Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy
by Samuel Gregg
Edward Elgar, 216 pages, $115
Once upon a time, a political economist could write a book titled An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations and another one titled The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Not so anymore. Though derogatively called “the dismal science,” economics was originally a “moral science.” But trends in rationalism and scientism over the last two centuries turned it into a “value-free” social science—to some, just a form of applied mathematics.
Wilhelm Röpke, a neglected twentieth-century intellectual giant, stood in direct opposition to this trend. Röpke’s approach recognizes the objective aspects of the economic science but insists that normative values lie at its core; a healthy polity must move beyond calculations of utility if it is to uphold just and humane economic institutions. Samuel Gregg, author of award-winning titles such as Economic Thinking for the Theologically Minded, On Ordered Liberty, The Commercial Society ,and The Modern Papacy (on John Paul II’s and Benedict XVI’s social and political thought), highlights Röpke’s more humane approach to political economy.
Gregg offers technically sophisticated yet accessible discussions of Röpke’s analysis of the interwar economic crisis; booms, recessions, and business cycles; his via media between Keynes and Hayek on full employment, inflation, and the welfare state; and his vision for a neo-liberal international economy. Perhaps most interesting is Gregg’s discussion of Röpke’s efforts to reform the discipline of economics and political economy, striking a position “between humanism and social science.”
Röpke’s neoliberalism was founded on a Christian humanism: “My picture of man is fashioned by the spiritual heritage of classical and Christian tradition. I see in man the likeness of God; I am profoundly convinced that it is an appalling sin to reduce man to a means (even in the name of high-sounding phrases) and that each man’s soul is something unique, irreplaceable, priceless, in comparison with which all other things are as naught.” This Christian humanism has important political and economic ramifications, establishing for Röpke the true foundation of political and economic liberty that modern appeals to mere utility do not provide.
Nor do appeals to wealth. Röpke locates wealth creation “not in ‘capital,’ machine models, technical or organizational recipes or natural wealth, but in a spirit of order, foresight, combination, calculation, enterprise, human leadership and the freedom to shape life and things, also in citizenship, responsibility, loyalty to work, reliability, thrift and the urge to create, and in a civil middle class, providing the humus for all this—things, in short, which can neither be conjured up from the soil, nor imported.”
Culture, in other words, undergirds productive life. And Christian humanism best secures this culture. Röpke insists that “we need a combination of supreme moral sensitivity and economic knowledge. Economically ignorant moralism is as objectionable as morally callous economism.” Jim Wallis, take note.
Ryan T. Anderson, a member of the First Things editorial and advisory council, is editor of the online journal Public Discourse.
Christians and Pagans:
The Conversion of Britain from Alban to Bede
by Malcolm Lambert
Yale, 336 pages, $50
By the second century, Roman soldiers were bringing their new faith to Britain, and in the middle of the third century St. Alban became Britain’s first known Christian martyr, but we don’t know much more about who these Christians were, and it is here that Malcolm Lambert begins in Pagans and Christians: The Conversion of Britain from Alban to Bede, producing a captivating narrative by squeezing what he can—but no more—from archeological evidence (mostly from burial sites) and the limited historical record. He does so in a clear and prudent way delightfully free of academic theorizing.
After St. Alban, Christianity maintained a tenuous hold in Britain for four centuries as small kingdoms and many religions battled for dominance amid intermittent invasions by tribes from Ireland and the Continent, until the arrival of St. Theodore in the mid-seventh century. Lambert’s documentation and analysis of Theodore’s role as the great consolidator of the Christian presence in Britain is an important contribution to scholarship.
In his discussion of the eighth century, Lambert relies too heavily on the writings of the astonishing Bede, substantially excluding other figures who left significant paper trails of different kinds, such as St. Aldhelm, and causing him to downplay the continuing Irish influence on British Christian writing, including the shift to rhyme and accentual prosody in hymns. Christians and Pagans, despite these minor faults, is thoughtful, enjoyable, and valuable.
A. M. Juster’s translation of Tibullus’ elegies will be published in early 2012 (Oxford).
Worship and the Reality of God:
An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence
by John Jefferson Davis
Intervarsity Press, 231 pages, $22
During the past two decades an unlikely wave of liturgical enthusiasm has swept over American evangelicalism, but it is too early to tell whether or not evangelicalism, lacking any liturgical tradition of its own, has the resources to sustain a liturgical movement. Is evangelical liturgy anything more than an accommodation to the Zeitgeist? How is “blended” worship different from dabbling in “consumerism”? John Jefferson Davis’ book contributes to evangelical liturgical reform at two levels, confronting the shocking “God-vacuum” in popular evangelical worship and examining the foundational realities of worship.
With regard to the limitations of evangelical worship, Davis, a professor of theology at Gordon–Conwell Theological Seminary, has little new to say, though the familiar things he says must be said. In its more fundamental analysis of worship, the book is a mixed success. On the plus side, he makes clear that Christian worship is an encounter in Word and Sacrament with the living Christ, who is present to the church by his Spirit and who forms the church as a divine and human communion. He shows how the “ontological” scheme inculcated by Christian liturgy clashes with the contemporary worldviews of scientific naturalism and digital virtualism.
He is less successful at answering questions that liturgical skeptics are likely to ask. He convincingly describes the roots of an anti-liturgical animus, but his discussion of visual art in worship does not mention the Second Commandment, and he adopts the language of “sacred space” with only slight attention to the challenges that Protestantism raises against such a notion. Here as elsewhere it is not always evident how, or if, Davis’ theological commitments inform his liturgical sensibilities.
These limitations duly noted, it remains the case that Worship and the Reality of God will help to nurture evangelical liturgy, something very important for the future shape of evangelicalism.
Peter Leithart is senior fellow of theology and literature at New St. Andrews College.
Travelers along the Way:
The Men and Women Who Shaped My Life
by Benedict J. Groeschel
Servant Books, 159 pages, $13.99
For all the extraordinary turns his life has taken, Fr. Benedict Groeschel presents himself as an ordinary boy from New Jersey. In this book, he shares with his readers vignettes of souls he has encountered throughout his life. Some are unknown, such as the Jewish drycleaner from his neighborhood, a former nun now living as a man, and a young man he ministered to who later shot himself, and others are more famous, like Venerable Solanus Casey, Mother Angelica, Cardinals Cooke and O’Connor, and Frank and Maisie Ward. The reader comes to feel Fr. Groeschel’s delight in the holiness of ordinary lives, lives that become extraordinary as God manifests himself in the humdrum of existence.
Fr. Groeschel recalls seeing Fr. Casey in ecstasy before the Blessed Sacrament, and later as he calmed a swarm of angry bees by reaching into their hive unprotected to remove a second queen bee and then coaxed the swarm back into the hive by playing his harmonica. In their final conversation after Cardinal Dulles’ funeral service, he asked the ailing Fr. Richard John Neuhaus how he was doing. “Benedict,” RJN replied, “you and I have died once already. We’re not afraid of it the second time around.”
Nathaniel Peters is a graduate student in theology at the University of Notre Dame.
In Ishmael’s House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands
by Martin Gilbert
Yale, 448 pages, $35
In his book In Ishmael’s House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands, the prolific British historian Martin Gilbert ventures into the political minefield of historical subjects—the relation of Jews and Muslims in the Middle East—and offers a helpful survey of the schism between them from Muhammad until the present.
Seeking to correct both the myth of Islam as a peaceful haven for Jews and the counter-myth of incessant Jewish persecution under Islam, he highlights historical instances of Jewish persecution, giving specific attention to the legal basis for the status of Jews as a dhimmi, a tolerated though subjugated minority, but tempers this story by repeatedly noting the positive aspects of Jewish and Muslim coexistence. He also recognizes that the situation for Jews’ experience in Muslim lands was generally better than that under Christendom. But despite these efforts to achieve balance and moderation, Gilbert fails to avoid the pitfalls of polemic in the three-fourths of the book devoted to the twentieth century when persecution dominated relations between Muslims and Jews.
In Ishmael’s House is not intended to advance the historiography on the subject, but Gilbert’s popular audience may prefer his well-written and engaging series of facts and anecdotes.
Debra Glasberg Gail is a graduate student in Jewish history at Columbia University.
The Spirit of Father Damien: The Leper Priest
by Jan De Volder
Ignatius, 228 pages, $15.95
The physical barriers of the wild, wind-ravaged, and isolated Hawaiian Kalaupapa peninsula are a fitting symbol of the world’s understanding of the legacy of Fr. Damien of Molokai. At the base of the world’s highest sea cliffs, the Belgian missionary spent sixteen years ministering to exiled lepers quarantined on the inaccessible peninsula, bringing order and peace to a lawless and lonely leper colony; his reputation outside of Kalaupapa since his death from leprosy in 1889 has risen and fallen in changing tides of adulation and conflict.
In The Spirit of Father Damien, Jan De Volder, editor of the Flemish Catholic weekly Tertio, unpacks and clarifies the complex issues surrounding his countryman. De Volder navigates the wealth of Damien research—the book is too scholarly to be a good first introduction—evenhandedly examining his green beginnings; his headstrong nature and sometimes prickly personality; his difficult relationship with his religious superiors; the accusations and criticisms of those who knew him, some of whom were jealous; the politics of the day; his missionary style and increasing maturity; and his final and fatal purification as a priest and leper.
In addition to painting an engaging picture of the saint who, in all his human frailty, followed Christ’s example and died a martyr to charity, De Volder systematically addresses the debates over Damien’s life and spirit. The opinions of his superiors and coworkers who opposed him during his lifetime have cast serious doubt over his sanctity for more than a century, though the question of sanctity was resolved during the lengthy investigations leading up to Damien’s canonization in 2009.
Matthew and Alicia Joy Parowski spent their July 2010 honeymoon on pilgrimage to Molokai.
Modern and American Dignity:
Who We Are as Persons and What that Means for Our Future
by Peter Augustine Lawler
ISI Books, 278 pages, $26.95
In this stimulating collection of essays written while he served on the President’s Council on Bioethics, Peter Augustine Lawler proves himself again one of liberal democracy’s most perceptive friendly critics. A professor of government at Berry College, Lawler ranges widely—drawing on Socrates, Tocqueville, Solzhenitsyn, and Benedict XVI, among others—to explore the disturbing challenge modern liberalism poses to human dignity.
In a culture of self-absorption built on doubts about our own self-worth, we desperately attempt to make ourselves appealing to others—dieting, exercising, nipping, and tucking—and appear as young, beautiful, and useful as all the bodies and faces that fill our magazines, billboards, and television screens. Biotechnology promises even more dramatic changes.
He traces our unease to the father of liberal democracy, John Locke, and to his claim that what nature provides for us is “virtually worthless,” becoming valuable only when mixed with our labor. If nature is worthless (though Locke never quite said this), then even our own bodies are worthless unless we can make them appear productive, and nature itself offers no guidance for our pursuit of happiness. Instead, we have an endless assertion of whims dressed up as “rights,” leading not to more liberty but to an ever more restrictive—and eventually despotic—litigiousness.
In a superb chapter on John Courtney Murray, Lawler defends the American founders’ “implicitly Thomistic” liberalism (from which we’ve strayed), which, despite its debt to Locke, retained a conception of rights firmly grounded in natural law. Following Murray, he credits a Calvinist influence with tempering the founders’ own liberal impulses, allowing them to build “better than they knew.” He hopes that perhaps our politics may again experience a similarly fruitful tension between today’s evangelicals and secularists.
Ultimately, however, Lawler finds mere political goals—particularly “veneration” of the American founders—inadequate, implying that only “the perspective of genuine believers” can effectively secure human dignity. But these days it seems challenging enough to persuade 300 million of our fellow Americans to embrace the dignity of citizenship again without trying to convert them as well to Christianity. That we must leave to God’s grace.
John B. Kienker is managing editor of the Claremont Review of Books.
Catechism and Primary Education in Early Modern France
by Karen E. Carter
University of Notre Dame Press, 328 pages, $40
Before the seventeenth century, few rural French laymen knew basic prayers, let alone many tenets of the Christian faith, but by 1800 almost every child in France had access to some form of religious education. Boys as well as girls were expected to recite the entire catechism as a condition for first communion—and they could. In Creating Catholics: Catechism and Primary Education in Early Modern France, Karen Carter examines catechisms and visitation records from multiple dioceses to explore why, by the time of the French Revolution, French Catholics knew—and zealously embraced—“the doctrines and behaviors of their religion.”
By 1800, though there was no uniform catechism in use in France, there were 181 catechisms published in 102 dioceses. Bishops took personal responsibility for educating the young laity, selecting a catechism and distributing it in increasing numbers. During the bishops’ visitations, the curés were required to produce children who could recite that catechism perfectly.
Carter delves into the details of parish schools, the problems of maintaining sexually segregated classrooms, and the limitations of this type of education. Her detailed study highlights the importance of an engaged laity and shows the importance of strong episcopal leadership, and, although she resists the conclusion, she demonstrates the effectiveness of memorizing a catechism in teaching basic principles.
The difficulty with the book lies in Carter’s evaluation of early modern Catholicism: Although she quotes frequently from the catechetical texts, her own language reveals that she does not regard religion as much more than a mode of social control. At one point, for example, Carter describes beautifully the creedal portions of the Catholic belief in the sacraments, only to end by claiming that “the entire purpose of the sacraments was to give an outward sign of belief.”
Despite these limitations, Creating Catholics contributes significantly to our understanding of early modern history and offers a model for effective catechesis today.
Eleanor Everett Pettus is a doctoral student in history at the University of Notre Dame.