It’s not a law-and-religion piece, exactly, but I’d like to draw attention to a fantastic essay by our Tradition Project partner, Professor Monica Lugano of LUMSA, on the role of tradition in customary international law. This is a complicated subject, and Monica handles it masterfully. I highly recommend it. The essay appears in a new collection, Human Society and International Law: Reflections on the Present and Future of International Law, published last summer by Wolters Kluwer and edited by Carlo Focarelli at Roma Tre. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Where is international law headed for? Should it rather head elsewhere, and why? These are the questions that the ten contributors to this first Special Volume in the Series Convivenza umana e diritto internazionale – Human Society and International Law have been asked to address, each one within their main area of expertise. The ten topics elected by the authors – all members of the Editorial Board of the new Series – make the three parts of this Volume, respectively on the making of international law (with chapters on the sources of international law; the principle of acquiescence; the codification of the right to development; and the legal status and transformative potential of the SDGs); the implementation of international law (with chapters on international custom and the traditionality of international law; the localising of international law; and the constitutional im- port of the SDGs); and the analysis of international law (with chapters on populism and the integrity of international law; the past, present and future of international law’s teaching; and the demands placed on legal analysis by the present climate crisis). As the questions posed to the contributors and the Volume’s subtitle suggest, this work was designed to encourage a reflection, by prominent scholars, on the dynamics of international law across a sample of key topics, mindful of the legal framework as a whole, and its trajectories over time. The underlying assumption – and wish – is that the Volume’s attempt to encourage an overall vision of the discipline, its most recent trends, and its theoretical framework (including of change) will inspire new theses and book proposals for the Series.
In COMPACT Magazine today, I write about the ethnic cleansing of Armenian Christians now underway in Karabakh. Largely, what’s happening is the result of great powers looking the other way. Here’s an excerpt:
In fact, the ethnic cleansing of Karabakh probably serves many interests. For the Russians, it’s a way of pressuring Armenia to overthrow its pro-Western government. For the United States and Europe, it ends an embarrassing moral quandary and allows them to continue to curry favor with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Just as Moscow tries to pull Ankara to its side, Washington wants very much to keep Ankara in the NATO tent.
And for Turkey and Azerbaijan, it’s another victory in a plan to eliminate the Armenian Christian presence in the South Caucasus and create a pan-Turkic empire stretching from Istanbul to Central Asia, a dream that goes back to the time of the First Armenian Genocide a century ago, during which the Ottoman Empire killed up to 1.5 million Armenians in mass deportations. In fact, Baku already claims Armenia proper as “Western Azerbaijan”—a country that has never existed—and both it and Turkey insist on a sovereign corridor across Armenia to link Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan. Erdogan promises to “fulfill the mission of our grandfathers in the Caucasus.” Will the United States stop him? Will Russia?
I spoke again yesterday with Al Kresta of Ave Maria Radio and EWTN about Karabakh and the failure of the U.S. to live up to its rhetoric about preventing the ethnic cleansing of Armenian Christians. You can listen to the interview here:
As Forum readers know, tradition has been a focus of ours here at the Center. So it’s with interest that we saw a new book from Oxford on the subject, Traditionalism: The Radical Project for Restoring Sacred Order, by historian Mark Aarhus (Aarhus). It looks very interesting, indeed. But the description on the Oxford website is a bit puzzling in one respect. As examples of the major proponents of traditionalism it gives René Guénon, Julius Evola, and Frithjof Schuon, along with Steve Bannon. Burke? Oakeshott? Kirk? At least in the English-speaking world, those names are a lot more prominent. Maybe the book discusses them, too. Anyway, here’s the description:
From a leading expert comes an intellectual history and analysis of Traditionalism, one of the least known and most influential philosophies that continues to impact politics today
Traditionalism is a shadowy philosophy that has influenced much of the twentieth century and beyond: from the far-right to the environmental movement, from Sufi shaykhs and their followers to Trump advisor and right-wing provocateur Steve Bannon. It is a worldview that rejects modernity and instead turns to mystical truth and tradition as its guide.
Mark Sedgwick, one of the world’s leading scholars of Traditionalism, presents a major new analysis, pulling back the curtain on the foundations of Traditionalist philosophy, its major proponents–René Guénon, Julius Evola, and Frithjof Schuon–and their thought. One of Traditionalism’s fundamental pillars is perennialism, the idea that beneath all the different forms of religion there lies one single timeless and esoteric tradition. A second is the view that everything is getting worse, rather than better, over time, leading to the Traditionalist critique of modernity. Sedgwick details Traditionalism’s unique ideas about self-realization, religion, politics, and many other spheres.
Traditionalism provides an expansive guide to this important school of thought–one that is little-known and even less understood–and shows how pervasive these ideas have become.
Our friend (and sometime contributor) Steve Smith of San Diego Law School writes a ton and all of it is worth reading: engaging, erudite, and thought-provoking. His latest book, The Disintegrating Conscience and the Decline of Modernity, forthcoming next month from Notre Dame Press, explores the way the concept of “conscience,” so central to religious freedom, has shifted–actually, disintegrated–over the centuries. It’s a paradox, he writes. Protecting conscience remains a fundamental Western commitment across centuries, but conscience means something very different than it did 500 years ago, something more personal, even solipsistic. Steve’s apparently not optimistic about where this will lead us. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
This book considers how the modern concept of “conscience” turns the historic commitment on its head, in a way that underlies the decadence of modern society.
Steven D. Smith’s books are always anticipated with great interest by scholars, jurists, and citizens who see his work on foundational questions surrounding law and religion as shaping the debate in profound ways. Now, in The Disintegrating Conscience and the Decline of Modernity, Smith takes as his starting point Jacques Barzun’s provocative assertion that “the modern era” is coming to an end. Smith considers the question of decline by focusing on a single theme—conscience—that has been central to much of what has happened in Western politics, law, and religion over the past half-millennium. Rather than attempting to follow that theme step-by-step through five hundred years, the book adopts an episodic and dramatic approach by focusing on three main figures and particularly portentous episodes: first, Thomas More’s execution for his conscientious refusal to take an oath mandated by Henry VIII; second, James Madison’s contribution to Virginia law in removing the proposed requirement of religious toleration in favor of freedom of conscience; and, third, William Brennan’s pledge to separate his religious faith from his performance as a Supreme Court justice. These three episodes, Smith suggests, reflect in microcosm decisive turning points at which Western civilization changed from what it had been in premodern times to what it is today. A commitment to conscience, Smith argues, has been a central and in some ways defining feature of modern Western civilization, and yet in a crucial sense conscience in the time of Brennan and today has come to mean almost the opposite of what it meant to Thomas More. By scrutinizing these men and episodes, the book seeks to illuminate subtle but transformative changes in the commitment to conscience—changes that helped to bring Thomas More’s world to an end and that may also be contributing to the disintegration of (per Barzun) “the modern era.”
I was delighted to appear this week as a guest on Pastor Haig Kherlopian’s podcast to discuss the history of the First Amendment, recent Supreme Court decisions on church and state, and other matters. Listen in!
Gibbon famously wrote that Christianity was partly responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire. By encouraging pacifism and other-worldliness, he argued, Christianity sapped Rome’s fighting spirit. Who knows? Correlation isn’t causation, after all, and anyway a Christian version of the empire survived another 1000 years in the east. But if the rise of Christianity explains Rome’s fall, what explains the apparent decline of the Pax Americana? Surely not the spread of Christian identity: the decline of American influence correlates with a decline in the percentage of Americans who identify as Christians. This week, Yale publishes a book that attempts to explain what’s going on, Why Empires Fall: Rome, America, and the Future of the West. The authors are historians Peter Heather (King’s College, London) and political economist John Rappley (Cambridge). Looks fascinating. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Over the last three centuries, the West rose to dominate the planet. Then, around the start of the new millennium, history took a dramatic turn. Faced with economic stagnation and internal political division, the West has found itself in rapid decline compared to the global periphery it had previously colonized. This is not the first time we have seen such a rise and fall: the Roman Empire followed a similar arc, from dizzying power to disintegration.
Historian Peter Heather and political economist John Rapley explore the uncanny parallels, and productive differences between ancient Rome and the modern West, moving beyond the tropes of invading barbarians and civilizational decay to unearth new lessons. From 399 to 1999, they argue, through the unfolding of parallel, underlying imperial life cycles, both empires sowed the seeds of their own destruction. Has the era of Western global domination indeed reached its end? Heather and Rapley contemplate what comes next.
Religious accommodations pose difficult questions for liberalism, since they require the balancing of two principles that are fundamental to it: freedom of conscience and equality before the law. A new book from Bloomsbury, Religious Accommodation and Its Limits, approaches the topic from a comparative perspective. The author is Farrah Raza (Pembroke College, Oxford). Here is the publisher’s description:
On what grounds should religious accommodation claims be limited? When do religious claims harm the autonomy of others?
This book proposes an original model of religious accommodation which can be applied in secular liberal democracies where religious diversity has been a hotly contested issue. Addressing the complex question of limitations to the right to Freedom of Religion or Belief and how these limitations might be determined, it examines how religious claims can harm the autonomy of others and emphasises the need for an appropriate balancing of competing interests. Drawing on a range of case study examples from jurisdictions including the US, Canada, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Union’s Court of Justice, the UK, Germany and France, this is a timely contribution to the debate on how a legal duty or policy approach in favour of religious accommodation can be applied in practice. Moreover, the proposed model offers criteria that may be used to guide the implementation of equality and diversity policies in contexts such as employment and education. The book will be of interest to academics, legal practitioners and policy-makers in the field.
Private religious education and home schooling are booming, a consequence of recent Supreme Court opinions on state funding, the failure of public schools during the Covid pandemic, the ongoing culture wars, and many other factors. One thinks of private religious education mostly in terms of traditional religious bodies and, within Christianity, in terms of Catholics and Evangelicals. A forthcoming book from Rowman and Littlefield suggests that Pentecostal Christianity, which is growing fast across the globe, will also be important in the private religious schools movement. The book is Pentecostal and Charismatic Education: Renewalist Education Wherever It Is Found, by William K. Kay (King’s College London) and Ewen H. Butler (Regent University). Here’s the publisher’s description:
The enormous Pentecostal and charismatic movement—often called Renewalist—has highlighted the power of the Holy Spirit but has rarely emphasized the movement’s educational range and reach. Formal and informal teaching in many schools, colleges, seminaries, church campuses, homes, and parachurches all contribute to a scattered and varied teaching impetus. Pentecostal and Charismatic Education: Renewalist Education Wherever it is Found looks at education through the eyes of those who see God at work in the world through the church and beyond. The book explores questions like: What should parents look for in a child’s education and what choices do they have? What educational role can churches have? This book offers a worldview invested with traditional Christian theology, but also enlivened by an understanding of the continuing outpouring of the Holy Spirit.