnson, “This is Our Message”

Here is a new study of powerful female voices of conservative Christianity in the pre- and post-Reagan period. The book is This is Our Message: Women’s Leadership in the New Christian Right (Oxford University Press) by Emily S. Johnson. The publisher tells us that the book adopts an “evenhanded and respectful tone” as to its subject. That’s a very positive quality, of course. For any serious scholarly study.

“Over the past 50 years, the architects of the religious right have become household names: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson. They have used their massively influential platforms to build the profiles of evangelical politicians like Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, and Ted Cruz. Now, a new generation of leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr. and Robert Jeffress enjoys unprecedented access to the Trump White House.

What all these leaders share, besides their faith, is their gender. Men dominate the standard narrative of the rise of the religious right. Yet during the 1970s and 1980s nationally prominent evangelical women played essential roles in shaping the priorities of the movement and mobilizing its supporters. In particular, they helped to formulate, articulate, and defend the traditionalist politics of gender and family that in turn made it easy to downplay the importance of their leadership roles. In This Is Our Message, Emily Johnson begins by examining the lives and work of four well-known women-evangelical marriage advice author Marabel Morgan, singer and anti-gay-rights activist Anita Bryant, author and political lobbyist Beverly LaHaye, and televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. The book explores their impact on the rise of the New Christian Right and on the development of the evangelical subculture, which is a key channel for injecting conservative political ideas into purportedly apolitical spaces. Johnson then highlights the ongoing significance of this history through an analysis of Sarah Palin’s vice presidential candidacy in 2008 and Michele Bachmann’s presidential bid in 2012. These campaigns were made possible by the legacies of an earlier generation of conservative evangelical women who continue to impact our national conversations about gender, family, and sex.”

Franks, “The Cult of the Constitution: Our Deadly Devotion to Guns and Free Speech”

Over the last several months at the Forum, I have been noticing lots of new scholarship that demonstrates considerable hostility toward free speech rights, or at least free speech rights in the way that these have developed and been protected for what many authors think is the last 30 years or so (but what is more accurately described, in my own view, as the past 100 years or so) in American law and politics. For a few book examples, see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. For the gathering swell of articles in the legal academy making similar claims about both free speech and religious freedom, see my paper discussing these developments. All of this deserves a new tag: First Amendment Constriction.

Here is another new book in this blossoming genre, this one more aggressive and vigorous in its claims than some of the others: The Cult of the Constitution: Our Deadly Devotion to Guns and Free Speech (Stanford University Press), by law professor Mary Anne Franks. Notice, incidentally, the deprecating allusion to religion in the title and in the description below in the repeated references to “fundamentalism,” signaling the sort of commitment that one makes in an unreasoned or amaurotic way (this move may be seen in other recent scholarship as well).

“In this controversial and provocative book, Mary Anne Franks examines the thin line between constitutional fidelity and constitutional fundamentalism. The Cult of the Constitution reveals how deep fundamentalist strains in both conservative and liberal American thought keeps the Constitution in the service of white male supremacy.

Constitutional fundamentalists read the Constitution selectively and self-servingly. Fundamentalist interpretations of the Constitution elevate certain constitutional rights above all others, benefit the most powerful members of society, and undermine the integrity of the document as a whole. The conservative fetish for the Second Amendment (enforced by groups such as the NRA) provides an obvious example of constitutional fundamentalism; the liberal fetish for the First Amendment (enforced by groups such as the ACLU) is less obvious but no less influential. Economic and civil libertarianism have increasingly merged to produce a deregulatory, “free-market” approach to constitutional rights that achieves fullest expression in the idealization of the Internet. The worship of guns, speech, and the Internet in the name of the Constitution has blurred the boundaries between conduct and speech and between veneration and violence.

But the Constitution itself contains the antidote to fundamentalism. The Cult of the Constitution lays bare the dark, antidemocratic consequences of constitutional fundamentalism and urges readers to take the Constitution seriously, not selectively.”

My review of Richard Brookhiser’s Biography of John Marshall

I have a review of Richard Brookhiser’s recent John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court, at the Liberty Fund site. A bit:

“[T]here is an ambiguity in the book’s subtitle. “The man who made the Supreme Court” might signal Marshall’s outsized role in fashioning the Supreme Court in his own self-image. There are some biographies, as Kevin Walsh has noted in his review in these pages of another recent Marshall book, that read Marshall as a kind of Romantic hero—the American Werther or Cagliostro of the judiciary. But there is another, and perhaps better, interpretation of the subtitle: that distinctive features of Marshall’s character as a man subtly but powerfully influenced the Court’s development under his stewardship.”

Ignatieff’s Book on What Global Virtues Might Be

For our latest Tradition Project conference, I led a workshop on the theme of liberalism, populism, and nationalism, one of whose readings was an exchange between Michael Ignatieff and Mark Lilla on the nature of the “open society” and contemporary challenges to and criticisms of it. Mark and I talked a bit about these issues in this Legal Spirits podcast, for those with an interest. What was interesting from my perspective is that both Ignatieff and Lilla are quite clearly liberal-progressive thinkers, yet they show an awareness of the power of some objections to the positions they favor and think through them in useful ways.

So I’m interested to read this book by Ignatieff: The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World (Harvard University Press), in which Ignatieff explores (perhaps with zoological overtones that are a bit too strong to suit me, but so be it) the ways in which different cultural communities think about morality. His claims seem to set up a conflict between the anti-theoretical, local, and traditional, on the one hand, and the abstract, universal, and progressive, on the other.

“What moral values do human beings hold in common? As globalization draws us together economically, are our values converging or diverging? In particular, are human rights becoming a global ethic? These were the questions that led Michael Ignatieff to embark on a three-year, eight-nation journey in search of answers. The Ordinary Virtues presents Ignatieff’s discoveries and his interpretation of what globalization—and resistance to it—is doing to our conscience and our moral understanding.

Through dialogues with favela dwellers in Brazil, South Africans and Zimbabweans living in shacks, Japanese farmers, gang leaders in Los Angeles, and monks in Myanmar, Ignatieff found that while human rights may be the language of states and liberal elites, the moral language that resonates with most people is that of everyday virtues: tolerance, forgiveness, trust, and resilience. These ordinary virtues are the moral operating system in global cities and obscure shantytowns alike, the glue that makes the multicultural experiment work. Ignatieff seeks to understand the moral structure and psychology of these core values, which privilege the local over the universal, and citizens’ claims over those of strangers.

Ordinary virtues, he concludes, are antitheoretical and anti-ideological. They can be cheerfully inconsistent. When order breaks down and conflicts break out, they are easily exploited for a politics of fear and exclusion—reserved for one’s own group and denied to others. But they are also the key to healing, reconciliation, and solidarity on both a local and a global scale.”

Catholic Interpretations of Leo Strauss’s Thought

Over the winter break, I read a terrific book by Arthur Melzer on “esoteric” philosophical writing, the major part of which aimed simply to make a case that such writing was a frequent staple of philosophical writing before the modern period. But the final chapter of the book explored the thought of Leo Strauss (perhaps the figure most associated with the idea of esoteric writing) to make a defense of esoteric writing. As someone with relatively little background in Strauss, I found the discussion clear and illuminating.

That perhaps explains why we are a little late in noticing this interesting book of essays, Leo Strauss and His Catholic Readers (CUA Press), edited by Geoffrey M. Vaughan.

“This book looks at the work and influence of Leo Strauss in a variety of ways that will be of interest to readers of political philosophy. It will be of particular interest to Catholics and scholars of other religious traditions. Strauss had a great deal of interaction with his contemporary Catholic scholars, and many of his students or their students teach or have taught at Catholic colleges and universities in America. Leo Strauss and His Catholic Readers brings together work by scholars from two continents, some of whom knew Strauss, one of whom was his student at the University of Chicago. The first section of essays considers Catholic responses to Strauss’s project of recovering Classical natural right as against modern individual rights. Some of the authors suggest that his approach can be a fruitful corrective to an uncritical reception of modern ideas. Nevertheless, most point out that the Catholic cannot accept all of Strauss’s project. The second section deals with areas of overlap between Strauss and Catholics. Some of the chapters explore encounters with his contemporary scholars while others turn to more current concerns. The final section approaches the theological-political question itself, a question central to both Strauss’s work and that of the Catholic intellectual tradition. This section of the book considers the relationship of Strauss’s work to Christianity and Christian commitments at a broader level. Because Christianity does not have an explicit political doctrine, Christians have found themselves as rulers, subjects, and citizens in a variety of political regimes. Leo Strauss’s return to Platonic political philosophy can provide a useful lens through which his Catholic readers can assess what it means for there to be a best regime.”

A Book on the Penal System and (Religious?) Conversion

One of the first papers I ever wrote concerned what was at that time the surging phenomenon of “faith-based prisons.” The idea was to create a network for prisoners not only to learn necessary skills for productive life outside prison, but to convert them to (usually, but not always, Christian) belief, thereby giving them an additional and important system of community and support upon their release. Those programs were run by private organizations, since government-operation would clearly violate the Constitution. But even in private hands, they raise very difficult and perhaps insurmountable Establishment Clause issues, which I explicitly bracketed in that paper. Instead, I wanted to explore the penological purposes of such programs.

Here is a new book that tackles very similar issues from a theological and philosophical perspective, though it is unclear whether the “conversion” advocated is a religious conversion or something else: Conversion and the Rehabilitation of the Penal System (Oxford University Press) by Andrew Skotnicki.

“The Cincinnati Penal Congress of 1870 ushered in the era of “progressive” penology: the use of statistical and social scientific methodologies, commitment to psychiatric and therapeutic interventions, and a new innovation–the reformatory–as the locus for the application of these initiatives. The prisoner was now seen as a specimen to be analyzed, treated, and properly socialized into the triumphal current of American social and economic life. The Progressive rehabilitative initiatives succumbed in the 1970s to withering criticism from the proponents of equally futile strategies for addressing “the crime problem”: retribution, deterrence, and selective incapacitation. 

The early Christian community developed a methodology for correcting human error that featured the unprecedented belief that a period of time spent in a given penitential locale, with the aid and encouragement of the community, was sufficient in and of itself to heal the alienation and self-loathing caused by sin and to lead an individual to full reincorporation into the community. The “correctional” practice was based upon the conviction that cooperative sociability–or conversion–is possible, regardless of the specific offense, without any need to inflict suffering, or to use the act of punishment as a warning to potential offenders, or to undertake programmatic interventions into the lives of the incarcerated for the purpose of rehabilitating them. 

Andrew Skotnicki contends that the modern practice of criminal detention is a protracted exercise in needless violence predicated upon two foundational errors. The first is an inability to see the imprisoned as human beings fully capable of responding to an affirmative accompaniment rather than maltreatment and invasive forms of therapy. The second is a pervasive dualism that constructs a barrier between detainees and those empowered to supervise, rehabilitate, and punish them. In this book, Skotnicki argues that the criminal justice system can only be rehabilitated by eliminating punishment and policies based upon deterrence, rehabilitation, and the incapacitation of the urban poor and returning to the original justification for the practice of confinement: conversion.”

Adam Gopnik’s “Manifesto” for Liberalism

Into the liberalism apologetics cottage industry charges Adam Gopnik, essayist and author of a set of books covering such variegated themes as his family’s lovely sojourn in Paris, the sorry decline in appreciation for all things invernal, and the spiritual profundities of very expensive food consumption in Manhattan. Now, in a synthetic spirit, he mounts his defense of liberalism, A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism (Basic Books), inspired to write his “manifesto” in “an age of autocracy.” Things must be bad at The New Yorker.

“Not since the early twentieth century has liberalism, and liberals, been under such relentless attack, from both right and left. The crisis of democracy in our era has produced a crisis of faith in liberal institutions and, even worse, in liberal thought.

A Thousand Small Sanities is a manifesto rooted in the lives of people who invented and extended the liberal tradition. Taking us from Montaigne to Mill, and from Middlemarch to the civil rights movement, Adam Gopnik argues that liberalism is not a form of centrism, nor simply another word for free markets, nor merely a term denoting a set of rights. It is something far more ambitious: the search for radical change by humane measures. Gopnik shows us why liberalism is one of the great moral adventures in human history–and why, in an age of autocracy, our lives may depend on its continuation.”

Michael Walzer on Local and Universal Moral Argument

We were honored to host the eminent political philosopher, Michael Walzer, five years ago at our Joint Colloquium in Law and Religion with Michael Moreland and Villanova Law School. Professor Walzer gave a very interesting paper on the ethics of warfare in the Jewish tradition at that time.

In this new edition of this book by Walzer, Thick and Thin: Moral Argument at Home and Abroad (Notre Dame Press), he picks up on and synthesizes some major themes in his political philosophical writing. Well worth reading.

“In Thick and Thin: Moral Argument at Home and Abroad, Michael Walzer revises and extends the arguments in his influential Spheres of Justice, framing his ideas about justice, social criticism, and national identity in light of the new political world that has arisen in the past three decades. Walzer focuses on two different but interrelated kinds of moral argument: maximalist and minimalist, thick and thin, local and universal. This new edition has a new preface and afterword, written by the author, describing how the reasoning of the book connects with arguments he made in Just and Unjust Wars about the morality of warfare.

Walzer’s highly literate and fascinating blend of philosophy and historical analysis will appeal not only to those interested in the polemics surrounding Spheres of Justice and Just and Unjust Wars but also to intelligent readers who are more concerned with getting the arguments right.”

Leaker, “Against Free Speech”

Well, this one is nothing if not straightforward. Indeed, it has the virtue of stating plainly that for at least some scholars, advocacy of free speech is really only desirable when the results of such advocacy align with their own deeper political and moral commitments. When they don’t, it’s time to jettison free speech. I’ve noted similar moves by various legal scholars in this piece. But it is salubrious to see the position marked out with such openness and clarity.

The book is Against Free Speech (Rowman & Littlefield) by Anthony Leaker.Leaker

This book examines the renewed and vociferous defence of free speech witnessed in relation to a number of recent events, including the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the Brexit and Trump campaigns, and recent campus politics. Anthony Leaker argues that the defence of free speech has played a pivotal role in a resurgent right-wing nationalism, that it is the rallying point for a wider set of reactionary political demands, a form of aggrieved liberalism at best and patriarchal white supremacy at worst, aided by a complicit liberal centre. By focusing on these events and situating them within the wider geopolitical context of a post-democratic, post-truth world of austerity, ongoing conflict in the Middle East, pasokification, and rising fascism, Leaker critiques the role that the defence of free speech has played in legitimising the scapegoating of oppressed minorities while deflecting attention from the egregious operations of power that have led to ever greater inequality, injustice and capitalist destruction. This powerful book shows that free speech is in fact a myth, an ideological tool employed by those in power to sustain existing power relations.

McCleary & Barro, “The Wealth of Religions”

Here’s an interesting new work of sociology on religion and economics, trading on the Princetonmetaphor of “believing and belonging” made famous by Grace Davie. The book is The Wealth of Religions: The Political Economy of Believing and Belonging (Princeton University Press) by Rachel M. McCleary and Robert J. Barro.

Which countries grow faster economically—those with strong beliefs in heaven and hell or those with weak beliefs in them? Does religious participation matter? Why do some countries experience secularization while others are religiously vibrant? In The Wealth of Religions, Rachel McCleary and Robert Barro draw on their long record of pioneering research to examine these and many other aspects of the economics of religion. Places with firm beliefs in heaven and hell measured relative to the time spent in religious activities tend to be more productive and experience faster growth. Going further, there are two directions of causation: religiosity influences economic performance and economic development affects religiosity. Dimensions of economic development—such as urbanization, education, health, and fertility—matter too, interacting differently with religiosity. State regulation and subsidization of religion also play a role.

The Wealth of Religions addresses the effects of religious beliefs on character traits such as work ethic, thrift, and honesty; the Protestant Reformation and its long-term effects on education and religious competition; Communism’s suppression of and competition with religion; the effects of Islamic laws and regulations on the functioning of markets and, hence, on the long-term development of Muslim countries; why some countries have state religions; analogies between religious groups and terrorist organizations; the violent origins of the Dalai Lama’s brand of Tibetan Buddhism; and the use by the Catholic Church of saint-making as a way to compete against the rise of Protestant Evangelicals.

Timely and incisive, The Wealth of Religions provides fresh insights into the vital interplay between religion, markets, and economic development.

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