Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

No Longer Exiles: The Religious New Right in American Politics
edited by Michael Cromartie
Ethics and Public Policy Center, 153 pages, $18.95

To list the participants in the discussions from which this book emergedis to recommend the book most highly: George Marsden, Grant Wacker, Robert Booth Fowler, Robert Wuthnow, James Davison Hunter, Carl F. H. Henry, George Weigel. The press goes on about the ups and downs of the “Religious New Right” and the “Christian Right,” generally failing to recognize the long-term consequences of a basic realignment in American religio-political life. This discussion is a bracing and informative antidote to the superficiality of most treatments of Christians who are “no longer exiles” in American public life.

The Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism: Jewish and Christian Ethnicity in Ancient Palestine.
by Doron Mendels
Doubleday, 450 pages, $35

Mendels seems unaware that the term “nationalism” is anachronistic when speaking of antiquity (this book covers the period from 200 b.c. to 135 a.d. ), yet as a survey of how Jewish attitudes toward temple, territory, kingship, and army were influenced by the Hellenistic kingdoms that surrounded them in the Hasmonean period the book is useful. The title (especially “Christian ethnicity in ancient Palestine”) promises more than it delivers.

”Robert L. Wilken

Jesus Acted Up: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto
by Robert Goss
HarperCollins, 240 pages, $19

In a longish appendix, Goss, formerly a Jesuit priest, explains his debt to Michel Foucault, the French thinker who fathered deconstructionism and died of AIDS. The disquisition on Foucault is among the intellectual pretensions of this hate-filled “queer” rant against Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular. “Queer dissidents can follow in the footsteps of the queer Christ; they can stop the church. Like Jesus, queer Christians can: ACT UP! FFIGHT BACK! END HATE!” That is the author’s final line, and it pretty well summarizes the tone and substance of the book.

A Generation of Seekers: The Spiritual Journeys of the Baby Boom Generation
by Wade Clark Roof
HarperCollins, 311 pages, $20

Roof is a premier sociologist of religion and here presents disturbing findings, disturbing also to him. Whether Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish, whether liberal or conservative, survey research suggests that the baby boom generation is “into” religious muddle. The big “values” are choice, tolerance of different lifestyles, mixing religion and psychology, and doing what works for you. Roof calls this religious consumerism and individualism “transformed narcissism,” and he dolefully suggests that it is the American religious future. There are undoubted charms in a do-it-yourself syncretism, but they are not the faith-compelling charms of a coherent belief system. If Roof is right”and his data and arguments are persuasive”the question “What’s so special about Christianity?” or “What’s so special about Judaism?” has not been effectively answered for the generation now coming into its own.

Basic Christian Doctrine
by John H. Leith
Westminster/John Knox Press, 350 pages, $19.99 paper

Leith, professor emeritus at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, continues to be one of the most convincing exponents of Christian orthodoxy in Calvinist perspective. The book is what the title suggests, and it should be welcomed by those in the Reformed tradition, and by others who want to understand that important part of the Christian reality.

The Restless Mind: Alexis de Tocqueville on the Origin and Perpetuation of Human Liberty
by Peter Augustine Lawler
Rowman & Littlefield, 200 pages, $21.95 paper

A learned and sympathetic profile of Tocqueville and his thought, with particular note of his debt to Pascal. The author suggests that our time, far from being the end of history, could be the new beginning of an understanding of the political that is based upon the human aspiration to a freedom that cannot be comprehended or contained by theory. Toward that end, he persuasively recommends Tocqueville as our guide.

The Spirit of Community: Rights, Responsibilities, and the Communitarian Agenda
by Amitai Etzioni
Crown, 323 pages, $22

In 1991 Etzioni issued a manifesto that launched what came to be called “the communitarian movement.” The document was subscribed by a broad array of thinkers and political actors, gaining deserved attention for a position that intends to rehabilitate down-home truths about the necessary connections between rights and responsibilities. The author refuses to bite the bullet on such controverted issues as abortion (we can, he says, agree to disagree), but this elaboration of the original manifesto contributes to our political culture a set of arguments that constitute more than an attempted “middle way” between conservative and liberal. With an eye on very practical politics, Etzioni invites readers to reconsider fundamental ideas about the nature of politics in a nation conceived as a community of communities.

Solzhenitsyn and the Modern World
by Edward E. Ericson, Jr.
Regnery Gateway, 433 pages, $24

It may be difficult for some to remember the astonishing impact of Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the early 1970s. He was lionized in the West as a Soviet “dissident,” and seemed to sweep all before him after receiving the Nobel Prize for literature. After his expulsion from the Soviet Union, he took up residence in Vermont and began to address also the deficiencies of Western culture. Many intellectuals had begun to sour on Solzhenitsyn before that, but his commencement address at Harvard in 1978 was for many others the breaking point. Ericson of Calvin College in Michigan has been following Solzhenitsyn and his influence from the beginning, and in the present book he offers an admirable analytical chronicle of the ways in which Western intellectuals have misunderstood and distorted the person and work of Solzhenitsyn over the years. Solzhenitsyn is antimodern, antidemocratic, anti-Semitic, and a dangerous Slavic nationalist, it was variously charged. Ericson takes on each of these claims with great care and persuasive force. It becomes evident in his account that the response to Solzhenitsyn may not be the litmus test but is certainly a test of intellectual and moral integrity among Western thinkers. If they read this book, as they should, many will have reason to hang their heads in shame. Ericson does not deny that at points Solzhenitsyn may have inadvertently contributed to misunderstandings; he has indulged in the rhetorical excesses that typically attend prophecy. The author effectively makes the case that, although often not put in these terms, the deepest objection to Solzhenitsyn was the overt and explicit manner in which he spoke about faith in God and the importance of Orthodoxy to the future of Russia. Solzhenitsyn offended, and made no apology for offending, the secularist sensibilities of the cultural leadership in the West. (Ericson perhaps underestimates the degree to which Solzhenitsyn’s support for a vigorous prosecution of the U.S. war in Vietnam alienated many of his former admirers.) Solzhenitsyn has been very quiet in the 1980s. Soon, it is reported, he and his family will be returning to Russia. That will almost certainly revive public interest in him and his work. Meanwhile, Edward Ericson has cleared the record of the many spurious charges that have been brought against Solzhenitsyn and, perhaps, prepared the way for a new and better-informed appreciation of one of the moral and intellectual icons of the twentieth century.

Challenging the Civil Rights: Establishment: Profiles of a New Black Vanguard
by Joseph G. Conti and Brad Stetson
Praeger, 240 pages, $22.95

On this account, the existence of a black underclass has less to do with racism than with misguided government policies that perversely harm the people they are designed to help, and with a disintegration in the black community of society’s “little platoons,” e.g., families, churches, neighborhood associations. Though many of the arguments here will be familiar to readers of this journal, the book is noteworthy, among other reasons, for its intellectual profiles of four black writers”Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, Robert Woodson, and Glenn Loury”who oppose the current civil rights establishment, with its emphasis on renewal via a massive, bureaucratic welfare state.