Aliens in America: The Strange Truth about Our Souls by Peter Augustine Lawler
Faith, Reason, and Political Life Today edited by Peter Augustine Lawler and Dale McConkey
Through his books, anthologies, and editorship of Perspectives on Political Science (on whose editorial board this reviewer sits), Peter Augustine Lawler has established himself as a noteworthy voice in the debate over reason and revelation in contemporary political life. Throughout his scholarly career, Lawler has been guided by these highest of themes in his investigations, whether of Tocqueville, Vaclav Havel, or contemporary neoconservatives and leftists. David Brooks's Bobos, Whit Stillman's films, and Walker Percy's characters all play parts in his flailing of the postmodern American soul. In Aliens in America, Lawler treats the human soul in all its dimensions, as reflecting the Biblical God and the Platonic-Aristotelian nous, as part of political man and transpolitical man. He warns against interpretations of the Declaration of Independence and America that lead "toward an unreal and unvirtuous independence from nature and God."
Faith, Reason and Political Life Today, edited by Lawler and his colleague, Dale McConkey, elaborates these diverse themes. Treatments of "Star Trek" (by Paul Cantor and Diana Schaub), Flannery O'Connor (by Henry Edmondson), and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (by Daniel Mahoney) bring forth themes such as globalization and statesmanship, and grace and redemption in contemporary political life. The most interesting of these essays is Paul Seaton's interpretation of Pierre Manent, the French Straussian and Christian.
As commendable as these books are, one wonders whether Lawler and these contributors mischaracterize American liberalism, which they identify with modernity. Might they appreciate the "liberalism" of I Peter, 2:16: "Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cloak for vice"?
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This article appeared in the Winter 2002 issue of the Claremont Review of Books