Colonizing Liberalism

The history of the world, proponents of liberalism argue, is the history of the struggle for freedom, the struggle between freedom and slavery. Democracy also sees history as a struggle, in this case the struggle to establish the power of the people. As Ruszard Legutko (Demon in Democracy) puts it: “the history of the world – in the case of liberalism – was the history of the struggle for freedom against enemies who were different at various stages of history… Read more

Public Legacies of the Reformation

Below is a portion of my opening comments at an ETS session on “public legacies of the Reformation,” presented on November 16, 2017. I was asked to identify the legacies of the Reformation that help us face the emerging challenges of the present day. Before I attempt to answer, let me indulge that venerable academic pastime of questioning the question. Prior to answering, we need to ask three complicating questions. First: What counts as a “legacy of the Reformation”? This… Read more

Modernization Projects

Ryszard Legutko’s The Demon in Democracy is a bracing read. Legutko, a Polish philosopher and member of the European Parliament, has lived under both communism and liberalism, and so is unusually well-positioned to articulate his counter-intuitive thesis: “both attitudes – the communist and the liberal-democratic – are linked by  . . . some common principles and ideals” (1). His book examines five themes – history, utopia, politics, ideology, and religion – to fill out the parallel. At the outset, he… Read more

Slipping to Locke

Locke is often seen as the heir to Reformation political theology. Ruben Alvarado (Calvin and the Whigs) begs to differ. Locke was waiting in the wings when Calvinist politics eroded. He writes: “Puritans founded some of the chief colonies in America, those of New England, and their influence was by no means negligible among the other colonies. Puritanism as it developed in America was holy commonwealth Calvinism, with strong connections not only with England and Scotland but also with the… Read more

Two Koreas

While in North Korea, President Trump held back on schoolyard insults to Kim Jong-un, and focused on the damage that Kim’s regime has caused to North Koreans: “Far from valuing its people as equal citizens, this cruel dictatorship measures them, scores them, and ranks them based on the most arbitrary indications of their allegiance to the state. Those who score the highest in loyalty may live in the capital city. Those who score the lowest starve. A small infraction by one citizen,… Read more

The Original Structuralist

Adam Kuper reviewed Emmanuelle Loyer’s Claude Levi-Strauss in a 2016 issue of the TLS. A few noteworthy tidbits. It’s intriguing that the great classifier of kin relations should come from a densely interconnected family: “Lévi-Strauss grew up in a densely intermarried family circle made up exclusively of cultivated Parisian Jews of Alsatian descent. . . . All his three wives came from the same milieu. The first, Dina Dreyfus, was the sister of a schoolfriend, Pierre Dreyfus. The second was Pierre Dreyfus’s… Read more

Liturgy of Liberalism

Adrian Vermeule has a brilliant review of Ryszard Legutko’s Demon in Democracy. He begins with Tocqueville’s observation that the French Revolution “developed into a species of religion” but one without ritual. Legutko, and Vermeule following him, dissent: “The Revolution’s descendants not only possess a theology and eschatology, but a central sacrament and an accompanying liturgy. Indeed, they compulsively, helplessly re-enact that liturgy, with mounting anxiety, while priding themselves on their freedom from all superstition.” Legutko seeks to demonstrate that “communism and… Read more

Secularizing Covenant

In an essay on covenant as a political concept, Daniel Elazar briefly traces the development of covenant, and its relation to natural law, from Philo to Spinoza. Reformed theorists like Althusius loom large, what with their recovery and expansion of the biblical conception of “covenant.” Elazar writes, “The federal theology which they articulated (federal is derived from the Latin foedus, which means covenant) stimulated the renewed political application of the covenant idea which was given expression first by political theologians and… Read more

The Politicization of Everyday Life

How did everything get politicized – every choice of a favorite beer, every style decision, every nook and cranny of everyday life? Bruce Schulman blames it on Rolling Stone magazine. As he writes, “/the magazine embraced the countercultural ideal of authenticity — living life to the fullest, right now, within a community of like-minded, liberated persons. Why bother with protest, columnist Ralph Gleason asked, when the ‘new music has established a Stranger in a Strange Land head community, vibes in… Read more

Albanian as Literary Language

Albanian isn’t usually considered an important literary language, but Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare explained in an interview with the Paris Review how the language merges classical and modern forms of literary expression: “Albanian is simply an extraordinary means of expression—rich, malleable, adaptable. As I have said in my latest novel, Spiritus, it has modalities that exist only in classical Greek, which puts one in touch with the mentality of antiquity. For example, there are Albanian verbs that can have both a… Read more

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