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.

CLR at George Mason Next Month

 

csas-logoNext 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.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Curtis, “Holy Humanitarians”

9780674737365-lgA Protestant earnestness has characterized America’s relationship with the outside world from the beginning. Protecting Christian missionaries, and their schools and hospitals, was a key factor in America’s policy towards China in the late 19th century, for example, and President McKinley said it was necessary for America to take control of the Philippines in order to Christianize the population. American leaders wouldn’t talk that way today, of course. But a missionary impulse to do good works in the world is still very much a part of America’s self-image.

An interesting-looking new book from Harvard, Holy Humanitarians: American Evangelicals and Global Aid, discusses the historical link between American nationalism and humanitarian aid campaigns. The author is Tufts University religion professor Heather Curtis. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

On May 10, 1900, an enthusiastic Brooklyn crowd bid farewell to the Quito. The ship sailed for famine-stricken Bombay, carrying both tangible relief—thousands of tons of corn and seeds—and “a tender message of love and sympathy from God’s children on this side of the globe to those on the other.” The Quito may never have gotten under way without support from the era’s most influential religious newspaper, the Christian Herald, which urged its American readers to alleviate poverty and suffering abroad and at home.

In Holy HumanitariansHeather D. Curtisargues that evangelical media campaigns transformed how Americans responded to domestic crises and foreign disasters during a pivotal period for the nation. Through graphic reporting and the emerging medium of photography, evangelical publishers fostered a tremendously popular movement of faith-based aid that rivaled the achievements of competing agencies like the American Red Cross. By maintaining that the United States was divinely ordained to help the world’s oppressed and needy, the Christian Herald linked humanitarian assistance with American nationalism at a time when the country was stepping onto the global stage. Social reform, missionary activity, disaster relief, and economic and military expansion could all be understood as integral features of Christian charity.

Drawing on rigorous archival research, Curtis lays bare the theological motivations, social forces, cultural assumptions, business calculations, and political dynamics that shaped America’s ambivalent embrace of evangelical philanthropy. In the process she uncovers the seeds of today’s heated debates over the politics of poverty relief and international aid.

International Summer School in Vatican Law (Rome 2018)

Università-LUMSA-logoOur sister institution, Università LUMSA in Rome, has announced that it will host a summer school in Vatican Law for two weeks this coming July. The program is open to students of international law, EU Law, canon law and law and religion, and will also appeal to those who work in institutions that have relationships with the Holy See. Topics will include: historical introduction of the Vatican City State; introduction to canon law; the relationship between Vatican Law and canon law; the Holy See and the Roman Curia; guarantees of freedom of the Holy See; relationship between the Holy See and the Vatican City State; constitutive and constitutional principles; profiles of international law; sources of Vatican Law; the judicial system; Vatican substantive and procedural civil law; Vatican substantive and procedural criminal law; labor law; administrative law; extraterritoriality; financial and monetary system; and money laundering legislation.

For further details, please check the link above.

Around the Web

Here are some important law and religion news stories from around the web:

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.

 

Barton & Bibas, “Rebooting Justice”

Rebooting-Justice-310x460This is not a law-and-religion book, but it is co-written by one of the participants in our Center’s Tradition Project, Stephanos Bibas, who recently left his position at the University of Pennsylvania Law school for a seat on the Third Circuit, and it looks to be of interest to anyone concerned about our legal system and the potential for technology to improve it. Tradition doesn’t mean stagnation, and there’s no reason why traditionalists must in principle oppose new technologies. As long as those new technologies don’t displace law professors, that is. The book is Rebooting Justice: More Technology, Fewer Lawyers, and the Future of Law, co-written by Bibas and law professor Benjamin Barton (Tennessee). Here is the description from the publisher, Encounter Books:

America is a nation founded on justice and the rule of law. But our laws are too complex, and legal advice too expensive, for poor and even middle-class Americans to get help and vindicate their rights. Criminal defendants facing jail time may receive an appointed lawyer who is juggling hundreds of cases and immediately urges them to plead guilty. Civil litigants are even worse off; usually, they get no help at all navigating the maze of technical procedures and rules. The same is true of those seeking legal advice, like planning a will or negotiating an employment contract.

Rebooting Justice presents a novel response to longstanding problems. The answer is to use technology and procedural innovation to simplify and change the process itself. In the civil and criminal courts where ordinary Americans appear the most, we should streamline complex procedures and assume that parties will not have a lawyer, rather than the other way around. We need a cheaper, simpler, faster justice system to control costs. We cannot untie the Gordian knot by adding more strands of rope; we need to cut it, to simplify it.

Amanat, “Iran”

eb374ed35a2bef6b09d45e9c84080a42Looking back from the perspective of forty years, the Iranian Revolution appears more and more as a turning point in world history. The Shia political resurgence encouraged similar Islamist movements in the Sunni world as well; and those movements have shaped the politics of the Mideast, and the world, ever since. A new history from Yale University Press, Iran: A Modern History, discusses the Revolution and other aspects of Iranian culture and history since the 16th century. The author is Yale historian Abbas Amanat. Here’s a description from the Yale website:

A masterfully researched and compelling history of Iran from 1501 to 2009

This history of modern Iran is not a survey in the conventional sense but an ambitious exploration of the story of a nation. It offers a revealing look at how events, people, and institutions are shaped by currents that sometimes reach back hundreds of years. The book covers the complex history of the diverse societies and economies of Iran against the background of dynastic changes, revolutions, civil wars, foreign occupation, and the rise of the Islamic Republic.

Abbas Amanat combines chronological and thematic approaches, exploring events with lasting implications for modern Iran and the world. Drawing on diverse historical scholarship and emphasizing the twentieth century, he addresses debates about Iran’s culture and politics. Political history is the driving narrative force, given impetus by Amanat’s decades of research and study. He layers the book with discussions of literature, music, and the arts; ideology and religion; economy and society; and cultural identity and heritage.

Carron, “Disarming Beauty”

P03345My friend, Professor Andrea Pin of the University of Padua, notes this new collection of essays by Fr. Julián Carrón, the leader of the Catholic lay movement, “Communion and Liberation”: Disarming Beauty: Essays on Faith, Truth, and Freedom (Notre Dame Press). Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

In 2005, Father Julián Carrón became the leader of the global ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation, following the death of the movement’s founder, Father Luigi Giussani. Disarming Beauty is the English translation of an engaging and thought-provoking collection of essays by one of the principal Catholic leaders and intellectuals in the world today. Adapted from talks given by Fr. Carrón, these essays have been thoroughly reworked by the author to offer an organic presentation of a decade-long journey. They present the content of his elaboration of the gospel message in light of the tradition of Fr. Giussani, the teachings of the popes, and the urgent needs of contemporary people.

Carrón offers a broad diagnosis of challenges in society and then introduces their implications in contexts such as families, schools, workplaces, and political communities. In a dialogue with his listeners, he inspires and encourages them to lay out a new path for the Catholic Church and the world. Throughout his essays, Carrón addresses the most pressing questions facing theologians today and provides insights that will interest everyone, from the most devout to the firm nonbeliever. Grappling with the interaction of Christian faith and modern culture, Carrón treats in very real and concrete ways what is essential to maintaining and developing Christian faith, and he invites an ongoing conversation about the meaning of faith, truth, and freedom.

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