So this review was written by a distinguished political theory guy who isn’t particularly close to my general orientation. You can tell he didn’t like the book all that much. But I still appreciate the opening words:
Lawler, Peter Augustine. Modern and American dignity: who we are as persons, and what that means for our future. ISI Books, 2010. 278p index; ISBN 9781935191896, $26.95. Reviewed in 2011aug CHOICE.
In a collection of 12 essays, written with grace, wit, and irrepressible self-assurance, Lawler (Berry College) explores the moral, philosophical, and religious sources of human dignity. As a member of President Bush’s controversial Council on Bioethics, Lawler argues that human rights and choices must rest on human dignity, and that dignity requires ontology—a concept of a person as a whole being—at odds with both neo-Darwinian sociobiology and Enlightenment individualism. Drawing from Aristotle, Augustine, and Tocqueville, and addressing a host of contemporary writings, Lawler challenges the modern notion that “dignity is displayed in the freedom that produces the rational control allowing us to give orders to nature, including our own bodies.” Indeed, “it’s inhuman and undignified to feign indifference to the answers to the theological questions we can’t help but raise.” Essays on natural law and the American founding suggest that these sources of human dignity can shield us from both technocratic hubris and moral nihilism. Charles Taylor, in Ethics of Authenticity (1992), and Steven White, in Sustaining Affirmation (2000), provide equally strong critiques of modern individuality but suggest quite different answers. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers; upper-division undergraduate students and above. — E. J. Eisenach, emeritus, University of Tulsa