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

The Haunted Land: Facing Europe’s Ghosts After Communism . By Tina Rosenberg.
Random, 437 pages, $25.

In the aftermath of the defeat of fascism and Japanese militarism in World War II, there was little controversy over the extensive programs of de-Nazification and demilitarization launched by the victorious Allies in Germany and Japan. But in the wake of the defeat of communism in what some regard as World War III-the Cold War-bitterly divisive arguments and intense political conflict have attended efforts to come to grips with the evils of the past forty years. Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Germany, the three countries surveyed in Tina Rosenberg’s book, have each handled the issue differently. Poland drew a “thick line” in 1989 and, in effect, decided to let bygones be bygones; a former Communist apparatchik is now Poland’s prime minister. The Czech “lustration” law forbids former secret police agents and high Communist officials from holding public sector jobs; the German “screening” process is intended to prevent former secret police informers from getting on the public payroll. Both countries’ processes have been flawed by the lack of a comprehensive appeals mechanism, and neither has fully come to terms with the two basic facts about these records: not everything in them is true, and not everything true is in them. Still, the Czech Republic and Germany have at least made a serious effort to come to terms, publicly, with the evils of communism, and thus to put down some boundary markers for the democratic future. Tina Rosenberg’s exploration of this tangled and murky business, while full of interesting detail, is ultimately unsatisfactory because Ms. Rosenberg (a MacArthur Foundation “genius” awardee) can’t seem to grasp the moral perversity of the Communist project or the gravity of the damage that communism did to the moral ecology of east central Europe. (This is not, perhaps, surprising in an author who writes that Allende’s Chile chose “to live up to its beautiful, nonrepressive socialist ideals,” and who ends her book with the claim that anticommunism “resembles” communism “greatly” at times.) In short, it’s the old story: Nazism was evil, pure and simple, while communism was a lovely ideal gone unhappily awry.

George Weigel

Nazi Germany: A New History . By Klaus P. Fischer.
Continuum. 734 pages, $37.50.

Generally speaking, histories of Nazi Germany tend to fall into one of two camps: either they are theory-driven disquisitions on the “underlying causes” of the phenomenon or they assume the voice and narrative drive of a contemporary newsreel, giving the reader that “we were there” feel-but also falling into faintly hackneyed melodrama. It is the remarkable achievement of Klaus Fischer’s new history of Nazi Germany that he combines the skills of both camps, narrative power with theoretical shrewdness, without absorbing the faults of either outlook, providing in this fiftieth anniversary year of the end of World War II what will undoubtedly become the standard one-volume history of Nazi Germany for some time to come. If you are looking for carefully drawn miniature portraits of, say, the first member of the fledgling Nazi party or, later, of the architects of the Holocaust, you’ll find it here. If you want a subtle analysis on how and why Nazism differs from the Communist subspecies of the totalitarian nightmare, here it is. Besides making for fascinating reading, Fischer’s stereoscopic vision finally answers one of the great puzzles of Nazism: how could men of such limited talent and vapid ideas, some of whom were outright sociopaths, take over such a large and powerful country, and one that had, moreover, such a noble record of civilization? This will always remain a mystery, of course, but for Fischer the likeliest answer can be found in the ideological climate of late-nineteenth-century Europe: Hitler seemed plausible only because his brand of racism seemed plausible (and racism, Fischer makes clear, was the sum and substance of Nazism). And that ideology could seem plausible not just because anti-Semitism was such a “respectable” prejudice among the educated and peasant classes, but also because of the widespread acceptance of Charles Darwin’s slogan “the survival of the fittest” and the eugenic consequences that so many of his successors drew from his theory of evolution. Not the least merit of this book is that it finally offers an intellectual genealogy of Mein Kampf that includes Darwin in the family tree.

Edward T. Oakes, S.J.

The Political Economy of Edmund Burke . By Francis Canavan.
Fordham University Press. 185 pages, $30 cloth, $17.95 paper.

Francis Canavan returns to his lifelong study of Edmund Burke with a monograph on Burke’s political economy. While partisan writers have discovered in Burke the founder of a substantive “conservative” political philosophy, most contemporary intellectual historians have been less impressed with his thought. They have instead done Burke the “favor” of reading him as a disciple of Hume or Locke or Adam Smith. Canavan finds Burke more original than that and here emphasizes his divergence from such thinkers: Burke is no mere epigone. Thus, whereas Locke believed that the contract of civil society exists to defend property, Burke argues primarily for the importance of landed property. Whereas Smith found primogeniture “completely absurd” and observed that aristocratic landlords retard economic progress by favoring stable income over productive innovation, Burke decidedly prefers the old mixed agricultural order to modern commerce. Burke reaches these conclusions because his central concern is not material production but the political common good, which he believes is best secured through the rule of a moderate and well-contented aristocracy. Landed property is key, for unlike commercial riches, land is a form of wealth that carries with it “private” obligations to others (e.g., service as a justice of the peace), and thus semi-feudal aristocrats have a more virtuous habituation than do the elites of a modern commercial society. Commercial progress also increases the danger of tyranny, for unlike independent landed aristocrats, those whose wealth derives from monied capital are dependent on the changing economic policies of the central government. Commercial elites are natural courtiers and thus poor trustees of the common good. As ever, Canavan’s work is thorough, such that even long-time students of Burke will find intelligent discussions of relatively understudied passages. For example, Canavan notes that Burke appears to anticipate distributist arguments in his Sketch of the Negro Code (1780), in which he advocates policies for the West Indies that would transform slaves into serfs and eventually into smallholders. Withal, the book should be of interest primarily to specialists.

Mark C. Henrie

Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft . Edited by Douglas Johnston and Cynthia Sampson.
Oxford University Press. 337 pages, $29.95.

While not a definitive account of the place of religion in resolving domestic and international conflicts, Religion, The Missing Dimension of Statecraft represents a significant challenge to the conventional wisdom of a secularized world culture with a declining public role for religion. While Western scholars and public officials assumed that the importance of religion would decline over time in domestic and international politics, the reverse has been the case. The failure to anticipate the fall of the Shah derived directly from a failure to understand the importance of Islam in Iran, and the influence of religion in the collapse of Eastern European communism cannot be overstated. The major purpose of the essays collected by Johnston and Sampson is to call attention to the serious omission of religion in contemporary analysis. The bulk of the book is devoted to case studies of religion’s role in resolving conflicts. Edward Luttwak analyzes the role of the Moral Re-Armament Movement in the reconciliation of the French and the Germans after World War II, and other essays focus on religion’s role in political changes in Nicaragua, East Germany, the Philippines, and South Africa. These studies do not suggest a radical transformation in statecraft, but they do suggest that much more attention needs to be paid to religion if statecraft is to be effective.

Mark Amstutz

Jacques Maritain and the Jews. Edited by Robert Royal.
University of Notre Dame Press. 286 pages, $15.

Jacques Maritain, the distinguished Catholic philosopher and the French ambassador to the Vatican after World War II, played a preeminent role in the transformation of Catholic teaching about Jews, Judaism, and Catholic-Jewish relations. In this collection of seventeen essays, the evolution of Maritain’s thought on “the Jewish Question” is critically examined. Time and again, Maritain publicly condemned the anti-Semitism of the Nazi era, calling the legislation of Vichy France “treason against the French spirit.” In his 1939 work A Christian Looks at the Jewish Question , Maritain wrote scathingly of the anti-Semitic lies spreading in Europe and denounced as a forgery the Protocols of the Elders of Zion . The essays in the volume contain many new insights into Maritain’s reflections on the Dreyfus affair, his friendships with Marc Chagall, Charles Peguy, Leon Bloy, and Henri Bergson, and the influence of his Jewish-born wife Raisa (who converted to Catholicism with Maritain in 1907). The essays highlight as well Maritain’s central role in shaping a new Catholic understanding of the Jewish people. As early as 1947, Maritain urged the Vatican to remove reference to the Jews as a “deicide race” from Catholic theology and liturgy. Vittorio Possenti’s essay, describing Maritain’s work while ambassador that would do much to shape the deliberations of the Second Vatican Council on Jewish questions, makes an especially notable contribution, as do the essays by Leon Klenicki, John Hellman, and Michael Novak and the introduction by Robert Royal. The volume as a whole helps us understand the enduring relevance of Maritain’s life and thought for Christian-Jewish relations and dialogue today.

David G. Dalin

The Dilemma of the Fetus: Fetal Research, Medical Progress, and Moral Politics . By Steven Maynard-Moody. 
St. Martin’s. 235 pages, $23.95.

The author is a professor of history with an interest in public policy. His chronology of the modern controversy over fetal research is all right, most of the dramatis personae are identified, and his account of medical matters, ancient and current, is often accurate. But some of the estimates he passes on as facts make a knowledgeable reader blink: e.g., that “for centuries, English law has identified birth as the moment human life begins”; that by 1971 there were up to 600,000 legal abortions annually in the U.S. (“thousands,” he notes, are now performed each year); that there is a natural wastage rate of about 85 percent between conception and birth; that traditionally prenatal care was primarily for the mother, not the child; and that abortion is “uniquely controversial in the U.S.” By his account, the major mischief-maker in this “morality play” has been the anti-abortion movement, whose members he describes as “absolutists” and “idealists,” a “fervent,” “strident” “faction” of “militant, Right-to-Life activists,” possessed by a “rigid, deterministic view,” dedicated to “guerilla war.” They are “foes of research” who intrude “their ideology into policy.” The researchers they attack, on the other hand, are described as “scientific” and “respected,” anxious to produce “new knowledge,” supporters of “reasoned, balanced attempts” to free medical science from politics. In a maneuver reversing the technology in Zelig and Forrest Gump that inserted Woody Allen and Tom Hanks into various well-known historic film clips, the author has eliminated any trace of activist groups anxious to legitimate and protect abortion: NARAL, Planned Parenthood, NOW, and the NCC. Supporting actors remain the Congress, whose right-to-life members are thoughtlessly responsive to their constituency, and a public whose grasp of these scientific issues is more visceral than rational. Maynard-Moody’s treatment of the moral points at issue is remarkable. In each dispute he sets forth two simplistic and partisan views: for instance, that human life begins with conception, or that it begins with birth (strangely, he omits the view that it begins with choice). He then typically sets both polar views aside, not for any principled reason but because neither can command a consensus. He then offers a “middle ground”: for instance, that human life begins with viability. Absent any rational justification for this, he admits “there are no unambiguous developmental milestones that separate fetal life from nonlife” (clearly unaware that this is the pro-life view). In the absence of any social consensus, he believes that, rather than argue or vote, we should simply defer to what doctors feel and present laws imply: for instance, that the viable fetus is entitled to human dignity (provided, of course, that it is not an “unwanted” fetus). The book never gets beyond this level of moral discourse.

Ishmael Law

The Secret Six . By Edward J. Renehan.
Crown. 320 pages, $25.

As the analogy between slavery and abortion becomes increasingly clear, John Brown’s misguided attempts to force an end to slavery in Kansas and at Harpers Ferry have attracted growing interest from scholars and activists alike. The zeal of Brown to end slavery through violence is matched today by the zeal of a few to end abortion through violence. And the futility and error of this violence is made clear in The Secret Six -an account of the group of Northern patricians (including Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Samuel Howe, and Theodore Parker) who conspired with Brown before the Harpers Ferry raid. Edward Renehan shows the eloquence of these men in their speeches and writings against slavery. And he shows as well the frustration at the slow pace of abolition that led at last to violence. Despite the apparently bleak prospects at the time, however, slavery would be dead only ten years later (albeit, after even greater violence). Anti-slavery violence before the Civil War did little to advance abolition and much to retard it. Those disheartened by abortion today may find hope in this, and may look to Brown and the Secret Six in order to avoid their mistakes.

Matthew S. Monnig

Remembering the Christian Past . By Robert L. Wilken.
Eerdmans. 180 pages, $16.99 paper.

Of the putting together of books of essays there is certainly no end, but seldom is the result a coherent book in its own right. Remembering the Christian Past is an instance of that happy exception, offering eight chapters that elaborate the question posed in Wilken’s presidential address to the American Academy of Religion, “Who Will Speak for the Religious Traditions?” Wilken, professor of church history at the University of Virginia and frequent contributor to this journal, persuasively and winsomely makes the case that authentic religion is in very large part a matter of remembering. That against academic theology’s preoccupation with “critical studies” and ersatz “creativity.” His reconstruction of how the Church arrived at the orthodox dogma of the Trinity (“No Solitary God”) is more than worth the price of the book, but, then, so is almost every other chapter in this engagingly instructive collection.

The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus Christ . Introduction by Douglas E. Lurton.
Henry Holt. 123 pages, $13.95.

Lincoln’s Devotional . Introduction by Carl Sandburg.
Henry Holt. 191 pages, $13.95.

New editions of two important documents of American religious history. The Jefferson Bible is our third president’s theologically infelicitous attempt to rewrite the Gospels to conform to his own brand of ethical humanism. Fortunately, his Declaration of Independence can be interpreted as supporting more substantive truths. Lincoln’s Devotional is a collection of Bible readings and inspirational poetry originally published in 1852 under the title The Believer’s Daily Treasure . Lincoln is known to have been a diligent reader of this little book, and one finds its echo in his speeches and writings.

Being Elsewhere. By John P. Sisk.
Eastern Washington University Press. 154 pages, $12.50 paper.

In this marvelous collection of fourteen autobiographical essays-not so much about the effects of getting to other places as about the effect of being in other places-John Sisk sketches the travels he has undertaken in his long life: to the golf courses of the nouveau riche as a young caddy in the roaring twenties, to the sudden boom towns serving the laborers building the Grand Coulee Dam in the thirties, to the airforce bases of World War II, to South America, to Europe, to everywhere and anywhere, and back at last to home. But Sisk’s travels are as much travels of the mind as travels of the body. Through each of the essays runs a book, or an idea, or a theory; through each of the essays runs the story of a parallel journey in thinking. And Sisk’s touch as one of our finest essayists is revealed by the fact that these parallel journeys of the mind are always illuminated by, and in turn illuminate, the experience of being elsewhere.

Sexuality and Authority in the Catholic Church.
By Monica Migliorino Miller.
University of Scranton Press. 286 pages, $45.

A book is not a good book because it might have been a great book; we typically award no bonuses for wasted potential. But Monica Miller’s Sexuality and Authority is a surprisingly good book-surprisingly, for this first scholarly work by a part-time lecturer at Marquette University emerges overpriced and without ballyhoo from a small academic press. Beginning with the observation that authority is not extrinsic organizational force, and denying the feminist assertion that Christ (by virtue of His gender) only partially reveals redemption, Dr. Miller reads her patristic sources carefully and claims that the model of the Church as bride and mother allows us to reserve priestly authority for men without denying authority to women. Sexuality and Authority reads more like a doctoral dissertation than a book; it is poorly proofread, poorly designed, and poorly printed; it is a little timid and a little over-organized, the way first books often are. All of which is a shame, for a competent editor, leading an author through her first book, ought to have fixed these problems. Monica Miller is doing important work and deserves to be read anyway.

Corrective Love. By Thomas C. Oden.
Concordia. 224 pages, $12.99 paper

In an age in which permissiveness is often taken as the most truly humane and Christian of attitudes, Thomas C. Oden-fresh from the controversies that raged around his apologia for the traditional study of orthodox theology in Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements -has now written a book to assert the necessity for a loving but nonetheless real discipline in Christian churches. “Corrective discipline” is intrinsic to the well-being of churches, the United Methodist Oden writes, for “the work of gentle correction is closely related to the epitome of Christian community: the eucharistic Sacrament of reconciliation.” Neither the laity nor the clergy are unilaterally responsible for this discipline, and the common pattern of leaving discipline solely in the hands of a hyper-permissive clergy has contributed to the crises of heretical theology and declining membership in mainline American churches. What we need instead, Oden reminds us, is a laity and a clergy endowed not with police powers by the State but with real ecclesiastical powers of discipline that may be used-with loving forgiveness-to bring erring members to repentance and renewed communion with the body of the church.

God Without Being. By Jean-Luc Marion.
University of Chicago Press. 258 pages, $13.95 paper.

Welcome the paperback of a book that has been stirring thoughtful discussion in theological and philosophical circles. Marion, who teaches philosophy at the University of Paris, does battle against the “idolatry” of trying to fit God into the philosophical concept of Being. Along the way he both draws from and criticizes Heidegger in particular. For readers not primarily interested in these philosophical disputes, the payoff comes when Marion turns his argument toward the Eucharist, making a surprising and persuasive case that the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is the surest guard against idolatry in worship. A truly remarkable work.

German Essays on Religion. Edited By Edward T. Oakes, S.J.
Continuum. 256 pages, $29.50 cloth, $14.95 paper.

For better or for worse, much contemporary writing about religion derives from and must continue to return to the extraordinary body of work done in modern times by writers in German. From Kant to Wittgenstein, Marx to Rosenzweig, Schleiermacher to von Balthasar, Goethe to Freud, Fichte to Barth, German writers have set the terms and questions that any thought deserving the title “modern” must confront. In this anthology, Edward Oakes collects representative passages on religion from twenty-two authors (some defenders of religion and some opponents) from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. Recent scholarship has suggested that Heidegger, equally with the other phenomenologists, maintained a fascination with religion, and the absence of any reading from Heidegger-a major influence on Barth and Bultmann alike (both of whom are included)-suppresses one important voice in modern thought. But the anthology in general takes a distinguished place in Continuum’s German Library as a fine introduction to an influential set of German writers. And it reminds us of the seriousness with which these writers took religion and the seriousness with which we must take them.