Friday, October 12, 2007

Some Recent Good Political Books

Here are five interesting political books that have come to my attention.

The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America (Penguin Press, 2004), by two writers for the Economist, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. These men are not themselves conservatives and have the advantage of being outsiders looking in. That does not make them objective, but it does give them a distance that can be helpful. From the flap: “In a relatively short span of time, because of the conservative movement’s power, America has veered sharply to the right, so that now, compared with Europe or even with America under Richard Nixon, we are a distinctly more conservative nation in many crucial respects no matter which party occupies the Oval Office.” I found their chapter on the birth of the conservative movement in America particularly informative.

A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State (Ivan R. Dee, 2007) is the latest book from church historian Darryl Hart, formerly at Wheaton and now at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Hart argues that “when Christians have tried to establish a Christian basis for the planks of political party platforms, or even for broad-based social reforms, they have fundamentally misconstrued their religion” (pp.10f.). Christianity is apolitical in the sense that “Christianity is essentially a spiritual and eternal faith, one occupied with a world to come rather than the passing and temporal affairs of this world” (p.12). That does not entail cultural withdrawal for Christians. He alerts us, however, to the difference between “the work the church is called to do in proclaiming the message of Christianity and the vocations to which church members are called as citizens” (p.14). The book is provocative. It is annoying however that in place of footnotes, he has left us with a seven page “note on sources” where he discusses the various works he used.

Church, State and Public Justice: Five Views (IVP, 2007), edited by P.C. Kemeny, addresses the question of the Christian view of the just political order as Gary Scott Smith did almost twenty years ago in God and Politics (P&R, 1989). Whereas Smith viewed the matter strictly from within the Protestant tradition (theonomy, principled pluralism, Christian America and national confessionalism), Kemeny is more catholic. The five views he includes are from Clark E. Cochran, a Roman Catholic, Derek H. Davis, speaking for classical separation, Corwin Smidt for principled pluralism, Ronald Sider for the Anabaptist tradition, and J. Philip Wogaman brings the social justice perspective. They are all described a “perspectives,” and each one is followed by a response from each of the other four. Kemeny teaches religion and humanities at Grove City College.

Christianity and American Democracy (Harvard, 2007) by Hugh Heclo of George Mason University is Harvard’s second annual Alexis de Tocqueville Lecture on American Politics with three responses. From the flap: “Christianity, not religion in general, has been important for American democracy. With this bold thesis, Hugh Heclo offers a panoramic view of how Christianity and democracy have shaped each other. Heclo shows that amid deeply felt religious differences, a Protestant colonial society gradually convinced itself of the truly Christian reasons for, as well as the enlightened political advantages of, religious liberty. By the mid-twentieth century, American Christianity and democracy appeared locked in a mutual embrace. But it was a problematic union vulnerable to fundamental challenge in the Sixties. Despite the subsequent rise of the religious right and glib talk of a conservative Republican theocracy, Heclo sees a longer term, reciprocal estrangement between Christianity and American democracy.” Heclo suggests that “both secularists and Christians should worry about a coming rupture between the Christian and democratic faiths.”

Watch a video of Hugh Heclo's lecture, "Is America a 'Christian Nation'?"

The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective (Crossway, 2004) by Russell D. Moore examines this fundamentally important biblical concept in its connection with political life, and in the context of its eschatological, soteriological and ecclesiological meanings. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where Moore is dean of the School of Theology, says this: “For far too long, evangelicals have waited for a serious study of the Kingdom of God and its political application. That book has now arrived, and The Kingdom of Christ will redefine the conversation about evangelicalism and politics. Russell Moore combined stellar historical and theological research with a keen understanding of cultural and political realities. This is a landmark book by one of evangelicalism’s finest minds.”

Freedom's Orphans: Contemporary Liberalism and the Fate of American Children (Princeton, 2007) by David L. Tubbs, my colleague at The King's College here in New York City, is a scholarly reassessment of contemporary liberalism measured against it's effects on children, and thus eventually on everyone it governs and on the whole society they constitute. From the cover: "Has conteporary liberalism's devotiuon to individual liberty come at the expense of our society's obligation to children?...Evaluating large changes in liberal political theory and jurisprudence particulalrly American liberalsim after the Second World War, avid Tubbs argues that an expansion of rights for adults has come at a high and generally unnoticed cost. In championing new 'lifestyle' freedoms, liberal jurists and theorists have ignored, forgotten, or discounbted the competing interests of children. In the porocess of his argument, he engages Isaiah Berlin, Ronald Dworkin, and Susan Moller Okin, among others. He also analyses three key deveopments in American civil liberties: the emergence of the 'right to privacy' in sexual and reproductive matters; the abandonment of the traditional standard for obscenity prosecutions; and the gradual aceptance of the doctrine of 'strict separation' between religion and public life."


Anonymous said...

Hey David, Carl Scott from UVA here. I guess I ougta get a Blogger ID--whatta pain. Anyway, great lil' blog! I just want to second your opinion here on two of the books, Right Nation and Democracy and American Christianity. The first is solid, informative, handy, a good read. The second, Heclo's book is outstanding: thought-provoking in the best sense.

David C. Innes said...

Good to hear from you, Carl. Thanks for the feedback, especially on Heclo which I have yet to read.