Copyright (c) 1999 First Things 94 (June/July 1999): 58-62.
U.S. Foreign Policy in the Twenty–First Century: The Relevance of Realism. By Robert J. Myers. Louisiana State University Press. 184 pp. $24.95.
Contemporary writing about America’s role in the world is too often marred by abstruse theorizing or, at the popular level, by oversimplification and inapt analogies. For readers in search of more ruminative fare, Kenneth W. Thompson and the Louisiana State University Press provide a valuable service with their Political Traditions in Foreign Policy series, which examines American foreign policy through the lens of political philosophy. The latest installment in this catalogue is a thoughtful primer by Robert J. Myers on the history and utility of foreign policy realism. Realism, as opposed to idealism, assumes the perduring character of human nature and the persistence of state power as the basic currency of international relations; and it presumes that man’s search for security will, as it has always, define those relations. The analysis here ranges from discussions of the Peloponnesian War and the history of Chinese foreign policy to successive indictments of Kant, historicism, and the United Nations. To each, the author brings to bear a formidable array of historical references, logical proofs, and moral judgments. Toward the end of his survey, Myers turns to the American experience and weighs how fealty to the tenets of realism might enhance the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. The legacy of American exceptionalism, of course, complicates this task. As Henry Kissinger has ruefully noted, "The singularities that America has ascribed to itself . . . impose on it obligations to crusade for them around the world." To his credit, Myers, unlike many of his fellow realists, concedes that in foreign policy considerations of human rights and ideology may coexist alongside those of power and self–interest—coexist, that is, so long as American policymakers recognize that the rest of the world subscribes to truths of a more primal sort. And, indeed, other than to counsel prudence, realism offers little in the way of a normative theory. As a guide to the analytical certainties from which sound policy should proceed, however, this volume provides a useful reminder of truisms too many American strategists seem to have forgotten.
— Lawrence F. Kaplan
Princeton in the Nation’s Service: Religious Ideals and Educational Practice, 1868–1928. By P. C. Kemeny. Oxford University Press. 353 pp. $45.
Paul Kemeny carefully recounts the transformation of Princeton’s religious character under four presidents—James McCosh, Francis L. Patton, Woodrow Wilson, and John Grier Hibben. During the sixty–year period he chooses, the college’s conservatively evangelical Presbyterianism devolved into a "nonsectarian" and thus unstable Protestantism, and thence into a scholarly modernism. He takes as keynote the debate between James McCosh and Harvard’s Charles Eliot about the place of religion on campus, in which the former argued that "faith in God and Savior is the most potent force which can be brought to bear upon the young." Eliot identified "service to the nation" as the university’s mission, for which any sectarian sponsorship was an undue restraint. With a mastery of diverse sources seen rarely in a first work, Kemeny chronicles all the internal pushing and shoving as three partisan yet ironically allied forces pursued their rival accounts of how Princeton could remain religious. The codeword accepted by all parties was that it should be "nonsectarian," and under that cover Princeton’s aspiration dissolved easily from "Presbyterian" to "Protestant" to "religious." The conservatives retreated into fundamentalism; the moderates adopted a good–works, good–cheer piety; and the liberals actively rejected the meaningless reminders of the naive past. This carefully compiled chronicle displays the process by which the modernists do not simply displace the pietists, but are their offspring. The evangelical pietism of early McCosh, in its anxiety not to claim any "sectarian" identity, inexorably degrades into the unaware modernism of late Hibben. When McCosh praises "those grand philanthropic and missionary efforts which are one of the glories of our country," he discloses his belief that faith in Jesus can as well (or better) belong in a nation as in a church. When Patton says, "The best Christians are the best citizens," one does not expect their belief to range far beyond their civility. When Wilson tells what it means to be a Presbyterian, the intent listener smothers for want of oxygen: "I do not see how the spirit of learning can be separated or divorced from the spirit of religion. At its heart lies that which is ideal, which elevates and ennobles, while it quickens the pulse and fills the lungs with a new and vivifying breath—the love of truth, the desire to see with the eyes of the mind, to see the things which are invisible and which stand fast through all generations." Hibben’s grievance against F. Scott Fitzgerald’s compromising Princeton memoir, This Side of Paradise, provides an unwitting moment of truth: "It would be an overwhelming grief to me . . . should I feel that we have nothing to offer but the outgrown symbols of a past whose reality has long since disappeared." By this time Kemeny’s account has made it strikingly clear how Princeton religion, which dared not strain the capacity of (the spoiled youth of) a nation, could not have held a grip on the gospel. He offers here the most extended account we have of any university’s dissociation from its Christian self–understanding. But, though a prodigious chronicler, he has not succeeded nearly so well as a historian, and that is a shame. At the end of this carefully recounted tale of a generic gospel gone yada yada by being compelled not to offend any national constituency, the reader is stunned to encounter the author’s own conclusion: "The displacement of nineteenth–century evangelical interests and practices . . . did not lead to the secularization or marginalization of Protestantism. . . . Rather the university had adjusted its religious mission to modern educational realities and the nation’s growing cultural pluralism. Liberal Protestantism . . . directed the nation’s future leaders to look beyond the material to transcendent, unseen realities for inspiration to help usher the Kingdom of God in America." What comes to mind is the scene in Sunset Boulevard when Eric von Stroheim, Gloria Swanson’s husband/chauffeur/butler, assures William Holden that she will not "find out" what she has become. "She never will. That is my job, and it has been for a long time."
— James Tunstead Burtchaell, C.S.C.
Beauvoir and The Second Sex: Feminism, Race, and the Origins of Existentialism. By Margaret Simons. Rowman & Littlefield. 262 pp. $25.95.
This collection of previously published materials wouldn’t be worth noting, even briefly, were it not so perfectly representative of the low state to which certain sectors of the academy have sunk. Simons (of the Department of Philosophical Studies at Southern Illinois University) interviewed Simone de Beauvoir about Sartre, philosophy, and feminism, inter alia, while doing graduate work in Paris during the late ’70s and early ’80s; the text of those interviews is included here along with several essays on matters feminist. Simons expertly demonstrates the latest academic "discipline": if the testimony of her subject doesn’t jibe with her own hegemony theory, she merely contradicts the testimony. For instance, here’s what Beauvoir has to say on the subject of Sartre: "Obviously, I was not able to influence him, since I did not do philosophy. I criticized him, I discussed many of his ideas with him, but I did not have any philosophical influence on Sartre, whereas he had such an influence on me, that is certain." Nonsense, says Simons, and declares that Beauvoir was the victim of oppressive social forces. For Simons, that oppressed condition invalidates Beauvoir’s own remarks about her philosophical unoriginality—apparently Beauvoir does not know her own mind. (But wait, isn’t that what the phallocrats would have us believe?) Or again, when Simons introduces the question of female identity and sexual separatism, she expects Beauvoir to respond with the radical feminist party line that women are preferable, even superior, to men, and that separatism is the only way to go. But again Beauvoir dissents: "I am completely against it, because in the end [radical feminists] come back to men’s mythologies, that is, that woman is a being apart, and I find that completely in error. Better that she identify herself as a human being who happens to be a woman." It is a pathetic irony indeed that because of the ideological confinement imposed by today’s academy, this very icon of feminism isn’t allowed to speak for herself. There are moments of genuine hilarity in these exchanges, as when in an unguarded moment Simons says to Beauvoir, "It bothers me that you say you are not a philosopher. I don’t know why. I suppose it is because I spend so much time treating your work philosophically." Thus are the dimensions of intellectual dishonesty among latter–day feminists revealed. If Beauvoirean feminism was tragedy, the current feminism is farce. Simons has at least said all the politically correct things, if not the true things, and she has said them in job–securing print.
— Norah Vincent
The Truth of Things: Liberal Arts and the Recovery of Reality. By Marion Montgomery. Spence. 309 pp. $24.95.
A collection of rambling, often unfocused, thematic essays that still manages to provide valuable insights—including an acute criticism of Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind and a superb analysis of Mark Twain’s story The Mysterious Stranger. Montgomery’s strength as a classroom teacher is much in evidence throughout, particularly in his insistence that "the ultimate end of liberal arts training must always be to prepare a particular man to hear, really hear, Oedipus’ agonized cry so well that he knows agony as never before." Montgomery conveys, moreover, a Thomism that seeks the "recovery of intellect from its gnostic delusions." "Existence is real," he says, and "it has a meaning beyond any prideful supposition of my finite intellect"; therefore we have an obligation to consider real things rather than our own imagined relation to them. The modern world, he maintains, has lost this capacity, the "immediate historical cause" being "the divorce of humanism from Christianity." Current liberal arts education seeks above all to give students "autonomous" minds, but Montgomery sees this as precisely the problem: an autonomous mind is a rejection of reality, thus of God, and accordingly not the purpose for which liberal education exists. For all its good sense, however, the book as a whole would have been much better if it had displayed the taut, clear prose that is proper to essays rather than the discursive style more appropriate to classroom teaching.
—Richard Cowden Guido
Building a Protestant Left: Christianity and Crisis Magazine, 1941–1993. By Mark Hulsether. University of Tennessee Press. 374 pp. $38.
Christianity and Crisis was founded in 1941 to promote the views of "Christian realism" against what Reinhold Niebuhr and others viewed as the moral sentimentalism of the Christian Century and kindred voices of the Protestant left. Thus the author, who teaches American Studies at the University of Tennessee, would seem to have the wrong title. The originating purpose of C&C was not to build a Protestant left but to challenge and, if possible, displace the regnant left. By the time of Niebuhr’s death in 1971, and much more virulently in the years running up to its collapse in 1993 when it ran out of readers, C&C had uncritically embraced the "radicalized" liberalism that scorned Niebuhr’s "Christian realism" as little more than an ideology of capitalist, sexist, racist oppression dressed up as Christian ethics. The author is clearly sympathetic to that radicalized turn, and the villains in his telling of the story are the former liberals turned neoconservative, notably the Editor–in–Chief of this journal, who, he claims, opportunistically capitalized on a political climate increasingly unsympathetic to the left. Controlling for that blatant bias, Building a Protestant Left is a thoroughly researched and very useful examination of an important dimension of the American religious situation in the last half century.
Betty Friedan and the Making of The Feminine Mystique: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism. By Daniel Horowitz. University of Massachusetts Press. 355 pp. $29.95.
First it was an authorized biography. Then Horowitz started digging up some things that Friedan didn’t want unearthed. So even though Horowitz was basically sympathetic to Friedan’s feminist position, his authorization was revoked—but the book still came out. The dirty little secret? Betty Friedan wasn’t an unhappy housewife after all. It’s not the unhappy part that’s wrong. It’s the housewife part. Friedan was anything but an oppressed little woman. Her early adult years were spent at exclusive Smith College, during and after which she worked as a journalist and activist for the Stalinist cause. Instead of suffocating under household chores, she had a full–time maid, abrogated all domestic responsibilities while writing The Feminine Mystique, and, in the words of Carl Friedan (her husband), "seldom was a wife and mother." This radical past didn’t fit with the home–as–comfortable–concentration–camp image required by The Feminine Mystique, but her solution was simple—she lied. The cat is out of the bag now. With devastating detail, Horowitz has blown the lid off the Friedan mystique.
Rome Has Spoken: A Guide to Forgotten Papal Statements and How They Have Changed through the Centuries. Edited by Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabben. Crossroad. 243 pp. $19.95 paper.
The editors, both associated with the Quixote Center in Maryland, join with others, mainly vocal dissidents, in making at tedious length the obvious point that popes in the past have said things that differ from Catholic magisterial teaching—on ecumenism, religious freedom, the role of women, usury, sexual pleasure, and so forth. In more serious hands, this might have been a study in the development of doctrine. Under the direction of Fiedler, Rabben & Co. it is an exercise in the deconstruction of doctrine. The conclusion is that, because there have been changes in the past, everything is up for grabs now. The liberal Protestant magazine Christian Century calls the book "a handy, entertaining compendium." Entertaining, as in silly.
Cardinal Manning: An Intellectual Biography. By James Pereiro. Clarendon. 359 pp. $82.
Henry Edward Cardinal Manning counted John Henry Newman, Edward Pusey, and William Gladstone among his friends and partners in argument. He also played a major role in the First Vatican Council, and was instrumental in the development of the dogma of papal infallibility. It’s no surprise, then, that behind such a great public life lay a great intellectual and spiritual adventure. Pereiro tells the story of Manning’s journey to, and efforts within, the Roman Catholic Church, with special emphasis on the theological and personal struggles they entailed. In addition to examining Manning’s own development, Pereiro provides useful discussions of certain elements in Anglican and Catholic theology, as well as a detailed account of the events of Vatican I. The result is an engaging analysis of one of the most vibrant periods in England’s religious history, and a finely drawn portrait of an exemplary man.
A Defender of Southern Conservatism: M. E. Bradford and His Achievements. Edited by Clyde N. Wilson. University of Missouri Press. 192 pp. $29.95.
M. E. Bradford of Texas died, still a relatively young man, in 1993, and left behind admirers and some bitter enemies. In the tradition of the Southern Agrarians, he defended in literature and political philosophy a superior way of life that he believed had been destroyed by the ideological equalizers led by Abraham Lincoln and his ilk. At the beginning of the Reagan Administration, he and others thought he was slated to head up the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the defeat of his candidacy became a cause célèbre defining the division between "neocons" and "paleocons." Most of the essays in the book are tributes, sometimes laced with a polemical edge that Bradford might have approved. Eugene Genovese and Elizabeth Fox–Genovese, however, point out that Bradford and the tradition he championed never came to honest terms with the legacy of slavery, unlike William Faulkner, to whom Bradford was so devoted.
The Redhunter: A Novel Based on the Life of Senator Joe McCarthy. By William F. Buckley. Little, Brown. 421 pp. $24.50.
Forty–six years ago, Buckley and his brother–in–law the late L. Brent Bozell (to whom he dedicates the present book) published McCarthy and His Enemies. Since then he has done a great deal of thinking about McCarthy and McCarthyism, and has come to the view that the junior Senator from Wisconsin turned out to be, however inadvertently, the greatest enemy of the anti–Com munist cause he championed. There is nought in this novel for the comfort of the leftist enemies of McCarthy, for the story leaves no doubt that the Communist subversion that the Senator intended to exorcise was all too real. Despite everything, McCarthy is portrayed sympathetically: a tragic figure done in by ego, alcoholism, and misplaced trust in his aide, Roy Cohn. The Redhunter is a fascinating tale fascinatingly told, and is warmly recommended to those who want to make sense of a tumultuous time that continues to reverberate through our political culture.
Prayers Plainly Spoken. By Stanley Hauerwas. InterVarsity Press. 132 pp. $12.99.
These are prayers to be savored—specific, idiosyncratic, and honest. A prayer for thanksgiving: "We praise you, we thank you, for making us alive through your exuberant creation. Thank you for creating a world so full of color (particularly lime green), so full of difference (such as armadillos), so full of magic (such as your Word and sacraments). The wonder of it all saves us from our narcissistic presumptions that everything finally depends on us." For laughter: "Funny Lord, Jester King, you are surely a strange God. You must have an extraordinary sense of humor to trust your kingdom to a people like us." For children: "Thank you for these your children, who screw up our lives, thus teaching us our true desires. Like your Son, they are our fleshly advents, because through them we learn patient hope." The rest of them are every bit as delightful.
John Paul II and Interreligious Dialogue. Edited by Byron L. Sherwin and Harold Kasimow. Orbis. 236 pp. $18 paper.
A useful introduction to aspects of this pontificate’s initiatives in dialogue with Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and other world religions, including some of the pertinent official statements as well as wide–ranging interviews with various participants. Foreword by Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy.
Adoration: Eucharistic Texts and Prayers Throughout Church History. Edited by Daniel P. Guernsey. Ignatius. 250 pp. $14.95 paper.
Among Catholics today there is a marked revival of the practices associated with Eucharistic Adoration. Drawing on biblical and traditional sources, this book provides a rich resource for personal and communal devotion.
Contemporary Jewish Theology: A Reader. Edited by Elliot N. Dorff and Louis E. Newman. Oxford University Press. 552 pp. $49.95 cloth, $27.95 paper.
An extremely useful collection of twentieth–century Jewish theological writings on such varied topics as the nature of God, creation, revelation, redemption, covenant, law, the Holocaust, and the State of Israel. The authors anthologized are among the most significant Jewish thinkers of our time, including a number of First Things contributors (David Novak, Michael Wyschogrod, Jakob J. Petuchowski, Emil Fackenheim, and Peter Ochs) as well as their venerable predecessors (Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, and Abraham Joshua Heschel, among others).