A Russian Diary: A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin's Russia
by Anna Politkovskaya
Random House, 400 pages, $25
We may be witnessing the dying gasps of Russian democracy. Vladimir Putin has won two overwhelming electoral victories: absolute control over Russia's parliament and reelection to the presidency. One of his pretexts for centralizing power is the threat of Chechen terrorism. Anna Politkovskaya, who was assassinated before this book was published, tracks developments, particularly in Chechnya. She records interviews with everyone from its thuggish, Russian-backed president to the families of the children killed in the Beslan school siege.
When she turns to domestic politics, her flair is for showing the effect autocracy and corruption have on everyday Russian life. She is equally dour on the state of the democratic opposition with which she identifies. She contrasts its political futility—thwarted by Putin's scheming and corrupted by its own pettiness—with the increasing passion and discipline of the more radical National Bolsheviks. It all leads her ultimately to wonder whether the Russian character is predisposed to autocracy.
The diary format of the book, coupled with Politkovskaya's far-flung assignments, causes unfortunate gaps in the narrative, most notably regarding the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Politkovskaya, furthermore, is far more interested in provoking outrage than upholding any standard of objectivity. Yet that outrage is both clear and credible, with an assassin's bullet to show for it.
Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Sacred
by Philip Bess
ISI, 325 pages, $28
It is worth remembering—and it is easy to forget—that traditional design is more than a marketing fad and that urbanism is not just some recent buzzword. In Till We Have Built Jerusalem, Philip Bess goes deeper than many critics of sprawl and boosters of “new urbanism” as he explains and explores the connections between urbanism, well understood, and authentic human flourishing.
This book is wide-ranging, elegantly and evocatively written, and nicely illustrated. It wanders across a range of topics and arguments but without losing the theme. And it is a marked and refreshing improvement over those scolding, scoffing take-downs of suburbia and its residents, which seem to owe more to snobbery and disdain than to a real appreciation for the fact that who and what the human person is and does should matter to where and in what the human person lives.
Bess, who is director of graduate studies at Notre Dame's School of Architecture, puts Christian anthropology at the heart of his inquiry into the shapes, sizes, and structures of our homes. Some urbanists have observed but left underdeveloped the idea that cities should be “safe, sacred, and busy.” Bess, however, takes the time to unpack the sacramental work done not only by well-designed houses of worship but also by homes, streets, sidewalks, and porches.
—Richard W. Garnett
The Person and the Polis: Faith and Values within the Secular State
edited by Craig Steven Titus
IPS, 187 pages, $29.95
In the wake of the twentieth century's many atrocities, John Paul II diagnosed a shared cause: faulty conceptions of man. In response to flawed anthropologies and their resulting political monstrosities, Craig Steven Titus compiled The Person and the Polis by drawing on the John Henry Cardinal Newman Lecture Series, hosted by the Institute for the Psychological Sciences.
These essays provide an interdisciplinary approach to understanding human nature and the demands an adequate anthropology places on states. It begins with the Canadian philosopher Kenneth L. Schmitz exploring the action theory of John Paul II and the foundation that our understanding of the acting person lays for all future investigation. Daniel Robinson, a philosopher at Oxford, responds to the challenges of relativism while providing a rigorous defense of moral realism and our ability to know the truth, even moral truth. Robert George, legal philosopher at Princeton, articulates one political ramification of moral realism with his discussion of “public morality” and the “moral ecology” of political community: Just as the state has a legitimate interest in physical ecology, so too should it take interest in fostering a moral ecology that allows human persons and their communities to flourish. Meanwhile, Hadley Arkes decries the current state of political thought where “reasons cease to matter” and argues for a return to the logic of morality and the foundational role moral reasoning plays in any political community.
In one of the most interesting essays in the book, Paul C. Vitz provides a history of the transformation of “the modern individual to the transmodern person.” Criticizing overly individualistic conceptions of persons, Vitz proposes an alternative theory, arguing that a sound psychology defines a person as “an embodied individual substance of a rational nature who is in loving relationships with others and in relationship to the outside physical world.” Michael Novak and Romanus Cessario close the volume with considerations of larger religious questions. Novak draws on Tocqueville to show what religion adds to reason, especially in communal forms of life, while Cessario reminds readers of the central role the Church plays in transmitting “moral realism and Christian values” for the good of both temporal and eternal society.
Together the essays provide a nice overview of the many questions religious people face in secular states.
—Ryan T. Anderson
Early Modern Catholicism: An Anthology of Primary Sources
edited by Robert S. Miola
Oxford Univ. Press, 608 pages, $45
On a wall in London's Portrait Gallery hangs the Queen Elizabeth everyone imagines: arrayed like the sun, with a map of Britain under her feet, and on her head something rather like a crown of stars. This is the woman who brought England out of the Dark Ages and into the resplendence of Protestant culture, who marked the end of the Catholic story and the beginning of modernity.
Except, as a new wave of scholars has begun to point out, the recusant Catholic culture was alive, well, and surprisingly vocal. Robert Miola's Early Modern Catholicism, the fruit of a decade of archival research and editing, brings together an array of often overlooked literary, historical, and theological texts.
The sources are as varied in matter as they are in form. They span the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. While most were composed in English, there are also translated continental texts: a handful of contemporary papal bulls, along with selections from Thomas à Kempis, Teresa of Avila, and Ignatius of Loyola. Subsequent poetry and devotional writing reflect these spiritual giants, with fiery meditations on the Passion and keen emphasis on personal spirituality.
Yet Catholic writing was far from homogeneous. There are ballads of glorious gore: Let bowels be burnt, let paunch be fried / In fire ere I be dead! / O London bridge, a pole provide, / Thereon to set my head! And there are lyrics of graceful mysticism: Happy proof! She shall discover / What joy, what bliss, / How many heav'ns at once it is / To have her God become her lover. There is William Allen's call for the deposition of “wicked and noisome” Elizabeth, and there is Edmund Plowden's prayer for her longevity and fertility. There is Henry Garnet's defense of equivocation over foolhardy martyrdom, and Shakespeare's counter in Macbeth: One can commit “treason enough for God's sake, yet [can] not equivocate to heaven.”
The most notable limitation of this book is its abridgment of so many fascinating discourses, plays, and meditations. Anticipating this reaction, Miola includes extensive notes for further reading. An ideal resource for anyone serious about the Christian heritage—Catholic or Protestant—this volume opens a long-barred door in Reformation studies.
In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism Among Early Christians
by Graham H. Twelftree
Baker Academic, 352 pages, $26.99For many Christians, exorcisms seem the stuff of pious legend, not the topic of academic research. But Graham Twelftree, who has published extensively on the subject, has written a thorough, lucid survey of exorcism in the early church up to a.d. 200. Twelftree's findings lead him to conclude that exorcism ranged from being of central importance to being irrelevant in different parts of Christianity, and that interest in exorcism waned over time.
Mark and Luke, according to Twelftree, place an emphasis on Jesus's exorcisms as acts of healing that advance the kingdom of God against the forces of the devil,
and Justin Martyr sees exorcism as “the most important weapon of evangelism.” By contrast, Paul—like the author of the Didache, Ignatius of Antioch, Athenagoras, and Mat-thew—does not write about exorcism much, if at all.
Other authors focus on practices of spiritual formation in place of exorcism. The Shepherd of Hermas, for instance, teaches repentance and the cultivation of virtue as guards against the devil, and, for John, the battle against Satan is a battle of the Truth against the father of lies, a battle fought on doctrinal grounds, not in driving out demons. Those curious about the early Church's view and practice of exorcism will do well to consult Twelftree's book.