The Church and the Left
by Adam Michnik, edited, translated, and with an Introduction by David Ost
University of Chicago Press, 301 pages, $24.95
First published in Paris in 1977 and smuggled back into Poland as samizdat, Adam Michnik's Church, Left, Dialogue (the book's original title) was a crucial contribution to the rapprochement between Poland's traditionally anticlerical intelligentsia and the Catholic Church: a reconciliation that would pay rich dividends during the formation of Solidarity and its struggle for survival under martial law, and in the triumph of the democratic resistance in 1989. Michnik, an historian from a secular (indeed, Communist) Jewish background, was also one of the most prescient analysts of the seismic impact of Pope John Paul II's pilgrimage to his homeland in 1979, describing it as a great “lesson in dignity” and a clarion call to “shun those dishonorable ways” by which people compromised with the Communist culture of the lie. And for all that he has become a vocal critic of several aspects of the Church's public role since 1989, Michnik's brilliant evocation of the anti-culture of totalitarianism and his analysis of the Church's distinctive contribution to the reconstruction of civil society in Communist-occupied Poland remain worth reading. The same cannot be said, alas, of David Ost's “Introduction,” a nasty piece of ideological spin-doctoring, some of whose caricatures would be risible were they not so wrongheaded. Ost, for example, describes the Solidarity theologian Josef Tischner as an exponent of “Catholic fundamentalism”; what would we think of a Polish analyst of the American Catholic scene who dismissed Father Avery Dulles in those terms? (Answer: We would think him ill-informed, meshugge, or malicious.) The Polish Church, now in the midst of a fascinating and wide-ranging debate over its role(s) in democratic Poland, deserves better than this.
A Time for Healing: American Jewry Since World War II
by Edward S. Shapiro
Johns Hopkins University Press, 313 pages, $29.95
The fifth and final volume in “The Jewish People in America” series, A Time for Healing is a lucid overview of recent Jewish history in the United States, covering, among other topics, the dwindling of anti-Semitism after 1945 (it peaked during the Depression and World War II), the development of American Jewish institutions, the fulfillment of the promise of social mobility, changing settlement and demographic patterns, the impact of feminism, and the evolution of religious practice. One of the most interesting sections is Chapter 6, “Judaism, American Style,” a concise and perceptive analysis of the unexpected reemergence of Orthodoxy, the decline of the Conservative movement, and the growth of Reform Judaism as it has moved to the right and the left simultaneously. While celebrating the material and professional success of Israel in America, the author is uneasy about the degraded quality of Jewish religious life here. He is pessimistic about assimilation but still manages to conclude with a guarded optimism that echoes the sociologist Marshall Sklare: “Jews have survived one crisis after another, and perhaps they will also survive the freedom and prosperity of America.”
Undue Process: A Story of How Political Differences are Turned Into Crimes
by Elliott Abrams
Free Press, 243 pages, $22.95
Whatever Americans think of Iran/Contra, Oliver North, or Ronald Reagan's Latin American policies, they should be outraged over this book's harrowing description of the criminal prosecution of an honorable public servant for the legitimate performance of his duties. Elliott Abrams, former Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, found himself the target of prosecution by Judge Lawrence Walsh just prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations. The author offers a daily chronicle of his tribulations. It is a candid account that provides amazing insight into the mind of a wrongly persecuted individual. Abrams also describes the impact of this traumatic event on his wife and three children. The legal terror stems from a vindictive Congress allowing uncontrolled lawyers with unlimited time, money, and egos intent on securing a big name prosecution to make their reputation. The moral integrity of the justice system in America is clearly undermined by an approach that first selects the hapless victim to be prosecuted, and then picks the crimes with which to charge him. Many have wondered about the millions squandered on futile prosecutorial efforts. This powerful book will enrage the reader with the attempts by Walsh and his cronies to criminalize the conduct of foreign policy.
Modern Fascism: Liquidating the Judeo-Christian Worldview
by Gene Edward Vieth
Concordia, 187 pages, $15.95 paper
The author's contention is that fascism as a “particular mode of tyranny” did not die with the destruction of the axis powers in World War II—that fascism remains a temptation as long as certain cultural and intellectual tendencies have force in the modern world. These tendencies include: social alienation seeking to recover primitive harmonies with the community and with nature; anti-intellectual romanticism and vitalism; idolization of a “folk” or nation; an embrace of eugenics, euthanasia, and abortion; moral relativism culminating in nihilism and the will to power. Such habits of mind, the author suggests, are now more common on the left than on the right, though traditional right-left dichotomy breaks down under the analysis here. This brief book does not provide an account of the concrete political circumstances that might lead to a recrudescence of fascism, but it does an excellent job of explaining modern fascism as a kind of neopagan impulse that seeks to reverse the civilizing effects of Christianity and Judaism. The radical character of modern paganism/fascism serves, unwittingly, to demonstrate that these two faiths, though historically at odds, possess a high degree of moral and intellectual compatibility. Indeed, the author argues convincingly, the Nazi campaign of extermination against the Jews was not merely an extreme instance of ethnic, religious, or racial hatred, but part of a broad attack against God, the idea of transcendence, and the moral and religious order.
A Jewish Conservative Looks at Pagan America
by Don Feder
Huntington House, 238 pages, $19.99 cloth, $9.99 paper
The corruption of American culture and morals as seen by Don Feder, editorial writer for the Boston Herald and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist. The book is a collection of Feder's recent articles and speeches on such topics as the breakdown of the family, the loss of traditional religious faith, the epidemic of sexual license (including pornography and homosexuality), the rise of feminism, abortion, divorce, drugs, crime, and “new age” religions and cults. A highly readable survey of the issues constituting our current “culture wars,” with a slant that is sometimes specifically Jewish but mainly Judeo-Christian in the broadest sense.