Moyn, “Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World”

Building on his prior historical studies of human rights (see here and here for prior postsMoyn at the Forum on his work), Yale Law professor Samuel Moyn has a new book that sounds similar human-rights-skeptical themes: Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World (Harvard University Press). While in previous work, Moyn explored the early 20th century Christian elaboration of human rights, in this work, he seems to focus to a greater extent on the post-War period and the ways in which economic inequalities have been largely ignored (or worse) by human rights advocates and the human rights movement. Worth checking out as a kind of capstone to Moyn’s human rights trilogy.

The age of human rights has been kindest to the rich. Even as state violations of political rights garnered unprecedented attention due to human rights campaigns, a commitment to material equality disappeared. In its place, market fundamentalism has emerged as the dominant force in national and global economies. In this provocative book, Samuel Moyn analyzes how and why we chose to make human rights our highest ideals while simultaneously neglecting the demands of a broader social and economic justice.

In a pioneering history of rights stretching back to the Bible, Not Enough charts how twentieth-century welfare states, concerned about both abject poverty and soaring wealth, resolved to fulfill their citizens’ most basic needs without forgetting to contain how much the rich could tower over the rest. In the wake of two world wars and the collapse of empires, new states tried to take welfare beyond its original European and American homelands and went so far as to challenge inequality on a global scale. But their plans were foiled as a neoliberal faith in markets triumphed instead.

Moyn places the career of the human rights movement in relation to this disturbing shift from the egalitarian politics of yesterday to the neoliberal globalization of today. Exploring why the rise of human rights has occurred alongside enduring and exploding inequality, and why activists came to seek remedies for indigence without challenging wealth, Not Enough calls for more ambitious ideals and movements to achieve a humane and equitable world.

“Religious Exemptions” (Vallier & Weber, eds.)

It is difficult to pinpoint precisely when the debate about religious accommodation became the single most important topic in academic and legal debates about religious freedom, but two things are nearly certain: (1) it has now decisively displaced the issue of religious displays and religion in public as the preeminent question in the field; (2) that displacement was driven by an American political, legal, and cultural turn against traditional forms of Christianity, which in turn drove traditional Christians to seek exemptions–something that was unheard of at an earlier period when law, politics, and culture were more aligned. Once legal exemptions might be used to accommodate those sorts of believers, exemptions became more controversial than ever before.

Here is a new collection whose essays explore the exemption question from a Exemptionsphilosophical point of view: Religious Exemptions (OUP), edited by Kevin Vallier and Michael Weber.

Exemptions from legal requirements, especially religious exemptions, have been a major topic of political debate in recent years. For example, bakers in various states have sought the right to refuse to make wedding cakes for gay and lesbian couples, despite the Supreme Court’s validation of same-sex marriage. Many parents are granted exemptions from vaccinating their children, despite public health laws requiring otherwise. Various religious organizations as well as some corporations have sought an exemption from the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage in employee healthcare plans, as required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Religious exemptions have a long history in the United States, but they remain controversial. Exemptions release some people from following laws that everyone else must follow, raising questions of fairness, and exemptions often privilege religious belief, raising concerns about equal treatment. At the same time there are good reasons to support exemptions, such as respect for the right of religious freedom and preventing religious organizations from becoming too closely intertwined with government.

The essays in this volume represent valuable contributions to the complex debate about exemptions from legal requirements. In particular, they contribute to the moral dimensions of religious exemptions. These essays go beyond legal analysis about which exemptions are constitutionally appropriate, and ask instead when religious exemptions are morally required or morally prohibited.

Thompson, “Montaigne and the Tolerance of Politics”

In discussions of pluralism and difference, it is a common assumption that what is required of good citizens is a rather philosophically thick version of tolerance–not just discussion with others, but the sort of exchange of views, or “dialogue,” in which the parties are sympathetic and completely open to one another’s positions. But perhaps this version of tolerance is too demanding; indeed, perhaps its demands are such that parties with differing views on fundamental questions are driven not to talk at all, lest they fail to live up to the strictures of tolerance.

So seems to argue an interesting looking new book, Montaigne and the Tolerance of Politics (OUP) by Douglas I. Thompson, which recovers Montaigne’s philosophicallyMontaigne thinner and less demanding understanding of tolerance–one that emphasizes not deep moral commitments but particular political practices and dispositions of engagement. Perhaps this sort of tolerance may be more achievable in our own day of radical fracture.

At the heart of Montaigne’s Essais lies a political conception of religious tolerance that we have largely forgotten today. In contemporary popular and academic discourse, tolerance of religious and other differences most often appears as an individual ethical disposition or a moral principle of public law. For Montaigne, tolerance is instead a political capacity: the power and ability to negotiate relationships of basic trust and civil peace with one’s opponents in political conflict. Contemporary thinkers often argue that what matters most for tolerance is how we talk to our political opponents: with respect, reasonableness, and civility. For Montaigne, what matters most is not how, but rather that we talk to each other across lines of disagreement. In his view, any effective politics of tolerance requires actors with a sufficiently high tolerance for this political activity.
Using his own experience negotiating between warring Catholic and Huguenot parties as a model, Montaigne investigates and publicly prescribes a set of skills, capacities, and dispositions that might help his readers to become the kinds of people who can initiate and sustain dialogue with the “other side” to achieve public goods – even when respect, reasonableness, and civility are not yet assured. Montaigne and the Tolerance of Politics argues that this dimension of tolerance is worth recovering and reconsidering in contemporary democratic societies, in which partisan “sorting” and multidimensional polarization has evidently rendered political leaders and ordinary citizens less and less able to talk to each other to resolve political conflicts and to cooperate on matters of common public concern.

“The Many Hands of the State” (Morgan and Orloff, eds.)

There is arguably no greater influence on the direction and scope of religious freedom in the 20th and 21st centuries than the unprecedented growth of the American state. As I’ve written before, “[i]n a society in which the government assumes an increasingly large role in the life of the citizenry, more injuries are transformed into legally (and perhaps even constitutionally) cognizable rights. The number and type of state interests that qualify as “compelling” swell to match the new dignitarian and other harms caused by permissive religious accommodations. And the protection of rights becomes a zero sum game, as every win for religious accommodation is a legally cognizable, but unvindicated, loss for somebody else.”

Here is a book we are late in noticing that evinces cross-disciplinary study of the growth State.jpgof the state: The Many Hands of the State: Theorizing Political Activity and Social Control (CUP), edited by Kimberly J. Morgan and Ann Shola Orloff. Perhaps more such efforts will be in the offing, including some that explicitly include religion.

The state is central to social scientific and historical inquiry today, reflecting its importance in domestic and international affairs. States kill, coerce, fight, torture, and incarcerate, yet they also nurture, protect, educate, redistribute, and invest. It is precisely because of the complexity and wide-ranging impacts of states that research on them has proliferated and diversified. Yet, too many scholars inhabit separate academic silos, and theorizing of states has become dispersed and disjointed. This book aims to bridge some of the many gaps between scholarly endeavors, bringing together scholars from a diverse array of disciplines and perspectives who study states and empires. The book offers not only a sample of cutting-edge research that can serve as models and directions for future work, but an original conceptualization and theorization of states, their origins and evolution, and their effects.

Jansen, “Peace and Penance in Late Medieval Italy”

9780691177748Here is an interesting-looking new book from Princeton University Press on the ways in which church and state cooperated to keep the peace in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Florence, Peace and Penance in Late Medieval Italy, by historian Katherine Ludwig Jansen (Catholic University of America). I’m a bit surprised, I have to say. From what I know, medieval Italy wasn’t greatly characterized either by peace or penance–which could be said of most societies across time, including our own. The part about the Kiss of Peace is fascinating. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Medieval Italian communes are known for their violence, feuds, and vendettas, yet beneath this tumult was a society preoccupied with peace. Peace and Penance in Late Medieval Italy is the first book to examine how civic peacemaking in the age of Dante was forged in the crucible of penitential religious practice.

Focusing on Florence in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, an era known for violence and civil discord, Katherine Ludwig Jansen brilliantly illuminates how religious and political leaders used peace agreements for everything from bringing an end to neighborhood quarrels to restoring full citizenship to judicial exiles. She brings to light a treasure trove of unpublished evidence from notarial archives and supports it with sermons, hagiography, political treatises, and chronicle accounts. She paints a vivid picture of life in an Italian commune, a socially and politically unstable world that strove to achieve peace. Jansen also assembles a wealth of visual material from the period, illustrating for the first time how the kiss of peace—a ritual gesture borrowed from the Catholic Mass—was incorporated into the settlement of secular disputes.

Breaking new ground in the study of peacemaking in the Middle Ages, Peace and Penance in Late Medieval Italy adds an entirely new dimension to our understanding of Italian culture in this turbulent age by showing how peace was conceived, memorialized, and occasionally achieved.

Paul, “From Tolerance to Equality”

5999Here is a forthcoming book from Baylor University Press that offers what looks to be a new and perhaps provocative treatment of the same-sex marriage debate. In From Tolerance to Equality: How Elites Brought America to Same-Sex Marriage, Williams College Professor Darel E. Paul (political science) employs class analysis and argues that same-sex marriage was an elite project that allowed America’s professional class to assert cultural and political domination over the rest of the country. Readers can judge for themselves. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

Over the last twenty-five years, a dramatic transformation in the American public’s view of homosexuality has occurred, symbolized best by the movement of same-sex marriage from the position of a fringe few to the pinnacle of morality and a cornerstone of establishment thought. From Tolerance to Equality explores how this seismic shift of social perspective occurred and why it was led by the country’s educational and business elite. Rejecting claims of a commitment to toleration or a heightened capacity for moral sympathy, author Darel E. Paul argues that American elites use opinion on homosexuality as a mark of social distinction and thus as a tool for accumulating cultural authority and political power.

Paul traces this process through its cultural pathways as first professionals and, later, corporate managers took up the cause. He marshals original data analysis and chapters on social class and the family, the ideology of diversity, and the waning status of religious belief and authority to explore the factors behind the cultural changes he charts. Paul demonstrates the high stakes for same-sex marriage’s mostly secular proponents and mostly religious opponents—and explains how so many came to fight so vigorously on an issue that directly affects so few. In the end, From Tolerance to Equality is far more than an explanation of gay equality and same-sex marriage. It is a road map to the emerging American political and cultural landscape.

 

Regnerus, “Cheap Sex”

9780190673611We’re a little late getting to this, but a few months ago Oxford published a new book by University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus, Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy, which has received a lot of attention. Regnerus addresses millennials’ apparent lack of interest in marriage and family and says much of the problem (if it is a problem) results from the fact that sex has become more accessible and less costly, and not only in monetary terms. As religious scruples fade, the spiritual costs of easy sex decrease as well — and when the cost of something goes down, more people decide they can afford it. In fact, Regnerus argues, for some people sex may take the place of traditional religion, offering a substitute, though ultimately dissatisfying, path to the transcendent. There are interesting gender dynamics, too. Regnerus, a conservative, points out that a regime of cheap sex favors men more than women–another irony of the sexual revolution, which was supposed to lead to greater equality between the sexes. Here’s the description from the Oxford website:

Sex is cheap. Coupled sexual activity has become more widely available than ever. Cheap sex has been made possible by two technologies that have little to do with each other – the Pill and high-quality pornography – and its distribution made more efficient by a third technological innovation, online dating. Together, they drive down the cost of real sex, and in turn slow the development of love, make fidelity more challenging, sexual malleability more common, and have even taken a toll on men’s marriageability.

Cheap Sex takes readers on an extended tour inside the American mating market, and highlights key patterns that characterize young adults’ experience today, including the timing of first sex in relationships, overlapping partners, frustrating returns on their relational investments, and a failure to link future goals like marriage with how they navigate their current relationships. Drawing upon several large nationally-representative surveys, in-person interviews with 100 men and women, and the assertions of scholars ranging from evolutionary psychologists to gender theorists, what emerges is a story about social change, technological breakthroughs, and unintended consequences. Men and women have not fundamentally changed, but their unions have. No longer playing a supporting role in relationships, sex has emerged as a central priority in relationship development and continuation. But unravel the layers, and it is obvious that the emergence of “industrial sex” is far more a reflection of men’s interests than women’s.

Hudnut-Beumler, “Strangers and Friends at the Welcome Table”

9781469640372While on a recent trip to Charlotte, North Carolina — home of the Billy Graham Library — I attended Sunday Liturgy at St. Sarkis Armenian Church, founded about a dozen years ago. St. Sarkis is not the only Orthodox Church in Charlotte. There is a Coptic church, at least two Greek Orthodox churches, a couple of Russian Orthodox churches, a couple of Ethiopian Orthodox churches, and at least one Syriac church. The point is that if one thinks of Southern  Christianity as strictly Evangelical, one is making a mistake — though I should point out, in the interests of full disclosure, that the line of cars outside the Evangelical church a couple blocks away was a lot longer than the one at St. Sarkis!

A new study from the University of North Carolina Press, Strangers and Friends at the Welcome Table: Contemporary Christianities in the American South, by Vanderbilt University historian James Hudnut-Beumler, describes the Christianities of the New South. Looks interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description:

In this fresh and fascinating chronicle of Christianity in the contemporary South, historian and minister James Hudnut-Beumler draws on extensive interviews and his own personal journeys throughout the region over the past decade to present a comprehensive portrait of the South’s long-dominant religion. Hudnut-Beumler traveled to both rural and urban communities, listening to the faithful talk about their lives and beliefs. What he heard pushes hard against prevailing notions of southern Christianity as an evangelical Protestant monolith so predominant as to be unremarkable.

True, outside of a few spots, no non-Christian group forms more than six-tenths of one percent of a state’s population in what Hudnut-Beumler calls the Now South. Drilling deeper, however, he discovers an unexpected, blossoming diversity in theology, practice, and outlook among southern Christians. He finds, alongside traditional Baptists, black and white, growing numbers of Christians exemplifying changes that no one could have predicted even just forty years ago, from congregations of LGBT-supportive evangelicals and Spanish-language church services to a Christian homeschooling movement so robust in some places that it may rival public education in terms of acceptance. He also finds sharp struggles and political divisions among those trying to reconcile such Christian values as morality and forgiveness—the aftermath of the mass shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church in 2015 forming just one example. This book makes clear that understanding the twenty-first-century South means recognizing many kinds of southern Christianities.

Johnson et al., “Ekklesia”

9780226545585In popular discourse, the American Framers had one of two, mutually-exclusive positions on church-state relations: Either the Framers were Deists who believed that church and state must be completely separate, or the Framers were proto-Evangelicals who thought of America as a Christian nation. In fact, the record is murkier. From the beginning, the two views of church-state relations have existed together in a productive tension, with neither side completely dominating the other. Many of our bitter fights today, in fact, arise because each side is trying to eliminate the other, rather than adjusting and figuring out a way to get along. At least that’s how it seems to me.

A new anthropological study from the University of Chicago Press, Ekklesia: Three Inquiries in Church and State, discusses the tensions surrounding church and state in the New World, addressing not only the United States but Latin America and Canada as well. The authors are Paul Christopher Johnson, Pamela E. Klassen, and Winnifred Sullivan. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

Ekklesia: Three Inquiries in Church and State offers a New World rejoinder to the largely Europe-centered academic discourse on church and state. In contrast to what is often assumed, in the Americas the relationship between church and state has not been one of freedom or separation but one of unstable and adaptable collusion. Ekklesia sees in the settler states of North and South America alternative patterns of conjoined religious and political power, patterns resulting from the undertow of other gods, other peoples, and other claims to sovereignty. These local challenges have led to a continuously contested attempt to realize a church-minded state, a state-minded church, and the systems that develop in their concert. The shifting borders of their separation and the episodic conjoining of church and state took new forms in both theory and practice.

The first of a closely linked trio of essays is by Paul Johnson, and offers a new interpretation of the Brazilian community gathered at Canudos and its massacre in 1896–97, carried out as a joint church-state mission and spectacle. In the second essay, Pamela Klassen argues that the colonial church-state relationship of Canada came into being through local and national practices that emerged as Indigenous nations responded to and resisted becoming “possessions” of colonial British America. Finally, Winnifred Sullivan’s essay begins with reflection on the increased effort within the United States to ban Bibles and scriptural references from death penalty courtrooms and jury rooms; she follows with a consideration of the political theological pressure thereby placed on the jury that decides between life and death. Through these three inquiries, Ekklesia takes up the familiar topos of “church and state” in order to render it strange.

Besançon, “Protestant Nation”

The eminent French historian, Alain Besançon, specialized early in his writing life on communist Russia. One of his better-known themes is that the Soviet Union was one of the first cases of the purely “ideological” regime–the regime founded solely on political ideas disconnected from the lived experience of its people. Besançon has more recently written interestingly and controversially about Islam, arguing that Islam is neither a “revealed” religion nor a “natural” religion (in the way Roman paganism was), but instead represents a “third way”–as embodying “the natural religion of the revealed God.”

Here is a new book in which Besançon turns his attention to the United States: Protestant Nation: The Fragile Christian Roots of America’s Greatness. The publisher is St.Besancon Augustine’s Press.

Alain Besançon’s studies, over decades, on Russia, France, Islam, and art have convinced him that “that nothing is comprehensible if one neglects the religious choices that determine a historical destiny.” His aim is to comprehend the most powerful nation on the earth, and he was convinced that Protestantism was the key to America. The question of Protestantism and its origins implicated, in turn, the origins of the Reformation and thus the problem of the moral and political meaning of Christianity itself. And Besançon traces theological dynamic that was to stamp the Reformation, behind Luther’s break with Rome, to the late medieval nominalists’ failure to maintain the fragile communion that Thomas Aquinas had articulated between love and intellect.

This then is the ambition of this elegant and magisterial essay: to explore the question of the spirit of America as bound up with the most fundamental and most problematic promise of Christianity: the union of heart and mind. This exploration leads the reader, after a deft analysis of Nominalism, through a luminous tour of the sources of modern Christianity that includes the revival of speculative mysticism in authors such as Meister Eckhart and Tauler, the devotion moderna, the main figures and movements of the Reformation proper, a brilliant digest of Anglicanism, and a survey of Puritanism in England and America. This uniquely synoptic exploration concludes with the emergence of a democratic religion of humanity, a faith whose future is as uncertain as its grasp of the modern spirit’s Christian sources that Alain Besançon has so judiciously laid bare.

%d bloggers like this: