Imaginative Conservatism: The Letters of Russell Kirk

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Herein lies one of my greatest failings as a book reviewer:  I am too slow.  Too slow to get the books read.  Too slow to get the reviews written.  Sometimes, too slow to understand what the books are about.  On the other hand, I am quick at starting books.  A few pages in and I often find myself saying, “This is great.”  I want digress into yet another problem which is that I am too easily pleased, informed, amused, and enamored by the books I read.  I don’t have enough critical faculties to dislike the books I review, and I usually avoid picking and reviewing books I suspect I will dislike.

This brings us to Imaginative Conservatism: The Letters of Russell Kirk, edited by James E. Person, Jr. and published by the University of Kentucky Press.  I have tried to make myself race through this book.  I have attempted to be like the high school or college student who has procrastinated but now must get the book read before the upcoming test.  But I cannot.

This book is divided into six decades from Kirk’s life.  He lived from 1918 to 1994, but the letters cover the decades starting with the 1940’s.  We get glimpses of Kirk’s experiences and thoughts during World War II.  He was far from the fronts, for he was located in the American west, but he did comment on events from that time.  From there, we see Kirk as a student in Scotland and a teacher in Michigan.  Over the years, he was constantly corresponding with literary figures, publishers, and political thinkers regarding upcoming writing ventures and book reviews.

Just as we often don’t want our children to grow up too fast, I don’t want to get to the end of this book too fast.  I am at a point where Kirk is not yet close to William F. Buckley, Jr., but that bond will be starting soon.  Letter by letter, the man who wrote books on conservative thought and who became one of the key leaders in the conservative movement is in the process of “becoming” as the book develops.

Let’s pause here and look at the bigger picture for a moment.  Now is an important time for reading, thinking, and teaching people to grasp something of the conservative movement.  Don’t think that conservatism is what you hear on talk radio, what is represented by the Trump Administration, what is broadcast on Fox News, or what the Republican Party embraces.  Granted, there are conservative aspects found in all of the above.  But what passes for conservatism that is loved by many and hated and caricatured by others is not to be strictly identified with the conservative movement that Kirk adhered to.

For example, popular (or populist) conservatism tends to be solely consumed with politics, elections, and fear-mongering conspiracies.  Who are the great literary figures we associate today with conservatism?  Brad Thor?  (I like Brad Thor’s Scot Harvath novels quite a lot.)  Great conservative man he is, but not a great literary figure. Who are the great political philosophers we associate with conservatism today?  Rush or Glenn Beck?  (Please stop laughing.)

Russell Kirk rightly associated conservatism with literary figures like T. S. Eliot, with whom he was a friend and of whom he wrote a book about.  Kirk’s pantheon of political philosophers included men like Edmund Burke, Sir Walter Scott (also a literary figure), John Randolph, Richard Weaver, and Cicero.

Conservatism was not a set of bullet points.  Nor was it a series of panic-driven conspiratorial links, blogs, and radio hosts.  Conservatism was deeply rooted in thought and tradition.  And it wasn’t a uniform list of approved and accepted voices from the past.  Conservatives from that era disagreed sharply over which figures of the past they should embrace and which they should eschew.

The breadth of thought, the exceedingly wide range of intellectual interests, and the mental explorations of meaning are what made men like Russell Kirk so valuable in their time.  It is what makes them still challenging and rewarding to read.  Add to that this feature, these were men and women of the full range of life.  Kirk enjoyed food, drink, travel, conversation, art, beauty, and life.  While it was later in life that he joined the Catholic Church, he recognized the centrality of a moral order rooted in the God of the Bible.  While it was relatively late in life that he married, he delighted in family and home life.

His story is aptly and enjoyably told in the book Russell Kirk: American Conservative by Bradley Birzer.  It was one of the best books I read in 2017.  This collection of letters gives yet another biographical look at the man, in this case through his own words.  Both books are published by the University of Kentucky Press.  Both are real gems.

Russell Kirk wrote quite a few books over his lifetime.  Some are in depth studies of topics (conservative thought, the Constitution, economics, etc.) or individuals (such as Eliot or John Randolph or Edmund Burke). He also wrote ghost stories and other fiction.  Gone now for over two decades, his wit and wisdom are still much needed today.  In an age of unimaginative conservatism, we need Kirk–the Imaginative Conservative.


August Morning Readings


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Summer–When Mornings Begin and End When I Want Them To

A sadness sets in as August slips away day by day.  I remember the line “Spring comes with promises that summer never keeps.”  Imperfect world, imperfect dreams, flawed hopes, and yet there is much to enjoy and rejoice in despite the shortcomings of life in this world.

I am a book reviewer.  Fancy way of saying that I read.  Something of an excuse for the towering stacks of books that exist in every corner of my life.  June came with a long list of must reads, want to reads, need to reads, would be fun to reads, and re-reads.  Lots of reading did happen, but lots of books still lie there with a sadness about them as they wait for the time when they will be picked up and read, or picked up and finished, or just picked up and noticed.

But a few books have made it.  I do not, contrary to some folks’ thoughts, read all day or even most of the day.  I read for an hour or more in the mornings.  At some point in the reading time, the coffee drinking rites have been fulfilled and a hunger for breakfast exceeds the hunger for another page.  Usually I never get back to the reading chair after that. (I do slip in a short read in the afternoon and turn to other books to read before going to bed.)

Knowing Christ was written by Mark Jones, a Christian writer and teacher who resides in Canada, and is published Banner of Truth.  The man just turned 38 and he has a book that J. I. Packer wrote the Foreword to and that is published by the Banner.  Meaning, many of the Banner books are works that were originally written anywhere from 100 to 500 years ago.  A writer has to reach up to the league of a John Calvin, John Owen, or Jonathan Edwards to be in the Banner league.  Mark Jones has written a book worthy of that league.

This book bridges two styles that are not easy to bring together.  Some books are heavy on the theological side.  Theology is a great area of study, but as an “ology” it can get quite complicated, technical, and arcane.  Just as great minds delve into science and philosophy, many with great minds delve into theology.  Their discoveries, insights, and formulations are profound, amazing, and yet often blinding to the man in the pew.  On the other hand, many good and uplifting books are written that are light and easy to grasp, yet a bit too fluffy.  Full of stories and quips and humor, they make for good reading without overly challenging either the mind or the heart.

In our day, men like J. I Packer, R. C. Sproul, and Tim Keller among others, have written books that can be profitably gleaned by the pastor/scholar who is at home in his book filled study but can also be read by the congregation members who have to squeeze in a quick bit of spiritual edification when beginning or ending the day.  This book, Knowing Christ, is very much in that tradition.

A person could take this book and just read the quotes in it, ranging from John Owen, Stephen Charnock, Thomas Manton, and John Flavel to Charles Spurgeon, Geerhardus Vos, and Richard Gaffin, and find it a very delightful perusal.  Or one could just go to the End Notes and find a reading list of theological books to occupy a lifetime.  But to do that would be to miss the many comments that Jones makes and the way he threads the quotes from others and commentary from himself to explicate the opening Bible verses and themes of each chapter.

This is not, be warned, a read-once book.  This is one worthy of many readings.  I loved having it as a morning read as I allowed myself only one chapter a day.  It could be read by beginning at any chapter.  Reading this book makes me look forward to reading more of this author.

God of Our Fathers: Classical Theism for the Contemporary Church, edited by Bradford Littlejohn, is published by The Davenant Institute.

I read this book during my morning reads in July.  Upon finishing it, I read it again in August.  Some of the essays could be read a third time in September and on and on.  These essays are not in the category of morning devotional reads or casual reading.  These are scholarly interactions with contemporary (as in the last hundred years or so) trends in contrast with Classical Theism.  As I have previously stated, this book is heavy lifting theologically.

Most of the discussions in this book are outside the scope and experience of the person in the pew and for many in the pulpit.  Our tendency is to assume that if both laity and clergy (in large part) can get along without these matters, then they are unimportant.  But it is often the case that a minor, obscure deviation or shortcoming in the realm of ideas has consequences that end up warping the greater whole.  The purpose of scholars and scholarly pursuit, or in this case, theologians and theological disputations, is to clarify the truth.  Hence, books like this and the other publications from the Davenant Institute are important for even those who never read or re-read them.

The first article in this book, a lengthy one, concerns Philip Melanchthon’s doctrine of God and is written by E. J. Hutchinson. In his major theological work, Loci communes, Melanchthon did not address or “reform” the doctrine of God.  Centuries later, theologians such as Friedrich Schleiermacher sought to correct Melanchthon’s omission.  To a large degree, Melanchthon’s omission was due to the already adequate formulations of the Triune God and the Incarnation embedded in creedal Christianity.  The Reformation was a movement that was seeking to correct deviations found in the Church and not rewrite the whole of Christianity.

Major take-away for me:  We read quite a bit about Calvin’s Institutes, Luther’s Bondage of the Will, and a few other Reformation classics.  Melanchthon remains something of an appendix to Luther.  I know far too little about him.

The second essay in this book is “Natural Theology and Protestant Orthodoxy” by David Haines.  This essays butts heads with some points made by Cornelius Van Til and Karl Barth.  I enjoyed this discussion of what man can know about God based on Romans 1.  Seeing Van Til teamed up with Barth in the heel corner is a matchup that even Vince McMahon couldn’t pull off.

Major take-away for me:  Have I misunderstood Van Til and Van Tillians on this point of natural theology?  I would like to read a rebuttal to this essay.

Essays following these include discussion of the meaning of eternity, the Eternal Subordination of the Son, Herman Bavinck and missional theology, Biblical inspiration, Trinitarian theology, and classical theism in an atheistic age.  These essays presuppose some prior reading and tromping around in the theological world today.  For example, the topic of the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) has been written about and debated both for as the quest to better understand the Triune nature of God and as a model, rejected in the case of this essay, of the parallel gender roles in regard to the subordination of wives to husbands.  Missional theology is the topic and title of several recent books, but I must confess to not even having a ticket to that show.  The key theologian regarding Biblical inspiration in this book is the late John Webster, a name new to me.

Major take-aways for me:  I am a history and literature teacher, so the debates–intramural and external–are outside of my usual life scope and sequence.  But it is good to enjoy the reading, explore the debates, and at least get introduced to the names and terms common in theological parlance.

No automatic alt text available.Final morning reading comments concern two books that have several common denominators. Hear My Son: Teaching and Learning in Proverbs 1-9 by Daniel J. Estes is published by IVP.  The second book is The Stoic Art of Living: Inner Resilience and Outer Results is by Tom Morris.

First, the Stoics.  Morris’ book is a collection of quotes and commentaries on the three best known ancient Stoic philosophers.  They are Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.  The purchase of this book sheds lots of light on my scholarly life:  It was in the sale bin at that most intellectual forum, our own local Dirt Cheap store.  I know I paid less than a dollar for the book. I may have paid as little as 15 cents for it.

Philosophy is a field of study that I am so interested in that I cannot resist buying books in that subject area, and on some occasions, I read them.  My son Nick is a philosophy student, and each time I read something, I hope I can have a peer level conversation with him.  Nevertheless, he generally runs circles around me regarding a book I have read that he only glanced at. Just goes to show that childraising ain’t easy.

No less a figure than John Calvin was devoted to the philosophy of Seneca.  The man himself was fascinating.  He was a sensible and brilliant man who worked for the Emperor Nero.  As usual, at some point, Nero had Seneca removed–in every sense of the word.  Brilliant men working for erratic political leaders is not unusual in history.

It was the remaining writings of this man that attracted a young French scholar who then wrote his first book on the Roman philosopher.  I am sure that there are scholarly studies aplenty on Calvin’s use and thought in relation to his favorite Roman philosopher.  I was just glad to get to know this old Roman a bit better.

My main connection with Epictetus comes from the recently deceased Tom Wolfe’s massive novel A Man in Full.  It is a story of how a modern men, caught up in the ugliness of modern society, can be “saved” by reading Epictetus.  To say more about Wolfe’s novel would be giving too many spoilers.

A few years back, I read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.  It is a thoroughly delightful and frequently edifying, encouraging, and informative study.  My friend Brian Phillips has written an introduction to Marcus Aurelius himself and his book.

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As far as worldly wisdom goes, as far as common grace goes, the Stoics are very, very often right on target in terms of coping with life.  Not infallible, but still good.  Morris’ book, even if it costs you more than a dollar, is a great study of the Stoics.

Daniel Estes’ book Hear My Son was recommended to me by Jason Atkinson.  I assumed that is was largely a commentary in the traditional sense of Bible commentaries on the first nine chapters of Proverbs.  I even looked to see if the next volume was out yet. But this is a focused study on the teaching and learning models given in the first 9 chapters.  Proverbs 10-31 follows a patterns of wise sayings limited to one or two verses on a topic.  In fact, chapters tend to cover a wide range of issues with no central theme (other than the general and foundational point about the fear of God being the beginning of wisdom).

This book is a good, but weighty work.  If someone wants to enjoy some meditations on Proverbs, this is not the book.  But for teachers, this book is a gem.  Proverbs is filled with pedagogical insights and patterns.  Keep the coffee hot and strong as you read this book.  If you are a teacher, put it high on the list.


Doris Miller, Pearl Harbor, and the Birth of the Civil Rights Movement–a Preview

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Events in history never really begin when we say they did.  History is taught by a series of simplifications.  So, Columbus discovered the New World in 1492, the Protestant Reformation began in 1517, the Roman Empire fell in 576, and the American Civil War began in 1861.  These simplifications are necessary to get some footing in the events of history.  But every beginning movement, every date attached to a turning point, has deep lying roots in a number of other events that are often anywhere from slightly known to totally unknown.

Case in point, we often associate the Civil Rights Movement in America with events going on in the 1960’s. Then to give a bit more historical context and foundation to the events, references are made to happenings in the 1950’s such as the case of the Little Rock Nine.  Or one might bring up President Truman’s order to desegregate the army.  At any rate, before the key events that appear on the timeline in the textbook happened, there were forces, people, and ideas that were working to produce those special events when a movement “began.”

This is one part of what is attractive about the book Doris Miller, Pearl Harbor, and the Birth of the Civil Rights Movement.  Co-authored by Thomas W. Cutrer and T. Michael Parrish, this new work is published by Texas A & M University Press.

Books like this are a part of the contribution of university presses and university scholarship to the broader community.  I first heard of this book last October when I had the occasion to meet Dr. Cutrer.  He referred to himself as a retired history professor and casually mentioned that he was doing some writing.  He mentioned the publication of Theater of a Separate War and then this book.  My thought, after decades of teaching history, was “Doris Miller?  Who is she?”

Let’s begin with who Doris Miller was.  On the morning of December 7, 1941, after serving breakfast and starting to work on laundry on the USS West Virginia, Ship’s Cook Third Class Doris “Dorie” Miller heard the alarm calling sailors to battle stations.  Pearl Harbor was under attack from the Japanese.  After trying to help the mortally wounded ship’s captain, Miller was soon involved in loading and firing an anti-aircraft machine gun.  He continued firing at the Japanese aircraft until the ammunition ran out.  For this, he was awarded the Navy Cross, which is the third-highest naval award for combat gallantry.

But here is an even more interesting detail:  Doris Miller had never been trained to operate a machine gun.  He was, after all, an African American in a segregated military.  Two years later, he died on another ship in another part of the Second World War.

Lots of ideas current in his time suggested that blacks and whites could not successfully serve side by side in the military.  It was a very segregated world.  It is not as though the Doris Millers of World War II changed all that.  But it was cases like the story of this man, this hero to all Americans, that birthed the movement that did make major changes.

Side note:  Take notice fellow Texans, Doris Miller was from the Lone Star State.

Janice Holt Giles–A Writer Needing to be rediscovered

See the source imageAt least a half dozen times in my life, I have read a book that was either a current best seller or was by a current best selling author. I am not opposed to reading best sellers, but neither am I drawn to a book because it is ranked #1 on the fiction or non-fiction list. I recognize lots of name of authors who are pouring out one top selling book after another, but I have little experience in reading them.
Maybe this is akin to my love of country roads, meaning those winding, twisting, tree and farm land lines roads that don’t show up on most maps and don’t lead to anywhere other than someone’s old homeplace.  Maybe it is akin to a love that I developed in my early youth where I embraced not only country music, which few or none of my classmates liked, but I embraced what was even then (the late 1960’s) the older, outdated, less noticed country music.  Even now, I rarely encounter anyone who remembers Moon Mulligan or Hawkshaw Hawkins.
It was also in my youth that I encountered a Kentucky writer by the name of Jesse Stuart.  I read Hie to the Hunters in my 9th grade year and have never recovered from a love of life with the Sparks family.  In fact, I have often “taught” that book to my junior high students, and the reading would be followed up by Jud Sparks Day where we would dress and, even better, eat like folks did in that book.  One Jesse Stuart book led to another and another.  For a long season in life, I assumed he was long forgotten, but discovered that both the University of Kentucky Press and the Jesse Stuart Foundation were busy keeping his books in print.
Without making the Kentucky connection, I stumbled upon and read a book titled A Little Better Than Plumb: A Biography of a House.
This is an account of how authors Janet Holt Giles and Henry Giles went about finding logs and lumber from old barns, log cabins, and other neglected structures in the hills of Kentucky.  From a wide assembly of such materials they constructed a log house nestled near a stream where they were able to enjoy a life of writing and contemplation.
Having once lived in a log house that I had built on a hill in a wooded tract of ten acres, the book was largely nostalgic for me.  I have never gotten over the loss of that home, that time in life, and the hopes and dreams I had there. (Family growth and school necessitated leaving that place.)
Among other things, I learned to my satisfaction that farming and raising your own hogs and chickens is not a grand thing to do.  On a more positive note, I learned that Janice Holt Giles had written quite a few novels.
Learning that she had written quite a few novels, I have looked around here and there for her books. These are not books one readily finds on the shelves of the local book franchises.  And keeping my eyes open as I go about to different used book sources, I have not seen her books very often either.  Then I received two books by Mrs. Giles from the University of Kentucky Press.They don’t often show up where I am looking. Thankfully, the University of Kentucky Press is keeping this Kentucky author’s books in print.
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The Believers is a great story that includes some real insights into frontier life in Kentucky, the Scots-Irish Calvinism/Presbyterianism of the rural folk, the bits and pieces of classical education some were privileged to have, and the effects of the more unusual offshoots of the Second Great Awakening.
Under men like James McGready in Kentucky and Asahel Nettleton back in the east, the Second Great Awakening was used to revive churches and reach the lost. But there were far more unusual and unorthodox and American-grown offshoots from the revival movement. In the book, there is some mention that Pastor Rankin, the circuit riding Presbyterian, had aligned himself with the New Lights. Things go down from there because he manages to persuade the Richard and Rebecca Cooper to move to the county in Kentucky where things were happening.
Very clearly, the religious emotionalism and fervor of the frontier revival created shock waves among the faithful.  The more traditional Christian churches were viewed as less spiritual, and the church members’ salvation was questioned unless they were experiencing some of the physical manifestations of the revivalists.
In time, Shaker missionaries show up and families start joining the Shaker Movement and adhering to the teachings of Mother Ann Lee.  Shakers are a religious oddity and curiosity among most Americans today.  People tour the old Shaker communities.  The song “Simple Gifts” is often remembered and enjoyed.  One would be prone to think that they were a short-lived, but generally pleasant religious community that existed in a utopian society for a time and then disappeared.  As brought out in the novel, there were plenty of good-hearted and honest folk in the Shaker community, but the community as a whole was tyrannical and controlling of both thought and actions.
In the story, Rebecca is the central character and narrator. (Her mother, Hannah Fowler is the subject of a prequel to this book titled Hannah Fowler.) Rebecca loves her husband dearly, and they both are devastated by the loss of two stillborn babies. Richard decides it is a judgment of God, so he abandons home and farm and takes his wife to join first a more “moderate” religious group. Then he is convinced that the Shaker way is the right way.

The key conflict now arises: Shakers don’t believe in marriage. Married couples are separated when they join the group. (Profound Thought: Maybe this is why this group failed to survive.)

Rebecca’s life in the Shaker community comprises the bulk of the story. She is a dutiful woman, mislead, but not suppressed in mind and spirit. This is truly the conflict of someone who wants to do what is right and traditional (as in obeying her husband), but is conflicted by what that involves.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I must admit that as a Christian of Presbyterian and Reformed persuasion. I kept wanting to step into the book and bring “chapter and verse” to those both oppressed by and indulging in Shaker beliefs.

My question is this: Why isn’t this woman’s books, especially this novel, out there in more places? I cannot wait for my wife and hopefully for my daughters to read it. It ranks up there with books like Wuthering Heights, Gone With the Wind, and others where strong women fight to survive.

This book will not be, Lord willing, my only Janice Holt Giles novel to read. The one next on the list for me is Run Me a River.  

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The Regensburg Lecture by James V. Schall

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The Regensburg Lecture by James V. Schall is published by St. Augustine’s Press.

My initial attraction to this book was that it is written by James V. Schall.  Ever since re-reading Another Sort of Learning, I have been quite fond of Schall’s books.  Ever since reading The Classical Moment and Docilitas, I have been driven to attain and read everything Schall has written.  Ever since getting a very kind and witty answer from him after sending him an email, I have elevated him to super-hero status.  If he published his grocery shopping lists in book form, I would want to buy the book and read it. And it would be profound, funny, challenging, unexpected, and filled with quotes from Aristotle, Plato, Aquinas, and Peanuts cartoons.

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The Regensburg Lecture has a subtitle that is much like the ones found in books from a few centuries past.  It reads, “Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg Lecture (included in this book) called for freedom of conscience in religious matters and a reasoned debate. Not everyone agreed.”

I remember the occasion.  Pope Benedict gave a speech at a university in September 2006 that caused a firestorm in some Islamic circles.  Those people who are always appalled at any criticism of the Islamic religion were appalled, which is no surprise.  Islamic communities, which exist within the greater Islamic world, where any criticism, humor, hint of criticism, or slighting of Islamic things create volcanic reactions had…well…volcanic reactions.

In the daily or weekly sweep of news, I only knew that the Pope made a speech and riots and protests ensued.  And some in the West “wisely counseled” that the Pope had been undiplomatic and unwise in his attacks on another faith.  I also remember that some conservatives stood by the Pope and his message.

I assumed, through the years that followed, that the speech the Pope had given had included a detailed history of some of the conflicts between Islam and the West.  I have read and collected quite a few books that detail the conflicts that are not just restricted to the Crusades.  The Crusades themselves are not as cut and dried as some of the Crusade-bashing books have implied, but that is another story.  The clash of cultures has been going on with mistakes and missteps on both sides for centuries.  This in-depth historical story was, in my thinking, the gist of the Regensburg Lecture.

Then I read Schall’s book.  One hundred and thirty pages into the book, the actual lecture is in the book.  I recommend that the reader begin with Schall’s introduction and then skip over and read the speech. After that, proceed into the rest of the book.  The speech may be one of the most important speeches given in this century. (The century is still young, so we can make comparison to Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech or Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”)

Benedict was not on a tirade or even scolding of Islam per se.  He recounted a discussion between the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and a Persian scholar.  The key question that the emperor raised with the Persian was the place of “compulsion in religion.” “Faith is born of the soul, not the body,” the emperor said. “Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats….”

From there, the original discussion continued over the place of reason within religion.  From there, the Pope’s message focused on the history of the West, Christendom, the Christian Faith and the like to adhere to the idea that the Christian faith borrowed and made good use of Reason as taught by the Greeks.  Granted, this is a wide-ranging topic of discussion.  Many are the theologians and philosophers who have downed barrels of wine and beer and coffee hashing out the interaction between the Revelation and Reason. There are plenty of theologians who draw lines in the sand over the role of reason (or Reason) in theological thinking.  This debate crosses the borders between Protestantism (my affiliation), Catholicism (Schall’s affiliation), and Orthodoxy.  Jewish scholars, we might add, weigh in on this topic as well.  So do secular, unbelieving, and atheistic philosophers.

Therein lies the big difference.  Benedict gave a powerful and concise talk that focused on the role of reason with some focus on the fact that compulsion does not create religious followers.  Although he was the Pope at that time, he was “wearing,” figuratively speaking, professorial robes rather than ecclesiastical robes.

Schall writes, “It [the speech] was an argument that existed first of all, in true Aristotelian fashion, ‘for its own sake.’ It intended to state a truth. It claims no higher authority  but its argument for it.  Here Benedict does not say ‘believe what I say,’ or ‘this teaching is or is not in conformity with classical revelational teaching.’ Rather he says, ‘this is the argument a I understand it.’ His first task as a lecturer and our first task as readers are in the realm of intellect, of understanding what is said.”

Since September 11, 2001, our world has been flooded with books and analyses of the current confrontation(s) of the West with the Islamic World.  Those by skilled historians like Bernard Lewis, who was writing about the Middle East and related topics long before 9/11, are rich works of history and political analyses.  We been tossed to and fro by politicizing with debates over whether we can even identify the “enemy” with all Islam, with some branches of Islam, or with certain outlaw factions.

Aside from questions of who to bomb, who to ban, and who to blame, we have to have some moments of clarity and thought.  Our confrontation with terrorism is forcing us to think Worldviewishly.  What is there in the West that is so offensive for certain Islamic peoples? And what is there in the West that we are defending?

This all keeps getting back to discussions, even disagreements.  But that is what is at stake here.  There can be no compulsion in religion.  Yes, Catholics and Protestants alike have some searing failures over this from the past.  So do some harshly patriarchic fathers and domineering mothers.  So do some tyrannical pastors and church leaders.

This book and the speech it discusses is a very important work.  Thanks once again to James V. Schall for being a teacher, gentle, repetitive, learned, and clear.  Don’t skip this book.

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Summer visits from Father James V. Schall


Justifying Revolution–a Preview

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Justifying Revolution: Law, Wirtue, and Violence in the American War for Independence is published by Oklahoma University Press.  It is edited by Glenn A. Moots and Phillip Hamilton.  Contributing scholars provide 13 essays that examine the war in light of the just war theory, which has not been the focus of any previous study exclusively.   “Chapters are organized into three parts, each exploring a traditional subfield of just war theory: jus ad bellum (right or justice in going to war, including the legality of taking up arms), jus in bello (right or justice in conducting war, including legal codes governing military conduct, and jus post bellum (right or justice in concluding war).

The beginning section examines some of the political philosophers and theologians who influenced those who took up arms.  Two chapters discuss Emer de Vattel, a man who I know only by name who was read by people on both sides.   Dr. Moots and another writer discuss Protestant precedents for resistance and rebellion.

The middle section deals with moral issues that arose during the course of the war.  These include martial law, war against civilians, and treatment of prisoners of war.  As noted in the introduction, “Beyond the conflict’s battlefields, the war unleashed devastating diseases upon soldiers and civilians, while rapine at the hands of enemy forces destroyed many homes and enormous quantities of property.  Mob violence, military occupation, and conflicting allegiances forever displaced tens of thousands of people.” (page 4)

The final section includes an essay on John Jay, a statesman with Christian beliefs and convictions, and his views on the revolution and its aftermath. A second chapter in this section examines how and why the British opted to make peace with a vision toward building a more economic, rather than miltary, empire.  The final essay then explores how Native Americans were viewed.  Not surprising, the attitudes toward “non-civilized” people favored excluding them from the principles of just war.

At this point, I am just previewing the book.  I have read the introduction which lays out the themes of the work and gives synopses of the following chapters.  The book grew out of several panel discussions and scholarly exchanges.  Besides an interest in every aspect of American history, I was drawn to the book for several reasons.  A few years back, I read Glenn Moots’ Politics Reformed: The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant Theology. That book may be the most important book I have read on political thinking from a Christian and Reformed perspective.

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The second draw to the book is the issue of the American War for Independence itself.  By necessity, history is taught by simplification.  By tradition, we teach the American War for Independence as a good, necessary, and progressive matter.  The editors say, “Indeed, the two fundamental ideals associated with the Revolution, liberty and equality, have marched them from victory to victory to become the zeitgeist of our age.”

Because the casualty numbers of our War for Independence seem small compared to later wars, because our Founding Fathers were of such an incredible character, and because we have been more than reconciled to our foes in that war, we often think that it was clean, neat, and handled properly according the rules of civility and warfare.  In short, we were right and the British were wrong.  I do favor the Patriots in that war over the British and the Loyalists.  I cannot escape and don’t want to escape being an American.  But history is a complicated matter.  The simple math of history that is taught in junior high, high school, and maybe even lower levels of college is blown away by the calculus and trigonometry of math that is encounted with more serious study.

All of that is to say that this book is quite important for us and our time.  As a history teacher, it will not change the direction that I teach with, but it will modify my approach and bring in some caution.  History teaching has consequences.

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