In the News: Reading & Resisting

A round-up of recent religion news. Continue Reading →

The Danger of Winning

By Ann Neumann Is a revisionist history of abortion rights being used–by journalists, supporters, and lawyers–to curtail Supreme Court rulings on other rights like same sex marriage. Is “fear of the backlash” just a stubborn frame? Continue Reading →

"Could People Be Good Without Foundations?"

From Andrew Hartman’s recent post at U.S. Intellectual History, “The Politics of Epistemology,” in which he excerpts the following (and more) from his book Education and the Cold War:

By the beginning of the Cold War, this crisis was seemingly resolved in what Purcell terms the “relativist theory of democracy,” a stripped-down version of Dewey’s pragmatism in which democracy was made normative to America. This relativist theory of democracy blended what its practitioners believed were the best elements of naturalism, especially a faith in the empirical social sciences, with a co-opted version of rationalism, particularly a Platonic belief that American democracy was an end in itself. Although the relativist theorists of democracy considered themselves pragmatists in their attention to means, pragmatism as an identifiable philosophical radicalism, personified by Dewey in its aggressive and reform-oriented form, faded from view. Rather than critique democracy as it existed, relativist theorists assumed that American society was the democratic ideal. The status quo became an end in itself as intellectuals focused their labors on political stability.

(h/t Michael J. Altman) Continue Reading →

“Could People Be Good Without Foundations?”

From Andrew Hartman’s recent post at U.S. Intellectual History, “The Politics of Epistemology,” in which he excerpts the following (and more) from his book Education and the Cold War:

By the beginning of the Cold War, this crisis was seemingly resolved in what Purcell terms the “relativist theory of democracy,” a stripped-down version of Dewey’s pragmatism in which democracy was made normative to America. This relativist theory of democracy blended what its practitioners believed were the best elements of naturalism, especially a faith in the empirical social sciences, with a co-opted version of rationalism, particularly a Platonic belief that American democracy was an end in itself. Although the relativist theorists of democracy considered themselves pragmatists in their attention to means, pragmatism as an identifiable philosophical radicalism, personified by Dewey in its aggressive and reform-oriented form, faded from view. Rather than critique democracy as it existed, relativist theorists assumed that American society was the democratic ideal. The status quo became an end in itself as intellectuals focused their labors on political stability.

(h/t Michael J. Altman) Continue Reading →

Scenes From an Occupation

Nora Connor spent the wee hours of Friday morning in Zucotti Park, waiting for Bloomberg to evict the Occupy Wall Street protesters.  Below she documents dawn in the park and the breaking news that the eviction had been called off.  Some of the images are dark or hard to see; they all convey the unfolding daily drama of occupation.

6:15 AM Zucotti Park is crowded, almost entirely hemmed in by mobile news trucks and lousy with photographers. The self-cleanup effort continues. It’s clear the pavement has been scrubbed, and the west end of the park is semi-cleared, but there are still a lot of blankets, tarps, sleeping bags and backpacks and more than a few occupiers sleeping. I’m told the consensus plan has been to shift the gear in stages to the areas of the park that are not being cleaned in order to ensure a continuous presence. It doesn’t look like that will happen in time. I’m also hearing of a plan to have a small group of people remain in the park with the rest forming a human circle around it, so I’m expecting arrests and pepper spray as of 7AM. Continue Reading →

Organizing Democracy

An excerpt from Blessed are the Organized: Grassroots Democracy in America, (Princeton University Press, 2010), edited slightly for this purpose.

by Jeffrey Stout

Beginning in the 1920s, Walter Lippmann argued that the main actors in a modern democratic republic are officeholders, political candidates, opinion makers, and other members of powerful elites. Ordinary citizens, he thought, have more limited obligations: to inform themselves about the issues and about the politicians vying for office, to conduct themselves with civility in public debate, to vote in a way that advances their own interests fairly, and to exercise their influence appropriately — for example, by contacting their elected representatives, signing petitions, or writing letters to the editor. Given that most citizens fail to fulfill even these limited civic responsibilities, Lippmann considered it foolish to expect them to do more.

John Dewey declared Lippmann’s faith in elites undemocratic. Without a more extensively organized and active citizenry, Dewey thought, a nominally democratic republic would morph quickly into a form of oligarchy, or dominance of the lucky few over the unlucky many. Continue Reading →

Democracy and Faith

From Jan-Werner Müller’s article in the November/December Boston Review titled, “Making Muslim Democracies”:

In the case of Christian Democracy, believers needed to be convinced that the party had not sold out to secularism (of which liberal democracy seemed merely one symptom); nonbelievers needed assurance that religiously inspired parties would not abandon state neutrality in religious affairs once in power, and that the pronouncements of a Maritain did not constitute a kind of “double discourse,” with different messages for believers and nonbelievers. It was a delicate balancing act. Maritain managed it, partly because the rather vague philosophy of personalism suggested a third path not only between individualism and communism, but also between religion and secularism.

Thus did Christian Democrats create a unique set of principles that both believers and nonbelievers could follow. The moderation of Christian Democracy was not just the result of day-to-day politics. Rather, a long-term process of scholarship and debate helped create a group of parties that appealed to voters not by being arbitrarily centrist, but by making widely agreeable proposals based on Christian values. Continue Reading →