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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Then There Was Light

In Arts & Letters, Christianity, Conservatism, History, Humanities, King James Bible, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Religion, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy, Writing on December 27, 2011 at 2:02 am

James Banks is a doctoral student studying Renaissance and Restoration English literature at the University of Rochester. He also contributes to the American Interest Online. He has been a Fellow with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute Honors Program; in addition to The Literary Lawyer, he has written for the Intercollegiate Review, First Principles and The Heritage Foundation’s blog The Foundry. A native of Idaho’s panhandle, he lives in upstate New York and serves in the New York Army National Guard.

A politician calls for his country’s ecclesiastical leaders to “stand up and defend” the moral codes of the King James Bible and says that promoting “Christian values” is not a snub to other religions. This is just the kind of thing that America’s “Christianist” watchdogs have been waiting for Michelle Bachmann to say. But she didn’t say it. David Cameron did.

The fact that Cameron can say this in a country where less than 40% of the population believes in God suggests the cultural significance of the King James Version in Great Britain.  (The King James Version, that is, not the Bible itself so much.) This is not wholly surprising. It would be impolite to say anything against the King James Bible on its 400th birthday. Still, this is the first time in recent memory that the King James Version has been glorified in the mainstream media by a popular political figure.

I should note that the King James Bible is—in my non-expert opinion—the best translation available in English. Whereas there have been numerous translations that have, no doubt, captured the literal meaning of the words better, there is none that captures the sublimity more perfectly than the old text of 1611.  The King James Bible is not only in English, it is also very much of English. Translating scriptures into Britannia’s native tongue had been enough to endanger Wycliffe and Tyndale. Nonetheless, by the time that the King James was printed, its heavily Tyndale-influenced Old and New Testaments were typical symbols of British conservative moderation.

Yes, it would be in English, offensive to Roman Catholicism’s preferred Latin Vulgate.  But it would lack the marginal notes of the radical Calvinists: Popery and Puritans! A pox on both your houses! It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate text for the Church of England. Auberon Waugh once wrote that the modern Church of England managed to take such broad positions in public discourse that no one, from Mau Zedong to the pope, could say with any level of certainty that he was not an Anglican.

It is in this historical context of moderation that David Cameron’s comments should be read: The prime minister did not mean that he expected the Church to speak out on moral issues more commonly found in American discourse: abortion, gay marriage, prayer in schools. Rather, he feels that the traditional Anglo paradigm of tolerance and temperateness is threatened by radicals (on the left), nativists (on the right) and youth run wild (in the contact zone in between). He wants the Church to take a more activist role in reasserting the moral virtues which made Britain strong—presumably by saying that looting, pillaging and burning are bad things. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Oft-Ignored Mr. Turton in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India

In Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, Book Reviews, Communication, E.M. Forster, Eastern Civilizaton, Emerson, Essays, Fiction, History, Humane Economy, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Law, Law-and-Literature, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Novels, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Transnational Law, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on October 17, 2011 at 11:55 am

Allen Mendenhall

The following post first appeared here at Prometheus Unbound: A Libertarian Review of Fiction and Literature.

A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster [trade paperback]; also made into an award-winning film.

Perhaps the most important task of all would be to undertake studies in contemporary alternatives to Orientalism, to ask how one can study other cultures and peoples from a libertarian, or a nonrepressive and nonmanipulative, perspective.

Edward Said, Orientalism

When I asked Dr. Plauché what I should review for my first contribution to Prometheus Unbound, he suggested that I elaborate on my recent Libertarian Papers article: “The Oft-Ignored Mr. Turton: The Role of District Collector in A Passage to India.”  Would I, he asked, be willing to present a trimmed-down version of my argument about the role of district collectors in colonial India, a role both clarified and complicated by E.M. Forster’s portrayal of Mr. Turton, the want-to-please-all character and the district collector in Forster’s most famous novel, A Passage to India.  I agreed.  And happily.

For those who haven’t read the novel, here, briefly, is a spoiler-free rundown of the plot.  A young and not particularly attractive British lady, Adela Quested, travels to India with Mrs. Moore, whose son, Ronny, intends to marry Adela.  Not long into the trip, Mrs. Moore meets Dr. Aziz, a Muslim physician, in a mosque, and instantly the two hit it off.  Mr. Turton hosts a bridge party — a party meant to bridge relations between East and West — for Adela and Mrs. Moore.  At the party, Adela meets Mr. Fielding, the local schoolmaster and a stock character of the Good British Liberal.  Fielding invites Adela and Mrs. Moore to tea with him and Professor Godbole, a Brahman Hindu.  Dr. Aziz joins the tea party and there offers to show Adela and Mrs. Moore the famous Marabar Caves.

When Aziz and the women later set out to the caves — Fielding and Godbole are supposed to join, but they just miss the train — something goes terribly wrong.  Adela offends Aziz, who ducks into a cave only to discover that Adela has gone missing.  Aziz eventually sees Adela speaking to Fielding and another Englishwoman, both of whom have driven up together, but by the time he reaches Fielding the two women have left.  Aziz heads back to Chandrapore (the fictional city where the novel is set) with Fielding, but when he arrives, he is arrested for sexually assaulting Adela.  A trial ensues, and the novel becomes increasingly saturated with Brahman Hindu themes.  (Forster is not the only Western writer to be intrigued by Brahman Hinduism.  Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Blake, among many others, shared this fascination.)  The arrest and trial call attention to the double-standards and arbitrariness of the British legal system in India.

Rule of law was the ideological currency of the British Raj, and Forster attempts to undercut this ideology using Brahman Hindu scenes and signifiers.  Rule of law seeks to eliminate double-standards and arbitrariness, but it does the opposite in Chandrapore.  Some jurisprudents think of rule of law as a fiction.  John Hasnas calls rule of law a myth.  Whatever its designation, rule of law is not an absolute reality outside discourse.  Like everything, its meaning is constructed through language and cultural understanding.  Rule of law is a phrase that validates increased governmental control over phenomena that government and its agents describe as needing control.  When politicians and other officials lobby for consolidation or centralization of power, they often do so by invoking rule of law.  Rule of law means nothing if not compulsion and coercion.  It is merely an attractive packaging of those terms. 

British administrators in India, as well as British commentators on Indian matters, adhered in large numbers to utilitarianism.  Following in the footsteps of Jeremy Bentham, the founding father of utilitarianism, these administrators reduced legal and social policy to calculations about happiness and pleasure.  Utilitarianism holds, in short, that actions are good if they maximize utility, which enhances the general welfare.  Utilitarianism rejects first principles, most ethical schools, and natural law.  Rather than couch their policymaking in terms of happiness and pleasure, British administrators in India, among other interested parties such as the East India Company, invoked rule of law.  Rule of law manifested itself as a concerted British effort to discipline Indians into docile subjects accountable to a British sovereign and dependent upon a London-centered economy.  The logic underpinning rule of law was that Indians were backward and therefore needed civilizing.  The effects of rule of law were foreign occupation, increased bureaucratic networks across India, and imperial arrogance.

Murray Rothbard was highly critical of some utilitarians, but especially of Bentham (see here and here for Rothbard’s insights into the East India Company).  In Classical Economics, he criticized Bentham’s opinions about fiat currency, inflationism, usury, maximum price controls on bread, and ad hoc empiricism.  Bentham’s utilitarianism and rule of law mantras became justifications for British imperialism, and not just in India.  A detailed study of Hasnas’s critique of rule of law in conjunction with Rothbard’s critique of Bentham could, in the context of colonial India, lead to an engaging and insightful study of imperialism generally.  My article is not that ambitious.  My article focuses exclusively on A Passage to India while attempting to synthesize Hasnas with Rothbard.  Forster was no libertarian, but his motifs and metaphors seem to support the Hasnasian and Rothbardian take on rule of law rhetoric and utilitarianism, respectively.  These motifs and metaphors are steeped in Brahman Hindu themes and philosophy. Read the rest of this entry »

Anamnesis Journal and Debates Over the New Natural Law

In Arts & Letters, Conservatism, Essays, History, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Law, Liberalism, News and Current Events, News Release, Politics, Religion, Rhetoric, Western Civilization on August 12, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Allen Mendenhall

Over at the web-essay section of Anamnesis: A Journal for the Study of Tradition, Place, and ‘Things Divine,’ Professors R. J. Snell and Thaddeus J. Kozinski have weighed in on debates over the New Natural Law theory.

Here is Snell’s thesis:

Despite differences in particular religious commitments, a significant number of theists share reservations about the natural law. Natural law theory overlooks the Fall, arrogates the domain of revelation, attempts obligation without divine command, and treats God in the generic and thus in terms alien to the believer—just some of the many objections.In this short essay I offer a broad defense against these charges, particularly claiming that understanding natural law through human subjectivity recognizes how humans actually know and so consequently preserves the uniqueness and transcendence of God.

Appealing to authorities within the religious tradition may go some distance in answering objections, for theology and sacred text tends to vindicate the natural lawyers, especially if the religion has a doctrine of creation. But the charges may have particular traction against the so-called New Natural Law Theory (NNL), with its first-person perspective. As Christopher O. Tollefsen explains, the NNL takes seriously “considerations concerning the nature of human action,” particularly intentions as “agent-centered, or first-personal … from the point of view of the agent as seeking some good.” It is, he continues, “only by adopting the perspective of the acting person that an agent’s action can be best understood.”

Here is Kozinski’s thesis:

I commend R.J. Snell for his excellent essay “God, Religion, and the New Natural Law.” His thesis: “understanding natural law through human subjectivity recognizes how humans actually know and so consequently preserves the uniqueness and transcendence of God” is defended rigorously, and is, to my mind, true. However, in allying his argument with those of the New Natural Law school, I think he does himself a disservice.There is nothing in his thesis in terms of data, premises, argumentation, and conclusions that requires such an alliance, for everything he claims about the indispensable role and even primacy of subjectivity, experience, understanding, and judgment in ethical inquiry and practice rings true on its own and is clearly in accordance with the philosophia perennis in general and Thomistic ethical philosophy in particular. Whereas, the major claim of the New Natural Theory, that is, the adequacy of practical reason alone to ground and explain ethical theory and practice, does not ring true and is in, at least prima facie, contradiction with traditional Catholic and Thomistic moral philosophy and theology.

Though I agree with Dr. Snell that the modern and postmodern “turn to the subject” is the most appropriate beginning to inquiry about the natural law, and maybe the most effective motivation for obeying it, in our present public milieu of deep worldview pluralism, it is only a beginning. Moreover, even a sound, systematic Thomistic defense of the relative self-sufficiency of practical reason for knowing and living out the natural law can be misleading if it neglects to include a discussion of these four realities:  1) the mutually dependent relation of speculative and practical reason; 2) the subjectivity-shaping role of social practices; 3) the tradition-constituted-and-constitutive character of practical rationality; and 4) the indispensability of divine revelation in ethical inquiry and practice.

These essays are good introductions to the New Natural Law Theory.  For more about this branch of jurisprudence, see the following web-based essays and articles (some of them approving of natural law and some of them critical):

Joseph W. Koterski, S.J.  “On the New Natural Law Theory.”  Modern Age (2000: 415-418).

Phillip E. Johnson.  “In Defense of Natural Law.”  First Things (1999).

Christopher Tollefsen.  “The New Natural Law Theory.”  LYCEUM, Vol. X, No. 1 (2008).

David Gordon’s review of Robert P. George’s In Defense of Natural Law.  Review title: “New But Not Improved.”  The Mises Review.  Vol. 5, No. 4 (1999).

Larry Arnhart.  “Darwinian Conservatism as the New Natural Law.”  The Good Society, Vol. 12, No. 3 (2003).

The Daily Dish.  “The ‘New’ Natural Law.”  The Atlantic (Dec. 23, 2009).

David D. Kirkpatrick.  “The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker.”  The New York Times Magazine (Dec. 16, 2009).

“The Gospel of Life: A Symposium.”  First Things (1995). 

This list is hardly exhaustive.  It shows only a few scholarly and popular pieces.  No discussion of natural law theory should fail to mention John Finnis and Robert P. George, whose books and articles are well-known and oft-discussed.  Anamnesis, edited by Peter Haworth, is sure to come out with more compelling pieces related to topics discussed here at The Literary Lawyer.  Please read Anamnesis and, if you feel so inclined, leave a comment in the “comments” section of the web-based fora.

The Oft-Ignored Mr. Turton: The Role of District Collector in A Passage to India

In Arts & Letters, Austrian Economics, E.M. Forster, Jurisprudence, Law-and-Literature, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Libertarianism, Literary Theory & Criticism, Politics, Religion, Writing on December 23, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Allen Mendenhall

Click here to read my latest law-and-literature article.  Below is the abstract for the article, which appears in Libertarian Papers:

E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India presents Brahman Hindu jurisprudence as an alternative to British rule of law, a utilitarian jurisprudence that hinges on mercantilism, central planning, and imperialism.  Building on John Hasnas’s critiques of rule of law and Murray Rothbard’s critiques of Benthamite utilitarianism, this essay argues that Forster’s depictions of Brahman Hindu in the novel endorse polycentric legal systems.  Mr. Turton is the local district collector whose job is to pander to both British and Indian interests; positioned as such, Turton is a site for critique and comparison.  Forster uses Turton to show that Brahman Hindu jurisprudence is fair and more effective than British bureaucratic administration.  Forster’s depictions of Brahman Hindu are not verisimilar, and Brahman Hindu does not recommend a particular jurisprudence.  But Forster appropriates Brahman Hindu for aesthetic and political purposes and in so doing advocates a jurisprudence that does not reduce all experience to mathematical calculation.  Forster writes against the Benthamite utilitarianism adopted by most colonial administrators in India.  A tough figure to pin down politically, Forster celebrates the individual and personal relations: things that British rule of law seeks to suppress.

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