by Mumia Abu-Jamal
Seven Stories, 303 pp., $29.95
In one of those moments that remind us that theres a culture war going on, National Public Radio decided in 1994 to hire Mumia Abu-Jamal”serving time for the 1982 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner”as a political commentator on its program All Things Considered. Protests from the Fraternal Order of Police and threats by then-Senator Bob Dole to cut NPRs federal funding convinced the network to change its plans. For Mumias supporters on the unrepentant left worldwide”and they are legion”this confirmed what they had been saying all along: Mumia (he is always referred to by his first name) was framed by racist police determined to silence his revolutionary message. Mumias third book, All Things Censored , is a collection of his essays, including the unaired NPR commentaries, and thus gives the non-cognoscenti a chance to see what passes for revolution these days. (Accompanying the book is a CD that features Mumia reading some of the essays aloud, along with comments by Cornel West, Martin Sheen, the late Allen Ginsberg, Sister Helen Prejean, Howard Zinn, and others.) Mumias writing, it turns out, is entirely conventional, the boilerplate of the anti- American left. Most of the essays discuss police brutality, the malfeasance of prison guards and officials (if what he says about them is true, its scandalous, but I have my doubts), and the death penalty. There are tirades against the drug war (the war on Black people), Christopher Columbus, NAFTA, welfare reform, and, in a nice touch, the evils of beef and cigarettes. The U.S. government, he says, imports and sells crack to make addicts of poor blacks, for whom the Constitution is possessed of all the power and relevance of toilet paper. Throughout, the point is always the same”America is a land of treachery, racial and class prejudice, and unremitting oppression. What Mumia does not discuss here”what he has never discussed”is the treachery that occurred on that terrible night in 1982, when eyewitnesses say he emptied his gun into the body of Officer Daniel Faulkner. Its an omission that makes this book seem obscene.
by Garry Wills
Doubleday, 326 pp., $25
The author laments the fact that Catholics have fallen out of the healthy old habit of reminding each other how sinful popes can be. Wills says that unlike the popes of old, whose overriding sins were greed, venality, and lust for temporal power, the modern popes, beginning with Pius IX, recruit Catholics into structures of deceit about Church doctrine and discipline. Early on, in the chapters on contraception, Wills appears to take the familiar liberal position that the popes and their apologists are guilty of thwarting authentic development of doctrine and of ignoring the sensus communis of the laity. He goes much further, however, condemning the following propositions: that Christ instituted a hierarchical priesthood; that Christ instituted an apostolic succession; that the presider at the Eucharist represents Christ; that the Eucharist is a corpus verum distinct from the worshiping community; that the local lay community lacks power to ordain; that Peter was Bishop of Rome; that Christ instituted a sacrament of marriage beyond that of the natural law; that masturbation, homosexual acts, or contraception are objectively disordered; that the human soul is directly infused by God; that the unborn have rights in a preconversation state or that abortion wrongfully takes the life of a human person; that the passion and death of Christ had any properly sacrificial component. The argument is at every step self-consuming. Rome is wrong to deny ordination to women, but by the same token it was wrong centuries ago about the nature of priesthood; Rome should have rendered a different judgment in the case of contraception, but there is no authentic apostolic authority to make such a judgment in the first place. Wills Syllabus errorum leaves virtually no room for what used to be the liberal understanding of the development of Catholic doctrine; as Wills surely understands, false doctrines are not said to develop. Having set out to give a few good whacks to the popes, he has convinced himself that the Roman Catholic Church is, for the most part, a false religion in captivity to a papal Antichrist. Such has been said before, and it has been said with much greater theological clarity and sophistication.
Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope
by Jonathan Kozol
Crown, 388 pp., $25
Jonathan Kozol is celebrated in educator-land for his tear-jerking accounts of how poor kids get cheated by the tightwad public schools and the miserable, selfish, capitalist society of the United States. There is no sanctimonious left-wing piety he has not repeatedly written and spoken. In several recent books, a low-income neighborhood of the South Bronx has furnished his material, and in the process he has come to know a number of its residents. In this latest volume, he deploys them as props in a curious personal journey of not-quite-religious awakening. The pre-adolescent youngsters that he profiles appear as, for the most part, empathic figures who are unabashed about the roles that faith and prayer play in their own lives. Kozol uses them without success in his own search for a secular version of faith, which he never quite finds. He comes across mostly as a lonely and rather strange fellow. An odd testament, this book is partially redeemed by its evocative portraits of some terrific kids.
”Chester E. Finn, Jr.
Great Cases in Constitutional Law
edited by Robert P. George.
Princeton University Press, 206 pp., $35
In this volume, the distinguished legal philosopher Robert P. George has brought together a group of leading intellectuals and scholars to comment on five critical cases in American constitutional law: Marbury v. Madison (with Mark Tushnet and Jeremy Waldron supplying the commentary), Dred Scott v. Sandford (Cass Sunstein and James McPherson), Lochner v. New York (Hadley Arkes and Donald Drakeman), Brown v. Board of Education (Earl Maltz and Walter Murphy), and Roe v. Wade (Jean Bethke Elshtain and George Will). Although the book gets off to something of a slow start”the Marbury essays are nowhere near as penetrating as Robert Lowry Clintons How the Court Became Supreme, which appeared in this journal in January 1999”most of the contributions are of the highest order. The second writer on each case is responding to the presentation of the first, so the issues are clearly developed and disagreements fully engaged. The benefit of this arrangement is particularly evident in the Lochner exchange: Arkes brilliantly defends this misunderstood case, but for all the skill of his revisionist argument, he is, as Donald Drakeman convincingly contends, unable to distinguish the interpretive approach of Lochner”using the due process clause to invalidate a statute because of disagreement with its substance”from Roe , which Arkes has rejected elsewhere. Maltzs critique of Brown is a masterly essay on originalism that endorses the result in the case but properly rejects the reasoning as unmoored in the original understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment. Murphys reply provides perceptive criticism of the limitations of originalism but fails to set forth any other method of interpretation that would prevent judicial oligarchy. Finally, the Elshtain and Will contributions on Roe are rigorous and eloquent in their assessment of the jurisprudential, political, and moral catastrophe that this case represents. This book is a sound effort to provide historical context for our reflection on the use and especially the abuse of judicial power.
”Gregory J. Sullivan
by David Novak
Princeton University Press, 240 pp., $29.95
The title is obviously intended to pique curiosity, since covenant and rights are usually thought to be in tension, if not in conflict. But Rabbi David Novak of the University of Toronto, a frequent contributor to these pages, makes a convincing argument that the mutual dependence of rights and duties can best be conceived in terms of covenantal fidelity. While this is a study in Jewish political theory, it is by no means of interest only to Jewish thinkers. Novak tackles head-on the conventional antithesis between communitarian and liberal theories, the first typically posited against rights talk and the second against the claims of community and covenant. It is an argument of many parts, one of the more interesting being the claims that God has on the covenant community and the claims the community has on God. To speak of our rights that God must respect will strike many readers as odd, if not blasphemous. But Novak persuasively suggests that there are three such rights: first, that God hear the cry of our prayer; second, that He tell us how we should live; and, third, that He render judgment on our actions, thus making us moral agents of consequence. Throughout, Novak draws on the riches of Hebrew Scripture, Talmud, and rabbinic commentary as he engages political theories propounded by Aristotle, Aquinas, Hobbes, Locke, Kant, and more recent writers such as Tillich and Rawls. Novaks is an impressive brief for the proposition that rights cannot be secured apart from covenant and covenant must take into account the inescapable legitimacy of rights. Covenantal Rights is a learned and tightly reasoned argument that should elicit critical responses from Christian and secularist thinkers. This book breaks new ground both in Jewish thought and in larger debates about the philosophical and religious grounding of political theory. Strongly recommended.
Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God.
by Marilyn McCord Adams
Cornell University Press, 220 pp., $29.95
The subject is theodicy: How, in the face of evil, can we vindicate the goodness of God? It is an old question that, of necessity, will not go away until God finally manifests the vindication of His goodness and justice in the eschatological Kingdom. Adams, who teaches at Yale Divinity School, makes a compelling argument at several levels. Along the way, she counters the restricted rationalism of analytic philosophy and the utopianism of sundry liberationist proposals for fixing the world. Insistently attentive to horrendous evils in the actual lives of persons, she boldly draws on both philosophical and theological resources (the two, she says, are inseparable) to support her claim that the person experiencing evil can reach the firm and reasonable conclusion that evil has not defeated the goodness of God. It is not always an easy argument to follow, but it is very intelligently presented and well worth the effort.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
by Malcom Gladwell
Little, Brown, 277 pp., $24.95.
The author signs up for Behaviorism 101 and is touchingly inspired to think he has stumbled onto the secret of how the world works. He even comes up with laws of human behavior, such as the Law of the Few, the Law of Stickiness, and the Law of Context. The discovery is that a very few people can make a big difference, that ideas that stick to the memory have a greater effect than those that dont, and that people are influenced by other people. He intelligently applies such truisms to various marketing and public policy issues, but they are in service to his larger point: forget the formation of character and persuading people about whether something is true”the way to get things done is to condition behavior. One may hope that The Tipping Point is not likely to reach the tipping point of influencing many people in their thinking about the human condition.
Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond
by Michael Ignatieff
Metropolitan, 245 pp., $23.
Ignatieff, who writes regularly for the New York Review of Books , is morally astute and worldly wise. High-tech virtual war, as in the Gulf War and Kosovo, where nobody gets hurt (at least on our side) is a dangerous delusion, he convincingly argues. It also plays havoc with established rules of national sovereignty and democratic decision making. In addition, the presumed U.S. monopoly on the capacity to wage virtual war is only temporary. This elegantly written book is both informative and sobering.
Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief
by Joseph Pearce
Ignatius, 451 pp., $24.95
Mr. Pearce, whose biography of Chesterton received major attention in these pages (November 1999), has in this book put to splendid use all the notes he gathered in the course of his prodigious reading in those who, like Chesterton, discovered in Christianity an alternative to a world gone mad. In addition to Chesterton, we find in the present volume incisive sketches of, and generous quotations from, Evelyn Waugh, Siegfried Sassoon, Graham Greene, Ronald Knox, Malcolm Muggeridge, Edith Sitwell, and many others who became Roman Catholic, in addition to C. S. Lewis, T. S. Eliot, Dorothy Sayers, and others who were Anglican. Treating so many characters”almost all of them colorful and more than a few of them eccentric”gives the book a feel of being cobbled together, but the result is a tasty cobbler fit for a king. Of the Catholics, those who lived through the period of the Second Vatican Council were, with few exceptions, unhappy with the changes in a Church that they had counted on not to change. (Some, most notably Waugh, were brilliantly and polemically unhappy.) The Sunday Times called the book an illuminating account of a phenomenon firmly rooted in its period. One may read that, as perhaps it was intended, to mean that the lives recounted here are very much a thing of the past. If so, it is a past of genius, wit, and soaring confidence in a way of thinking and being that exposes the banality of what has become of modernity. For many readers today, one expects, Literary Converts will be not only a source of pleasure and instruction but an invitation to faith excitingly pertinent to the present.
by Brad Lowell Stone.
ISI. 180 pp. $19.95.
A worthy contribution to the Intercollegiate Studies Institutes series, Library of Modern Thinkers. Nisbet, who died in 1996, wrote numerous books, including The Quest for Community (his first, in 1953), Twilight of Authority (1975), and History of the Idea of Progress (1980). Stone correctly recognizes Nisbet as a major figure in the tradition of Burke, although he perhaps underestimates his antipathy to the religious and moral dynamics in contemporary conservatism. Nisbet favored a thoroughly utilitarian and safely domesticated role for religion and morality that stick to their last in cultivating conventional virtues. In his view, religion that speaks about ultimate truths in public is a species of the enthusiasm that he feared and despised.
Flannery OConnor: Hermit Novelist
by Richard Giannone
University of Illinois Press, 287 pp., $35
A beautifully written piece of literary criticism that mines the depth of the connection between OConnors achievement as a novelist and her quest, in imitation of the desert fathers, for aloneness with God. Admirers of Flannery OConnor should not miss this one.
Terror in the Mind of God
by Mark Juergensmeyer
University of California Press, 331 pp., $27.50
The author, a sociologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has written extensively on the relationship between violence and the sacred. Noting the public resurgence of religion in world history, the present book examines Muslim, Sikh, and other instances of violence that attend that resurgence. For balance, and somewhat improbably, he includes some fringe instances from the religious right in this country. He proposes but does not develop the idea that religion may be the remedy for religious violence.
Making: The Proper Habit of Our Being
by Marion Montomery
St. Augustines, 341 pp., $37.50
Montgomery, a contributor to these pages, offers essays speculative, reflective, and argumentative that frequently lift mind and soul to a self-transcending apprehension of the final truth about everything. The book is a rare and rich combination of intellectual intensity, literary grace, and spiritual attentiveness.
Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty
by Arch Puddington
University of Kentucky Press, 416 pp., $27.50
A fine telling of a little known U.S. project that prevented the evil empire from exercising a monopoly on news and opinion. The story involves spies, skullduggery, and Cold War domestic politics, but mostly it is about people who clearly understood the evil of communism and did something about it.
Public Morality, Civic Virtue, and the Problem of Modern Liberalism
edited by T. William Boxx and Gary M. Quinlivan
Eerdmans, 232 pp., $18
With a title like that you just know there will be some overlap with our favorite journal, and, sure enough, here are essays by, among others, Peter Berkowitz, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Daniel J. Mahoney, Wilfred McClay, and Gilbert Meilaender. All very solid stuff, as you would expect, and together they make an attractive package for classroom and for study.
Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam
edited by Mahmoud Sadri and Ahmad Sadri
Oxford University Press, 236 pp., $50
A book of the essential writings of Abdolkarim Soroush, an influential reformist academic in Iran who is sometimes called, in both praise and criticism, the Martin Luther of Islam. His proposal is for a future of increasing secularization that does not bring with it a profanation of Islamic culture, with the result that Islam will be seen as not only compatible with but strongly supportive of reason, freedom, and democracy.
The Silence of Sodom: Homosexualilty in Modern Catholicism
by Mark D. Jordan
University of Chicago Press, 248 pp., $25
A book that will no doubt find its place in the corner of the academy known as queer studies. When the author is not sniggering over his campy double entendres, he indulges in juvenile rage against religions alleged oppression of homosexuals. Mr. Jordan came out of the closet at the University of Notre Dame, where he was engaged in sundry and sordid scandals, and now holds an endowed chair in philosophy at Emory University. Ten years ago, even five years ago, one might have said that the only remarkable thing about the book is that it is published by a respected university press. Today, the evolution of the University of Chicago Press deprives it even of that distinction.
Public Voices: Catholics in the American Context
edited by Steven M. Avella and Elizabeth McKeown
Orbis, 375 pp., $50
A very useful book that brings together Catholic documents addressing issues of public life from the American founding to the present. Of special interest are statements by Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore on Catholic understandings of the American constitutional order, and several documents from the hand of Bishop (Dagger John) Hughes of New York on sundry questions, including an illuminating exchange with Bishop Patrick Lynch of Charleston on the justice of the Union cause in the Civil War. Family life, just war, contraception, a living wage, organized labor, race relations, and a host of other problems are treated in official episcopal statements or commentary by influential Catholics. Selections in the last part of the book, 1945 to the present, are seriously skewed by the editors leftist ideology, but, with that caveat in mind, this is a valuable collection that brings to life the ways in which Catholics have tried to cope with the American experiment over more than two hundred years.
Creating Equal: My Fight Against Race Preferences
by Ward Connerly
Encounter, 273 pp., $24.95
Connerly is a feisty black man who has been in the forefront of battling racial preferences and quotas in California and around the nation. He here offers a persuasive practical, as well as unabashedly moral, argument that personal merit and competition are in the short and long term interests of minorities, drawing on his own rise from poverty, which he describes as an escape from the liberal plantation. This is also as good a place as any to welcome a new contender on the publishing block, Encounter Books. Based in San Francisco, its initial list is impressive indeed.