Copyright (c) 1999 First Things 90 (February 1999): 59-67.
The Future of Islam and the West: Clash of Civilizations or Peaceful Coexistence? By Shireen T. Hunter. Center for Strategic and International Studies. 197 pp. $55 cloth, $17.95 paper.
The subject of Islam’s relations to the rest of the world, in particular to the West, continues to fascinate as well as divide experts in the field. It was Samuel Huntington who first threw down the gauntlet with his "clash of civilizations" theory, and the battle has since been fiercely taken up by a variety of commentators, critics, and dilettantes. Shireen T. Hunter provides the most recent reaction to the Huntington thesis. Representing the voice of Islamic moderation, Hunter seems driven by the desire to absolve Islam—both as a creed and as a way of life—from any responsibility for the tensions and animosities that characterize its relations with the West. Her discussion is rife with inaccuracies and misleading abstractions resulting from her narrowly apologetic stance. For example, Hunter’s insistence that Islam’s classical fusion of religion and politics is only "alleged" reflects neither the truth about Islam as an ideology nor Islamic practice throughout history. Similarly, the idea echoed by Hunter that jihad can be interpreted as waging an internal battle against "one’s own baser instincts and impulses" has no basis whatsoever in mainstream Islamic jurisprudence. She hedges on the question of whether Islam is compatible with democracy. Most disturbing of all is her reply to Huntington’s observation that no other worldview besides Islam is so thoroughly surrounded by violence. Is this violence entirely the fault of the non–Islamic cultures (specifically the West) who are out to conspire against Islam, as Hunter would suggest? Naturally, many factors beyond Islam contribute to its incompatibility with other cultures, but one cannot ignore, as Hunter cavalierly does, some very real ingredients that are uniquely Islamic. But like many of her fellow apologists, Hunter is through and through a positivist. She believes that everything, including Islam, evolves and that the future holds greater homogeneity than differentiation. The problem that she and other positivists must contend with, however, is the incredibly slow pace of this presumed evolution. When U.S. embassies around the world remain targets of terrorism and when Islamic groups and states alike seek to acquire nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons capabilities, a treatment as flawed and unconvincing as Hunter’s compels one to wonder at the sort of policy analysis and advice being produced by Washington’s leading think tanks.
—Habib C. Malik
A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market. By Wilhelm Röpke. Intercollegiate Studies Institute. 350 pp. $24.95.
Here we find a highly readable explication of the free market economy—and the moral and cultural limits within which it must operate—from the thinker who is most credited with guiding Germany’s postwar economic "miracle." Although often overlooked in America, Röpke is considered in Europe to be the equal of von Mises and Hayek, having worked closely with each for decades. A refugee from Hitler’s Reich, Röpke fled to Switzerland, where he became the theoretician of small government, small business, and localism. He was descended from a family of Lutheran pastors, but he took his moral compass from Chesterton, Belloc, and Pope Pius XI. Agreeing with them that widespread entrepreneurship, small farming, and decentralized power were essential for the market economy to survive, he tried to offer measures to promote these goods without invoking state coercion (anticipating in many ways Pope John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus). Firmly ensconced within the classical liberal tradition, Röpke also assimilated the insights of Burke, Tocqueville, and Russell Kirk about the need for institutions, tradition, and strong families to offset excessive individualism even as he championed the rights of man against threats from left and right. In this late work, back in print after a long hiatus, he examines the moral and civilizational implications of the welfare state, inflation, urbanization, suburban sprawl, population growth, and environmental degradation. He also offers a spirited defense of middle–class, "bourgeois" virtue as the backbone of a good society. This book is an excellent starting point for the non–economist reader who wishes to cut through jargon and formulas to understand the moral underpinnings of the free market and what must be done to preserve it.
The Taste for the Other: The Social and Ethical Thought of C. S. Lewis. Second Edition. By Gilbert Meilaender. Eerdmans. 244 pp. $16.
As evidenced by the 1998 re–issuing of Gilbert Meilaender’s classic, interest in Lewisiana shows little sign of abating. In the twenty years separating the first and second editions, much has been published on Lewis’ life and thought. Relatively little, however, has provided what Meilaender believes to be a coherent, critical account of the theological vision that imbues Lewis’ writings. Scholarship in the main has not accounted for the unity of Lewis’ theological vision nor the theological assumptions undergirding that vision. Taste is dedicated to probing Lewis’ understanding of "what it would mean fully to realize our nature as human beings"—an understanding that is "an intensely moral one, deeply Augustinian in its basic contours, in which ethics and theology are closely intertwined." Meilaender recounts several themes recurring throughout Lewis’ writings. Lewis warns that the lure of created things—"the sweet poison of the false infinite"—must be resisted so that life’s purpose not be distorted. Similarly, he understands all human beings as created for fellowship with God and with humanity. Divine communion and human community both are dependent upon—and issue out of—a self–sacrificing love in which pride must surrender and human longings be redirected. Grief and pain are no stranger to self–giving love; rather, Lewis sees them as good (though not unqualifiedly so). Because we humans are made for communion with God, in order to bring us to our journey’s end God must at times appear to be "the Divine Surgeon"; only then can we be truly human. Living with God is a call to constant risk–taking, to the possibility of being wounded, to negation and renunciation. While Lewis concedes that not all must suffer tragedy, each must experience "the tether and pang of the particular." We must lay ourselves bare, vulnerable to both God and others, or else lose our humanity. A final—and pervasive—theme Meilaender finds throughout Lewis’ writings is the existence of "primeval moral platitudes" which we always know—and break. All told, Lewis is at his Augustinian best as he portrays throughout his works what it means to be thoroughly human. Meilaender thinks this marvelous web of deep–rooted, interlocking theological convictions explains Lewis’ timeless appeal to readers.
—J. Daryl Charles
What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman. By Danielle Crittenden. Simon & Schuster. 193 pp. $23.
Crittenden warmly, anecdotally, and authoritatively recaptures for us a truth that was once too obvious to be said—women are, in fact, women. Thirty years of aggressive feminism have left the current generation of women in some doubt about this basic biological fact; they have been encouraged to be more like men and less like women. This splendid book engages the regnant feminist wisdom issue by issue, starting with sex and moving through love, marriage, motherhood, aging, and finally the dangerous equation of the personal with the political. Crittenden encourages women to be women again and to take back the lost pleasures of womanhood. At the end, she offers concrete advice revolutionary enough to make the current revolutionaries tremble in their boots—marry younger, have babies younger, and stay with those babies. Most importantly, she reminds us what life is really about: loving interdependence.
The Lord Will Gather Me In: My Journey to Jewish Orthodoxy. By David Klinghoffer. Free Press. 262 pp. $24.
Many readers will remember the author’s reflection on "Anti–Semitism Without Anti–Semites" (FT, April 1998) and the spirited response to it in a subsequent issue. Klinghoffer’s spiritual autobiography turns around a most singular biography: born of a Swedish woman, adopted by secular Jews, falling in love with and coming near to marrying a devout Catholic, converting to Judaism under Conservative auspices, and then "reconverting" to Orthodoxy. It is a story of spiritual earnestness told with literary panache. For all the singularity of Klinghoffer’s circumstances, the story provides insight into the larger ba’al teshuvah movement, in which thousands of younger Jews are finding their way to Orthodoxy. There is an explicit polemic against Conservative, never mind Reform, Judaism for believing only that Torah contains the truth, whereas Orthodoxy affirms that it is the truth. And, after searching in vain for some touch of Jewish ancestry, Klinghoffer makes the liberating discovery that being Jewish is not so much about blood and tribe as about knowing and living the truth of Torah. (Other Jews of course will give a different account of the balance between tribe and Torah in their religion.) Both Jewish and non–Jewish readers will undoubtedly learn much about the ways of the spiritual life and about contemporary Judaism from this compelling story.
The Politics of Bad Faith. By David Horowitz. Free Press. 256 pp. $25.
The author of Radical Son launches a blistering attack on the "bad faith" of leftists who disguise their radical, and usually Marxist, ideology behind labels such as "liberal," "moderate," or "social democrat." Horowitz, a "red diaper baby" brought up in a stifling New York world of Jews who had traded their faith for the Communist delusion, is a veteran of the sometimes violent permutations of the New Left of the 1960s who discovered liberation in the thought of Friedrich Hayek and others who are now labeled "conservative." Readers who did not live through the intensity of the ideological conflicts of the left may find Horowitz’s rhetoric frequently overheated, but, as in his earlier book, he opens a window to worlds of radicalism that must be appreciated in order to understand today’s political culture. Horowitz writes: "Conservatism is not the other side of the coin of radicalism any more than skepticism is the mirror of faith. I have not exchanged one ideology for another; I have freed myself from the chains of an Idea." The book is especially convincing in its argument that that Idea, based in Marxist notions of class conflict, is the de facto religion of the left. At the same time, Horowitz’s conservatism is notably tone deaf to the role of authentic religion, and, with the exception of a strong chapter on homosexuality and the AIDS epidemic, there is nary a mention of abortion and other moral and social questions that drive contemporary conservatism. Such omissions and the tone of anger notwithstanding, the book is an important tract for our political times.
Church and Revolution: Catholics in the Struggle for Democracy and Social Justice. By Thomas Brokenkotter. Doubleday/Image. 424 pp. $15 paper.
Pitching to a popular audience, the author, who teaches history at Xavier University in Cincinnati, offers a once–over–lightly account of how the Catholic Church moved from being a force of reaction at the time of the French Revolution to today’s champion of peace and justice (progressively construed). He tells the story through the prism of key individuals, from Ireland’s Daniel O’Connell through Karl Marx and El Salvador’s Oscar Romero. There are some unconventional figures, such as Henry Edward Manning and Konrad Adenauer, but they are refracted through the conventional liberal lens of class conflict. The generally sympathetic treatment of Marx concludes with the acknowledgment that things did not turn out the way he said they would. John Paul II is almost totally absent from the story, even in the chapter on Poland, which the author calls "Lech Walesa’s Revolution." It is one way of writing history.
Beyond the Darkness: A Biography of Bede Griffiths. By Shirley Du Boulay. Doubleday. 308 pp. $24.95.
Bede Griffiths (1906–1993) was an English convert to Christianity who became a Benedictine monk and established an ashram in India where he devoted himself to the interaction among world religions. Rome had difficulty with his theological views, which sometimes suggested an undiscriminating syncretism, and some of his epigones took his inspiration far beyond anything approximating Christian orthodoxy. The life and work of Bede deserve better, for instance, than book blurbs by Hans Küng and creationist guru Matthew Fox. Unfortunately, his biographer’s grasp of theological and spiritual realities does not rise above the blurbs.
Hans Küng: Breaking Through. By Hermann Häring. Continuum. 400 pp. $29.95.
An embarrassingly fulsome appreciation of Küng’s "work and legacy" offered by a Dutch disciple on the master’s seventieth birthday. The book does provide an interesting insight into the industry of collaborators and ghostwriters that might be called Küng, Inc. Even as a birthday present, however, the book could have done with just a touch of critical distance.
John Paul II and Moral Theology. Edited by Charles E. Curran and Richard A. McCormick. Paulist. 304 pp. $29.95 paper.
The tenth volume in "readings in moral theology" edited by two theologians who are very vocally unsympathetic to this pontificate. Most of the twenty–six contributions deal with the encyclicals Evangelium Vitae, Veritatis Splendor, and Centesimus Annus. Given the disposition of the editors, the selection is reasonably representative of current thinking in Catholic moral theology.
Reluctant Dissenter. By James Patrick Shannon. Crossroad. 228 pp. $19.95.
James Shannon was once celebrated as a leading light of the Catholic hierarchy in America. In 1969 he resigned as a bishop and a priest, ostensibly over his disagreement with the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. As this short and readable autobiography makes clear, perhaps inadvertently, his problems with the encyclical brought to the surface his long–standing difficulties with the hierarchical order of the Church and its requirement of obedience. Lionized by the liberal media but knowing he would never get a diocese of his own, he embraced a new life in marriage, the academy, and the law. It is a sad story told without deep personal or intellectual insight, but also without bitterness. As Shannon would likely agree, he was simply not cut out to be a priest or a bishop, at least not in the Catholic Church that is.
Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, Past and Present. Edited by J. C. Willke. Hayes (Cincinnati, OH). 149 pp. $7.95 paper.
A valuable overview of current debates and court decisions, with responsible reference to historical precedents, including that of Nazi Germany. A useful text for discussion groups.
Reconstructing America. By James W. Ceaser. Yale University Press. 291 pp. $30.
A spirited and elegant argument that very much needs to be made. Ceaser, who is professor of government at the University of Virginia, traces the way in which, from the eighteenth century on, American intellectuals have imitated their presumed betters in Europe in heaping disdain upon the presumed vulgarity of all things American. Combining refined polemic with cogent reasoning, the author urges that Europhiliac cultural and literary criticism be countered with clearheaded political science in "reconstructing" the truth about the astonishing achievement that is the American political order. Warmly recommended.
The Experience of Nothingness. By Michael Novak. Transaction. 145 pp. $21.95 paper.
A revised and expanded edition of a book published thirty years ago by an author very familiar to the readers of this journal. The extended introduction is a particularly useful intellectual autobiography of Novak’s movement over the years to a more vibrant orthodoxy.
The Sixties. By Arthur Marwick. Oxford University Press. 963 pp. $39.95.
An idiosyncratic mishmash of footnotes to the cultural revolution in its British, French, Italian, and American expressions. While Marwick has offended some on the left by his coolness to Marxism, he is uncompromising in his opposition to "the radical, divisive, philistine conservatism of Reagan and Thatcher," and is confident that such reactionary forces will not undo the long–term liberating blessings of the sixties. A huge book that can be read as confirmation of the revolution’s long and successful march through the institutions.
The Size of Chesterton’s Catholicism. By David W. Fagerberg. University of Notre Dame Press. 214 pp. $25 paper.
Among the countless books on the great GKC, this gracefully written essay deserves a place of distinction. The author is a Lutheran who found his way to Catholicism, through Chesterton in large part, and the book is an expanded reflection on the latter’s idea that the Catholic Church is "the trysting–place for all the truths in the world." The claim is that Catholicism can accommodate all the other truths, including Christian truths, but none of them can accommodate Catholicism, which is larger than the world itself. Fagerberg demonstrates a mastery of Chesterton’s vast literary corpus, and, without blunting the edges, effectively translates Chesterton’s polemical joshings for the more ecumenical sensibilities of our day. It is a notable achievement that deserves a wide readership.
There’s More to Life Than Politics. By William Murchison. Spence. 279 pp. $22.95.
Popular columnist Murchison brings together many of his best pieces around the theme that the really important things in life (family, love, friendship, death, eternal hope) sharply relativize the imperiousness of politics in the contemporary, especially the liberal, mind. Foreword by William F. Buckley, Jr.
The International Bible Commentary. Edited by William Reuben Farmer and David L. Dungan. Liturgical Press. 1,968 pp. $99.95.
At first blush, the promotion of this huge book seems rather odd. Much is made of its being international, with editions in half a dozen languages and contributors from all over the world. Had it all been produced in the U.S., France, or Zimbabwe, it would have been just as good. And it is very good indeed. A seven–year project sponsored by the University of Dallas and led by editor Farmer has produced what is likely the most useful one–volume Bible commentary available. It is described as "a Catholic and Ecumenical Commentary," and that captures the way it is centered in the Catholic tradition but reaches out in all directions. In addition to the commentary on all the books of the Bible (including the deuterocanonical or, as Protestants prefer, apocryphal books), there are more than three hundred pages of introductory materials on the history of biblical texts, patristic exegesis, historical–critical methodologies, and the use of the Bible in preaching. Of course, with so many different scholars involved, not all the articles and commentaries are of equal quality, but this is altogether a breathtakingly ambitious project brought to completion with great distinction. It is also—and this cannot be taken for granted these days—an instance of very handsome bookmaking.