The Philosopher and the Provocateur: The Correspondence of Jacques Maritain and Saul Alinsky. Edited by Bernard Doering.
University of Notre Dame Press. 118 pages, $25.95.
For those of us who knew of the warm friendship that existed between Jacques Maritain and Saul Alinsky, it always seemed to be one of the most improbable. Maritain was a prominent Thomist, a French Roman Catholic often referred to by his friends as “gentle Jacques”; Alinsky was an agnostic Jew, a street-tough, radical activist who had founded the Back of the [Chicago] Yards Neighborhood Council. Yet when they met, probably in the early 1940s, they became friends almost immediately, joined, it would seem, only by their abhorrence of social injustice. As the letters and telegrams gathered in this slim volume attest, that friendship deepened and ripened over the years. They not only exchanged ideas, they opened up their hearts to each other, praising (and gently criticizing) each other’s work, rejoicing together at either’s accomplishments, and consoling the other at times of distress and deep loss. When Alinsky’s first wife died in a drowning accident, Maritain, responding for himself and his own wife, wrote: “My beloved Saul, our hearts are full of your distress and agony, and what is our love capable of, unless suffering with you? Everything human is powerless in the face of such a tragedy. There is no help on earth. We pray for you.” Alinsky opened his return letter thus: “Jacques dear, I wept over your letter. It has been placed in a special folder where I can always look at it. I want my children to know it so that in later years they will understand how their parents lived and died.” Their exchange of letters, a moving testimony to what deep, intimate, and open friendship can be, ended only with the death of Alinsky in 1972. (Maritain died the following year.) The editing, annotation, and introduction by Bernard Doering, who has translated and edited other correspondence of Maritain, are exemplary.
” James Finn
Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s. By Ann Douglas.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 604 pages, $25.
This is a marvelous mess of a book. The author says that she several times put the manuscript aside, not knowing where it was going. It shows. The book does not so much go anywhere as it simply piles story upon story, character upon character, anecdote upon anecdote, and laces the whole thing with usually insightful cultural criticism. What makes it a mess is also what makes it marvelous. Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin crowd, Hemingway, Josephine Baker, Fitzgerald, Gershwin, Freud, Freeman Gosden, Fats Waller, W. E. B. DuBois, and thousands (at least it seems like thousands) of lesser characters strut or crawl across these pages. Anything having to do with Manhattan in the 1920s warrants notice. I think I spotted the kitchen sink at least once. The smart crowd of the jazz age were, all in all, human disasters in Ms. Douglas’ telling. They drank and preened, and drank and congratulated themselves on being perfectly unprecedented, and drank and slept around, and drank. The argument, so to speak, is that after the Great War the entire world was Manhattan, or gravitated around Manhattan. Having determined to reject the confinements of the past, painfully sophisticated white people sought to construct a new way of life by entering the world of black folk, and from that came the “Harlem Renaissance.” Making regular appearances is the thesis from the author’s earlier book, The Feminization of American Culture (1977). The madcap and less interestingly mad ways of the 1920s smart set was a rebellion against the “Titaness,” the matriarchal dominance of culture since the late nineteenth century. According to Douglas, these people frequently knew what they were rebelling against, including religion that had been thoroughly feminized. When they described themselves as “the lost generation,” the phrase resonated with the flaunted despair of eternal damnation. Unlike those who have posed as the avant garde in subsequent generations, the cultural radicals of the 1920s had at least the memory of a religious orthodoxy against which to protest. The smart set of today have to make it up as they go along, manufacturing both their oppressions and liberations, since they have no history to provide either. That is not exactly what Ms. Douglas says but it seems it is what she might have said had she decided to offer us an argument rather than the wonderful mishmash of Terrible Honesty . Readers who love New York and those who at least recognize that, for better and worse, American culture cannot be understood apart from New York will relish this book. It is a very big book, so if you are not interested in extended biographical accounts, laundry lists included, of very minor characters, you need not feel bad about skipping a dozen pages here or there. Were I not such a conscientious reviewer, it is what I would have done. On the other hand, I might then have missed much that I greatly enjoyed, and from which I have possibly benefited, although I know not quite how.
” Janet Marsden
Cosmos Crumbling: American Reform and the Religious imagination. By Robert H. Abzug.
Oxford University Press. 285 pages, $30.
The pre-Civil War reformers-revivalists, moral crusaders, and utopians- have been a subject for all seasons. In the 1950s, they were taken as prophets for the Cold War; in the 1960s, as prophets for the civil rights struggle; in the 1970s, as prophets for feminist rights and community reforms; and in the 1980s, as prophets for the triumphs of individualism. A new study of the antebellum reformers thus assumes a massive burden-a burden to which Robert Abzug is unfortunately unequal, despite his fine earlier study of the abolitionist Theodore Weld. Abzug rounds up the usual suspects (Lyman Beecher and his daughter, Charles Finney, Sylvester Graham, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimke, etc.), and recounts the progression of their thinking with some nice nuance, but he does not answer the pressing questions or place his subjects in a genuinely new light. Cosmos Crumbling qualifies as the best collective biography of the reform elite now in print, but it is not the deeper fathoming of the subject that antebellum reform needs.
” James D. Bratt
Anti-Americanism: Irrational and Rational. By Paul Hollander.
Transaction. 515 pages, $24.95 paper.
First published in 1992, the present edition includes an introduction of almost sixty pages in which Hollander, Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts and author of Political Pilgrims , responds to his critics and brings the story of intellectual anti- Americanism up to the present, covering the variety of reactions to the fall of communism. At one level, this book is an invaluable encyclopedia of the idiocies to which intellectuals, American and foreign, are prone. Hollander gives numerous writers listed in the ample index reason to rue the reckless and frequently wicked things they have said over the years in defense of, inter alia, the unspeakable crimes of totalitarian regimes. Richard Weaver observed that ideas have consequences, and Paul Hollander helps to assure that both the ideas and the consequences will not be forgotten. Among the impressive aspects of Anti- Americanism is the sheer persistence of the author in wading through mountains of trash-including much that has been said and done by religious figures-in order to come up with the most telling illustration of his point. Beyond its encyclopedic and polemical interest, however, Hollander provides occasion to reflect on what might be described as the “rational” reasons for American discontent with their society. From Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift he takes his epigram: “What did the personal troubles of Americans amount to? Did they really suffer? The world looked into American faces and said, ‘Don’t tell me these cheerful well-to-do people are suffering!’ Still, democratic abundance had its own peculiar difficulties. America was God’s experiment. Many of the old pains of mankind were removed, which made the new pains all the more peculiar and mysterious.” Those who would understand the pains of Americans, and how Americans have so successfully exported the belief that America is a pain to the world, will welcome this new edition of Anti-Americanism .
Conor: A Biography of Conor Cruise O’Brien. By Donald Harman Akenson.
Cornell University Press. 576 pages, $35.
After a man’s first fight for what he believes in, we listen with sympathy while he explains how the fight was forced upon a peaceable man like himself. After his second or third fight, we listen with a little less sympathy. And after his fourth or fifth, we suspect it is the fighting he loves more than the believing. Conor Cruise O’Brien has always been a fighter-in truth, more a counter-puncher than an instigator, but a man born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. Much too uncritical of O’Brien’s left-wing positions, Mr. Akenson’s biography nonetheless recounts well the thousand half-forgotten fights in O’Brien’s careers in diplomacy, academics, and politics. But what makes Conor Cruise O’Brien interesting, and what is often forgotten today, is that he can write . Right or wrong (and often both), he has prose as fine and witty as any writer of his generation. Rather than this biography, we need O’Brien’s own work kept in print. Take along a grain of salt, but read the Irishman himself.
Acts of Faith: A Memoir. By Faith Abbott.
Ignatius Press. 257 pages, $14.95 paper.
Those who want to remember, and those who never knew, the Catholic Church as it presented itself to an outsider prior to Vatican II should welcome this gracefully written and insightful story of a conversion. In this story, another community figures prominently, the Moral Rearmament Movement, into which the author was born, in which she was reared, and with which she believes she kept faith by embracing a faith that comprehends and surpasses whatever was true in Moral Rearmament. An altogether engaging tale. The author is married to J. P. (Jim) McFadden, who writes the introduction. Among their joint labors is the publication of the greatly respected Human Life Review .
John Courtney Murray and the Dilemma of Religious Toleration. By Keith J. Pavlischek.
Thomas Jefferson University Press / University Press of America. 261 pages, $22.50 paper.
As an evangelical Protestant, the author tries to keep his distance from intra-Catholic disputes over whether the legacy of Murray favors more the liberal or neoconservative arguments of our day. The word “dilemma” in the title is the center of his thesis that Murray had to settle for what Richard John Neuhaus calls “the morality of compromise,” and, he suggests, Murray was as dissatisfied with that as is the author himself. Murray, he notes, could live with the public motto “In God We Trust” but not with “In Father, Son, and Holy Spirit We Trust.” Pavlischek writes, “Murray was not comfortable with the Catholic triumphalism implicit in the latter phrase. But what is not clear is whether or not he, or anyone else, shouldn’t take the latter if he could get it.” The author is clearly uneasy about vibrantly orthodox believers who accept the proposition advanced by Neuhaus that compromise is not morally compromising. He wonders if, in the end, they are not settling for a watered-down civil religion of moral Esperanto. Such banality, he says, is “less than fulfilling” for the theologically serious. His argument would be more convincing, and his “dilemma” would be less painful, if he considered more carefully that (1) spiritual fulfillment should be sought in the Church rather than the polis, and (2) real fulfillment awaits an eschatological consummation that is not yet. The first of those two considerations was key, one suspects, to Murray’s resolution of his “dilemma,” and that possibility is neglected by Pavlischek. This is, nonetheless, a first-rate study, quite simply one of the most thoughtful and provocative reflections on Murray’s achievements and limitations that we have had in some time. Warmly recommended to all who read in the philosophy and theology of religious freedom.
Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity.
InterVarsity. 208 pages, $16.99.
McGrath, a prolific young theologian who teaches at Oxford and Regent College, Vancouver, offers a stirring call for evangelical Protestants to assert a leadership role in the reshaping of Western Christianity. Key to the response for which he hopes is a rebuilding of the theological enterprise among evangelicals, thus joining “head with heart.” Written before the 1994 declaration “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” the present work does not take into account the intense discussion that initiative has provoked, with the result that McGrath is more tentative about the relationship to Roman Catholicism than are some evangelical thinkers today.
The Soul of Politics By Jim Wallis.
Orbis. 275 pages, $19.95.
Tony Campolo says on the dustjacket, “Jim Wallis transcends the stereotypical political categories which set liberals against conservatives, and outlines an alternative vision for those of us who long for a spiritually based societal transformation.” Uh huh. Mr. Campolo is justly celebrated by the liberal Christian Century as an evangelical who has wondrously “grown” beyond all your stereotypes of evangelicals. The foreword is by Garry Wills and the preface by Cornel West, so the reader is amply warned about how much transcendence of political categories this book is likely to offer. According to Wallis, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse-male, straight, white, capitalist-are still riding roughshod over the oppressed, but there is hope now that the Religious Right whose leaders “were the virtual chaplains of the White House during the Reagan and Bush years” have been replaced by the Clintons, and especially by Hillary, who “demonstrates the courage and competence that confirm a new status for women apart from her husband’s position.” The idea that Mrs. Clinton achieved her prominence, such as it is, on her own is implausible, but the suggestion that other women have a new status apart from Mr. Clinton’s position is downright intriguing.
Sometimes in the Wrong, But Never in Doubt. By L. Edward Hicks.
University of Tennessee Press. 197 pages, $32.
A biographical study of George S. Benson, a fundamentalist educator who, the author persuasively contends, was a major influence in shaping what is today called the religious right. Speaking of the conservative Christian insurgency in our public life, those who thought they constituted the mainline ask, “Where did these people come from?” Mr. Hicks provides an engaging answer in the person of a man who was instrumental in moving the country from the “old conservatism” to the Reagan revolution, and beyond.
From Christ to the World.
Edited by Wayne G. Boulton et al.
Eerdmans. 542 pages, $24.99.
This whopper of a book brings together “introductory readings in Christian ethics,” and will no doubt be welcomed eagerly by all who face a class in Christian Ethics 101. The selections, although tilted toward the Protestant and the contemporary, are judicious and aimed at being ecumenical. From the history of ethics, to bioethics, to war and peace, the student will find here basic texts and excerpts from basic texts that invite further reading beyond the necessary limits of such a collection.
The Missing Child in Liberal Theory. By John O’Neill. University of Toronto Press. 136 pages, $14.95 paper.
Welfare reform is a hot topic also north of the border. Robert Bellah says of this book, “If O’Neill’s call for a second-generation welfare state is answered, Canada will be an exemplar for all contemporary societies, not least the United States.” O’Neill has a firm grasp on one weakness in liberal theory, an emphasis on the autonomous individual that neglects community, particularly the community of the family. But his proposal for an “intergenerational covenant,” unfortunately, confuses what is “common” with what is governmental, thus predictably ending up with a very statist notion of a more just society. As a result, The Missing Child in Liberal Theory is several years behind the curve of the best contemporary thought on social policy and, more specifically, family policy.
Religion, Public Life, and the American Polity. Edited by Luis E. Lugo.
University of Tennessee Press. 268 pages, $39.
This book of essays is additional evidence of the seriousness of Calvin College in Michigan about its Calvinist tradition. Among the papers given at a 1990 conference on religion and public life is a very helpful updated version of Carl H. Esbeck’s typology of American thought on church-state relations. Also of particular interest are critical revisitings of Madison’s thought on the subject (by Charles J. Emmerich) and the frequently conflicting views of Jefferson (by Daniel L. Dreisbach). In a concluding essay, James Skillen makes an intelligent attempt to draw together the diverse strands of an intelligent colloquium.