Briefly Noted
(August/September 1994)

Copyright (c) 1994 First Things 45 (August/September 1994)

On Power: The Natural History of its Growth. By Bertrand de Jouvenel. Liberty Press. 444 pp. $25 cloth, $8.50 paper.

Liberty Fund's tradition of publishing handsome and inexpensive volumes on liberty is enriched by this twentieth-century classic of political theory. Jouvenel chronicles with concern the growth of "Power" the bureaucratic apparatus of the state which coalesced around kings in early modern Europe. In his account, aristocrats emerge as the champions of liberty, and democratic popular sovereignty is analyzed as an instrument that dangerously advances Power's monopoly of social authority. Yet Jouvenel is no simplistic libertarian. Indeed, he ends this work with an attack on rationalist individualism, a classical liberal postulate that has only abetted the growth of Power. He writes that historically, liberal metaphysics "refused to see in society anything but the state and the individual." "It disregarded the role of the spiritual authorities and of all those intermediate social forces which enframe, protect, and control the life of man" and which thereby check the growth of Power. Jouvenel's political science may supply the discussion of intermediate authority that is neglected in the contemporary communitarian critique of liberalism.

Reviewed by Mark C. Henrie

Memoirs. By Frederick C. Copleston, S.J. Sheed & Ward. 228 pp. $14.95 paper.

Father Copleston's nine-volume History of Philosophy seems destined to be one of the enduring intellectual achievements of the twentieth century by reason of its comprehensiveness, if not its scintillating readability. Alas, it is the lack of the latter that also characterizes Copleston's autobiography. Copleston does tell several good stories: about his monumental labors in composing the History with no secretarial or research assistance, for example, and about debating A. J. Ayer on the BBC while both men were mildly potted on pre-lunch whiskies. There is also the occasional bon mot; my favorite is this Coplestonian admonition: "When lecturing in Germany, one ought always to include some unintelligible passages if one hopes to escape the charge of having treated one's subject superficially and without depth." But the late philosopher's recollections of his conversion to Catholicism and of his Jesuit training during pre-conciliar days are uninformative and in fact rather dull. Nor does Copleston, who spent half the academic year at the Gregorian university in Rome prior to and during Vatican II, give us any insight into the intellectual ferment that shaped that decisive event in contemporary Catholic history. Copleston's colleague Bernard Lonergan, for example, is relegated to two brief paragraphs, one of which notes that, with Lonergan's arrival at the Gregorianum, "the Germans no longer enjoyed a monopoly of obscure profundity." In brief, the book is a disappointment, indeed something of a sadness. It does slight justice to Father Copleston's own achievements as a historian of philosophy to whom students have been indebted for generations.

Reviewed by George Weigel

A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. By Mark A. Noll. Eerdmans. 576 pp. $39.95 cloth, $29.95 paper.

A comprehensive religious history of the U.S. and Canada from the earliest European settlement to the present, written by a frequent contributor to this journal. The combination of solid scholarship and literary grace was recognized by Christianity Today in its 1993 book awards: Noll's History was cited as both a Critics Choice Award and a Readers' Poll winner in the history and biography category. We find no reason to gainsay that judgment.

The History of Freedom. By John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton. With an Introduction by James C. Holland. Acton Institute. 93 pp. $7.95 paper.

John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, better known simply as Lord Acton, is most often remembered for his frequently quoted observation that "power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." But Acton's writings on politics are full of rich and subtle insights, aphoristic and otherwise. The two essays in this volume "The History of Freedom in Antiquity" and "The History of Freedom in Christianity" are most welcome, and can be recommended highly.

The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity. By Jon D. Levenson. Yale University Press. 257 pp. $27.50.

A scholarly exploration of a neglected bond between Jews and Christians: the importance of the sacrificed son, from Abraham to Golgatha. At the same time, the idea of the last-born son superseding the earlier poses problems of Christian "supersessionism" with respect to Judaism. A valuable contribution to serious Jewish-Christian dialogue.

Bringing up a Moral Child: A New Approach for Teaching Your Child to be Kind, Just, and Responsible. By Michael Schulman and Eva Mekler. Doubleday. 438 pp. $14.95 paper.

Published a decade ago to considerable acclaim for all the wrong reasons, this book, in its revised edition, continues to be the perfect manual for rearing politically correct bigots who dismiss as bigots all with whom they disagree. The authors judgmentally rail against the judgmentalism of religion, while graciously allowing that some religious leaders have opposed the evils engendered by religion. Schulman is at Columbia while Mekler is a psychologist with the New York City Board of Education, a celebrated font of wisdom regarding moral education.

Gay Politics vs. Colorado: The Inside Story of Amendment 2. By Stephen Bransford. Sardis Press (Box 11, Cascade CO 80809). 289 pp. $22.

A remarkably calm and revealing account of the battle over "gay rights" in Colorado that captured national attention. Although written by a supporter of Amendment 2 (which was overturned by the court in a decision now on appeal), the book provides a convincing analysis of the crosscutting interests and passions engaged when citizens attempt to hold government democratically accountable. Since similar battles continue to be waged in other states, this account is of interest far beyond the borders of Colorado.

George Macdonald: Victorian Mythmaker. By Rolland Hein. Star Song (Nashville). 453 pp. $22.99.

Hein is professor of literature at Wheaton College and here offers the first full-length biography of a writer who had an inestimable influence on such as C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkein, and Frederick Buechner (who writes the foreword). MacDonald was an extraordinary and often eccentric Scot who passionately embraced the Christian "myth" as the truth about a universal human destiny. An immensely popular writer in his time, his work is now, in large part via Lewis, enjoying something of a revival, richly deserved.

Putting Away Childish Things. By Uta Ranke-Heinemann. HarperSan Francisco. 306 pp. $24.

With offerings such as this (and there are many like it) from Harper San Francisco, Paul Kurtz and his Atheist Society can shut down their Prometheus Press. The author "exposes how the myths behind the Church's key doctrines such as the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth, the empty tomb distort Jesus' real liberating message." What won't they think of next? The book is excitedly cheered by the usual claque, including Karen Armstrong (A History of God), Elisabeth Shussler Fiorenza of Harvard, and, to be sure, Bishop John Spong. Readers with a sense of history may remember when such "radical religious thought" was radical.

Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940. By George Chauncey. Basic Books. 478 pp. $25.

A University of Chicago historian sets out to explode the myth that before the homosexual movement that began in the late 1960s homosexuals were a closeted, fear-ridden, persecuted minority. In New York especially, but also in other metropolises, there was a large, flourishing, and frequently very public gay world that was tolerated, sometimes celebrated, by the surrounding society. According to Chauncey, a more negative view of homosexuality developed after World War II, when sexual deviance was viewed as an offense against The Great American Way of Life that was then uncritically celebrated. (He is working on a sequel that will bring the story up to 1975.) John Boswell of Yale, the noted gay apologist, hails the present volume as an "electrifying account" of urban homosexuality prior to "gay liberation as a social movement." The historically literate, however, will hardly be surprised by the existence of a homosexual subculture in earlier decades. It is precisely the emergence of gay liberation as a social movement determined to restructure society's laws and mores that has made homosexuality a subject of such intense controversy in our time. Gay New York is not so much electrifying as it is a very detailed confirmation of the obvious.

Aimee Semple McPherson: Everybody's Sister. By Edith L. Blumhofer. Eerdmans. 431 pp. $14.95 paper.

In the 1920s "Sister" was as big as religious celebrities get. A rough and individualistic Protestant gospel joined with superb showmanship elicited (her critics say exploited) the religious passions of millions of Americans. This sympathetic biography provides entree to a time of religious excitements and confusions not entirely unlike our own.