Defending Human Dignity: John Paull II and Political Realism.
By Derek Jeffreys.
Brazos. 235 pp. $19.95.
Derek Jeffreys, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, undertakes a study of the contributions of John Paul II to a Christian approach to political life and to international relations. Jeffreys pays particular attention to the influence on Karol Wojtyla of the phenomenology of Max Scheler. And so in Jeffreys' first chapter we hear little about war and peace and justice, but much about lived experience, the perception of values, the hierarchy of values, and love between persons. Though Wojtyla accepts the fundamental categories of Thomism and philosophizes within them, he also brings into his philosophizing a keen interest in the subjectivity and interiority of persons. Perhaps the most important single thought that Jeffreys gathers from Wojtylean personalism is the priority of spiritual over material values. Of course, this priority is as old as Plato. The originality of Wojtyla lies in the way he rethinks the priority in personalist terms, affirming that properly personal values rank above non- and sub-personal values. It must be said that this personalist originality of Wojtyla remains underdeveloped by Jeffreys. But he wants to engage what he calls “political realism” as a normative theory. Jeffreys finds this realism in thinkers who scorn as self-indulgent those statesmen concerned with right intentions and moral integrity. Jeffreys sees a particularly revealing mark of political realism in the resort to utilitarian calculation, which he wants to challenge by means of the teaching of John Paul II. Jeffreys is certainly right about John Paul's personalist opposition to normative realism. But John Paul is convinced that there is not only the will to power at work among nations but also the will to truth, which can stir in consciences in such a way as to exercise great influence on the course of history. Appeals to conscience can raise large and powerful legions. Jeffreys takes some notice of this in his last pages, but he would accomplish the project of his book more completely if he gave greater prominence to John Paul's teaching on the energies of the spirit powerfully at work in history. Then, too, Jeffreys makes too much of the difficulty of doing the utilitarian calculations once one has acknowledged the existence of spiritual values in addition to the obvious material values; though this is indeed a worthy argument to be made against the realists, what is more according to the mind of Wojtyla, I think, is the argument that in doing the utilitarian calculations, persons are inevitably instrumentalized. Still, we hear in Derek Jeffreys an important new Christian voice. He has meditated deeply on the legacy of John Paul and has brought it to bear in an intelligent and original way on questions of political life and international justice.
—John F. Crosby
Thomas Jefferson: Author of America.
by Christopher Hitchens.
HarperCollins. 188 pp. $19.99.
Christopher Hitchens—the same Christopher Hitchens who provided a rather unorthodox view of Mother Teresa in Missionary Position—has now given a similarly unorthodox take on America's third president. His Thomas Jefferson depicts the author of the Declaration of Independence as a pragmatic idealist. Hitchens' underlying thesis is that Jefferson in fact created the model for a conflicted America which seeks to do good but is not beyond compromising her lofty principles when convenient. The book borders on psycho-history. Hitchens posits early insecurity and low self-esteem in the young Jefferson. He believes them to be rooted in a poor relation with his mother and an awkward encounter with a Rebecca Burwell on whom he had a youthful crush. Hitchens states that these traumas were overcome by study, the practice of law, and a good marriage—but his portrayal of Jefferson's duplicity throughout his life makes the reader wonder whether he really believes that Jefferson ever overcame his early psychological damage. Hitchens' Jekyll-and-Hyde Jefferson is most obvious in his public protestations against slavery while he failed to release the slaves he held at Monticello. In a more positive light, Hitchens sees Jefferson as a visionary not bound by ideology. This is especially true of the westward expansion of the young nation. Hitchens also highlights Jefferson's uneasiness with religion. Calling the man anti-clerical, Hitchens ends up seeing Jefferson as the forerunner of contemporary America's secular creed. Hitchens is an iconoclast, but his view of Jefferson does give us an insight into this Founding Father's influence on the American psyche and thus makes a plausible argument that Jefferson helped create the nation of paradoxes that we are today.
By Garry Wills.
Viking. 208 pp. $24.95.
This is a simple and straightforward presentation for those who wish to learn the history, value, and manner of praying the rosary. After a useful introduction Wills commends the rosary by tracing its history, noting some prominent Catholics who speak of their own rosary prayer and mentioning as well some recent papal instructions encouraging its use. He points to several ways in which the rosary may be prayed and notes that the rosary “is not an assignment, just a help to contemplation and to prayer.” Even for those familiar with the rosary, the next chapter, “Elements of the Rosary,” can be helpful in its presentation of the various prayers and in introducing what Wills calls a “synchronic” understanding of history to explain the permanent contemporaneity of the events in the life of Christ. The last section of this chapter introduces Tintoretto and explains why his paintings will accompany the reflections on the various mysteries of the rosary. Wills then considers the twenty mysteries that have composed the rosary since the publication of Rosarium Virginis Mariae by Pope John Paul II. The first five are the Joyful Mysteries. In some ways these receive the best treatment from Wills. The information is helpful and the use of historical studies judicious. Wills' presentation of the Luminous Mysteries follows the same format. The treatment of the Transfiguration could have been more prolonged with the help of liturgical themes and the patristic penetration of the mystery. The meditation on the institution of the Eucharist on the other hand, is adequate, especially regarding the communal aspect of the Eucharist. The weakest of the whole twenty meditations is that on Cana and the accompanying reflections on prayer. The section on the Sorrowful Mysteries is solid, and the best treatments are those dealing with the Agony in the Garden and the Crucifixion. Wills adduces some powerful passages from Newman, Belloc, and Augustine, along with his own reflections on Tintoretto. The rather disparaging treatment of the Stations of the Cross would have been better omitted. The Glorious Mysteries are well presented and should help the modern reader understand the reality proclaimed by the Gospels and sustained by the Church. Especially to be recommended is Wills' treatment of the Marian mysteries, with which The Rosary concludes. Wills' treatment of indulgences is excessively negative and theologically superficial. He translates the Greek biblical texts himself, and while the effort to provide new wording for expressions that have often become too familiar is commendable, some of the results are distracting and even wrong, as when he translates doxa in Romans 6:4 as “dazzle” (“Christ rose from the dead in the dazzle of his Father”). Still, despite its shortcomings, this book can be recommended to those who are interested in learning how to pray the rosary or who would like a new approach to help them in a familiar devotion.