By François Furet and Ernst Nolte.
Translated by Katherine Golsan, with a preface by Tzvetan Todorov.
University of Nebraska Press. 100 pp. $35.
The late French historian François Furet’s magisterial 1995 book on communism and the drama of the twentieth century, The Passing of an Illusion, devoted a long footnote to German historian Ernst Nolte’s controversial interpretation of European fascism. A remarkable exchange of letters ensued between the two men, exploring the continuities and disagreements in their views on totalitarianism. Published as a small book in France shortly after Furet’s death in 1997, and ably translated into English here, the letters represent a true dialogue: respectful, even when differences are deep, in search of the truth. Both authors embrace what Nolte calls a “genetico–historical” approach to the rise of fascism and Nazism. But for Nolte, fascism emerged as a defensive reaction to the menace of communism. Furet, in sharp contrast, sees the two totalitarian movements as dangerously utopian efforts to overcome the spiritual dissatisfactions of liberal democratic modernity. Furet rightly criticizes Nolte’s causal explanation of fascism and Nazism as exculpatory, inadequate to the full horror—and revolutionary nature—of national and racial totalitarianism, yet he refuses to dismiss his German counterpart’s important writings as those of a Hitler apologist, as many on the left have hastily done. Nolte makes clear that he fully acknowledges the exceptional status of the destruction of European Jews in the Holocaust, though he takes too seriously the arguments of Holocaust deniers—if only to rebut them. The exchange ends with a meditation by Furet on “the melancholy backdrop” of the end of the millennium, where he sees an unrepentant left seeking “the oldest dream of modern democracy”—to separate democracy and capitalism, when they run inevitably together—and a triumphant global capitalism eroding cultural differences, with unpredictable but potentially tragic consequences. To get the most from reading these often profound and subtle letters, one should also read The Passing of an Illusion, and have at least some familiarity with Nolte’s sadly out–of–print Three Faces of Fascism.
—Brian C. Anderson
Education based upon religious convictions is accused of everything from dividing society into warring camps to indoctrinating children in a way that prevents them from achieving autonomy and critical consciousness. Religious schools, it is charged, deny opportunities to poor and minority children while failing to provide an adequate education to those pupils unfortunate enough to attend them. Hotbeds of intolerance, they deny academic freedom to their staffs and engage in censorship of what their pupils may read or discuss, unlike public schools, which practice a careful neutrality and respect toward all opinions. It matters little that none of these charges stands up under careful investigation, or that remarkably little empirical evidence has been advanced to support them. Nor does it seem to matter that the same charges have been massively refuted by historical experience since the 1830s, when, in response to the “common school” movement, explicitly Catholic and Protestant schools were established, to a similar chorus of warnings. With a consistency rare in educational research, studies have found that pupils in and graduates of religious schools are, if anything, more tolerant of racial and religious differences than are those educated in public schools. Elmer John Thiessen, who teaches philosophy at a public university in Canada, deals with each of the accusations and shows how they all rest upon either an ignorance of the facts or a misunderstanding of the issues, and often upon both. His new book is the most comprehensive and systematic treatment of these controversial questions now available. Arguably the most interesting part of his argument is its recapitulation of his 1993 book, Teaching for Commitment. The charge that religious schools (and families) necessarily “indoctrinate” is based, Thiessen shows, upon a misunderstanding of the role of commitments in the formation of those qualities of character that allow for openness to others and respect for their beliefs. “It would seem,” he writes in his new book, “that a stable and coherent primary culture is essential for children to develop a sense of identity, which is in turn a prerequisite to developing a tolerant and loving relationship with others. . . . Tolerance grows out of security and acceptance.”
—Charles L. Glenn
This book by John E. Hare, son of influential (and recently deceased) philosopher R. M. Hare, is full of stimulating ideas that call for elaboration. Hare takes on important arguments of our day while doing historical philosophy. He begins by presenting a novel, brief history of arguments in analytic philosophy between moral realism (the view that moral properties are objectively real) and moral expressivism (the view that moral judgments are subjective expressions). He reads the debate as a series of concessions that culminate in his own “prescriptive realism,” according to which moral evaluation responds to a call that, while it comes from outside ourselves, is fitting to agents like ourselves, and which we must endorse or resist. Later sections of the book, which are more accessible and engaging for the general reader, focus on Duns Scotus’ Divine Command Theory (DCT). Following Scotus, Hare argues that morality supervenes on, but cannot be deduced from, our nature. He is thus against natural law theory but for a DCT in which God, by creating rational creatures, is bound to make their highest end a relationship with the divine persons, but free to pursue that end via any number of routes. God’s commands announce which route God has selected. Hare argues that such a morality is not arbitrary, because it fits the nature God gave us in creation; still, it is contingent, and the “second table” of the Ten Commandments might have been rather different, had God decided to make it so. In the end, Hare defends DCT against the well–known charge that it is heteronymous by offering an unusual reading of Kant that challenges those who dismiss his theological writings for their hostility to orthodox piety. Those with some training in theological ethics will find Hare’s reflections on enduring moral questions to be a welcome stimulus to deeper thinking.
Whatever may be his declining electoral fortunes—and there is no doubt about his current political marginalization—Patrick Buchanan speaks for many angry and disaffected Americans who alternate between what they perceive as the triumph of the liberal elites and a bellicose resolve to launch a counterrevolution. The author declares, “Political adversaries who use terms like Nazi, fascist, anti–Semite, nativist, homophobe, bigot, xenophobe, and extremist have started a fight and should be accommodated.” Mr. Buchanan, of course, has been called all those things, and he’s not going to take it lying down. The present book, subtitled “How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization,” is a thesaurus of quotations from people on the variegated left who, whether they mean it or are just playing radical games, have declared war on our country, Western civilization, and common sense. Buchanan depicts, with the help of depressingly indisputable data, the apparent death wish of European countries that have stopped having babies and face the prospect of losing their national identities under the pressure of Muslim immigration and EU homogenization. Less persuasive is his equating that with Mexican immigration in this country. Latinos are, after all, overwhelmingly Christian, and even Catholic, and Buchanan’s most emphatic affirmation, in agreement with a distinguished line of conservative thinkers, is that culture is grounded in cult. The chapter on the civil rights establishment, and its fulfillment of Eric Hoffer’s maxim that every cause eventually becomes a business and then a racket, is also effective, as is his critique of the “world citizenship” fantasies surrounding the UN and cognate institutions. Many readers who agree that the U.S. was intended to be a republic and not an empire will nonetheless disagree with what can only be described as the author’s radical isolationism, including his restated doubts as to whether World War II was ours to fight and his suggestion that Israel is, at least in the long term, a lost cause. It should be noted that the book was essentially written before September 11, and some last minute stitchings about what the war on terrorism might mean for the world and American culture do not sit well with the burden of his argument. The Death of the West is a high–decibel jeremiad that calls the sullenly resentful to stop whining and man the barricades. It gives voice to a brand of radical conservatism that is determined not to be ignored. One can too easily imagine political and ideological reconfigurations in which it cannot be ignored.
In his third—or is it the fourth?—ambitious book in the past twelve months, Judge Posner ransacks what must be an impressive file of clippings to support his charge that those who are called public intellectuals, and academics who moonlight as such, are frequently irresponsible. He recommends that academics stick to their specialty, where colleagues can hold them accountable for what they say. Posner’s specialty is the law. Public Intellectuals is persuasive evidence in support of his recommendation.
This is clearly a labor of love. Addams, forever associated with Hull House in Chicago and the settlement movement it generated, was once, Elshtain plausibly asserts, the best known and perhaps the most admired woman in America. She alienated many during World War I with her outspoken pacifism, and by the time she died at age seventy–five in 1935 her reputation was in deep eclipse. Elshtain believes that her mistakes, and there were many, were those of a large and generous heart, and that her writings, especially those on an earlier and more humane vision of feminism, deserve renewed attention today. Jane Addams is an important part of the American story, and in Jean Elshtain she has found an affectionate and discerning biographer.
The clue to the fatal charm of Nat Hentoff is the virtue of honesty. He also writes very well—on jazz, civil liberties, and people who are ignored because they are of no political importance to the right or the left. He has been causing trouble for decades, in the Village Voice, the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, and his own syndicated column. He’s a “First Amendment absolutist” who believes nothing should be censored, and a powerful advocate of the rights of the unborn and the disabled. He won the friendship of the scatological comedian Lenny Bruce and of the champion of Catholic orthodoxy, John Cardinal O’Connor. Nat Hentoff is Nat Hentoff, and this book brings together some of the best of the many reasons for paying attention to one of the great contrarians of our time.
The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs.
By David Pryce–Jones.
Ivan R. Dee. 464 pp. $16.95 paper.
A grim but immensely readable and informative account of the Arab world and the Arab mind, first published in 1989 and reissued with a post–September 11 preface by the author. The interpretation is the more convincing by virtue of being several steps removed from the exigencies of pres ent conflicts. Concentrating on the Middle East since World War II, Pryce–Jones shows how one Arab regime after another has been but a repeat of tribal allegiances played out in a pattern of lust for power and revenge, reflecting a shame–honor culture that leaves no room for the concept, never mind the pursuit, of the common good. We have to hope that The Closed Circle is not the last word, but it is a powerfully sobering story that severely tempers any hopes that the Arab world will be moving toward the establishment of free and democratic societies in the foreseeable future.
Admirers of Duffy’s justly acclaimed The Stripping of the Altars will welcome this extended footnote to his argument that the Protestant Reformation was, for the most part, an elitist and violent imposition upon a solidly Catholic England. Morebath is a small sheep–farming village on the southern edge of Exmoor, and from 1520 to 1574 its parson, Sir Christopher Trychay (Catholic priests were then called “Sir” rather than “Father”), kept minute and still extant accounts of church life, which was then coterminous with village life. It is a poignant story of people trying to hold on to their faith and community, but finally coming to terms with changes to which royal power gave the appearance of inevitability.
Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought.
Edited by Michael McConnell et al.
Yale University Press. 510 pp. $26.95 paper.
Many years ago Harold J. Berman, who writes the Foreword to this volume, published a little book on the relationship between religion and law, which came as something of a surprise to a legal profession that, with few exceptions, assumed there was none. This book is evidence of how much has changed, and how much is still to be done. Thirty essays, some of them by FT contributors, cover everything from liberal theory to race theory to feminism to the anthropological presuppositions of criminal law, all written from explicitly Christian perspectives.
Patriotism and Fraternalism in the Knights of Columbus.
By Christopher J. Kauffman.
Herder & Herder. 174 pp. $19.95.
An institutional history of the Fourth Degree, or “Sir Knights,” of the large and influential fraternal organization of lay Catholics. There are no surprises or exposés with respect to the internal workings of the K of C, but Kauffman supplies a useful account of the range of the organization’s good works over more than a century, and the book is especially rich in its attention to the various faces of the anti–Catholicism that it attempted to counter.
His Inventions So Fertile: A Life of Christopher Wren.
By Adrian Tinniswood.
Oxford University Press. 462 pp. $35.
Wren left almost nothing in the way of letters, journals, or other personal testimony, so this wholly admiring story is told on the basis of his works. Chiefly, of course, the churches and other architectural monuments erected after the great fire of London in 1666. What the author cannot tell us about Wren the man is, in part, compensated by engagingly instructive excurses on science, religion, politics, and courtly goings–on in seventeenth–century England.
The first in what is planned as a multi volume translation of Lexikon für Theologie unter Kirche, originally edited by Karl Rahner and, in its revised edition, by Walter Cardinal Kasper. This is a splendid resource. The articles are, with few exceptions, thorough, careful, and balanced in their judgments. One hopes the publisher will be able to reduce the price for forthcoming volumes. And surely an English–language translation can manage to get more English–language sources in the extensive, but German–dominated, bibliographies appended to almost every article.
An intelligent and fair–minded overview of how Catholic laity—from Dorothy Day and Mario Cuomo to the lesser known—understand the living out of their faith, concluding with the recognition of tensions between affirming lay vocations and church authority.