Earlier this year, while doing research for a forthcoming essay on the doux commerce thesis, I came upon Dennis Rasmussen’s excellent introduction to Smith and Rousseau, The Problems and Promise of Commercial Society (2008). Rasmussen, an associate professor of political science at Tufts, does a wonderful job showing the often overlooked similarities between those two Enlightenment figures, and he writes in a clear, unaffected style that many academics fail to achieve. So I’m looking forward to his new book from Princeton, The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought. The tensions in classical liberalism are becoming more apparent every day; its purported neutrality with respect to Christianity and other revealed religion, especially, seems more and more problematic. It is therefore worthwhile to go back to the beginning, to see whether liberalism has gone off the track in our era or is simply fulfilling its destiny.
Here’s a description of the new book from the Princeton website:
The story of the greatest of all philosophical friendships—and how it influenced modern thought
David Hume is widely regarded as the most important philosopher ever to write in English, but during his lifetime he was attacked as “the Great Infidel” for his skeptical religious views and deemed unfit to teach the young. In contrast, Adam Smith was a revered professor of moral philosophy, and is now often hailed as the founding father of capitalism. Remarkably, the two were best friends for most of their adult lives, sharing what Dennis Rasmussen calls the greatest of all philosophical friendships. The Infidel and the Professor is the first book to tell the fascinating story of the friendship of these towering Enlightenment thinkers—and how it influenced their world-changing ideas.
The book follows Hume and Smith’s relationship from their first meeting in 1749 until Hume’s death in 1776. It describes how they commented on each other’s writings, supported each other’s careers and literary ambitions, and advised each other on personal matters, most notably after Hume’s quarrel with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Members of a vibrant intellectual scene in Enlightenment Scotland, Hume and Smith made many of the same friends (and enemies), joined the same clubs, and were interested in many of the same subjects well beyond philosophy and economics—from psychology and history to politics and Britain’s conflict with the American colonies. The book reveals that Smith’s private religious views were considerably closer to Hume’s public ones than is usually believed. It also shows that Hume contributed more to economics—and Smith contributed more to philosophy—than is generally recognized.
Given the announcement last week that the United States is recommitting to its military strategy in Afghanistan, this forthcoming book from Harvard University Press seems especially relevant. In Afghanistan Rising: Islamic Law and Statecraft between the Ottoman and British Empires, historian Faiz Ahmed (Brown University) argues that at the turn of the 20th Century, Afghanistan attempted to create a modern, constitutional state within the Islamic law tradition. Very few Americans know about this historical episode, or why the attempt to modernize the country ultimately failed. This book looks to be a useful resource for scholars and policymakers. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
Debunking conventional narratives of Afghanistan as a perennial war zone and the rule of law as a secular-liberal monopoly, Faiz Ahmed presents a vibrant account of the first Muslim-majority country to gain independence, codify its own laws, and ratify a constitution after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
Afghanistan Rising illustrates how turn-of-the-twentieth-century Kabul—far from being a landlocked wilderness or remote frontier—became a magnet for itinerant scholars and statesmen shuttling between Ottoman and British imperial domains. Tracing the country’s longstanding but often ignored scholarly and educational ties to Istanbul, Damascus, and Baghdad as well as greater Delhi and Lahore, Ahmed explains how the court of Kabul attracted thinkers eager to craft a modern state within the interpretive traditions of Islamic law and ethics, or sharia. From Turkish lawyers and Indian bureaucrats to Pashtun clerics trained in madrasas of the Indo-Afghan borderlands, this rich narrative focuses on encounters between divergent streams of modern Muslim thought and politics, beginning with the Sublime Porte’s first mission to Afghanistan in 1877 and concluding with the collapse of Ottoman rule after World War I.
By unearthing a lost history behind Afghanistan’s founding national charter, Ahmed shows how debates today on Islam, governance, and the rule of law have deep roots in a beleaguered land. Based on archival research in six countries and as many languages, Afghanistan Rising rediscovers a time when Kabul stood proudly as a center of constitutional politics, Muslim cosmopolitanism, and contested visions of reform in the greater Islamic world.
In January, the Indiana University Press will release “Living in the Ottoman Realm: Empire and Identity, 13th to 20th Centuries,” edited by Christine Isom-Verhaaren (Brigham Young University) and Kent F. Schull (SUNY Binghamton). The publisher’s description follows:
Living in the Ottoman Realm brings the Ottoman Empire to life in all of its ethnic, religious, linguistic, and geographic diversity. The contributors explore the development and transformation of identity over the long span of the empire’s existence. They offer engaging accounts of individuals, groups, and communities by drawing on a rich array of primary sources, some available in English translation for the first time. These materials are examined with new methodological approaches to gain a deeper understanding of what it meant to be Ottoman. Designed for use as a course text, each chapter includes study questions and suggestions for further reading.
Last month, Basic Books released The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, by Eugene Rogan (St. Antony’s College-Oxford). The publisher’s description follows:
In 1914 the Ottoman Empire was depleted of men and resources after years of war against Balkan nationalist and Italian forces. But in the aftermath of the assassination in Sarajevo, the powers of Europe were sliding inexorably toward war, and not even the Middle East could escape the vast and enduring consequences of one of the most destructive conflicts in human history. The Great War spelled the end of the Ottomans, unleashing powerful forces that would forever change the face of the Middle East.
In The Fall of the Ottomans, award-winning historian Eugene Rogan brings the First World War and its immediate aftermath in the Middle East to vivid life, uncovering the often ignored story of the region’s crucial role in the conflict. Bolstered by German money, arms, and military advisors, the Ottomans took on the Russian, British, and French forces, and tried to provoke Jihad against the Allies in their Muslim colonies. Unlike the static killing fields of the Western Front, the war in the Middle East was fast-moving and unpredictable, with the Turks inflicting decisive defeats on the Entente in Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, and Gaza before the tide of battle turned in the Allies’ favor. The great cities of Baghdad, Jerusalem, and, finally, Damascus fell to invading armies before the Ottomans agreed to an armistice in 1918.
The postwar settlement led to the partition of Ottoman lands between the victorious powers, and laid the groundwork for the ongoing conflicts that continue to plague the modern Arab world. A sweeping narrative of battles and political intrigue from Gallipoli to Arabia, The Fall of the Ottomans is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the Great War and the making of the modern Middle East.
Earlier this year, Schocken Books released “Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel’s Soul,” by Daniel Gordis (Shalem College – Jerusalem). The publisher’s description follows:
Reviled as a fascist by his great rival Ben-Gurion, venerated by Israel’s underclass, the first Israeli to win the Nobel Peace Prize, a proud Jew but not a conventionally religious one, Menachem Begin was both complex and controversial. Born in Poland in 1913, Begin was a youthful admirer of the Revisionist Zionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky and soon became a leader within Jabotinsky’s Betar movement. A powerful orator and mesmerizing public figure, Begin was imprisoned by the Soviets in 1940, joined the Free Polish Army in 1942, and arrived in Palestine as a Polish soldier shortly thereafter. Joining the underground paramilitary Irgun in 1943, he achieved instant notoriety for the organization’s bombings of British military installations and other violent acts.
Intentionally left out of the new Israeli government, Begin’s right-leaning Herut political party became a fixture of the opposition to the Labor-dominated governments of Ben-Gurion and his successors, until the surprising parliamentary victory of his political coalition in 1977 made him prime minister. Welcoming Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to Israel and cosigning a peace treaty with him on the White House lawn in 1979, Begin accomplished what his predecessors could not. His outreach to Ethiopian Jews and Vietnamese “boat people” was universally admired, and his decision to bomb Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 is now regarded as an act of courageous foresight. But the disastrous invasion of Lebanon to end the PLO’s shelling of Israel’s northern cities, combined with his declining health and the death of his wife, led Begin to resign in 1983. He spent the next nine years in virtual seclusion, until his death in 1992. Begin was buried not alongside Israel’s prime ministers, but alongside the Irgun comrades who died in the struggle to create the Jewish national home to which he had devoted his life. Daniel Gordis’s perceptive biography gives us new insight into a remarkable political figure whose influence continues to be felt both within Israel and throughout the world.
This month, Stanford University Press will publish Days of Revolution: Political Unrest in an Iranian Village by Mary Elaine Hegland (University of Santa Clara). The publisher’s description follows.
Outside of Shiraz in the Fars Province of southwestern Iran lies “Aliabad.” Mary Hegland arrived in this then-small agricultural village of several thousand people in the summer of 1978, unaware of the momentous changes that would sweep this town and this country in the months ahead. She became the only American researcher to witness the Islamic Revolution firsthand over her eighteen-month stay. Days of Revolution offers an insider’s view of how regular people were drawn into, experienced, and influenced the 1979 Revolution and its aftermath.
Conventional wisdom assumes Shi’a religious ideology fueled the revolutionary movement. But Hegland counters that the Revolution spread through much more pragmatic concerns: growing inequality, lack of development and employment opportunities, government corruption. Local expectations of leaders and the political process—expectations developed from their experience with traditional kinship-based factions—guided local villagers’ attitudes and decision-making, and they often adopted the religious justifications for Revolution only after joining the uprising. Sharing stories of conflict and revolution alongside in-depth interviews, the book sheds new light on this critical historical moment.
Returning to Aliabad decades later, Days of Revolution closes with a view of the village and revolution thirty years on. Over the course of several visits between 2003 and 2008, Mary Hegland investigates the lasting effects of the Revolution on the local political factions and in individual lives. As Iran remains front-page news, this intimate look at the country’s recent history and its people has never been more timely or critical for understanding the critical interplay of local and global politics in Iran.
Last month, Random House published Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson. The publisher’s description follows.
The Arab Revolt against the Turks in World War One was, in the words of T.E. Lawrence, “a sideshow of a sideshow.” Amidst the slaughter in European trenches, the Western combatants paid scant attention to the Middle Eastern theater. As a result, the conflict was shaped to a remarkable degree by a small handful of adventurers and low-level officers far removed from the corridors of power.
Curt Prüfer was an effete academic attached to the German embassy in Cairo, whose clandestine role was to foment Islamic jihad against British rule. Aaron Aaronsohn was a renowned agronomist and committed Zionist who gained the trust of the Ottoman governor of Syria. William Yale was the fallen scion of the American aristocracy, who traveled the Ottoman Empire on behalf of Standard Oil, dissembling to the Turks in order gain valuable oil concessions. At the center of it all was Lawrence. In early 1914 he was an archaeologist excavating ruins in the sands of Syria; by 1917 he was the most romantic figure of World War One, battling both the enemy and his own government to bring about the vision he had for the Arab people.
The intertwined paths of these four men – the schemes they put in place, the battles they fought, the betrayals they endured and committed – mirror the grandeur, intrigue and tragedy of the war in the desert. Prüfer became Germany’s grand spymaster in the Middle East. Aaronsohn constructed an elaborate Jewish spy-ring in Palestine, only to have the anti-Semitic and bureaucratically-inept British first ignore and then misuse his organization, at tragic personal cost. Yale would become the only American intelligence agent in the entire Middle East – while still secretly on the payroll of Standard Oil. And the enigmatic Lawrence rode into legend at the head of an Arab army, even as he waged secret war against his own nation’s imperial ambitions.
Based on years of intensive primary document research, lawrence in Arabia definitively overturns received wisdom on how the modern Middle East was formed. Sweeping in its action, keen in its portraiture, acid in its condemnation of the destruction wrought by European colonial plots, this is a book that brilliantly captures the way in which the folly of the past creates the anguish of the present.
Next month, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. will publish Dissident for Life: Alexander Ogorodnikov and the Struggle for Religious Freedom in Russia (2013)by Koenraad De Wolf. The publisher’s description follows.
This gripping book tells the largely unknown story of longtime Russian dissident Alexander Ogorodnikov — from Communist youth to religious dissident, in the Gulag and back again. Ogorodnikov’s courage has touched people from every walk of life, including world leaders such as Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher.
In the 1970s Ogorodnikov performed a feat without precedent in the Soviet Union: he organized thousands of Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic Christians in an underground group called the Christian Seminar. When the KGB gave him the option to leave the Soviet Union rather than face the Gulag, he firmly declined because he wanted to change “his” Russia from the inside out. His willingness to sacrifice himself and be imprisoned meant leaving behind his wife and newborn child. Read more
This November, The Catholic University of America Press will publish Marriage on Trial: Late Medieval German Couples at the Papal Court by Ludwig Schmugge (President, Scientific Committee of the German Historical Institute, Rome, Italy), translated by Atria A. Larson (The Catholic University of America). The publisher’s description follows.
In the first detailed study of papal penitentiary materials on marriage, renowned medieval historian Ludwig Schmugge tells the exciting stories of seduced maidens, too-closely-related husbands and wives, and thousands of couples who faced lawsuits–all of whom had transgressed marriage law on various grounds in the Middle Ages. This work vividly describes many of the individual cases and offers new insight into the social and legal pressures on marriage in the Middle Ages.
At a time when betrothal, marriage, and sexual morals were strictly subject to the church’s law, petitions from couples abounded. More than two hundred clerics of the penitentiary in the papal curia devoted their time and attention to these petitions alone. With exceptional thoroughness, Schmugge sifted through the thick volumes of registers in the Vatican Secret Archives for his research. Here he presents the exciting, almost unbelievable, and often scandalous fates of these late medieval men and women, while highlighting the important connection between the papal monarchy and the social history of the laity in the later Middle Ages.
This December, University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division will publish Punishment and Penance: Two Phases in the History of the Bishop’s Tribunal of Novara by Thomas B. Deutscher (St Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan). The publisher’s description follows.
Punishment and Penance provides the first comprehensive study of an Italian bishop’s tribunal in criminal matters, such as violence, forbidden sexual activity, and offenses against the faith. Through numerous case studies, Thomas B. Deutscher investigates the scope and effectiveness of the early modern ecclesiastical legal system.
Deutscher examines the records of the bishop’s tribunal of the northern Italian diocese of Novara during two distinct periods: the ambitious decades following the Council of Trent (1563–1615), and the half-century leading up to the French invasions of 1790s. As the state’s power continued to rise during this second time span, the Church was often humbled and the tribunal’s activity was much reduced.
Enriched by stories drawn from the files, which often allowed the accused to speak in their own voices, Punishment and Penance provides a window into the workings of a tribunal in this period.