Copyright (c) 2001 First Things 110 (February 2001): 53-56.
Democracy in America. By Alexis de Tocqueville. Translated, edited, and with an introduction by Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop. University of Chicago Press. 722 pp. $35 cloth.
Political philosophers (and husband and wife) Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop have given us a major work of scholarship: the first accurate translation of Alexis de Tocque ville’s nineteenth–century masterpiece De mo cracy in America. In their rewarding introduction, the translators observe that Democracy in America “is at once the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America.” That is exactly right, and this edition is a perfect opportunity to discover or rediscover why. Ranging from the Puritans and New England town meetings to political economy and American sex relations, Tocqueville’s magnum opus is a kaleidoscope of history, social theory, and philosophy that remains as strikingly relevant today as when it was written. The liberal son of the dying ancien régime famously explores the dangers threatening liberty in democratic regimes: a consuming thirst for equality; a social atomism in which lonely individuals find themselves overpowered by external forces; the emergence of a “mild” despotism in which the Nanny State robs men and women of their dignity as if they were mewling infants; majorities flattening social distinctions; and a general lowering of human excellence. Tocqueville be lieved America was able to keep many of those dangers in check through a robust spirit of civic association and a vibrant religious life, a recipe still in order today. The translation is relentlessly literal and consistent, reproducing for the first time in English the unusual single–sentence paragraphs with which Tocqueville sprinkles his narrative. As Mansfield and Winthrop put it, “a book as great as Tocqueville’s should inspire a certain reverence in the translator.” The new edition also includes an extensive scholarly apparatus, providing the textual references to Montesquieu, Rousseau, and other think ers that Tocqueville, typically French, left allusive.
—Brian C. Anderson
The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity. By Lee Strobel. Zondervan. 304 pp. $12.99.
“Faith,” the Epistle to the Hebrews says, “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Yet many see faith as in conflict with reason and the intellect. Strobel, a former atheist who was once the legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, examines eight common objections to the claims of Christianity and subjects them to close scrutiny. These objections include reconciling the idea of a good God with the fact of evil and suffering; the belief that miracles conflict with science; the offense of claiming that Jesus is the only way to heaven and God; and the problem of violence in church history. In the process, Strobel interviews a number of Christian philosophers and theologians, including Peter Kreeft, Ravi Zacharias, and Texas A & M scientist Walter L. Bradley. The resulting product is an engaging apologetic that intelligently affirms the fundamental truths of the Christian faith in layman’s language.
Lying Awake. By Mark Salzman. Knopf. 192 pp. $21.
Sister John of the Cross is a Carmelite nun who discovers that the religious ecstasies she has been experiencing after many years of spiritual dryness are probably the result not of God’s grace but of a brain disorder. The disorder is easily repaired, but her challenge is a searing one: should she hold on to the consolations at the cost of her health and her life in community, or have the operation and lose her sense of God’s presence? Such a dilemma might be expected to end up in all the usual clichés, but here it is explored with extraordinary subtlety, honest detail, and unpretentious wisdom. Besides being a well–regarded young novelist, Salzman is a cellist, a kung fu master, and—surprisingly—an agnostic. In this brief book one discerns an almost Bach–like sense of cadence and harmony, a martial artist’s discipline, and an understanding of the realities of the life of faith that is as gentle and respectful as it is unsparing.
Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting. By John W. Cooper. Eerdmans. 241 pp. $24.
Welcome back to a book, first published in 1989, that ought never to have gone out of print. Cooper, of Calvin Theological Seminary, offers a spirited, erudite, and convincing defense of the orthodox Christian understanding of the immortality of the soul. The new edition is enhanced by an extended preface in which the author responds to critics of the first edition, and evaluates more recent studies in theology, philosophy, and science. For most of the twentieth century, he notes, it was biblical scholarship, rather than philosophy or science, that did most to undermine Christian confidence that the soul exists in an intermediate state between death and resurrection. Cooper shows how biblical scholars reacted against the “dualism” of body and soul because of the liberal historical hostility to the putative “Hel lenization” of Christianity. The position for which Cooper argues he calls “holistic dualism,” although he also accepts the term “dualistic holism.” His intention is to elucidate and vindicate the teaching of the Old and New Testaments, the patristic and conciliar tradition, and the continuing belief of the faithful that the saved are, when they die, with God and awaiting the resurrection of the body. He very effectively demonstrates the falsity of pitting the immortality of the soul against the resurrection of the body, and, along the way, offers an informed discussion of pertinent scientific claims regarding the connections between brain, mind, consciousness, and soul. This is an important book written in a style readily accessible also to the nonspecialist. Warmly recommended.
The Defamation of Pius XII. By Ralph McInerny. St. Augustine’s Press. 210 pp. $19.
McInerny offers a vigorous defense of Pius XII as a holy and courageous leader who was responsible, directly and indirectly, for saving 860,000 Jews from the Holocaust. That figure he takes from the landmark study of Pinchas Lapide, which is one of the many sources he mines in providing the reader with important documentation with which to counter the ongoing defamation of the wartime pope. This book, along with others such as Pierre Blet’s Pius XII and the Second World War (Paulist), is part of a growing literature for the defense, even as the presses continue to churn out new and recycled briefs for the prosecution. Among the notable features of McInerny’s book is a treatment of the delicate subject of what Jewish leaders, particularly Zionists, did and did not do to help the victims of the Holocaust. He suggests that Jewish leadership is not in a moral position to criticize the much bolder and more effective actions of Pius XII and the Catholic Church. Contending that anti–Catholicism is the anti–Semitism of those leading the campaign of defamation, he concludes with a reflection on complicity in the current “culture of death” represented by abortion and euthanasia. This book does not pretend to be an evenhanded account of the controversy surrounding Pius XII. According to McInerny, “the attacks on him are risibly easy to dismiss,” and thus the question becomes, “Why is this good man being defamed?” The more strident critics of Pius XII will undoubtedly do their best to ignore this book. For the defense team, it provides useful information.
A Life of James Boswell. By Peter Martin. Yale University Press. 613 pp. $35.
For a hundred years after his death in 1795, Boswell was viewed as a drunk, a rake, and a general buffoon who just happened, by a literary fluke, to have written perhaps the greatest biography in the English language, The Life of Samuel Johnson. Boswell’s reputation was considerably rehabilitated in the twentieth century, in part because of the discovery and publication of vast hordes of his journals and other writings. Building on the work of others who advanced that rehabilitation, Peter Martin presents what is, all in all, a sympathetic portrait of Johnson’s “Bozzy,” who is still what the critics have always said, but is not only that. He was also a modest man, who put his extraordinary literary talent in the service of acutely depicting his world and celebrated figures who defined his world. But finally we want to know Boswell better because we want to know Johnson better, and on that score A Life of James Boswell does not disappoint.
Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican’s Enforcer of the Faith. By John L. Allen, Jr. Continuum. 336 pp. $24.95.
The author is the Rome reporter for the National Catholic Reporter, and, as the subtitle suggests, he does not stray from that paper’s enthusiasm for dissent and hostility to an allegedly oppressive pontificate whose theological dirty work is done by Cardinal Ratzinger and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Perhaps sensing that his narrative of ecclesiastical skullduggery is implausibly partisan, Mr. Allen appends several pages in which he generously acknowledges that Ratzinger is right about a few important things. A well–researched, fair–minded, and theologically in formed book on the remarkably complex person and work of Cardinal Ratzinger is still very much needed.
Law and Religion: A Critical Anthology. Edited by Stephen M. Feldman. New York University Press. 483 pp. $24 paper.
Editor Feldman is adamantly op posed to the position advanced by, for instance, Father Richard John Neuhaus, but, to his credit, this big anthology is quite balanced and includes, among many others, Neu haus. Law and Religion is a useful representation of wildly different and conflicting understandings of the religion clause of the First Amendment and, more generally, of religion in public life. It provides a wide–angle snapshot of the state of the debate at the end of the twentieth century. The state of the law and of the debate, however, seems now to be changing dramatically as the Supreme Court appears to be in the process of extricating itself from the mess it created, beginning in the 1940s, by trying to make impossible distinctions, such as that between the religious and the secular.
The Abolition of Britain. By Peter Hitchens. Encounter. 332 pp. $22.95.
The conservative brother of the unseemly Christopher says that the jig is pretty much up with the U.K. Britain is engaged in a revolution—begun in the 1960s and wildly accelerated by Prime Minister Tony Blair—that is nothing less than the abolition of Britain. The union among England, Scotland, Wales, and Ulster is broken; membership in the House of Lords is now a position of political patronage; and the country is on the edge of abandoning sterling in subservience to the European Union’s euro. Then there are all the usual indicators of cultural and social decline shared with America, and maybe caught from America. Mr. Hitchens may be right, but the jeremiad does seem somewhat overheated.
Law and Social Norms. By Eric Posner. Harvard University Press. 260 pp. $39.95.
A University of Chicago law professor offers the familiar “economic view of society” based on rational choice and game theory, arguing that judges and lawmakers, recognizing that deliberative democracy is a myth, should be in the business of undermining social norms that get in the way of their preferred outcomes. The thesis is unimaginative, reductionistic, and representative of much that passes today for cutting–edge legal theory.
The Grand Strategy of Philip II. By Geoffrey Parker. Yale University Press. 446 pp. $45.
For the latter half of the sixteenth century, Philip II ruled over the first empire on which the sun never set. In the standard Anglo–American telling of the story, Philip is very much a villain; a defender of Catholic forces of darkness, oppressor of the native peoples of the New World, and master of the ill–fated Spanish Armada so valiantly turned back by Protestant England with the aid of a very Protestant Providence. Professor Parker of Ohio State University does not turn Philip into a hero, but does offer a sympathetic portrait of a limited but conscientious ruler trying to cope with the probably impossible task of trying to hold together an empire that was vastly overextended. The book is wise, readable, well–research ed, and not devoid of lessons for contemporary globalizers.
The Red Horse. By Eugenio Corti. Ignatius. 1,015 pp. $29.95.
A translation from the Italian of a sprawling novel recounting the experience of Italians in the resistance and on the Russian front during World War II. The plodding story is very conservative, very Catholic, and very anti–Communist, which is the best explanation of the rave endorsements by conservative thinkers on the dustjacket. The endorsements are, it seems, an instance of conservatively correct thinking triumphing over literary judgment.
On the Lord’s Appearing: An Essay on Prayer and Tradition. By Jonathan Robinson. Catholic University of America Press. 236 pp. $19.95 paper.
On the back cover, Richard John Neuhaus says: “God appeared in history and ‘appears’ in our hearts through prayer. The message is not that ‘prayer works’ but that those who work at prayer learn that God works through prayer, and that even our praying is his work. Such are the truths illumined by Father Robinson in a book that is thoroughly Catholic in doctrine and wise in the ways of the Spirit.” We checked, and Fr. Neuhaus says he means every word of that.
A Grief Unveiled. By Gregory Floyd. Paraclete. 194 pp. $13.95 paper.
Subtitled “one father’s journey through the death of a child,” this is an extraordinary
account of how a family and a community of faith responded to the death of six–year–old
John–Paul in a car accident. The book is at times emotionally devastating, at
times spiritually exhilarating, and most of the time both at once.