In an average college course, the history of Western political theory typically follows a simple plot: A flowering of secular, republican rationality in Ancient Athens and Republican Rome foundered on a combination of Imperial overstretch and civil war.
Earlier this year, as conflict raged in northern Syria, two professors, one Lebanese and the other American, both from elite universities in the Washington, D.C. area, passed the long night at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan, drinking tea. They pondered the weighty issues of the region: whether the nation-state paradigm was the residue of colonialism or a reality to which nations of the Middle East must conform; American military engagement and its consequences; and, of course, the sources of violent extremism. At one point, the Lebanese professor lamented, “These extremists are the worst thing ever to happen to Islam.” The American professor casually observed that they wished to reject modernity and return to the Middle Ages. “But the Islamists are themselves modern,” the Lebanese professor responded. “The violence against ideas and freedom and the dignity of the personthis is all modern, not medieval. Islam’s Golden Age was actually fairly free and tolerant of diverse thought.” The American professor arched a skeptical brow.
Continue Reading »
God’s War: A New History of the Crusades by christopher tyerman belknap, 1,040 pages, $35 Not too many years ago, single-volume histories of the Crusades were a rarity. Bookstores were crowded with volumes on the Civil War or World War II, but there was little on medieval battles fought in . . . . Continue Reading »
Every year during the winter quarter my yearlong course in the history of Christianity reaches the eleventh-century Gregorian Reform and the Investiture Conflict. Every year my students struggle to make sense of the positions of Emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII. With great effort some of them . . . . Continue Reading »
We get these letters saying that we should not refer to “radical feminism” since all feminism is radical. Not quite. We refer such readers to “The Feminist Revelation” (December 1991), where we noted Christina Sommers’ useful distinction between “liberal feminism” and “gender . . . . Continue Reading »