Congratulations to Center Board Member Judge Richard Sullivan! Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Rich to a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. For people keeping track, Rich is the second participant in our Center’s Tradition Project to be named to the federal appeals court. The other is Stephanos Bibas, now on the Third Circuit. We like to think our record speaks for itself.
I’m delighted to close out this week’s book posts with this forthcoming volume from Baylor University Press, Torah for Living: Daily Prayers, Wisdom, and Guidance, by Mark Lanier. Mark has been a faithful friend of our Center and has hosted both me and Marc for talks at the amazing Lanier Theological Library in Houston. The lecture I gave at the library in 2014, on Mideast Christians, was one of the best experiences of my academic career.
The publisher’s description of the book follows. Congratulations, Mark!
A trial lawyer by trade, a Christian by heart—author Mark Lanier has trained in biblical languages and devoted his life to studying and living the Bible. Living daily with the demands of his career and the desire for a godly life, Lanier recognizes the importance and challenge of finding daily time to spend in God’s Word. His study of the first five books of the Bible—the Torah, the Law—has brought Life to his life.
In Torah for Living, Lanier shares a year’s worth of devotionals—one for each day of the year. In each devotional, Lanier reflects on the biblical text, relates the text to the struggles facing faithful readers of the Bible, and concludes with a prayer for the day.
Forum readers in the New York area should try to attend a fantastic-looking event here next month. Our friend at the University Bookman, Gerald Russello, is co-sponsoring a discussion between Patrick Deneen and Phillip Muñoz (both Notre Dame) on “The Crisis of Liberalism.” Patrick, Gerald, and Philip are all participants in our Tradition Project, and Phillip, whose work was the subject of a symposium here on the Forum last year, will also present a paper in our law-and-religion colloquium later in November. But we like to spread the wealth around. Details about the event, to take place on November 6, can be found at the link.
Why do we protect free speech? My colleague, Marc, argues in his current draft that Americans, historically, have protected free speech on one of two theories. On the first, we protect free speech in order to promote individual expression. On the other, we protect free speech in order to advance the public welfare. These two conceptions can lead to different results in particular cases. Take hate speech, for example. If one thinks free speech is about promoting individual expression, one would give speakers a great deal of leeway, even when their speech insults others–on the basis of religion, for example. On the other hand, if one thinks free speech exists to promote the public good, one would be less inclined to allow speech that injures the dignity of third parties, at least without some compelling reason.
A forthcoming book from Cambridge, Putting Faith in Hate: When Religion Is the Source or Target of Hate Speech, addresses the regulation of hate speech in liberal democracies today. The author is Canadian law professor Richard Moon (University of Windsor, Ontario). The publisher’s description follows:
To allow or restrict hate speech is a hotly debated issue in many societies. While the right to freedom of speech is fundamental to liberal democracies, most countries have accepted that hate speech causes significant harm and ought to be regulated. Richard Moon examines the application of hate speech laws when religion is either the source or target of such speech. Moon describes the various legal restrictions on hate speech, religious insult, and blasphemy in Canada, Europe and elsewhere, and uses cases from different jurisdictions to illustrate the particular challenges raised by religious hate speech. The issues addressed are highly topical: speech that attacks religious communities, specifically anti-Muslim rhetoric, and hateful speech that is based on religious doctrine or scripture, such as anti-gay speech. The book draws on a rich understanding of freedom of expression, the harms of hate speech, and the role of religion in public life.
From Routledge, here is a collection of essays on the work of Christos Yannaras, one of the most important Orthodox Christian theologians working today: Christos Yannaras: Philosophy, Theology, Culture. In the Orthodox world, Yannaras is known for his skepticism about much contemporary human-rights discourse, which, he believes, is too heavily influenced by Western individualism. His work is therefore a challenge to easy assumptions about the universality of international human rights–a topic we will address at our Tradition Project meeting later this year in Rome.
The Routledge collection is edited by Andreas Andreopoulous (University of Winchester, UK) and Demetrios Harper (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki). The publisher’s description follows:
Christos Yannaras is one of the most significant Orthodox theologians of recent times. The work of Yannaras is virtually synonymous with a turn or renaissance of Orthodox philosophy and theology, initially within Greece, but as the present volume confirms, well beyond it. His work engages not only with issues of philosophy and theology, but also takes in wider questions of culture and politics.
With contributions from established and new scholars, the book is divided into three sections, which correspond to the main directions that Christos Yannaras has followed – philosophy, theology, and culture – and reflects on the ways in which Yannaras has engaged and influenced thought across these fields, in addition to themes including ecclesiology, tradition, identity, and ethics.
This volume facilitates the dialogue between the thought of Yannaras, which is expressed locally yet is relevant globally, and Western Christian thinkers. It will be of great interest to scholars of Orthodox and Eastern Christian theology and philosophy, as well as theology more widely.
Sir Roger Scruton delivered the keynote address at our second Tradition Project meeting in New York, in 2017. You can see the video of his address over on the sidebar and on our Videos page. Princeton University Press has just released the paperback edition of Sir Roger’s latest work, On Human Nature, a naturalistic argument for the uniqueness of human nature. Humans are unique, on this view, not because we bear the image of God, but because we have the unique capacity for self-reflection. Whether Scruton avoids Christian metaphysics because he does not believe, or because he thinks his work will be more accessible to contemporary readers without them, I don’t know. Sir Roger’s work is always interesting and worthwhile, though, and this looks to be no exception. The publisher’s description follows:
In this short book, acclaimed writer and philosopher Roger Scruton presents an original and radical defense of human uniqueness. Confronting the views of evolutionary psychologists, utilitarian moralists, and philosophical materialists such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, Scruton argues that human beings cannot be understood simply as biological objects. We are not only human animals; we are also persons, in essential relation with other persons, and bound to them by obligations and rights. Our world is a shared world, exhibiting freedom, value, and accountability, and to understand it we must address other people face to face and I to I.
Scruton develops and defends his account of human nature by ranging widely across intellectual history, from Plato and Averroës to Darwin and Wittgenstein. The book begins with Kant’s suggestion that we are distinguished by our ability to say “I”—by our sense of ourselves as the centers of self-conscious reflection. This fact is manifested in our emotions, interests, and relations. It is the foundation of the moral sense, as well as of the aesthetic and religious conceptions through which we shape the human world and endow it with meaning. And it lies outside the scope of modern materialist philosophy, even though it is a natural and not a supernatural fact. Ultimately, Scruton offers a new way of understanding how self-consciousness affects the question of how we should live.
The result is a rich view of human nature that challenges some of today’s most fashionable ideas about our species.
Last week, Columbia Law professor Philip Hamburger presented his new book, Liberal Suppression, to the students in our law and religion colloquium. Philip argues, in that book and others, that much of 19th and 20th Century Progressivism was animated by an anti-Catholic ideology–or, more precisely, by an ideological reaction against traditional, authoritative communities, of which the Catholic Church was seen as a prime example. It’s a provocative argument nowadays, but it really shouldn’t be. The Progressives themselves would not have found it so. Of course Progressivism opposed tradition, especially tradition that seemed to stand in the way of science and human fulfillment–that is, to say, in the way of Progress. The name of the movement itself makes this clear.
A forthcoming book from Harvard, Progressive New World: How Settler Colonialism and Transpacific Exchange Shaped American Reform, argues that the Progressive Movement had racist roots as well. Again, this is a provocative claim today–but it would not have been so to the Progressives themselves. Many of them, like Woodrow Wilson, were quite open about their racial attitudes. The author is historian Marilyn Lake (University of Melbourne). Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
The paradox of progressivism continues to fascinate more than one hundred years on. Democratic but elitist, emancipatory but coercive, advanced and assimilationist, Progressivism was defined by its contradictions. In a bold new argument, Marilyn Lake points to the significance of turn-of-the-twentieth-century exchanges between American and Australasian reformers who shared racial sensibilities, along with a commitment to forging an ideal social order. Progressive New World demonstrates that race and reform were mutually supportive as Progressivism became the political logic of settler colonialism.
White settlers in the United States, who saw themselves as path-breakers and pioneers, were inspired by the state experiments of Australia and New Zealand that helped shape their commitment to an active state, women’s and workers’ rights, mothers’ pensions, and child welfare. Both settler societies defined themselves as New World, against Old World feudal and aristocratic societies and Indigenous peoples deemed backward and primitive.
In conversations, conferences, correspondence, and collaboration, transpacific networks were animated by a sense of racial kinship and investment in social justice. While “Asiatics” and “Blacks” would be excluded, segregated, or deported, Indians and Aborigines would be assimilated or absorbed. The political mobilizations of Indigenous progressives—in the Society of American Indians and the Australian Aborigines’ Progressive Association—testified to the power of Progressive thought but also to its repressive underpinnings. Burdened by the legacies of dispossession and displacement, Indigenous reformers sought recognition and redress in differently imagined new worlds and thus redefined the meaning of Progressivism itself.
Here is a new book from Stanford University Press that argues that neoliberalism is a kind of religious commitment; that it has extended its domain to all manner of private and public choices; that it has enabled right-wing populism, which mimics neoliberalism’s worst features; and that it needs to be resisted in the name of race, gender, and sexual identity. The first two points seem right to me, but not the second. It’s very hard to see how populism is not at least in part a rejection of the economic inequalities that neoliberalism creates. And my impression is that neoliberalism quite easily accommodates identities. In fact, it commodifies them.
Readers can judge for themselves. The book is Neoliberalism’s Demons: On the Political Theology of Late Capitalism, by Adam Kotsko (North Central College). The publisher’s description follows:
By both its supporters and detractors, neoliberalism is usually considered an economic policy agenda. Neoliberalism’s Demons argues that it is much more than that: a complete worldview, neoliberalism presents the competitive marketplace as the model for true human flourishing. And it has enjoyed great success: from the struggle for “global competitiveness” on the world stage down to our individual practices of self-branding and social networking, neoliberalism has transformed every aspect of our shared social life.
The book explores the sources of neoliberalism’s remarkable success and the roots of its current decline. Neoliberalism’s appeal is its promise of freedom in the form of unfettered free choice. But that freedom is a trap: we have just enough freedom to be accountable for our failings, but not enough to create genuine change. If we choose rightly, we ratify our own exploitation. And if we choose wrongly, we are consigned to the outer darkness—and then demonized as the cause of social ills. By tracing the political and theological roots of the neoliberal concept of freedom, Adam Kotsko offers a fresh perspective, one that emphasizes the dynamics of race, gender, and sexuality. More than that, he accounts for the rise of right-wing populism, arguing that, far from breaking with the neoliberal model, it actually doubles down on neoliberalism’s most destructive features
I have always been puzzled by the way some of my Catholic colleagues in the academy strive to prove that William Shakespeare was a secret Catholic. All sorts of coded messages in his sonnets and plays are adduced; all manner of shadowy associates and networks offered by way of proof. I’m no Shakespeare scholar, but to me the evidence seems pretty shallow. Not that I think Shakespeare was a committed Protestant–and let me add, I have no particular church in this fight. It’s just that all these secret messages and clandestine networks can’t overcome, for me, the indifference about religion that I see in his plays. Shakespeare seems detached about pretty much everything, including religion. (I know, I know, that’s just how a secret Catholic would present himself in Elizabethan and Jacobean England). Shakespeare seems to understand Christianity in broad, cultural terms and to take from it only one thing: the virtue of forgiveness. More than that, it seems to me, it isn’t really possible to say.
These matters are perhaps discussed in a new collection from Cambridge, Shakespeare and Early Modern Religion. The editors are David Lowenstein (University of Wisconsin, Madison) and Michael Whitmore (Folger Shakespeare Library). The publisher’s description follows:
Written by an international team of literary scholars and historians, this collaborative volume illuminates the diversity of early modern religious beliefs and practices in Shakespeare’s England, and considers how religious culture is imaginatively reanimated in Shakespeare’s plays. Fourteen new essays explore the creative ways Shakespeare engaged with the multifaceted dimensions of Protestantism, Catholicism, non-Christian religions including Judaism and Islam, and secular perspectives, considering plays such as Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King John, King Lear, Macbeth, Measure for Measure, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Winter’s Tale. The collection is of great interest to readers of Shakespeare studies, early modern literature, religious studies, and early modern history.
- Offers interdisciplinary perspectives on Shakespeare and early modern religion from both literary scholars and historians, appealing to a broad range of readers.
- Illuminates the ways in which Shakespeare’s plays represent a wide variety of religious beliefs and practices, also revealing a dynamic interaction between religious and secular issues in the plays
- Connects religious issues in Shakespeare’s plays with political and national ones, illuminating religious belief, politics and national identity in early modern England.
Among the topics we discussed at last year’s Tradition Project meeting in New York was the current state of the American university. On one view, the university exists, in large part, to preserve and transmit a culture’s intellectual tradition–the best of what has been thought and written over centuries. Most American universities today, it’s fair to say, do not have that view of themselves. They think of themselves as the conquerors of tradition rather than its preservers. And this is not because American universities endorse the Enlightenment’s emphasis on rationality, at least not outside the hard sciences. Rather, it is because American universities have become Romantic. They dedicate themselves, more and more, to promoting an ideal of personal authenticity that views tradition as an existential enemy. (This is one reason why so few conservatives get jobs in universities today, by the way). Where this will end, no one knows. But how long will parents be willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year for their kids to find themselves? The kids could do that for a lot less money elsewhere.
A new book from Encounter Press, The University We Need: Reforming American Higher Education, offers some thoughts on the present state of American academics. The author is Warren Treadgold (St. Louis University). Seems worth a look. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:
Though many people know that American universities now offer an inadequate and incoherent education from a leftist viewpoint that excludes moderate and conservative ideas, few people understand how much this matters, how it happened, how bad it is, or what can be done about it. In The University We Need, Professor Warren Treadgold shows the crucial role of universities in American culture and politics, the causes of their decline in administrative bloat and inept academic hiring, the effects of the decline on teaching and research, and some possible ways of reversing the decline. He explains that one suggested reform, the abolition of tenure, would further increase the power of administrators, further decrease the quality of professors, and make universities even more doctrinaire and intolerant. Instead he proposes federal legislation to monitor the quality and honesty of professors and to limit spending on administration to no more than 20% of university budgets (Harvard now spends 40%). Finally, he offers a specific proposal for the founding of a new leading university that could seriously challenge the dominance of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, and Berkeley and attract conservative and moderate faculty and students now isolated in universities and colleges that are either leftist or mediocre. While agreeing with conservative critics that universities are in severe crisis, Treadgold believes that the universities’ problems largely transcend ideology and have grown worse partly because disputants on both sides of the academic debate have misunderstood the methods and goals of higher education.