Brian Tierney succeeds in his own aims for Liberty and Law: The Idea of Permissive Natural Law, 1100—1800. In his introduction, the noted Cornell medievalist openly admits that this book is “deliberately more descriptive than analytical” and says its chapters should not be read as “a continuous narrative” but as “a series of studies, focused on a common theme and intended, hopefully, to enhance our understanding of its scope and significance.” What Liberty and Law achieves is nothing short of remarkable: it follows the thread of permissive natural law through 700 years of intellectual history. Having written on Rights in the…
This plebian reviewer read Professor Sir Anthony Barnes Atkinson’s Inequality: What Can Be Done? so you wouldn’t have to. Inequality inadvertently persuaded me that its topic is even less important than I’d thought it was when I began. But make no mistake, Atkinson’s a celebrated lion of the Left—the economist whom Thomas Piketty called “the Godfather of historical studies on income and wealth.” If he can’t persuade us inequality is a problem, no one can.
At the end of the day, the best and most deeply committed collectivists ought to be advocates of a small and limited government. Why? Because the state isn’t the only collective; it’s just the most obvious one. State collectivism received a devastating critique in James R. Otteson’s recent book (reviewed here), and I want to supplement Otteson’s case: In addition to the solitary individual staring down the centralized bureaucracy, we can think about the collections of individuals in civil society who are greater than the sum of their parts.
Future students of our age may well treat Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and James R. Otteson’s The End of Socialism as bookends on an era. Hayek raises the specter of state collectivism in his classic work from 1944. In this new book, Otteson charts socialism’s end, in both senses of that word: the goals it fails to realize as well as its inevitable collapse.
Here’s my story: I’m sick of narratives. My story, vision, dream—whatever—speaks against the so-called “grand narratives” that populate our rhetorical landscape like so many garden gnomes or pink flamingos. It’s not just that they’re awkward and unpleasant. They distract us from what should be the focus of our attention: the facts. Appealing to a narrative makes the speaker sound lofty in his ideals; it makes a politician’s policy decisions seem inevitable—but that’s just not the case. Call me a narrative skeptic.
The first 40 pages of The Natural Moral Law: The Good After Modernity are exceptional; it’s obvious to me why Cambridge decided to publish it. The book has many admirable qualities: it is daring, encyclopedic, and thought-provoking. Taken as a whole, though, The Natural Moral Law is uneven. Owen Anderson’s “interdisciplinary approach” should have been supplemented with more explicit, rigorous argument. The ideas he considers are too important to leave The Natural Moral Law as his final book on the subject; my hope is that Anderson will write a companion book to this one that is less historical and more…
Ronald Dworkin’s posthumously published Religion without God could instead have been called Law without Religion.
The book is founded in a great hope: that religious believers can be persuaded that they have more in common with atheists than they may think, and vice versa. Dworkin believes that “the zealots have great political power in America now” and that “militant atheism” is “politically inert” (though it is, he adds, “a great commercial success”!).
In Mind & Cosmos, Thomas Nagel, a prolific and highly regarded philosopher, defends, by his own admission, “the untutored reaction of incredulity to the reductionist neo-Darwinian account of the origin and evolution of life.” He continues, “It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection” (6). Richard Dawkins’s The Blind Watchmaker is “a canonical expression” of the standard account, and, though it “seems to convince practically everyone” (5n2), Nagel finds it “ hard to believe” (5). His real enemy is “a…
A while ago, I commented on Jim Ceaser’s “Four Heads and One Heart.” Ceaser believes that the four competing intellectual traditions (the heads) that comprise the modern American conservative movement are united by a common loathing of liberalism (the heart). That piece still shapes my thinking, and I still recommend it. But I want to add to Ceaser’s theory by proposing that there’s an intellectual attitude that all four heads share; there’s something on which they all agree.