Lake, “Progressive New World”

9780674975958-lgLast week, Columbia Law professor Philip Hamburger presented his new book, Liberal Suppression, to the students in our law and religion colloquium. Philip argues, in that book and others, that much of 19th and 20th Century Progressivism was animated by an anti-Catholic ideology–or, more precisely, by an ideological reaction against traditional, authoritative communities, of which the Catholic Church was seen as a prime example. It’s a provocative argument nowadays, but it really shouldn’t be. The Progressives themselves would not have found it so. Of course Progressivism opposed tradition, especially tradition that seemed to stand in the way of science and human fulfillment–that is, to say, in the way of Progress. The name of the movement itself makes this clear.

A forthcoming book from Harvard, Progressive New World: How Settler Colonialism and Transpacific Exchange Shaped American Reform, argues that the Progressive Movement had racist roots as well. Again, this is a provocative claim today–but it would not have been so to the Progressives themselves. Many of them, like Woodrow Wilson, were quite open about their racial attitudes. The author is historian Marilyn Lake (University of Melbourne). Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

The paradox of progressivism continues to fascinate more than one hundred years on. Democratic but elitist, emancipatory but coercive, advanced and assimilationist, Progressivism was defined by its contradictions. In a bold new argument, Marilyn Lake points to the significance of turn-of-the-twentieth-century exchanges between American and Australasian reformers who shared racial sensibilities, along with a commitment to forging an ideal social order. Progressive New World demonstrates that race and reform were mutually supportive as Progressivism became the political logic of settler colonialism.

White settlers in the United States, who saw themselves as path-breakers and pioneers, were inspired by the state experiments of Australia and New Zealand that helped shape their commitment to an active state, women’s and workers’ rights, mothers’ pensions, and child welfare. Both settler societies defined themselves as New World, against Old World feudal and aristocratic societies and Indigenous peoples deemed backward and primitive.

In conversations, conferences, correspondence, and collaboration, transpacific networks were animated by a sense of racial kinship and investment in social justice. While “Asiatics” and “Blacks” would be excluded, segregated, or deported, Indians and Aborigines would be assimilated or absorbed. The political mobilizations of Indigenous progressives—in the Society of American Indians and the Australian Aborigines’ Progressive Association—testified to the power of Progressive thought but also to its repressive underpinnings. Burdened by the legacies of dispossession and displacement, Indigenous reformers sought recognition and redress in differently imagined new worlds and thus redefined the meaning of Progressivism itself.

Behr, “Social Justice and Subsidiarity”

The late Fr. Robert John Araujo and I had a long-simmering, never completed, project together on an English translation of Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio’s Saggio Teoretico di Diritto Naturale. We got through several initial sections of it, but not much further I’m afraid. Taparelli was a Jesuit scholar who greatly influenced the thought of Pope Leo XIII, and was an important thinker in the development of the Catholic social thought of the 19th century.

Here is a new book by Thomas C. Behr on Taparelli, Social Justice and Subsidiarity: Luigi Taparelli and the Origins of Modern Catholic Social Thought (CUA Press), that looks like aTaparelli very interesting study of Taparelli’s ideas and influence.

Luigi Taparelli, SJ, 1793-1862, in his Theoretical Treatise of Natural Right Based on Fact, 1840-43, presents a neo-Thomistic approach to social, economic, and political sciences grounded in an integral conception of the human person as social animal but also as rational truth seeker. His conceptions of social justice and of subsidiarity are fundamental to modern Catholic social teaching (CST). His work moves away from traditionalist-conservative reaction in favor of an authentically human, moderately liberal, modernity built on the harmony of faith and reason. He zealously deconstructs laissez-faire liberal ideology and its socialist progeny in scores of articles in the Civilta Cattolica, the journal that he co-founded in 1850. His arguments figure prominently in the Syllabus of Errors (1864) of Pius IX.

Though a moderate liberal himself, his reputation as anti-liberal reactionary and defender of Papal temporal sovereignty is the chief reason why Pope Leo XIII later sought to quiet Taparelli’s contribution to the foundations and pillars of modern CST that began with the restoration of Thomistic philosophy in Aeterni Patris (1879), and the “”magna carta”” of modern Catholic social teaching, Rerum Novarum (1891). Pius XI relies heavily on Taparelli’s concept of subsidiarity in Quadragesimo Anno (1931), and sought to advance interest in Taparelli studies. However, Taparelli’s eclectic philosophical orientation and writing style have been a considerable stumbling block. In this present book, Taparelli’s ideas are evaluated both for their philosophical character but also in their historical context. Taparelli’s theories of the just society and ordered liberty, are as timely nowadays for reasoned political and ethical discourse as ever. The book includes an appendix of translated portions of the Theoretical Treatise of Natural Right Based on Fact that relate to subsidiarity.

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Kors, “Naturalism and Unbelief in France: 1650-1729”

Here is an absolutely fascinating new book concerning a particular feature of French KorsChristian culture and learning in the early modern period of the late 17th and early 18th centuries–the hypothetical atheist, which challenged and served as a counterpoint to, but was included well within, the traditional Christian intellectual world. That is, atheism was not an underground concept that disrupted established Christianity from the outside, but, in the author’s view, very much at the center of French Catholic debate, thought, and education.

The book is Naturalism and Unbelief in France: 1650-1729, by the eminent intellectual historian, Alan Charles Kors (OUP).

Atheism was the most fundamental challenge to early-modern French certainties. Leading educators, theologians and philosophers labelled such atheism as manifestly absurd, confident that neither the fact nor behaviour of nature was explicable without reference to God. The alternative was a categorical naturalism. This book demonstrates that the Christian learned world had always contained the naturalistic ‘atheist’ as an interlocutor and a polemical foil, and its early-modern engagement and use of the hypothetical atheist were major parts of its intellectual life. In the considerations and polemics of an increasingly fractious orthodox culture, the early-modern French learned world gave real voice and eventually life to that atheistic presence. Without understanding the actual context and convergence of the inheritance, scholarship, fierce disputes, and polemical modes of orthodox culture, the early-modern generation and dissemination of absolute naturalism are inexplicable. This book brings to life that Christian learned culture, its dilemmas, and its unintended consequences.

Mould, “Against Creativity”

In one of his better known essays, Tradition and the Individual Talent, T.S. Eliot argued that the act of artistic creativity is of necessity always an act of the subjection and integration of the individual artistic talent into the existing deposit of the artistic past. There can be no true creativity without the immersion of the self into the corpus and community of past creation. But there is another view of creativity as utter rejection of the past in favor of the completely novel, the blazing of a trail all of one’s own. And that view of creativity, it may be fair to say, is the one that predominates today. Creativity as the plowing of fresh snow that has never before been touched by human hands. It is a view that has become a model today not only for artistic activity, but also for the ordinary working person. One hears frequently about “creativity” as a corporate virtue, for example, that requires setting oneself off from the herd of other workers through some stroke of genius or brilliancy. One certainly hears about it as an academic virtue. But is there a downside to the valuation of creativity, understood in this sense?

A new book argues against this view of creativity as destructive of the possibility of Creativitycommunity and, in turn, of genuine human flourishing: Against Creativity, by Oli Mould (Random House). Whether the issue really is “neoliberal appropriation” or instead some deeper explanation, the book looks well worth exploring.

Everything you have been told about creativity is wrong.

From line managers, corporate CEOs, urban designers, teachers, politicians, mayors, advertisers and even our friends and family, the message is ‘be creative’. Creativity is heralded as the driving force of our contemporary society; celebrated as agile, progressive and liberating. It is the spring of the knowledge economy and shapes the cities we inhabit. It even defines our politics. What could possibly be wrong with this?

In this brilliant, counterintuitive blast Oli Mould demands that we rethink the story we are being sold. Behind the novelty, he shows that creativity is a barely hidden form of neoliberal appropriation. It is a regime that prioritizes individual success over collective flourishing. It refuses to recognise anything – job, place, person – that is not profitable. And it impacts on everything around us: the places where we work, the way we are managed, how we spend our leisure time.

Is there an alternative? Mould offers a radical redefinition of creativity, one embedded in the idea of collective flourishing, outside the tyranny of profit. Bold, passionate and refreshing, Against Creativity, is a timely correction to the doctrine of our times.

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Fieschi, “The Age of Populism”

The surge in populist politics–of both the right and the left–in recent years Fieschihas left many academic commenters scratching their heads for causes. What explains the rise of populist politics and the rejection of what is sometimes described as “elite” culture? Here is a new book that explores these questions, The Age of Populism: Representation and Its Discontents, by Catherine Fieschi (Columbia University Press).

Populism, or the political ideology that pits the people against elites, has become a significant feature of mature democracies in the twenty-first century. The rise of populist parties on the right and the left, that appeal to a broad electorate—variously described as “disillusioned”, “left behind,” or “just about managing”—is proving a powerful and disruptive force. Commentators have been quick to explain the success of parties such as UKIP and France’s National Front and the election of Donald Trump as the appeal of populism.

In this book, Catherine Fieschi looks beyond definitional issues to examine why populism and populist parties have become a feature of our politics. Populism’s appeal, she argues, needs to be understood as a response to the fundamental reshaping of our political, economic, and social spheres through globalization and the digital revolution. She shows how new dynamics unleashed by social media—the fantasy of radical transparency, the demand for immediacy, the rejection of expert truth and facts, and the imperative of continuous involvement—have been harnessed by populism, enabling it to make inroads into the political landscape that hitherto would have been unreceptive.

Philip Hamburger at the Colloquium in Law and Religion today

We are delighted to welcome Professor Philip Hamburger to our Colloquium in Law and HamburgerReligion today.

Philip will be discussing several chapters of his most recent book, Liberal Suppression: Section 501(c)(3) and the Taxation of Speech (U. Chicago Press 2018).

Rodgers, “As a City on a Hill”

Early in Volume I of “Democracy in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville has a section considering the importance of the Puritan roots of American government. In one particularly striking line, he writes that Puritanism “was not only a religious doctrine; it also blended at several points with the most absolute democratic and republican theories.” Indeed, the Puritans believed that God had called them to form a new nation in order to fulfill his providential plan. They were to be the “chosen people” of the New World, and they were to establish a “covenant” with God to form the new Israel. They were to be, in the famous words of Massachusetts’ governor John Winthrop, a “city on the hill,” a “light to the nations,” “a model of Christ’s kingdom among heathens.” Church-state separation was the furthest thing from their minds.

Here is a new book that examines the history, and post-history, of Winthrop’s words andHill his vision, though it seems that the author also wants to make known his views about the words’ more recent uses. The book is As a City on a Hill: The Story of America’s Most Famous Lay Sermon, by Daniel T. Rodgers (Princeton University Press).

“For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill,” John Winthrop warned his fellow Puritans at New England’s founding in 1630. More than three centuries later, Ronald Reagan remade that passage into a timeless celebration of American promise. How were Winthrop’s long-forgotten words reinvented as a central statement of American identity and exceptionalism? In As a City on a Hill, leading American intellectual historian Daniel Rodgers tells the surprising story of one of the most celebrated documents in the canon of the “American idea.” In doing so, he brings to life the ideas Winthrop’s text carried in its own time and the sharply different yearnings that have been attributed to it since.

As a City on a Hill shows how much more malleable, more saturated with vulnerability, and less distinctly American Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity” was than the document that twentieth century Americans invented. Across almost four centuries, Rodgers traces striking shifts in the meaning of Winthrop’s words—from Winthrop’s own anxious reckoning with the scrutiny of the world, through Abraham Lincoln’s haunting reference to this “almost chosen people,” to the “city on a hill” that African Americans hoped to construct in Liberia, to the era of Donald Trump.

As a City on a Hill reveals the circuitous, unexpected ways Winthrop’s words came to lodge in American consciousness. At the same time, the book offers a probing reflection on how nationalism encourages the invention of “timeless” texts to straighten out the crooked realities of the past.

Kotsko, “Neoliberalism’s Demons”

pid_29538Here is a new book from Stanford University Press that argues that neoliberalism is a kind of religious commitment; that it has extended its domain to all manner of private and public choices; that it has enabled right-wing populism, which mimics neoliberalism’s worst features; and that it needs to be resisted in the name of race, gender, and sexual identity. The first two points seem right to me, but not the second. It’s very hard to see how populism is not at least in part a rejection of the economic inequalities that neoliberalism creates. And my impression is that neoliberalism quite easily accommodates identities. In fact, it commodifies them.

Readers can judge for themselves. The book is Neoliberalism’s Demons: On the Political Theology of Late Capitalism, by Adam Kotsko (North Central College). The publisher’s description follows:

By both its supporters and detractors, neoliberalism is usually considered an economic policy agenda. Neoliberalism’s Demons argues that it is much more than that: a complete worldview, neoliberalism presents the competitive marketplace as the model for true human flourishing. And it has enjoyed great success: from the struggle for “global competitiveness” on the world stage down to our individual practices of self-branding and social networking, neoliberalism has transformed every aspect of our shared social life.

The book explores the sources of neoliberalism’s remarkable success and the roots of its current decline. Neoliberalism’s appeal is its promise of freedom in the form of unfettered free choice. But that freedom is a trap: we have just enough freedom to be accountable for our failings, but not enough to create genuine change. If we choose rightly, we ratify our own exploitation. And if we choose wrongly, we are consigned to the outer darkness—and then demonized as the cause of social ills. By tracing the political and theological roots of the neoliberal concept of freedom, Adam Kotsko offers a fresh perspective, one that emphasizes the dynamics of race, gender, and sexuality. More than that, he accounts for the rise of right-wing populism, arguing that, far from breaking with the neoliberal model, it actually doubles down on neoliberalism’s most destructive features

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