Peter Feuerherd’s recent column at JSTOR Daily discusses sixteenth century Protestant Reformer John Calvin and his influence on capitalism. Calvin is viewed negatively by most moderns, both because of his identification with the doctrine of predestination – that God has eternally elected those who will be saved – as well as for a common, if not quite accurate, styling of the Weberian hypothesis, that Calvin and Calvinists believed worldly affluence to signify divine election.
Books reviewed in this essay:
The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, by Corey Robin. Oxford University Press.
The Common Mind: Politics, Society and Christian Humanism from Thomas More to Russell Kirk, by André Gushurst-Moore. Angelico Press.
The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future—and Why They Should Give It Back, by David Willetts. Atlantic Books.
Amidst the recurring question of whether Edmund Burke is relevant to contemporary politics, we are presented with three volumes that approach this vital issue in different ways, and with varying levels of scholarly and popular perceptiveness. All the books under review attempt to connect the witness and insights of the great statesman to ongoing conflicts in society and politics. Perhaps the disparate assessments of Burke alone could suggest the resiliency of his legacy; however, the importance of Burke the political theorist dictates a closer examination of these critical works.
I thank the Law and Liberty site, and Dr. Bruce in particular, for their respectful attention to my book, in a new edition by St. Augustine’s Press, Calvin and the Foundations of Modern Politics.
Dr. Bruce nicely frames the question of Calvin’s theology in relation to modernity, and there is surely some validity in what he says about the limitations of my enterprise as a comprehensive guide to Calvin’s political teaching. It is certain that I focus almost exclusively on the Institutes, and it may be that I sometimes concede too much to venerable authors like Emil Doumergue. (Still, does Bruce mean to deny, against Doumergue and myself, that there is a pronounced antimonarchic element in Calvin’s teaching, one that emerges, unsurprisingly, when he is discussing biblical passages that tend that way?)
I’m afraid, though, that Dr. Bruce misses my point when he characterizes my approach as a kind of middle way “between the two extremes” of secular and religious interpretations of modernity, and, likewise, when he gives me credit for a “modest judgment of [my] own work.”