Sunday, July 10, 2011

Law and Religion, The Crimean War, and more in the book reviews

Paul Horwitz, University of Alabama School of Law "writes convincingly that the prevailing academic approach to law and religion, in which abstractions like equality and neutrality are taken as foundational touchstones for resolving religious liberty conflicts, has led to a stale and unedifying impasse," writes Marc O. DeGirolami,  St. John's University School of Law, reviewing The Agnostic Age: Law, Religion, and the Constitution by Horwitz's in The Book (New Republic).

DeGirolami explains that Horwitz writes that "contemporary intellectual thought about the value of religion—and therefore of religious freedom—is chained to the delusion that it can continue to proceed entirely from value-neutral assumptions."   The book "is an attempt to describe a more agreeable, curious orientation to questions of religious truth—a provisional commitment neither to religious truth nor to its falsity, but a genial receptivity to religion’s assertions of the true."  If an analysis of religious liberty took truth claims seriously, for the author "it would assume an agnostic cast of mind" a claim that DeGirolami finds "surprising and controversial in two ways, one conceptual and the other constitutional."

DeGirolami continues:
The constitutional problem for new agnosticism is that theories of religious liberty came into being precisely because the agents of the state routinely demonstrated that they were neither qualified nor competent to take empathetically imaginative leaps that would bind the rest of us. Not much has changed on this score. Horwitz is alive to the objection, and he takes pains to emphasize that the constitutional agnostic does not reach firm conclusions about religion’s truth claims, but remains empathetically open to the possibility that those claims may be true.
Continue reading here.  DeGirolami usually blogs at Mirror of Justice, and Horwitz can be found at PrawfsBlawg.  (Oxford University Press has sadly priced the book out of range for most readers -- a reminder that authors should check a press's pricing history when considering a press.)

The Crimean War: A History, by Orlando Figes, University of London, "restores the conflict — which predated the American Civil War by eight years — as 'a major turning point' in European and Middle Eastern history, writes Gary J. Bass, Princeton University, in the New York Times. The author "argues forcefully that it was 'the earliest example of a truly modern war — fought with new industrial technologies, modern rifles, steamships and railways, novel forms of logistics and communication like the telegraph, important innovations in military medicine and war reporters and photographers directly on the scene.' The ferocious yearlong siege of Sevastopol 'was a precursor of the industrialized trench warfare' of World War I." 

The book is "a huge success," writes Bass.  Figes "artfully uses painstaking archival work — disturbing dust in London, Paris, Istanbul, Moscow and St. Petersburg — to expose the secret machinations of statesmen, but he never overlooks the awful human costs, like the nonchalant willingness of aristocratic Russian officers to sacrifice their peasant soldiers."  He presents "history with an argument" maintaining that "the conflict was essentially a religious war."  Yet "the war was also a clash between political systems: British liberalism against Russian absolutism....When the Crimean War came, Figes writes, the British public saw it as a defense of 'British principles' like 'liberty, civilization and free trade.'"And "Figes, like other scholars, chillingly shows how British freedoms and open institutions helped drive the country into catastrophe: 'This was a war — the first war in history — to be brought about by the pressure of the press and by public opinion.'"

Continue reading here.

The Legal Theory Bookworm recommends Reasoning from Race: Feminism, Law, and the Civil Rights Revolution by Serena Mayeri.

In other book news this week, you can find reviews for: Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways by Earl Swift in the Los Angeles Times; CLARENCE DARROW: American Iconoclast by Andrew E. Kersten, and CLARENCE DARROW: Attorney for the Damned by John A. Farrell in the New York Times; INDEPENDENCE:  The Struggle to Set America Free by John Ferling in the Boston Globe; ABSOLUTE MONARCHS: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich in the New York Times; and WHEN THE WORLD SPOKE FRENCH by Marc Fumaroli, translated by Richard Howard in the New York Times.