Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Edwards, and the Representation of American Culture
edited by Barbara B. Oberg and Harry S. Stout
Oxford University Press, 230 pages, $35
Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards have frequently been studied as competing character types in American culture: with Franklin embodying the secular Yankee attributes of utilitarian worldliness and virtue, and Edwards representing the Puritan strain of evangelical piety and faith. In this collection of provocative essays, the two men emerge, as the editors put it, “as contrapuntal themes in a larger unity,” less as simple contradictions within the national character than as clarifications of “the similarities and the differences existing in creative tension.” The Franklin/Edwards comparison is conducted in three broad areas: Mind (i.e., questions of truth, the affections, and human nature), Culture (including topics such as humor, love, women, virtue, and self-promotion), and Language (rhetoric and style). Of more than passing interest to students of culture and the role of religion in public life, as well as to Americanists.
Apple of Gold: Constitutionalism in Israel and the United States
by Gary Jacobsohn
Princeton University Press, 284 pages, $39.50
A comparison of the constitutions of Israel and the United States highlighting the differences between Israeli communitarianism and American individualism. Laws that would be unthinkable under the U.S. Constitution because they discriminate on the basis of religion or ethnicity—albeit for the common good—are taken for granted in Israel. A 1962 law, for instance, forbids the raising of pigs by Jews and Muslims, but does not apply to Christians. Conversely, Israelis would regard as strange and unhealthy some of the libertarian aspects of American constitutionalism whereby individual rights trump collective considerations. The author, Woodrow Wilson Professor of Government at Williams College, gives a balanced and sympathetic treatment in which both legal systems are, for all their differences, shown to be within the pale of liberal constitutionalism. Set in a the broad context of theology, political philosophy, and legal theory, this is an important book for anyone interested in how principles of liberal democracy interact with communitarian and religious ideals.
Observing America's Jews
by Marshall Sklare
University of New England Press, 289 pages, $39.95
Marshall Sklare, who died in March 1992, was widely regarded as the premier sociologist of Judaism in America. These previously published essays, mostly from the 1970s, are not always entirely up to date, but they are still classics. Whether discussing problems of assimilation, attitudes toward Israel, or the varieties of Jewish religious practice, Sklare's sociology always went beneath the surface, giving these observations an enduring value and relevance.
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity
by James Fitzjames Stephen
edited by Stuart D. Warner
Liberty Fund, 270 pages, $25 cloth, $7.50 paper
An undeservedly neglected classic in a splendid new edition, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity was initially prepared as a refutation of the concept of freedom advanced in John Stuart Mill's essay On Liberty. Stephen's treatise is both a vital document of Victorian intellectual history and a timeless work of political philosophy that demolishes the perennial temptation to a Religion of Humanity. With a truth no less fresh today than when it was written in 1873, Stephen denied (contra Mill) that “the human . . . race has before it splendid destinies of various kinds, and that the road to them is to be found in the removal of all restraints on human conduct. . . .”
Interpreters of Judaism in the Twentieth Century
edited by Steven T. Katz
B'nai B'rith, 423 pages, $29.95 cloth, $19.95 paper
Short essays summarizing the ideas of twenty contemporary Jewish religious thinkers: Berkovits, Borowitz, Fackenheim, Greenberg, Hartman, Herberg, Heschel, Hunter, Jacobs, Leibowitz, Levinas, Rotenstreich, Rubenstein, Scholem, Schwartzschild, Schweid, Soloveitchik, Strauss, Wiesel, and Wyschogrod. The contributors are themselves distinguished writers and the essays, not surprisingly, tend to be of a very high caliber. There are excellent bibliographies and references for those wanting to do further reading. This volume is part of the B'nai B'rith History of the Jewish People series.