Sunday, January 10, 2010

Book Notes 3

These “book notes” were originally published in Volume 1, Number 4, of terra nova (Summer [North] Winter [South] 1992). The theme of that issue was “Religion and Liberty.”

Religion in Politics: A World Guide, by Stuart Mews. (Chicago and London: St. James Press, 1989). 332 pp., $75.00 cloth.
From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, this reference book is an explication of religion’s interplay with politics in every nation. Obviously, religion is more salient in some countries than others. In Afghanistan, for instance, the defeat of communist rule has left in its wake conflict among competing religious sects, often overlapping with ethnic groups and traditional tribal groupings. In the United States, historical separation of church and state becomes weaker on such issues as abortion and school prayer. In Russia and the former Soviet bloc countries, organized religion was in many ways the only bulwark of civil society that survived through the post-Bolshevik era. Although slightly in need of updating, this volume is a handy reference for those who need basic information about religion and politics around the globe.

Religion and Politics: Major Thinkers on the Relation of Church and State, edited by Garrett Ward Sheldon (New York and Bern: Peter Lang, 1990). 244 pp., $42.95 cloth. This collection of documents and excerpts from the writings of significant thinkers on church-state issues is as notable for what it leaves out as for what it includes. As might be expected, this compilation starts with St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas and moves through the Reformation with Martin Luther and John Calvin. As it approaches the modem era, however, the omissions become quite striking. The volume features an ephemeral figure like Jerry Falwell but omits seminal thinkers like Jacques Maritain and John Courtney Murray, S.J. It includes liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez but neglects critics of liberation theology such as Michael Novak. Divided into two parts, the volume’s second “part” is more properly an appendix containing American documents on church and state, such as the Mayflower Compact and Thomas Jefferson’s “Statute for Religious Freedom.” Its excerpts from important Supreme Court decisions are paltry, however, and quite unhelpful.

A Dictionary of Conservative and Libertarian Thought, edited by Nigel Ashford and Stephen Davies. (London and New York: Routledge, 1991). 258 pp., $49.95 cloth. Although 40 years ago some wag might have said the phrase conservative and libertarian thought” is a redundant oxymoron much has changed. Among other things, William Buckley founded National Review in the United States (1955), creating a respectable forum for conservative thought and an umbrella for disparate strands of political philosophy—classical liberal, Southern agrarian, Straussian—to come together for dialogue. Politically, the campaigns of Barry Goldwater (1964) and Ronald Reagan (1976-80-84) energized young conservatives and the premiership of Margaret Thatcher (1979 to 1990) overthrew a half- century of collectivism. Simultaneously, libertarian thinkers were awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics (Friedman, Hayek, Buchanan, Coase) and the Soviet system collapsed. Ashford and Davies have collected short articles into what is more properly termed an encyclopedia than a dictionary, with entries on a wide range of topics, including The Enlightenment. Race, Sociology, Utopianism, and Welfare. A list of thinkers appended to the text also provides a bibliographic reference. This book belongs on the shelf of every conservative or libertarian policymaker and should be useful to their intellectual adversaries as well.

The Ideas of Ayn Rand, by Ronald E. Merrill. (Peru, Ill.: Open Court Publishing, 1991). 210 pp., $32.95 cloth, $15.95 paper.
Ayn Rand’s philosophy has percolated through American society despite the absence of an organized movement and despite outright hostility by academic philosophers and political scientists. As Merrill points out, Rand’s Objectivist thought is often adopted by teenagers and college students who discover Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, and other works by accident and who find fellow- travelers with whom they enthusiastically discuss her ideas and their impact on politics, economics, and ethics. Rand had a profound influence on the conservative movement in the 1950s and generated the impulse for organized libertarianism in the 1960s and ‘70s, even though Rand herself sharply criticized (one might say anathematized) both conservatives and libertarians. Despite some shortcomings (such as a caricatured portrayal of libertarianism), Merrill provides a clear and concise exposition of Rand’s thought.

Free at Last? U.S. Policy Toward Africa and the End of the Cold War, by Michael Clough. (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1992). 145 $14.95 paper.
This monograph provides a sweeping overview of U.S. policy toward Africa since the end of World War II, following trends through the era of decolonization, the use of Africa as a Cold War testing ground by Washington and Moscow, and the fall of the Soviet Empire. Some readers may question the accuracy of certain observations that Clough makes. He has harsh words for Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan. He defines as policy failures the U.S. approaches to Zaire, Liberia, and Sudan and calls Ethiopia and South Africa “success stories,” but in all these cases “success” and “failure” are highly charged and subjective terms. dough is at his best when discussing how to rebuild civil society in Africa and in his last chapter, which provides sensible and pragmatic suggestions for policy reform, including recommendations that government-to-government economic assistance be limited and private sector contacts should be expanded and strengthened.

World Directory of Minorities, edited by the Minority Rights Group. (Chicago and London: St. James Press, 1989). 427 pp., $85.00 cloth.
With the balkanization of the Balkans ten years after Tito’s death, the declaration of Eritrean independence after the fall of Mengistu, racial riots in the streets of Los Angeles, and continuing ethnic conflicts in southern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, it is perhaps clearer today than ever before that minority groups (here defined mostly as ethnic minorities) have real or perceived grievances and seek to alleviate them. Few countries are ethnically homogeneous: Iceland and Somalia come to mind, yet one is historically peaceful and the other is engaged in Hobbesian war of all against all. This volume is not comprehensive. It fails to address the Muslims of China, for instance, a group that may gain prominence as the former Soviet republics of Central Asia grasp for greater glory. Neither does it address the African and Caribbean immigrants in Britain. Some groups discussed are obscure, but it may be precisely those that a fact-hungry researcher needs the most help in finding.

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