In its commitment to promoting research, teaching and intellectual exchange on the historical study of American thought, the Society for U.S. Intellectual History offers a book review section that identifies new and significant historical monographs in the field of U.S. intellectual history. Book reviews facilitate informed dialogue on the current state of the field and raise interest in the political, cultural and intellectual project of writing history. Historical scholarship is the foundation of our profession and teaching its heartbeat; book reviews introduce our diverse readership to the creative and original questions and methodologies of scholars dedicated to the dissemination of historical knowledge and understanding. Thus, book reviews play an integral part in the collective intellectual project that is the writing and teaching of U.S. intellectual history.
a review by Gene Zubovich
The Right of the Protestant Left: God’s Totalitarianism
By Mark Thomas Edwards
296 pages. Palgrave Macmillian, 2012.
Reinhold Niebuhr sponsored an interracial farmer’s cooperative in the South, John Mackay backed the Peruvian “American Popular Revolutionary Alliance,” and John Bennett was a member of the Fellowship of Socialist Christians. These are some of the 30-odd men (along with two women) who came together in the Theological Discussion Group in the 1930s to form the heart of the “Realist” coalition. Historians have written about this group before but Mark Thomas Edwards offers a new perspective in his The Right of the Protestant Left. Edwards argues that the Realists, a group conventionally understood to be part of the political left, are best viewed as one variety of American conservatism. Edwards acknowledges the Realists’ left-leaning politics but shows, more convincingly than other accounts, their conservative inclinations.
That the Realists developed a “conservative public theology” is not Edwards’ only argument. He makes a strong case that this group’s social concerns mirrored those of the turn-of-the-century Progressive reformers, who also prioritized the protection of local communities by decentralizing political and economic power. Edwards also describes the Realists as “countertotalitarian,” by which he means they opposed the growing popularity of fascism and communism by infusing Christianity into every aspect of life. For the Realists, secularization was “a satanic design” that had to be fought, not accommodated. Edwards’ conservative frame, however, is the most arresting of the arguments in this book and it is the one Edwards develops most meticulously. (more…)
Review of John Connelly’s From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012)
Reviewed by Gene Zubovich
It may seem strange that a nearly four-hundred page book would be dedicated to fifteen sentences of the proclamation Nostra Aetate, a Vatican II document of 1965 dealing with the relationship between Catholics and other religions. But the subject matter is by no means small: these paragraphs changed the official Catholic teaching on the Jews that had prevailed for 1,700 years. Indeed, John Connelly does not shy away from the word “revolution” in the title of his book, From Enemy To Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965. (more…)
Review of Joel Isaac, Working Knowledge: Making the Human Sciences from Parsons to Kuhn (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012).
Review of Kevin Schultz’s Tri-Faith America: How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to Its Protestant Promise (New York City: Oxford University Press, 2011). ISBN: 9780195331769. 264 pages.
Reviewed by Fred Beuttler
America as a “Protestant” Nation?
A few years ago I was at a conference on religion and neuroscience and was arguing with a German theologian over which of our two countries was more democratic. We went back and forth on various aspects of our respective cultures, such as science, religion, political procedure, and so forth. After trading points, she finally got all flustered and said that “you Americans aren’t as democratic as we Germans, because we trust our government.” I burst out laughing. No American would think that that is the basis for democracy – in fact, a deep skepticism of any official truth promulgated by any governmental establishment is almost second nature to us. Dissent is far more engrained in the American tradition than deference to an establishment, ecclesiastical or otherwise. (more…)
Review of Eran Shalev’s Rome Reborn on Western Shores: Historical Imagination and the Creation of the American Republic (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009). ISBN 0-8139-2833-3. Pp. xiii, 311. $45.00.
Reviewed by Varad Mehta
Scratch an American of the Revolutionary era and underneath you’ll find a Roman. That impression has been long conveyed by a robust scholarship exploring the myriad influences of classical culture on eighteenth-century British North America and the Revolution of its inhabitants against their colonial mother. Especially successful in scholarly circles has been the argument that the primary ideology of the Revolution was a strand of republicanism whose genealogy can be traced back to classical Greece and Rome by way of Machiavelli. Eran Shalev unites the histories of the classics and republicanism in the revolutionary era in order to argue that classical antiquity “played a crucial role in articulating the revolutionaries’ quarrel and their coming to terms with history and time” (3). While Shalev does an excellent job explicating the influence of classical conceptions of time and history in this period, he is less successful in demonstrating that these were the primary, let alone the only, inspirations for the revolutionary generation’s understanding of them. The result is a book which, typical of those in the so-called republican paradigm, must make its case by ignoring the most important aspects of the Revolution, in particular the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. (more…)