A product of the estimable Ethics and Public Policy Center, this timely collection of essays surveys the increasingly complex interaction of religion and foreign policy. An awareness of what has been termed the “desecularization of the world”—not simply the persistence of religion but its rising importance—forms the point of departure for this examination. More immediately, its essential backdrop is the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 and the heightened awareness of worldwide religious persecution, particularly of Christians, that spurred the passage of that legislation. What are we to make of this codification of religious liberty as an official U.S. foreign policy objective? The contributors who reflect on this question include such luminaries as Leo Ribuffo, J. Bryan Hehir, Samuel P. Huntington, and Charles Horner. Among the chief findings are these: that religion alone is unlikely to determine U.S. policy on any particular issue; that the impact of religion tends to be diffuse rather than focused, with many, often highly contradictory voices weighing in on multiple concerns; that a religious perspective does not necessarily guarantee wise policy outcomes; and that injecting religious concerns into foreign policy debates may improve them by making it impossible for policymakers to exclude moral and ethical considerations from their deliberations. Altogether, an informative and insightful contribution that deserves wide attention.
—Andrew J. Bacevich
Simone Weil, the French philosopher and mystic who died (some would say destroyed herself) at age thirty-four, is a cultivated taste. Many recoil at her endless self-absorption, combined with a messianic conviction that she was, by sharing in the sufferings of the world, instrumental to its redemption. What is one to think of a person who said, “When I think of the Crucifixion, I commit the sin of envy”? For innumerable others, however, Simone Weil is one of the great souls of the twentieth century, her life a point of piercing and painful spiritual luminosity in a time of deep darkness. More than a half century after her death in 1943, her books—Gravity and Grace, The Need for Roots, Waiting for God, and several anthologies—are still widely read, and friendships are formed or deepened by the discovery of a shared appreciation of her thought. Francine Gray’s gracefully written biography is in the series of Penguin Lives, and serves as a generally reliable introduction to Weil’s life and work. Ms. Gray does not resist sufficiently the temptation to psychologize, especially with respect to Weil’s anorexia and deep ambivalence about her Jewishness. After a discussion of the complexities that went into her “pathological need to share the sufferings of others,” Ms. Gray announces, ironically one supposes, “It’s as simple as that.” Nothing about Simone Weil is simple, except her devotion to truth so relentless that it obscured more obvious truths. That relentlessness accounts for her holding back from becoming a Catholic, as she knew she should, because the Church-as-it-is did not meet her standard for truth-telling. While Simone Weil gives evidence of considerable research, it is odd that closer to home Ms. Gray gets so many little things wrong. For instance, Dietrich von Hildebrand was not a priest, and Corpus Christi on Morningside Heights is not Franciscan. Weil is the subject of much hagiography, and Gray is to be commended for maintaining a critical distance. But that critical distance too often becomes a pose of superiority. Simone Weil looks into the abyss, and Ms. Gray looks at her looking into the abyss but does not look where she is looking. Ms. Gray obviously wants to be sympathetic, but at crucial points she cannot repress her impatience, saying, in effect, that Weil should have gotten a life. It is an impatience, and even repugnance, shared by many others, but an appreciation of the intellectual and spiritual genius of Simone Weil is to be found on the far side of the initial recoil, and Ms. Gray never quite gets there. To envy Christ on the cross, she says, is “dreadful,” meaning pathological. A more insightful writer, one who joined Weil in looking where she was looking rather than merely looking at her looking, might recognize in such envy an intimation of the human capacity for complete self-abandonment to love. All that having been said, Francine du Plessix Gray’s Simone Weil is, for a general readership with a limited tolerance for the extremes by which Weil was possessed, a welcome introduction.
Unlikely as it seems, this is the first full-scale biography of one of the most prominent public figures in America’s last half century. At the beginning of television, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen’s Life Is Worth Living was more popular than any program on the air. As Reeves, who has done prodigious research for this book, points out, Sheen is usually given no more than a line or two in books on the Catholic experience in America, and is totally ignored in general histories. In some accounts, he is mentioned in passing as the Catholic counterpart to Norman Vincent Peale and the “power of positive thinking” rage of the 1950s. Reeves, who has written extensively on American culture and politics, persuasively argues that this reflects a grave underestimation of the man and misunderstanding of the times. Sheen was not only a media star and masterful communicator, but an extraordinarily complex man whose flaws and strengths were intricately engaged with the dynamics of both Catholic leadership and popular culture. Today he is chiefly celebrated by Catholic conservatives for what they view as his defense of pre-conciliar Catholicism, but he was in fact an ardent champion of Vatican Council II, and in his brief, erratic, and finally sad time as Archbishop of Rochester, New York, tried to implement policies usually associated with liberalism. Combining the storyteller’s art with the critic’s eye, Reeves has produced a book that makes for a compelling read and should be of interest to anyone trying to sort out the maddening crosscurrents of Bishop Sheen’s time and ours.
Part of the invaluable “Annals of Communism” project being published by Yale. Documents from newly opened Soviet archives, presented here verbatim along with helpful commentary, demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that from the beginning in 1936 through the end in 1939 Soviet support for the Spanish Republic was aimed at creating a puppet regime and establishing a Soviet-controlled “people’s democracy” along the lines that became familiar after World War II. It is also evident that the Soviet Union aimed at bankrupting the Republican government by providing “military aid” at wildly inflated prices. Reports and other documents to and from Moscow are obsessed with factionalist disputes among those variously labeled as Trotskyists, anarcho-syndicalists, good and bad anarchists, right and left socialists, and other ideological sects all putatively allied against “the Fascists.” Although leftist atrocities against the Church, including the execution of thousands of nuns and priests, were widespread, they are nowhere mentioned in these documents. Culture, religion, and the condition of the people are conspicuous by their absence. The only concerns are ideological disputes and military fortunes. Spain Betrayed is a chilling read.
Hard as it may be to believe, it took tremendous courage for an intellectual in postwar Paris not to be a Stalinist. And Raymond Aron was among the most courageous of French intellectuals. Thanks to Transaction Publishers, Aron’s 1955 masterpiece is again in print. Reversing Marx’s famous swipe at religion—that it is the “opiate of the masses”—Aron examines the myriad ways in which ideals of justice and equality were transformed by such writers as Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty into “secular religions” that legitimated monstrous acts of evil. Although Aron’s Cold War focus and his preoccupation with half-forgotten French thinkers somewhat dates the book, his insights into the pathologies of ideological thinking—not to mention his defense of sober political judgment—make it necessary reading for anyone seeking to acquire a genuine political education. The new edition includes a powerful essay—“Fanaticism, Prudence, and Faith”—that Aron wrote to defend the book against its critics, as well as a brief but potent introduction by Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield.
Without pretension, Alan Jacobs intends these “moral essays” to be in the tradition of Samuel Johnson and, in our own times, of Orwell and C. S. Lewis. Without exaggeration, one can say that they are worthy of that honorable company. Several of the fifteen essays have appeared in these pages; all are deserving of collection in a volume that is, in the words of Gilbert Meilaender (another moral essayist of note), “wise, witty, and winsome” and sure to provoke fresh thought about how we live today. The genius of Jacobs is to take some little and everyday thing, or perhaps a neglected literary text, and to unfold it into wisdom. His elegant style and vibrant faith combine in displaying truths that, once seen, you knew you knew all along, if only you had known. But readers of Alan Jacobs already know that. Warmly recommended.
Choosing the Right College: The Whole Truth about America’s Top Schools.
Revised and Expanded Edition. Researched and written by the staff of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).
Eerdmans. 796 pp. $25
It is an odd fact that, while America’s top universities are the envy of the world (mostly because of the scientific research they produce), many of them have become places of profound moral and intellectual decay. Anyone who has spent time on a university campus in recent years knows that dorm room drug abuse and debauchery are as common as classroom demagoguery. Not that you’d hear about it from the numerous “college guides” published every year, which more often than not gloss over the manifest problems of higher education today. When it was first published in 1998, Choosing the Right College marked an important break from this conspiracy of silence. In a series of candid and crisply written essays, the book informed parents and young people about the academic, political, and social environment that prevails on dozens of campuses. Now this indispensable resource has been updated and expanded. It is an essential purchase for anyone seeking to make an informed choice concerning a college education.
“James V. Schall, S.J., is unquestionably the best, and . . . perhaps even the only, authentically Thomistic political scientist writing today.” Thus writes Marc Guerra, editor of this useful collection of Schall’s essays on such subjects as Plato, St. Augustine, St. Thomas, Lord Acton, Chesterton, Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin, Solzhenitsyn, and the relations between friendship, worship, and political philosophy, as well as between democracy and truth. If the essays included here do not fully support Guerra’s evaluation, they do make for stimulating reading. This is political theory of a very high order.
The first in a projected three-volume biography of Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei who has been beatified by John Paul II. Beginning with his birth in January 1902, and going through the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in January 1936, this volume provides exhaustive detail that will be chiefly of interest to those closely associated with “The Work.” For an official biography, the book is remarkably candid about some of the personal and spiritual conflicts that marked the founder’s early life. One hopes it will also be of interest to the many critics of Opus Dei who typically evidence scant acquaintance with the movement and the charism of its founder.
Wise, learned, and a delight to read. That cannot be said of many collections of philosophical essays. “What Is Man?” “Truth, Love, and Immortality.” “The Goodness of God.” Geach cannot be accused of refusing to take on the big questions, but he does so with a light touch that is possible only for those who take themselves lightly, knowing a Good infinitely greater.
For many years, Professor Ryan taught economics at Manhattanville College, and he was certainly not alone among professors of economics in deploring textbooks that failed to make the connections between economics, culture, and the virtues essential to a free and just society. Not content with deploring, he has written such a book himself, and it is well worth the attention of those who would better understand why economic freedom does not and cannot stand by itself.
Two million Americans are in jail, and the building and managing of prisons has become very big business. Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, believes something has got to give, and proposes the alternative of “restorative justice.” The idea is as old as the Quaker focus on penance that gave us the term “penitentiary,” and indeed as old as the Bible. Colson contends that that is an argument in its favor, and proposes ways to update an old idea. What is the alternative? Three million?
Former U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach says the War on Drugs “is this generation’s Vietnam—with ‘success’ apparently being measured by a body count filling our prisons with nonviolent users.” With a foreword by economist Milton Friedman, this book is as good a one-volume brief for decriminalizing drugs as one is likely to find. The arguments are, for the most part, persuasively stated, but will not likely convince those who doubt that letting loose yet another toxin into our culture will serve the common good.
The author has the founder of Rhode Island and great champion of religious freedom ruminating toward the end of his life in 1683 about what it all meant. The fictional “fragment of autobiography” is charming, especially in its use of the idioms of the time, and Williams’ associations with such as Sir Edward Coke and John Milton provide ample grist for historical reconstruction. Anachronisms get in the way, however. Frequently the opinions ex pressed might be those of one of Williams’ descendants today. Instead of Roger Williams’ intense Christian conviction, we get a vaguely New Ageish belief in a “Father of Lights” whose chief commandment is tolerance and whose chief interest in religion is that it not be taken too seriously. At one point a proto-feminist Williams is even worrying that the use of “mankind” might be taken to exclude women. This, if you can believe it, in the seventeenth century. It is not history, and perhaps is not intended to be, but I, Roger Williams is a generally pleasant diversion.
The author, recently ordained bishop, was for some years rector of the North American College in Rome, and for those who know him he exemplifies what it means to be the kind of priest described in this book of reflections—cheerful, devoted, theologically rooted, intellectually alive, and caught up in the adventure of serving Christ and his Church. Priests for the Third Millennium is tonic for the dispirited and spiritual wisdom for laity and priests alike.
Margaret Sanger’s The Pivot of Civilization, published in 1922, was a bestseller that did much to advance the eugenic argument against the coddling and breeding of the “unfit.” The present book includes the Sanger text and surrounds it with commentary by many others, such as the editors of the New York Times, who shared the Rockefeller family’s positive enthusiasm for improving “the human stock.” Contrarian reviews are also included, such as G. K. Chesterton’s “Eugenics and Other Evils.” The book is put together somewhat eccentrically, with too many interventions by the editor to belabor the obvious, but in a time when the language and practice of eugenics is again becoming respect able, the materials in The Pivot of Civilization in Historical Context are newly pertinent.
Yugoslavia. Serbia. Albania. Bosnia-Herzegovina. Kosovo. All but a very few Americans have not the foggiest about where these entities are or what the fighting was, and is, about. It began with a shambles and, if it ever ends, will end with a shambles. Yet some think the NATO intervention one of the necessary and world-defining actions since the fall of Soviet communism, while others, equally thoughtful, decry it as a grave injustice compounded by confusion. Buckley, who teaches ethics at Georgetown, has done an ad mirable job of pulling together statements by world leaders, victims and perpetrators of horror on all sides, and writers who have thought long and hard about the morality of war. Regrettably, and even among the publicly attentive, Kosovo was a brief and ugly nightmare we are eager to forget, hoping that it will not explode again in tomorrow’s headlines. This fine book helps us to remember, and to prepare for the Kosovos ahead.
The inspiring story of Carl Lutz, the Swiss consul in Hungary who courageously engineered the rescue of an estimated sixty-two thousand Jews in Hungary during the Holocaust. Although among the first to be honored as a righteous gentile at Yad Vashem, he and what he did have been, until now, undeservedly neglected. Foreword by Simon Wiesenthal.
Nobody can deny that there are many problems with our criminal justice system, but we really are not helped by this screed against an allegedly racist and vengeful culture that, driven by misguided Protestant notions of human depravity, is obsessed with punishment and indifferent to the alternative of rehabilitating the wrongdoer by a process of “restorative justice.” This book provides additional ammunition for those who accuse would-be reformers of the criminal justice system of indulging in uninformed moralism.
Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was a Dutch theologian, journalist, and statesman who in some ways anticipated current developments such as “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” John Bolt of Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, has for the first time brought the fullness of Kuyper’s thought to bear on American public theology—meaning a theologically informed understanding of the American experiment. Bolt recognizes that evangelicals are today drawing heavily on Catholic social teaching, and contends that Kuyperian thought can make a distinctive contribution, both as corrective and complement, to ecumenical Christian thinking about public tasks. A Free Church, A Holy Nation leaves no doubt that he is right about that.
And he does mean short. The author, dean of the Cathedral Church of the Advent (Episcopal) in Birmingham, Alabama, was inspired by Theodore Beza (1519-1605) who said that the entirety of Christian theology could be reduced to one page. Zahl’s is an exercise of more than passing interest, attempting to fit the whole counsel of God into twenty-five succinct theses. Of course nothing is treated thoroughly, never mind exhaustively, but in such short compass Zahl’s relentlessly Christ-centered approach manages to include most of the basics, imaginatively laced with literary allusions, making this an attractive introduction to the historic Christian claims about reality and our part in all that is and ever will be.
Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling.
By James W. Sire.
Intervarsity. 262 pp. $14.99 paper.
Written from an evangelical Protestant angle, this book is in one part a persuasive case for intellectual discipleship and, in another, a spirited polemic against Christian intellectuals or wannabe intellectuals who trim their thinking, at least in public, to conform to what is deemed re spectable. Both parts of the argument should be taken seriously, and not just by evangelicals.