Peter Feuerherd’s recent column at JSTOR Daily discusses sixteenth century Protestant Reformer John Calvin and his influence on capitalism. Calvin is viewed negatively by most moderns, both because of his identification with the doctrine of predestination – that God has eternally elected those who will be saved – as well as for a common, if not quite accurate, styling of the Weberian hypothesis, that Calvin and Calvinists believed worldly affluence to signify divine election.
With an estimated 40,000 Protestant denominations worldwide, how is it possible to compress such a subject in a single book, even in 500 pages on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation? Alec Ryrie offers Protestants: The Faith that Made the Modern World, whose title itself suggests the difficulty. It is a history of Protestantism but he insists it is merely about Protestants because he would otherwise be overpromising a definitive history. Ryrie, a professor in the Department of Theology and Religion of Durham University, delivers the impossible nonetheless. His solution could not be more comprehensive, more meticulous in its attempted objectivity, or…
In literary terms, Marilynne Robinson is a national treasure. In political terms, not so much. “When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad she was horrid,” as the nursery rhyme has it. Robinson might not even mind my saying that, by the way. As an essayist she deliberately tries to make countercultural moves, intellectually and spiritually. Unfortunately, Robinson’s political views as expressed in her latest collection, When I Was a Child I Read Books, are far from countercultural if by that we mean unusual. They’re off-the-shelf liberal. Like her hero, President Obama, she is disinclined…
Books reviewed in this essay:
The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, by Corey Robin. Oxford University Press.
The Common Mind: Politics, Society and Christian Humanism from Thomas More to Russell Kirk, by André Gushurst-Moore. Angelico Press.
The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future—and Why They Should Give It Back, by David Willetts. Atlantic Books.
Amidst the recurring question of whether Edmund Burke is relevant to contemporary politics, we are presented with three volumes that approach this vital issue in different ways, and with varying levels of scholarly and popular perceptiveness. All the books under review attempt to connect the witness and insights of the great statesman to ongoing conflicts in society and politics. Perhaps the disparate assessments of Burke alone could suggest the resiliency of his legacy; however, the importance of Burke the political theorist dictates a closer examination of these critical works.
A squirearchy of deists, agnostics, and closeted atheists, the American founders erected a wall of separation between church and state to preserve their fledgling republic from the tyranny of an established church. But debating these points is inconsequential: after all, we have their singular achievement, the Constitution, and we can see the wall there. Granted, it is occasionally important to rescue the founders from misinterpretation by, e.g., pajama-wearing bloggers, farmers in overalls, and people who like NASCAR. Fortunately any historical work to be done is decidedly straightforward. One need only state the obvious: though the colonists were devout, the founders…
I thank the Law and Liberty site, and Dr. Bruce in particular, for their respectful attention to my book, in a new edition by St. Augustine’s Press, Calvin and the Foundations of Modern Politics.
Dr. Bruce nicely frames the question of Calvin’s theology in relation to modernity, and there is surely some validity in what he says about the limitations of my enterprise as a comprehensive guide to Calvin’s political teaching. It is certain that I focus almost exclusively on the Institutes, and it may be that I sometimes concede too much to venerable authors like Emil Doumergue. (Still, does Bruce mean to deny, against Doumergue and myself, that there is a pronounced antimonarchic element in Calvin’s teaching, one that emerges, unsurprisingly, when he is discussing biblical passages that tend that way?)
I’m afraid, though, that Dr. Bruce misses my point when he characterizes my approach as a kind of middle way “between the two extremes” of secular and religious interpretations of modernity, and, likewise, when he gives me credit for a “modest judgment of [my] own work.”