I first read some of Charles Péguy’s work in college, in a course taught by the great Rimbaud translator and Proust scholar, Wallace Fowlie. The course considered the thought of several important Catholic intellectuals of the late 19th and early 20th century pre- and inter-War period, focusing on French writers including Belloc, Bernanos, Maurras, and Mauriac (with a little Chesterton thrown in too for some national variety). What we read of Péguy’s writing at the time struck me as having a lot to say about law and politics–particularly on the difference between “mystique” and “politique” and the need for the unifying political leader (like a President, for example) to set himself apart from the ordinary machinations of party politics–and so it’s good to see this new volume to devoted to him. The book is Carnal Spirit: The Revolutions of Charles Péguy (University of Pennsylvania Press), by Matthew W. Maguire.
“It is rare for a thinker of Charles Péguy’s considerable stature and influence to be so neglected in Anglophone scholarship. The neglect may be in part because so much about Péguy is contestable and paradoxical. He strongly opposed the modern historicist drive to reduce writers to their times, yet he was very much a product of philosophical currents swirling through French intellectual life at the turn of the twentieth century. He was a passionate Dreyfusard who converted to Catholicism but was a consistent anticlerical. He was a socialist and an anti-Marxist, and at once a poet, journalist, and philosopher.
Péguy (1873-1914) rose from a modest childhood in provincial France to a position of remarkable prominence in European intellectual life. Before his death in battle in World War I, he founded his own journal in order to publish what he thought most honestly, and urgently, needed to be said about politics, history, philosophy, literature, art, and religion. His writing and life were animated by such questions as: Is it possible to affirm universal human rights and individual freedom and find meaning in a national identity? How should different philosophies and religions relate to one another? What does it mean to be modern?
A voice like Péguy’s, according to Matthew Maguire, reveals the power of the individual to work creatively with the diverse possibilities of a given historical moment. Carnal Spiritexpertly delineates the historical origins of Péguy’s thinking, its unique trajectory, and its unusual position in his own time, and shows the ways in which Péguy anticipated the divisions that continue to trouble us.”
To close out the week’s books, here is a new collection from Routledge on early modern Europe, A Sourcebook of Early Modern European History, edited by Ute Lotz-Heumann (University of Arizona). Many foundational concepts in American church-state relations date from this period, and the book addresses a number of subjects that law and religion scholars will find interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description:
A Sourcebook of Early Modern European History not only provides instructors with primary sources of a manageable length and translated into English, it also offers students a concise explanation of their context and meaning.
By covering different areas of early modern life through the lens of contemporaries’ experiences, this book serves as an introduction to the early modern European world in a way that a narrative history of the period cannot. It is divided into six subject areas, each comprising between twelve and fourteen explicated sources: I. The fabric of communities: Social interaction and social control; II. Social spaces: Experiencing and negotiating encounters; III. Propriety, legitimacy, fidelity: Gender, marriage, and the family; IV. Expressions of faith: Official and popular religion; V. Realms intertwined: Religion and politics; and, VI. Defining the religious other: Identities and conflicts.
Spanning the period from c. 1450 to c. 1750 and including primary sources from across early modern Europe, from Spain to Transylvania, Italy to Iceland, and the European colonies, this book provides an excellent sense of the diversity and complexity of human experience during this time whilst drawing attention to key themes and events of the period. It is ideal for students of early modern history, and of early modern Europe in particular.
To start this week’s books, here is a new biography of Ronald Reagan from the University of Nebraska Press, Ronald Reagan: An Intellectual Biography, by David Byrne (California Baptist University). The book highlights the role that Christianity played in Reagan’s worldview, particularly, the author says, the Christian concept of “a universal kingdom of God.” This puzzles me: Christianity and universalism don’t really go together. I wonder if what the author means is the American tendency, which Tocqueville recognized, to downplay religious difference in the name of equality. The “Kingdom of Freedom” the author describes, in other words, might be a bit more American than Christian. But then, again to cite Tocqueville, Americans have always conflated Christianity and liberty. Readers can judge for themselves. Here’s the description of the book from the publisher’s website:
In this ambitious work David T. Byrne analyzes the ideas that informed Ronald Reagan’s political philosophy and policies. Rather than appraising Reagan’s personal and emotional life, Byrne’s intellectual biography goes one step further; it establishes a rationale for the former president’s motives, discussing how thinkers such as Plato and Adam Smith influenced him. Byrne points to three historical forces that shaped Reagan’s political philosophy: Christian values, particularly the concept of a universal kingdom of God; America’s firm belief in freedom as the greatest political value and its aversion to strong centralized government; and the appeasement era of World War II, which stimulated Reagan’s aggressive and confrontational foreign policy.
Byrne’s account of the fortieth president augments previous work on Reagan with a new model for understanding him. Byrne shows how Reagan took conservatism and the Republican Party in a new direction, departing from the traditional conservatism of Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk. His desire to spread a “Kingdom of Freedom” both at home and abroad changed America’s political landscape forever and inspired a new conservatism that persists to this day.
Here at the Center, we’re very interested in the relationship among law, religion, and tradition. In fact, exploring that relationship is the mission of the Tradition Project, which we started three years ago. So it’s good to see others writing in the area as well. A new collection of essays from Springer, Law, Religion and Tradition (Giles et al., eds) looks very interesting. One of the book’s editors is Tradition Project member Andrea Pin. Here’s the description from the Springer website:
This book explores different theories of law, religion, and tradition, from both a secular and a religious perspective. It reflects on how tradition and change can affect religious and secular legal reasoning, identifying the patterns of legal evolution within religious and secular traditions. It is often taken for granted that, even in law, change corresponds and correlates to progress – that things ought to be changed and they will necessarily get better. There is no doubt that legal changes over the centuries have made it possible to enhance the protection of individual rights and to somewhat contain the possibility of tyranny and despotism. But progress is not everything in law: stability and certainty lie at the core of the rule of law. Similarly, religions and religious laws could not survive without traditions; and yet, they still evolve, and their evolution is often intermingled with secular law. The book asks (and in some ways answers) the questions: What is the role of tradition within religions and religious laws? What is the impact of religious traditions on secular laws, and vice-versa? How are the elements of tradition to be identified? Are they the same within the secular and the religious realm? Do secular law and religious law follow comparable patterns of change? Do their levels of resilience differ significantly? How does the history of religion and law affect changes within religious traditions and legal systems? The overall focus of the book addresses the extent to which tradition plays a role in shaping and re-shaping secular and religious laws, as well as their mutual boundaries.
For our readers who don’t live in New York and so can’t watch the annual Honeymooners marathon, here’s a little seasonal music to welcome in the New Year. Back to our regular programming tomorrow!
“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
— Abraham Lincoln, Thanksgiving Day Proclamation (1863)
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 well 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.
Next month, Marc and I will among the speakers at “Religion and the Administrative State,” a conference sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Administrative State at George Mason’s Antonin Scalia Law School. The Center’s Director, Adam White, has put together a very interesting set of panels, including the one on which Marc and I will speak, “The Future of the First Amendment.” The conference, scheduled for September 14, will appeal to anyone with an interest in church-state relations. For details, please check the conference announcement, here.
Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:
- A Native American tribe in New Jersey has accused local authorities of trying to prevent its members from performing traditional rituals on private land it claims belongs to the tribe.
- A therapist who performed marriage counseling is suing her former employer because she says she was terminated after referring a same-sex married couple to a different therapist because counseling them would contradict her religious beliefs.
- After complaints from Quaker parents, a high school in Oregon has removed a Quaker mascot logo from its gymnasium.
- A federal judge in Ohio ruled that a prisoner’s as-applied challenge to the state prison system’s ban on dreadlocks was successful because the prison system does not provide for religious exemptions to the policy.
- Democrats reappointed an expert on Tibetan culture to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, while Republicans appointed the president of the Family Research Council to the same commission.
- Both conservative and progressive groups objected to the Methodist Church’s latest plan to avoid a schism between members of the church who want to recognize same-sex marriages and ordinations and those who do not.