A manifesto for Christians who share Neuhaus’ theology, and for opponents with an academic bent who enjoy an intellectual...

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AMERICAN BABYLON

NOTES OF A CHRISTIAN EXILE

The recently deceased neoconservative intellectual offers a philosophical blueprint for his Catholicism and his stranger-in-a-strange-land relationship with America.

Catholic priest and George W. Bush confidante Neuhaus (Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy and the Splendor of Truth, 2006, etc.) says that American Christians are exiles in this imperfect life and country as they await the End Time and the promised City of God. He explains how he reconciles this world with his religious aspirations, disputing the outlook of liberal Christians and secularists along the way. Those familiar with his work might expect some culture-war bomb-throwing, and Neuhaus lobs a few at abortion rights and stem-cell research, but the book is primarily a theological summation. Indeed, the author’s lengthy musings may seem pedantic to those without a strong interest in philosophy. One chapter takes more than 30 pages to answer the question, “Can an Atheist Be a Good Citizen?” Neuhaus, who founded and edited the ecumenical journal First Things, is generous in granting the objections to his case, and readers who don’t share his premises might nonetheless be persuaded by his arguments. On the atheist question, for example, he admits that Christians have committed crimes as grievous as those of nonbelievers. He insists nonetheless that atheists can’t be good citizens, because citizenship requires “a morally compelling” defense of democracy that “draw[s] authority from that which is higher than ourselves.” He doesn’t mention Alan Dershowitz’s secular defense, which notes that undemocratic, rights-denying societies inevitably disintegrate—and that our God-fearing founders, who tolerated certain injustices, weren’t always compelling exemplars of democracy. Neuhaus argues, correctly, that America is “an incorrigibly and pervasively religious society.” It is also pervasively uninterested in worrying about things like the worthiness of atheists to be citizens, which may have contributed to the author’s sense of alienation.

A manifesto for Christians who share Neuhaus’ theology, and for opponents with an academic bent who enjoy an intellectual dust-up.

Pub Date: April 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-465-01367-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2009

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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