Democracy Without Nations: The Fate of Self-Government in Europe, by Pierre Manent, translated by Paul Seaton
Democracy Without Nations is the French political theorist Pierre Manent's most accessible reflection on the ongoing crisis of European democracy. He combines a political philosopher's insights with the reflective attachments of a patriot pained to see his country sleepwalking toward oblivion. This mixture of high-mindedness and quiet pathos informs every page of Manent's book, giving it a rare intellectual penetration and civic and moral seriousness.
The slim volume consists mainly of a fine translation of his La raison des nations: Réflexions sur la démocratie en Europe. This lucid philosophical essay generated a great deal of discussion upon its publication in France in spring 2006. Manent takes aim at contemporary Europeans' pretense of having replaced their nations' sovereignty and self-government with a "pure democracy" marked by "democratic governance which is very respectful of human rights but detached from any collective deliberation." In three complementary reflections on "Democracy," "The Nation," and "Religion," he details just what is entailed in this displacement of "political" democracy by "democratic governance." Most provocatively, he suggests that this new democratic "fundamentalism" is just as opposed to the realm of political deliberation as the various religious fundamentalisms that Europeans love to denounce. "There is no general rule, no universal rule of human rights" that can judiciously mediate between "the rights of man" and "the rights of God." The task of democratic statesmanship at its most wise and self-conscious is to weave together "communion" and "consent"—the precious patrimony of Western civilization and territorial self-government, on the one hand, with the equally important ideal of the "consent of the governed," on the other. Otherwise, democratic peoples are left impotent by blindly rejecting the "political instrument"—the nation—that allows them to exercise their sovereignty in the first place.
Manent is not satisfied with an abstract reflection on the "theological-political problem." He grapples in a most concrete way with the form that problem takes in the contemporary Islamic, Jewish, and Christian worlds. His account of political authority in the Islamic world (an "empire without an emperor"), as well as his rich and sympathetic account of Zionism and the growing divide between a "depoliticizing" Europe and a democratic Israel, are particularly insightful. And if his earlier work on the history of liberalism emphasized the secular character of the liberal state as it was conceived by the modern political philosophers, this work insists that the liberal state and the Christian nation ultimately stand or fall together. In fact, I know of no more incisive dissection of the "hollow and vain" humanitarianism that substitutes for thought among European elites today.
—Daniel J. Mahoney
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Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, by Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen
In Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen defend the moral and political status of the human embryo, arguing succinctly and persuasively that each embryo is "an individual member of the species Homo sapiens," and as such a human life to be protected from destructive research techniques.
The authors eschew completely any arguments in defense of the embryo that are based on religion, instead emphasizing the biological facts of human embryology as well as the principles of moral philosophy. The moral philosophy they follow is that of the "New Natural Law Theory" championed most famously today by John Finnis. The second half of the book is reserved for refuting arguments in favor of destructive embryo research, including some advanced by members of the President's Council on Bioethics, of which George is a member.
George and Tollefsen are able to carve up the positions of their opponents with skill and dispatch. One wonders, nevertheless, whether it is really necessary to insist upon the full humanity and personhood of embryos in order to establish that destructive research on them is morally misguided. In any case, in late November 2007 (apparently after Embryo went to press), researchers announced that they had developed a process for "reprogramming" adult human stem cells so that they possess, in effect, all the desirable properties of embryonic stem cells. This development would seem to put an end to the "stem cell wars"—and to constitute a complete vindication of President Bush's stem cell policy. The main threat to the embryo is no longer stem cell researchers but the sloppy techniques of in vitro fertilization, which, at least in the United States, continue to produce great numbers of embryos that are simply discarded.
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American Poetry: The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, by David S. Shields
Clearly, poetry had a slow start in America. The Library of America's collections of 19th- and 20th-century poetry (published in 1993 and 2000) each fill two volumes, a reflection of the United States's surging literary energy after 1800. This new volume from an earlier, less familiar time nonetheless offers a rich trove of American culture: almost 300 poems by more than 100 writers spanning the years 1625 to 1800, with excellent author biographies and end notes. Some of the names will sound familiar: William Bradford, Anne Bradstreet, Michael Wigglesworth, Cotton Mather, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Timothy Dwight, Philip Freneau, Joel Barlow, and Charles Brockden Brown. But David Shields has reached beyond the old canon to include several black poets, more women writers, at least five poets whose works survived only in manuscript and are here published for the first time, and a much wider variety of genres, subjects, and voices. As a result, edifying surprises can be found throughout: a gritty autobiographical poem from 1670s Virginia scribbled by a former convict struggling to survive as an indentured servant; an imaginary epistle from Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII, written in the 18th-century Pennsylvania wilderness by a Quaker frontierswoman; a fiercely patriotic Revolutionary War poem composed by an African American soldier, Lemuel Haynes; and a poetic anti-slavery plea, "The African Chief," penned by the Boston society woman Sarah Wentworth Morton. It is a wonderful collection of poetry—its aesthetic quality uneven, but its historical interest without limit.
—James G. Basker