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.

McLendon, “The Psychology of Inequality”

I am not a scholar of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but what little I know and have read by Rousseau persuades me that he is a very helpful philosopher for understanding our own time and place in 21st century America. His account in the Discourse on the Origins and Basis of Inequality (as well as Emile) of amour-propre–or love of self, sometimes rendered loosely as the need for recognition or validation–is one feature of his thought that offers great insight for our own controversies about identity politics, tribalism, and many other political problems of contemporary political life in liberal democracies.

Here is a new book that focuses on some of these features of Rousseau’s thought and is 15896well worth checking out for the Rousseau novice: The Psychology of Inequality: Rousseau’s “Amour-Propre” (U Penn Press), by Michael Locke McLendon.

In The Psychology of Inequality, Michael Locke McLendon looks to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s thought for insight into the personal and social pathologies that plague commercial and democratic societies. He emphasizes the way Rousseau appropriated and modified the notion of self-love, or amour-propre, found in Augustine and various early modern thinkers. McLendon traces the concept in Rousseau’s work and reveals it to be a form of selfish vanity that mimics aspects of Homeric honor culture and, in the modern world, shapes the outlook of the wealthy and powerful as well as the underlying assumptions of meritocratic ideals.

According to McLendon, Rousseau’s elucidation of amour-propre describes a desire for glory and preeminence that can be dangerously antisocial, as those who believe themselves superior derive pleasure from dominating and even harming those they consider beneath them. Drawing on Rousseau’s insights, McLendon asserts that certain forms of inequality, especially those associated with classical aristocracy and modern-day meritocracy, can corrupt the mindsets and personalities of people in socially disruptive ways.

The Psychology of Inequality shows how amour-propre can be transformed into the demand for praise, whether or not one displays praiseworthy qualities, and demonstrates the ways in which this pathology continues to play a leading role in the psychology and politics of modern liberal democracies.

“America and the Just War Tradition” (Hall & Charles, eds.)

The Just War tradition–an umbrella term for a set of ideas and customs concerning the9780268105266 circumstances in which nations may take military action in their own defense or on behalf of others–draws on a rich history of religious justifications for, objections to, and arguments about war. Here is a new collection of essays concerning its application in American law and politics: America and the Just War Tradition: A History of U.S. Conflicts (Notre Dame Press), edited by Mark David Hall and J. Daryl Charles.

America and the Just War Tradition examines and evaluates each of America’s major wars from a just war perspective. Using moral analysis that is anchored in the just war tradition, the contributors provide careful historical analysis evaluating individual conflicts.

Each chapter explores the causes of a particular war, the degree to which the justice of the conflict was a subject of debate at the time, and the extent to which the war measured up to traditional ad bellum and in bello criteria. Where appropriate, contributors offer post bellum considerations, insofar as justice is concerned with helping to offer a better peace and end result than what had existed prior to the conflict.

This fascinating exploration offers policy guidance for the use of force in the world today, and will be of keen interest to historians, political scientists, philosophers, and theologians, as well as policy makers and the general reading public.

Notre Dame CEC Conference Panel on “Shield or Spear: The Power of Speech”

Here is the video of my panel with Michael Moreland and Rick Garnett at a recent conference at Notre Dame, discussing the current condition of free speech. For those disinclined to read the paper below, you can get a rough sense of some of the points in it in the video. I appreciated the chance to chat with Mike and Rick to get a sense of where we agree (on many issues) and perhaps see things a little differently (a smaller, but interesting and important, set of issues) as to the First Amendment.

New paper: “The Sickness Unto Death of the First Amendment”

I’ve posted a new draft, forthcoming in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy: The Sickness Unto Death of the First Amendment. Here is the abstract.

The sickness unto death, in Søren Kierkegaard’s work of the same name, is the anxiety and despair an individual experiences in recognizing that the self is separated from what is collective, extrinsic, or transcendent. Something like this condition now afflicts the First Amendment. The sickness unto death of the First Amendment is that the spectacular success of free speech and religious freedom as American constitutional rights on premises of liberal, individual autonomy has been the very cause of mounting and powerful collective anxiety. The impressive growth of these rights has rendered them fragile, if not actually unsustainable, in their current form. Their unprecedented expansion has brought on an awareness of their emptiness in serving the larger, common political good. The yearning for political community and shared purpose transcending individual interest has in turn generated vigorous calls for First Amendment constriction to promote what are claimed to be higher ends — in some cases ends that were promoted by the hypertrophy of the First Amendment itself.

What binds these claims is the view that expansive First Amendment rights harm others or are more generally socially or politically harmful. In some cases, the same people who argued for the disconnection of free speech rights from common civic ends are now advocating free speech constriction to reconnect free speech to new ends said to be constitutive of the American polity. The same is true for religious freedom. But in a society that is deeply fractured about where the common good lies, imposing new limits on First Amendment rights in the name of dignity, democracy, equality, sexual freedom, third party harm, or any of the other purposes championed by the new constrictors is at least as likely to exacerbate social and civic fragmentation as to reconstitute it.

This paper describes the development of the First Amendment — and in particular of its ends and limits — through three historical periods. Part I concerns early American understandings, which conceived rights of free speech and religious freedom within an overarching framework of natural rights delimited by legislative judgments about the common political good. Part II traces the replacement of that framework with a very different one in the twentieth century, describing the judicial turn toward self-regarding justifications of speech that prioritize individual autonomy, self-actualization, and absolute anti-orthodoxy. The paper describes the crisis or despair of free speech and the coming of the First Amendment constrictors in Part III. It concludes briefly in Part IV by recapitulating the parallel paths of the rights of free speech and religious freedom. It is, in fact, remarkable that over the centuries, some of the most prominent justifications for and objections to the scope of these rights have proceeded pari passu and assumed nearly identical shape.

Courtenay, “Rituals for the Dead”

Yesterday’s book note concerned the place, if any remains, of religion in the modern 9780268104948university–religious or otherwise. Here is a related entry about the rather more integrated role of religion in the medieval university, in which religious ritual played an important part and in which prayer for deceased colleagues helped to preserve the connection between the living and the dead. But perhaps it isn’t so much that religion as such has left the modern university, as that the nature of university rituals has simply changed to reflect very different religious commitments.

The book is Rituals for the Dead: Religion and Community in the Medieval University of Paris (Notre Dame Press) by William J. Courtenay.

In his fascinating new book, based on the Conway Lectures he delivered at Notre Dame in 2016, William Courtenay examines aspects of the religious life of one medieval institution, the University of Paris, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In place of the traditional account of teaching programs and curriculum, however, the focus here is on religious observances and the important role that prayers for the dead played in the daily life of masters and students.

Courtenay examines the university as a consortium of sub-units in which the academic and religious life of its members took place, and in which prayers for the dead were a major element. Throughout the book, Courtenay highlights reverence for the dead, which preserved their memory and was believed to reduce the time in purgatory for deceased colleagues and for founders of and donors to colleges. The book also explores the advantages for poor scholars of belonging to a confraternal institution that provided benefits to all members regardless of social background, the areas in which women contributed to the university community, including the founding of colleges, and the growth of Marian piety, seeking her blessing as patron of scholarship and as protector of scholars. Courtenay looks at attempts to offset the inequality between the status of masters and students, rich and poor, and college founders and fellows, in observances concerned with death as well as rewards and punishments in the afterlife.

Rituals for the Dead is the first book-length study of religious life and remembrances for the dead at the medieval University of Paris. Scholars of medieval history will be an eager audience for this title.

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