Current Problems and Eternal Questions
This issue of The University Bookman engages several subjects close to the heart of Russell Kirk’s work and vision in founding this journal.
The study of history helps us to determine the underlying reality, what Kirk called the Logos, of the human condition. In this issue, Lee Congdon reviews an anthology of work by one of America’s premier historians, John Lukacs. As a young man, Lukacs endeavored to write a new kind of history, reflective of the nature of memory and the irreducible dependence of history on its interpreters. This is not the fiction of much postmodern history, unmoored to anything except the subjective will of the historian. Rather it reveals Lukacs’s conclusion that history is a moral enterprise, and that the choices the historian makes, even of language and the words chosen, have consequences. Lukacs influenced Kirk’s own historical thinking, as demonstrated in Kirk’s classic essay, “History and the Moral Imagination,” which we include here.
An historical sense has long played an important role in Anglo-American common law. Knowing what the law means must include knowing what the words meant historically, when the law was enacted, and how the law fits into our tradition of individual liberty and limited government. The strongest current proponent of such a way of interpreting the law is Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. We are pleased to have one of his former clerks review two books on Scalia, whose jurisprudence makes clear a path away from what Kirk called the “archonocracy,” rule by judges, toward an authentically democratic jurisprudence. As I write this, the Senate is considering the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito, whose fidelity to the written Constitution and his devotion to judicial moderation are akin to the constitutional tradition Scalia and others represent.
Continuing our efforts to explore and explain American conservative thought, we include here two reviews of unjustly neglected early figures of the American Right: journalist Garet Garrett and political thinker Francis Wilson. Both remind us of the vigor of conservative thought before the 1950s. Garrett, from his perch at the Saturday Evening Post, inveighed against centralization of the state and the passing of an America that is no more. Wilson, writing around the same time, applied his formidable intellect to reviving the American political tradition of limited government. The questions they raise about the nature of freedom and how self-government thrives concern us still.
In their respective reviews, James Person and D. J. Mullan tackle issues presently of great moment: Social Security reform and the debate over “intelligent design.” Person reviews a book by the late John Attarian, a long-time friend of the Bookman and a serious thinker on the public policy implications of the long-running web of distortions that surround the Social Security debate. Like the best conservative solutions to public-policy problems, as Person explains, the way out of the Social Security debacle proposed by Attarian combines hard truths with a grounding in first principles.
Evolution, as Mullan illustrates in his review, has too often become evolutionism, a belief system no less vigorous than religious faith in defending its prerogatives. That many proponents of Darwin make no secret of a vigorous atheism has not prevented their beliefs from being presented as the vanguard of science meant to vanquish all others. Intelligent design, although flawed in some respects, nevertheless represents a healthy reaction to the intrusion of science into realms theological and has itself the support of serious scientists. While the secular media often speaks as if intelligent design has improperly inserted “religion in science class,” too often that is because science has arrogated to itself judgment over religious belief. Science, even evolution, can tell us at most how things are; they cannot tell us why.
Finally, in what we hope will be a regular feature, we present “Books in Little,” a section summarizing in shorter reviews books that we believe will be of considerable interest to our readers.
Gerald J. Russello
Posted: March 18, 2007 in Editor’s Notes.
On Looking for What We Have Been Given
James V. Schall, S. J.