Contesting the Re-Primitivism of the West

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Does Catholicism expand civilization? Thinking of Thomas Aquinas, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Gregor Johann Mendel, and the Gothic, Baroque, and Rococo, the answer seems an obvious “yes.”  However, it is also undoubtedly true that a snap survey on any street in the West would find a decent number of respondents either angered by the suggestion or just clueless. John M. Rist thinks the answer certainly “yes.” What’s more, he thinks that re-primitivism (to borrow a term Aurel Kolnai used in his 1938 War Against the West) threatens our civilization, and only Catholicism has the theoretical heft to ward it off. It is…

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The Principled Statesman

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There is no doubt that Burke studies have received a new point of departure in Richard Bourke’s masterful Empire and Revolution.  This work of surpassing scholarship enables us to place Burke fully in the context of the political history through which he lived.  In many ways it is an authoritative demonstration of the Cambridge School approach of examining ideas in context, only here the connection is even more integral than is generally the case.  Burke not only developed his ideas out of the political setting in which he found himself, but shaped that setting through the sheer intellectual force of…

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Rehashed Revolution

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The French Revolution is a historical episode of apparently endless and enduring fascination. Much more so than the American Revolution, which displayed stronger continuities with the society and regime it supplanted, the French Revolution continues to engross our curiosity because of the dramatic reversals to which it gave rise. The Revolution shows us the birth of modernity, and the transformation in a few years of an apparently unshakeable monarchy, hedged about by tradition, custom, and divine sanctions, into a republic. It was the seed-bed of influential if not always well-conceived political and social theories, and its interpretation by generations of…

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Welfare Statism at the Heart of the American Revolution?

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Steven Pincus’ The Heart of the Declaration: The Founders’ Case for an Activist Government presents a radically new and bold neoliberal economic perspective on British and North American colonial politics in the era of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). This brief work—with three chapters, an introduction, and an epilogue in the space of 150 pages of text—offers the provocative thesis that the colonial Patriot movement and the meaning and intent of the Declaration of Independence were predominantly concerned with developmental economic issues, and that the Declaration gave birth to a political-economic debate that is highly relevant to the economic issues of…

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Does Religion Kill Democracy?

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Several commentators (such as the book-writing team of John Micklethwait and Adrian Woodridge) have documented the recent rise of religion across the globe. The resurgence of religion is a direct challenge to the “secularization thesis,” the idea that as enlightenment, scientific knowledge and technology spread, the force of religion contracts. Other writers (Larry Diamond, for example) have called attention to the decline of democracy on a global scale, and in particular the “democratic deficit” in parts of the world where religion remains a powerful force. Is there a relationship between these two trends? Does religion undermine democracy? There may be a…

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Why We Need Angels and Demons

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In a 1991 essay on being a Christian in the 20th century, the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, discussing the decline in religious belief in the West, posited a hypothetical scenario: One can imagine a state (let this be science fiction for the moment) in which most of the population is educated from childhood in a mundane, materialistic philosophy, only the highest elite has religion, and the citizens of that country are not allowed to concern themselves with religious problems until they are at least forty years old. These rules are imposed on Milosz’s imaginary state “not to preserve privilege” but because “the…

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Liberalism’s Ungrounded Present

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First and foremost, modern liberalism aimed at ending the moral, political, and intellectual conditions underlying the savage religious wars which wracked 16th and 17th century Europe. The concurrence of the Protestant challenge to the Roman Catholic Church with the founding of centralized states capable of raising and funding large armies made these wars both uncompromising and devastating. Although the earliest liberals—Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes—advocated religious establishments strongly supported by the new states as a means of imposing civil peace on warring factions, liberalism took a new turn with John Locke, who argued for republican politics and religious toleration. In the…

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Islam, the Self-Critical Version

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Reforming Islam: Progressive Voices from the Arab Muslim World is an imposing anthology of articles taken from the reformist website www.almuslih.org, composed originally in Arabic  and translated accurately into English by Stephen Ulph. It contains dozens of articles, from three to 12 pages long, by contributors from across the Arab world including Lafif Lakhdar of Tunisia, Babikir Faysal Babikir of Sudan, Mohamed al-Sanduk of Iraq, and Abd al-Hamid al-Ansari of Qatar. Editors Stephen Ulph and Patrick Sookhdeo have added section introductions that ably summarize the content of each section and the work as a whole. A number of Arabic terms…

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Herbert Hoover: Resourceful on Policy, Removed on Politics

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Imagine a highly successful businessman choosing the presidency of the United States for his first political race. Running as an outsider, he campaigned like no other, defeated the politicians,  and won the office. As President-elect, he held court in a suite of rooms at a fancy hotel, vetting prospective cabinet members. He had his own policy ideas, such as sharply curtailing immigration as a threat to American jobs. Donald Trump? No, Herbert Hoover, as described by Charles Rappleye in his new book, Herbert Hoover in the White House: The Ordeal of the Presidency. History has been simplistic and unkind toward President Hoover.…

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How Tradition Renews Civilization and Challenges Conservatives

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In our post-Enlightenment world, the word “tradition” often carries negative connotations. When coupled with adjectives like “regressive” and portrayed as that which impedes whatever has acquired the label of progress, the idea of tradition conveys a sense of being antithetical to humans’ wellbeing. Hence we encounter phrases like, “She’s rigid and traditional.” A rather different and more creative understanding of tradition is found in the writings of the German philosopher Josef Pieper (1904-1997). Perhaps most famous for his book Leisure as the Basis of Culture (1948), Pieper spent his life engaged not only in lecturing at the University of Münster, but…

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