Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers. Here is President George Washington’s mightyWashington.jpeg Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of 1789 to inspire your own tables today.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

Mounk, The People vs. Democracy

The first two books of the week offered critical perspectives on and diagnoses of Mounk.jpgcontemporary liberalism–one by a political theorist and another by a law professor. This book, The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom is in Danger and How to Save It (Harvard University Press), by the political scientist Yascha Mounk, also offers a diagnosis for what he sees as deep and growing pathologies within secular liberal states, but Mounk does so in a salvific spirit. Mark has discussed some of Mounk’s research before; here Mounk offers an extended treatment of the problem and proposes solutions.

The world is in turmoil. From India to Turkey and from Poland to the United States, authoritarian populists have seized power. As a result, Yascha Mounk shows, democracy itself may now be at risk.

Two core components of liberal democracy—individual rights and the popular will—are increasingly at war with each other. As the role of money in politics soared and important issues were taken out of public contestation, a system of “rights without democracy” took hold. Populists who rail against this say they want to return power to the people. But in practice they create something just as bad: a system of “democracy without rights.”

The consequence, Mounk shows in The People vs. Democracy, is that trust in politics is dwindling. Citizens are falling out of love with their political system. Democracy is wilting away. Drawing on vivid stories and original research, Mounk identifies three key drivers of voters’ discontent: stagnating living standards, fears of multiethnic democracy, and the rise of social media. To reverse the trend, politicians need to enact radical reforms that benefit the many, not the few.

The People vs. Democracy is the first book to go beyond a mere description of the rise of populism. In plain language, it describes both how we got here and where we need to go. For those unwilling to give up on either individual rights or the popular will, Mounk shows, there is little time to waste: this may be our last chance to save democracy.

Hamburger, “Liberal Suppression”

A second book that is critical of liberalism for this Thanksgiving week, this one by my old teacher and friend, Philip Hamburger. Hamburger’s work on separation of church and state has been formative for my own understanding of that particular model in the United States. In this new book, Liberal Suppression: Section 501(c)(3) and the Taxation of Speech (University of Chicago Press), he explores the ways in which this provision of the tax code has been used to silence what he has elsewhere called “idealistic organizations”–particularly those with orthodox religious views–in exchange for exemption from taxation (image of the book not yet available).

In the course of exempting religious, educational, and charitable organizations from federal income tax, section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code requires them to refrain from campaign speech and much speech to influence legislation. These speech restrictions have seemed merely technical adjustments, which prevent the political use of a tax subsidy. But the cultural and legal realities are more disturbing.

Tracing the history of American liberalism, including theological liberalism and its expression in nativism, Hamburger shows the centrality of turbulent popular anxieties about the Catholic Church and other potentially orthodox institutions. He argues persuasively that such theopolitical fears about the political speech of churches and related organizations underlay the adoption, in 1934 and 1954, of section 501(c)(3)’s speech limits. He thereby shows that the speech restrictions have been part of a broad majority assault on minority rights and that they are grossly unconstitutional.

Along the way, Hamburger explores the role of the Ku Klux Klan and other nativist organizations, the development of American theology, and the cultural foundations of liberal “democratic” political theory. He also traces important legal developments such as the specialization of speech rights and the use of law to homogenize beliefs. Ultimately, he examines a wide range of contemporary speech restrictions and the growing shallowness of public life in America.

His account is an unflinching look at the complex history of American liberalism and at the implications for speech, the diversity of belief, and the nation’s future.

Deneen, “Why Liberalism Failed”

From our friend and Tradition Project collaborator, Patrick Deneen, comes this Deneenimportant new book: Why Liberalism Failed (Yale University Press). The book follows from some of Deneen’s arguments and essays in recent volumes, but this is a more comprehensive treatment of a subject that has occupied him for several years. Stay tuned in the early months of the new year for a review that explores the relevance of his arguments and insights for law–and law and religion in specific.

Of the three dominant ideologies of the twentieth century—fascism, communism, and liberalism—only the last remains. This has created a peculiar situation in which liberalism’s proponents tend to forget that it is an ideology and not the natural end-state of human political evolution. As Patrick Deneen argues in this provocative book, liberalism is built on a foundation of contradictions: it trumpets equal rights while fostering incomparable material inequality; its legitimacy rests on consent, yet it discourages civic commitments in favor of privatism; and in its pursuit of individual autonomy, it has given rise to the most far-reaching, comprehensive state system in human history. Here, Deneen offers an astringent warning that the centripetal forces now at work on our political culture are not superficial flaws but inherent features of a system whose success is generating its own failure.

Chappel, “Catholic Modern: The Challenge of Totalitarianism and the Remaking of the Church”

Here is an extremely interesting looking book about a complicated period for the RomanCatholicism Catholic Church: Catholic Modern: The Challenge of Totalitarianism and the Remaking of the Church (Harvard) by James Chappel. The book explores the Church’s changing approach to the issue of international human rights in this period, as well as other changes in response to the horrors of the early twentieth century. And it also appears to take on the question of the relationship of Catholicism and modernity very thoughtfully.

In 1900 the Catholic Church stood staunchly against human rights, religious freedom, and the secular state. According to the Catholic view, modern concepts like these, unleashed by the French Revolution, had been a disaster. Yet by the 1960s, those positions were reversed. How did this happen? Why, and when, did the world’s largest religious organization become modern?

James Chappel finds an answer in the shattering experiences of the 1930s. Faced with the rise of Nazism and Communism, European Catholics scrambled to rethink their Church and their faith. Simple opposition to modernity was no longer an option. The question was how to be modern. These were life and death questions, as Catholics struggled to keep Church doors open without compromising their core values. Although many Catholics collaborated with fascism, a few collaborated with Communists in the Resistance. Both strategies required novel approaches to race, sex, the family, the economy, and the state.

Catholic Modern tells the story of how these radical ideas emerged in the 1930s and exercised enormous influence after World War II. Most remarkably, a group of modern Catholics planned and led a new political movement called Christian Democracy, which transformed European culture, social policy, and integration. Others emerged as left-wing dissidents, while yet others began to organize around issues of abortion and gay marriage. Catholics had come to accept modernity, but they still disagreed over its proper form. The debates on this question have shaped Europe’s recent past—and will shape its future.

Good and Evil at Notre Dame

I’m delighted to be participating in the annual conference of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, which begins tomorrow and runs through Saturday. This year’s theme is “Through Every Human Heart” and focuses on ideas of good and evil.

I’m on a criminal law panel moderated by Rick Garnett and together with Cecelia Klingele, John Stinneford, and Meghan Ryan. My remarks will consider the fate of evil as a concept in scholarship about criminal law and punishment. If I have some time left over, I’ll talk about good too. My general thesis is that both of these ideas are basically irrelevant in academic discussion of criminal law (I wrote something about this years ago in an old blog post…time flies).

Heydt, “Moral Philosophy in Eighteenth- Century Britain: God, Self, and Other”

Here is an interesting looking work of intellectual history concerning the 18th century, Great Britain.jpgwhich traces the development of various important Enlightenment ideas about morality in Great Britain: Moral Philosophy in Eighteenth-Century Britain: God, Self, and Other (CUP), by Colin Heydt.

The long eighteenth century is a crucial period in the history of ethics, when our moral relations to God, ourselves and others were minutely examined and our duties, rights and virtues systematically and powerfully presented. Colin Heydt charts the history of practical morality – what we ought to do and to be – from the 1670s, when practical ethics arising from Protestant natural law gained an institutional foothold in England, to early British responses to the French Revolution around 1790. He examines the conventional philosophical positions concerning the content of morality, and utilizes those conventions to reinterpret the work of key figures including Locke, Hume, and Smith. Situating these positions in their thematic and historical contexts, he shows how studying them challenges our assumptions about the originality, intended audience, and aims of philosophical argument during this period. His rich and readable book will appeal to a range of scholars and students.

Pieper, “Exercises in the Elements”

Here is a new collection of essays and other writings by the great twentieth century neo-Thomist philosopher, Josef Pieper: Exercises in the Elements: Essays–Speeches–Notes (St.Pieper Augustine Press). Pieper is perhaps best known for his extended essay, “Leisure: The Basis of Culture,” and I’ve written something before about one of my own favorites of his works, “Tradition: Concept and Claim.” This new and wide-ranging collection looks like it treats many different topics.

This title, which at first sight seems curious, shows Pieper’s philosophical work as rooted in the basics. He takes his inspiration from Plato – and his Socrates – and Thomas Aquinas. With them, he is interested in philosophy as pure theory, the theoretical being precisely the non-practical. The philosophizer wants to know what all existence is fundamentally about, what “reality” “really” means. With Plato, Pieper eschews the use of language to convince an audience of anything which is not the truth. If Plato was opposed to the sophists – among them the politicians – Pieper is likewise opposed to discourse that leads to the “use” of philosophy to bolster a totalitarian regime or any political or economic system.

A fundamental issue for Pieper is “createdness.” He sees this as the fundamental truth of our being – all being – and the fundamental virtue we can practice is the striving to live according to our perception of real truth in any given situation. The strength and attraction of Pieper’s writing is its direct and intuitive character which is independent of abstract systematization. He advocates staying in touch with the “real” as we experience it deep within ourselves. Openness to the totality of being – in no matter what context being reveals itself – and the affirmation of all that is founded in this totality are central pillars of all his thinking. Given the “simplicity” of this stance, it is no surprise that much of it is communicated – and successfully – through his gift for illustration by anecdote. Like Plato, this philosopher is a story-teller and, like him, very readable.

“The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in America” (Gutjahr ed.)

One of the most interesting books I’ve read recently is Daniel Dreisbach’s Reading the BibleBible With the Founding Fathers, an exploration of the influence of the Bible on the political and cultural lives of the early Republic. This book, The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in America (OUP), edited by Paul Gutjahr, looks like an excellent companion/reference volume on the same subject, though it extends beyond the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and contains essays by many leading lights (including Dreisbach).

Early Americans have long been considered “A People of the Book.” Because the nickname was coined primarily to invoke close associations between Americans and the Bible, it is easy to overlook the central fact that it was a book-not a geographic location, a monarch, or even a shared language-that has served as a cornerstone in countless investigations into the formation and fragmentation of early American culture. Few books can lay claim to such powers of civilization-altering influence. Among those which can are sacred books, and for Americans principal among such books stands the Bible.

This Handbook is designed to address a noticeable void in resources focused on analyzing the Bible in America in various historical moments and in relationship to specific institutions and cultural expressions. It takes seriously the fact that the Bible is both a physical object that has exercised considerable totemic power, as well as a text with a powerful intellectual design that has inspired everything from national religious and educational practices to a wide spectrum of artistic endeavors to our nation’s politics and foreign policy.

This Handbook brings together a number of established scholars, as well as younger scholars on the rise, to provide a scholarly overview–rich with bibliographic resources–to those interested in the Bible’s role in American cultural formation.

Roach, “Aethelred the Unready”

It seems only fitting that we are a bit delayed in noting this (still) new volume intended Aethelredto rehabilitate good old Æthelred the Unready (Yale University Press), by Levi Roach. (Those who remember their Walter Scott will want to distinguish Æthelstane the Unready, who also very much requires a favorable reconstruction). Actually, Æthelred sounds like an absolutely wonderful man (though, even after the rehabilitation, perhaps not a terrific king).

The Anglo-Saxon king Æthelred “the Unready” (978–1016) has long been considered to be inscrutable, irrational, and poorly advised. Infamous for his domestic and international failures, Æthelred was unable to fend off successive Viking raids, leading to the notorious St. Brice’s Day Massacre in 1002, during which Danes in England were slaughtered on his orders. Though Æthelred’s posthumous standing is dominated by his unsuccessful military leadership, his seemingly blind trust in disloyal associates, and his harsh treatment of political opponents, Roach suggests that Æthelred has been wrongly maligned. Drawing on extensive research, Roach argues that Æthelred was driven by pious concerns about sin, society, and the anticipated apocalypse. His strategies, in this light, were to honor God and find redemption. Chronologically charting Æthelred’s life, Roach presents a more accessible character than previously available, illuminating his place in England and Europe at the turn of the first millennium.

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