Monday, October 20, 2014

The Rethinking of Political “Thinking”

Freeden, Michael.  The Political Theory of Political Thinking.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, November 2013.

In a highly erudite and comprehensive manner, the prominent British political theorist Michael Freeden (University of Nottingham) raises fundamental questions about how students of politics and others engage in political thinking.  The author is concerned about the increasingly “slippery” language employed in political discourse, and while admitting that the meaning of political terminology is always undergoing change, there is nevertheless a need for decisiveness and finality to sustain the body politic (p. 74).  Most importantly, Freeden urges a reorientation and renewed linguistic refinement among political theorists, suggesting that such a process would reinvigorate the how we think about politics.  The complexities of the analysis in the work are necessary and do obfuscate from the author’s mission.  For example, “micro” level studies of political language usually fail to provide “interpretative flexibilities” that facilitate broad level of understanding.  Similarly, the goal of encouraging fluidity in political thinking may not always prove useful, suggesting an element of skepticism regarding relativism as a guiding principle for politics.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

New Work on Burke Reviewed

My review of one of the best books on Edmund Burke's political thought to appear in the last half century, Ian Crowe's _Patriotism and Public Spirit: Edmund Burke and the Role of the Critic in Mid-18th Century Britain_ (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press 304 pp. ISBN: 9780804781275), just published in Perspectives on Political Science:

Friday, September 12, 2014

Remembering W. Wesley McDonald: Marylander, Friend, and Kirk Disciple

On September 9th, with the passing of Dr. William Wesley McDonald, the American academy lost a talented teacher and defender of humane learning.   The American conservative movement, or what remains of authentic conservatism, has also lost a strong advocate for restraint in social and political life.  From a very early age, Wes came to the realization that politics, properly understood, was the pursuit of the good the true and beautiful; and, at this early juncture, Wes also appreciated the imperfectability of humankind, and the necessary limits of politics.  As a great lover and sophisticated student of the limits of politics, Wes feared the inappropriate and increasingly commonplace aggrandizement of liberty by the modern state.  He spent his life fighting the usurpation of fundamental liberties. 

Wes loved his native Maryland, and within our federal arrangement, he considered Maryland to be a southern state in many regards, often referring to the “old Maryland” as a model of political moderation and civility.  Of course, as a realist, Wes derided the political class in power in Maryland during most of his lifetime, composed of career politicos and apparatchiks, whose guiding principles were antithetical to the inherited tradition Wes cherished.  With some regularity, Wes would recollect the role of Maryland in the Founding and in the evolution of the regime, and pray that all was not lost if a recovery of principle could take place.  Graduating from Baltimore’s Towson State University in 1968 with a degree in political science, Wes pursued graduate study in political science, earning a Masters of Arts in political science from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, in 1969.  He considered several options for graduate school before selecting The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.  At Catholic, Wes studied with and wrote a dissertation under tutelage of the eminent conservative scholar, Dr. Claes G. Ryn.  He successfully defended his dissertation, entitled “The Conservative Mind of Russell Kirk: 'The Permament Things' in an Age of Ideology,” in 1982.  The dissertation would eventually be revised into a book, and the tome would serve as his most important contribution to scholarship.

No tribute to Wes would be appropriate without some stress upon his importance as a friend and mentor.  I first encountered a mention of Wes on the last page of Kirk's The Portable Conservative Reader (Viking Penguin, 1982), in a section entitled “A Note of Acknowledgment."  At the end of what is still the best single-volume collection of conservative thought available today, Kirk made the following comment: "Mr. Wesley McDonald spent months in close collaboration with me, choosing selections and finding accurate texts, and editing them."  This rather obscure reference introduced me to Wes, his work with Kirk, and Kirk’s willingness to take on research assistants who could benefit from studying with the Duke of Mecosta.  Having spent the final years of my undergraduate years engrossed in Kirk’s writings, and reading the corpus of the Intercollegiate Review, I came to view Kirk as a beacon of light amidst my academic darkness.  In 1983, I began my graduate studies at The Divinity School of Duke University.  I was totally unprepared for what was to follow, and instead of reading the assigned texts, I turned to Kirk and Voegelin.  During the semester, I also attended an Intercollegiate Studies Institute conference, and in the middle of a banquet event, I recognized Wes at an adjacent table from his picture in an I.S.I. speakers bureau booklet.  I approached Wes, and he immediately encouraged me to write to Kirk, telling him of my plight, and Wes also urged me to ask Kirk if he could use a wayward research assistant.  Thanks to the encouragement I received from Wes, my life was never the same.  In fact, I am now one of the more aged individuals who were blessed with the opportunity to work and study with Kirk in Mecosta.

            The next year my old friend from my undergraduate years, Dr. Al Gilman, a mathematician qua political theorist, and an acquaintance of Kirk’s, created an academic entity at Western Carolina University entitled the Center for the Study of Cultural Decadence, following the insights of Joad and Kirk.  Three decades later the center’s title and organizational focus appears a little quaint, as we now take such a high level of societal decadence for granted, and in some quarters we even celebrate decadence as the “new enlightenment.”  Nevertheless, the center was a noble, yet short-lived pursuit, but not before Gilman held a national conference on the topic of decadence.  Both Wes and I presented papers at the conference, and Wes’s contribution on Kirk was eventually published in the Hillsdale Review.  Before the conference ended, Wes advised me to dedicate my year in Mecosta to spending as much time with Kirk and to read constantly!  This was some of the best advice one could receive!

            After Mecosta, I returned to graduate school, and Wes quickly invited me to present a paper at the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Political Science Association.  In 1987, under the kind auspices of Wes, I presented my first professional paper, and this effort would become my first published article.  For the remainder of his life, Wes and I remained friends and regular correspondents. 

            Of much greater importance than my personal narrative, Wes’s “mission” as a popular faculty member and student mentor at Elizabethtown College defined his professional life.  The devotion to teaching and mentoring students was Wes’s greatest gift–and his enduring legacy–and it is this academic witness that separated Wes from most of his colleagues.  In some respects, members of the professoriate are the last nomads to be found in American today.  Professors often make career moves to enhance their status or salary with reckless abandonment (and this writer is among the ranks of those who have followed such paths), and with the shrinking number of full-time academic positions, not to the mention the influence of the proprietary, on-line programs, the growth of institutional academic bureaucracies, and other threats to academic life, a professor with a lifelong commitment to an institution is hard to find.  Wes was a most honorable exception.  Wes taught at Elizabethtown College for nearly three and a half decades.  He was beloved by students and his resiliency of purpose is a model for us all.  He mentored countless students who would pursue graduate studies, legal studies, and become political practitioners of one variety or another.  When Wes was a candidate for full professor a decade ago, he asked me to write a letter of recommendation on his behalf.  He thought my status as an academic vice president, and my strong letter of support, would make his promotion a certainly.  In my letter I simply asked the President and the Trustees of they could name a more loyal and devoted professor at their college?  Wes was quickly promoted.

Finally, any celebration of Wes’s life should praise the importance of his great study, Russell Kirk and the Age of Ideology, published by the University of Missouri Press in 2004.  In essence, the book is a valuable survey of a leading (nay, seminal) thinker of the 20th century, although Kirk’s contribution has for the most part been neglected for ideological reasons and assessed by less perceptive scholars than Wes (There are exceptions, however; see Russello’s The Postmodern Imagination of Russell Kirk [Missouri, 2004], and Brad Birzer’s forthcoming study from the University of Kentucky Press.).

            Wes argued that Kirk was a political thinker, historian, historian of political ideas, journalist, and one who served in many other capacities.  Kirk’s significance was not limited to the conservative movement.  Wes was correct, and he teaches us a lesson that we should not easily forget.

In the first chapter of his work, entitled “Kirk and the Rebirth of American Conservatism,” Wes provided an excellent survey of Kirk’s plea for the return to traditional concepts of political order and power.  The description of Kirk’s education experiences was alluring, and at my insistence, he included Kirk’s private reading as an undergraduate at Michigan State, where he was engrossed in Donald Davidson’s Attack on Leviathan; and the influence of his two mentors at Duke, Jay Hubbell (English) and Charles Sydnor (History).  Additionally, Wes’s inclusion of  Kirk’s own commentary as contained in his Sword of Imagination made this an exemplary introduction to Kirk’s early intellectual life.

The next two chapters are central to his book.  Wes thoughtfully conveys Kirk’s defense of the moral basis of social and political life, and the appropriate role of rights and natural law.  Wes depended heavily on Irving Babbitt to explain Kirk, and the effort to distinguish Kirk explicitly from the Christian tradition of natural law thinking evoked some criticism.  While Wes may have overemphasized Babbitt’s influence and the insights of the New Humanists (and their contemporary disciples), he was still prescient in his understanding of Kirk’s worldview.  He was also correct to suggest the important role of literature and humane letters upon Kirk.  For example, Wes’s analysis of Kirk’s Enemies volume by is wonderful and this contribution alone will encourage a new generation of readers to encounter this tome. 

Wes’s chapters (four and five) on Kirk’s contributions to political theory scholarship are the best assessment of Kirk’s political thought every written.  Chapter six delineates the centrality of community to Kirk’s thought, and is presented with great accuracy and clarity.  Wes’s stress on the role assumed by self-restraint makes the chapter an important contribution to Kirk scholarship.  Kirk believed that humankind’s primary obligation lies in his or her community.  Self-discipline and love of neighbor begin with the individual, and spread to the community, and then to society as a whole.  In other words, Kirk’s concept of community serves to define the limitations of society and politics on hand, while on the other it presupposes and defends the necessity of a properly constituted community for securing the moral and ethical results concomitant to society's perpetuation. 

There remain among us many who knew and loved Russell Kirk, but very few of us who have devoted our lives to the exegesis of his boundless wisdom for the rising generation.  With the departing of Wes for the Heavenly Banquet, we defenders of the “permanent things” should remember one of the finest comrades and gentlemen to have come our way.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Georgia Political Science Association to Host Panel on EGSC Professor’s Book

The annual meeting of the Georgia Political Science Association will include a panel devoted to analyzing an East Georgia State College professor’s recent book.  The decision to organize a panel on a recently scholarly book at a professional meeting signifies the importance of the work, as well as the timeliness of the issues contained in the book.  The professor, Dr. Lee Cheek, and his new book, Patrick Henry-Onslow Debate: Liberty and Republicanism in American Political Thought, was published by Lexington Books, an internationally-respected publisher, will be featured at the meeting.  Dr. Cheek co-edited the volume, which gathers documents on one of the most momentous political debates about the meaning of republican government in the decades before the Civil War.
The debate followed the disputed Election of 1824. After an indecisive electoral college vote, the House of Representatives selected John Quincy Adams as president over the more popular war hero, Andrew Jackson. As a result, John C. Calhoun ended up serving as vice-president under Adams. Neither man was comfortable in this situation as they were political rivals who held philosophically divergent views of American constitutional governance. The emerging personal and philosophical dispute between President Adams and Vice-President Calhoun eventually prompted the two men (and Adams’s political supporters) to take up their pens, using the pseudonyms “Patrick Henry” and “Onslow,” in a public debate over the nature of power and liberty in a constitutional republic. “The great debate,” notes Kevin Gutzman of Western Connecticut State University, “arrayed Calhoun’s Jeffersonian republican vision of constitutionally restrained power and local autonomy against Adams’s neo-Federalist republican vision which called for the positive use of inherent power—a view that would become increasingly compelling to future generations of Americans.” The debate between Vice President John C. Calhoun (‘Onslow’) and President John Quincy Adams or his ally (‘Patrick Henry’) captures the clash between Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian views at a pivotal moment in American history.
While the debate has not received the scholarly attention it deserves, the organization of this panel suggests renewed interest in the debate, as well as its continuing importance to American politics.  The annual meeting of the Georgia Political Science Association will take place from 13-15 November in Savannah, Georgia.  The panel was organized by Dr. Hans E. Schmeisser of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, and will include scholars from around the country
Dr. Cheek is Chair of the Social Sciences and Professor of Political Science at East Georgia State College, in Swainsboro, Georgia.  His many publications include Calhoun and Popular Rule (2001) and Order and Legitimacy (2004).

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Kind Praise from a Thoughtful Reader of My Cat Essay

Ashes From Burnt Roses: The Art of the Essay: An Ode to the Greatest Cat: I had to come up with a new category for this: an essay by someone I came across that I thought was noteworthy.  Since this is the first of...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

An Ode To Sophie, The World’s Greatest Tabster

Sophie, Constitutional Law Tutor: Cleveland, Tennessee (2004)

            As a traditionalist, a defender of the tried and true against the new and untried, a devotee of personal restraint when faced with overriding challenges, and a defender of the inherited tradition, the present writer has been a critic of change, especially dramatic upheavals, for all of his life.  However, twelve years ago he was encouraged to accept an addition to his family that changed his life.

By birth an agrarian, raised in rural, Piedmont North Carolina, in what the eminent historian Clyde Wilson describes as the Promised Land, old folkways persevere and nurture each successive generation.  In this world, hunting dogs are one of the most valued companions a gentleman can have in his life; for my family, our prized companion was the North American Beagle.[1]  These creatures were a source of great companionship and occasional sporting pride.  On the other hand, felines of all varieties were the most despised of creatures, especially the domestic house cat.  As a young man, I shared this unfortunate bias, an error of my ways that I eventually overcame.  During my childhood, only exceptional men of great perception, skill, and manly virtue were not willing to succumb to this ideological worldview.  Perhaps the greatest example of such a spoudias, or weighty man, was my paternal grandfather, William Spencer Cheek, one of the last mountain men, a native of Yadkin County, North Carolina, a center of the moonshining trade in the 1930s, and the genesis of NASCAR.  Grandpa Cheek, the sort of fellow often also described as a “man’s man,” was surprisingly a devotee of the American Domestic Shorthair, or the “tab cat.”  He went to great lengths to care for his cats, along with his other animals.  The seeds of this writer’s eventual feline redemption were planted early in his life.

Most of childhood was spent unaware of the beauty, grace, and love exhibited by felines.  In fact, I could not fathom how a cat could transform my life.  Providentially, while on a “sabbatical” from Duke Divinity School, I was given the opportunity to serve as the research assistant to a remarkable scholar and lover of cats, Russell Amos Kirk.  As a leading political thinker and man of letters of the 20th century, Kirk possessed many friends and admirers.  For Kirk, cats were a special gift from the Divine, and to be protected and cherished.  One of his friends, Thomas Stearns Eliot, composed the great affirmation of the feline, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, and this obviously influenced Kirk, and eventually, your servant.

Guided by the inspiration of Grandpa Cheek and Russell Amos Kirk, even though closed to the prospect of having a feline in our house, some openness emerged after making a professional transition to Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, an exemplary liberal arts college.  My wife, Kathy, convinced me that we needed a cat.  I was adamantly opposed to the prospect initially, but my life experiences allowed me to consider the possibility.  In August of 2000 I walked gently into a pet store on Keith Street in Cleveland, Tennessee, and a beautiful tab cat kitten with white paws ran up to me without provocation; her paws glistened in the bright lights of the store, suggesting she had chosen me as her new factotum.  Little did I know that this kitten would change my life.  In a day or so we brought Sophie to our Georgia Bell Circle home.  Sophie was an adorable kitten, not in the typical sense that all kittens are adorable; she seemed to be able to discern your attitude and you intentions, and responded in due course.  At the beginning of her first night with us, we placed her in the kitchen, and between the kitchen and the dining room we placed an inflatable bed (vertically) so as to block her exit from the kitchen.  Sophie cried and obviously wanted to spend the evening with us, but she eventually settled down and we went to sleep.  Much to our surprise and excitement, in middle of the night, she was able to make her way into her bedroom, overcoming the “great wall” we had placed in her way!  We quickly discerned that Sophie was unstoppable and unflappable, even in the midst of difficult situations!  As she overcame her inflatable bed as barricade, she would overcome many challenges during her twelve years on this earth.

No memory or accounting of the life of Sophie would be complete without some mention of the special bond between Sophie and Kathy.  From the first time they encountered each other, a union of spirit and affection was created.  It is difficult to describe the connectivity between these two living creatures, a bond that never dissipated during Sophie's lifetime.  In many regard, Sophie should best be remembered as a feline genius.  At many points in her life, she approximated an understanding of human speech.  In addition to the spoken word, she was an expert at discerning human emotional needs as well.  She was a "two person cat," with only a duo of real friends for the duration of her life; it was a great honor to have been one of these persons, but I was the inferior of the two friends in Sophie’s estimation.

Dynamic Duo: Kathy and Sophie, Fort Walton Beach, Florida (c. 2001)

From an early age, Sophie was a source of profound amusement, occasional bewilderment, and inestimable joy.  When only a few months old, and still adjusting to life, we were visited by our longtime friends, the Teem family.  Our traditionally-designed house contained a long hallway.  During the Teem visit, in the midst of a  rambunctious series of movements, the youngest Teem, Kaitlyn, and Sophie, ran into each other at full speed in the middle of the long hallway without an exit of any sort.  The culmination of the head-on collision was the issuing of great shouts, and two living creatures making 180° turns away from each other!  Within a month or so later, Sophie had her first encounter with another cat.  Our dear friend, Dr. Mary Waalkes, brought over her cat, John Wesley, named after the great Methodist evangelist, to meet Ms. Sophie.  Yet again, Sophie would demonstrate, as she would on many more occasions, she was a two-person animal, holding every other cat and most humans in great disdain.

Sophie was a great lover of all games, but she had a particular preference for certain toys.  By accident, we discovered that an old belt renamed the “sneaky snake” would become Sophie's early favorite and lifelong source of entertainment.  She literally chased the improvised snake without ceasing when it was used to imitate an actual snake, often for hours, until both the snake enabler and the cat were exhausted.  She also loved small toy rats, and for that matter, any object a person would want to throw, and she would proceed to chase the object.  Unlike a canine, however, Sophie simply enjoyed the chase, and had no interest in retrieving any object. 

Within a year of her birth, we took Sophie on her first sojourn.  We traveled to Fort Walton Beach, Florida, en route to visiting Angie, my stepdaughter, in Tallahassee.  In 2001, they were fewer hotels willing to accommodate pets, but we hoped we could locate one nevertheless.  At the last moment, after not securing a pet-friendly hotel, and having Sophie with us for the duration of the journey, we faced the inevitable: a covert mission was the only course of action.  After being stowed away in my gym bag, and with the mid-afternoon Florida temperature rising, we decided to take her to our room.  What ensued was a week of feline hijinks, with Sophie scampering towards the door every time a housekeeper came to visit; ostensibly, she only wanted to introduce herself to the maid.  On several occasions, she tried to escape from a second-floor porch and explore the ocean and the sand more fully.  But this was not Sophie’s only trip to the coast.  Many years later we took Sophie to St. Augustine, Florida, on our historical tour of Spanish missions and other locales.  After arriving in St. Augustine—and much to our chagrin—we realized we had inadvertently chosen the Daytona bike weekend for our visit.  Because of the overflow of bikers, many of the self-professed easy riders were staying at our hotel in St. Augustine!  Sophie immediately became ensconced on the window ledge, scoffing at all varieties of bikers, from the ranks of counter culture hipsters, to doctors, lawyers, and indian chiefs—all with the same level of disdain.  Sophie was not a good traveler, but this did not prevent us from taking her on trips.  She traveled to Ohio, North Carolina, and many other places.

Sophie, Mountain Cat: Reliance, Tennessee (2004)

In Sophie's third year, will we moved to 600 8th Street NW in downtown Cleveland, Tennessee, just a five block walk from Lee University (my employer) into a Craftsman bungalow with asbestos shingles and a decorative metal roof, built during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson.  The bungalow had a beautiful window seat in the front of the house, and Sophie located this perch within a few minutes of initially touring the house.  She found great enjoyment in watching the cars, trucks, bewildered Lee University students, and others, pass by her house.  Regardless of the situation outside, Sophie was impervious to the distractions of the world.  The greatest challenges she ever faced were her encounters with a militant mockingbird.  The mockingbird, often only a few inches on the other side of a glass storm door, was the only animal to evoke a spirit of fear within Sophie.  Kathy was completing her college degree at Covenant College, often taking classes that did not end until late in the evening.  The ever prescient Sophie, realizing her “mom” was away, would wait anxiously by the door for her safe return.  Upon Kathy’s return, Sophie would become the most excited creature God ever created!  Such was the bond between Sophie and Kathy.  At this old house, Sophie experienced her best days, spending many long days in front of the fireplace.  She had already become a legend in our lives and in the stories I regaled my students with great regularity!

In 2005 we returned to South Georgia generally, and to Vidalia, specifically.  This move was Sophie's first extended sojourn out of Tennessee.  We were able to hire our good friend and cat whisperer, Dr. Mary Waalkes as well, so Kathy, Sophie, and I were reunited with our pal Mary who had encouraged us so much in our cat pursuits.  Mary was the only person outside of my wife and me, who really understood Sophie, but this was an understanding not always reciprocated by Sophie.  On one occasion, when we were out of town, we asked Mary to feed Sophie for us.  On her way to church, Mary attempted to feed Sophie.  Much to her surprise, Sophie was more interested in Mary’s ankle than the food.  From that moment on, Mary was always on her guard around Sophie, but undaunted in her willingness to help with the wildcat.  In  March 2006, another cat, Mr. Macavity, decided he would join our family.  Sophie and Macavity would never become best friends, although they reached a level of d├ętente, and they kept each other on alert at all times.  Little Miss Sophie, or Sophirina, as we occasionally called her, was already a renowned feline, and was even awarded the “pet of the week” honor in the Vidalia Advance Progress.  After receiving this recognition, Sophie’s picture and personage became even more well-known throughout all South Georgia!

Sophie, Local Celebrity: Vidalia, Georgia (2007)

One of the most potentially dangerous events in her life was her accidental visit to the attic in our old, restored house in Vidalia.  Against all odds, Sophie was able to force her way into the attic during the heat of a South Georgia summer, and upon escape, there was never an animal more happy to leave the confines of a manmade purgatory.

In 2009 we moved to Athens, Alabama, where I assumed the duties of the associate vice president for academic affairs at Athens State University.  Athens was a much colder environment than Sophie had ever encountered before.  She fared well, even with her erstwhile companion, Mr. Macavity.  Unfortunately, she continued to be plagued by feline calicivirus, a disease that would eventually bring about her demise.  It is terrible disease, which she inherited, but was not diagnosed with until she was a year or two old.  Sophie confronted the virus every day of her life, and she required regular shots to battle the disease.  In 2011, we moved to Gainesville, Georgia, and Sophie continued to prosper.

Sophie at Rest, Gainesville, Georgia (2012)

She spent most of her days on a large back porch watching birds fly near her and fish in her koi pond.  Her health was fragile, but on occasion, she would rally and impress everyone with her energy and agility. The next year we returned to Vidalia.  As the Summer became Fall, Sophie’s health began to decline, but she was a feline of great internal strength, and she fought the good fight, as St. Paul always urges.  In November, on her last night among us, and while sick, she jumped into my wife's lap, and was her old self, albeit quite ill.  The next day we were forced to put Sophie to sleep.  This was one of the most difficult decisions my wife and I have ever made.  Few days pass without our reflecting on Sophie and that difficult night.  As a Methodist minister and former Army chaplain, I have grieved over the loss of this wonderful, stubborn, and brilliant cat as much as I have grieved for many departed humans I have known.  I do not consider my sentiments to be sacrilegious or unusual or extreme; my views are merely a sign of my great love for this amazing animal.  We miss her, we love her, and we will remember her forever.

Fragile Circle

We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached.

Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way.

We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan.

Irving Townsend

Here is Sophie in 2010 with Mr. Macavity, who always tried to be her friend!

[1] See Stuart Marks, Southern Hunting in Black & White: Nature, History and Ritual in a Carolina Community (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991).

Friday, July 25, 2014


Weighing Publius’ Constitutional Morality


Yet another academic book on The Federalist? While many scholars would agree with Clinton Rossiter that The Federalist is a sacred text for American politics and constitutional law, others have sought to diminish the importance of the work. In many regards, the scholarship of The Federalist resembles what the eminent historian Clyde Wilson has described as an uneven interpretative advancement of knowledge, with established efforts that improve our understanding of the text on one hand, but on the other, newer works that fail to resolve the omissions of previous scholarship. This study of The Federalist does not answer many of the longstanding questions of interpretation, but the book successfully raises new questions, and clarifies why we cannot ignore the great text, regardless of one’s perspective or ideological orientation.

Authorship and consistency of vision are issues of perennial interest to students of The Federalist, and Frank revisits these concerns with much thoughtfulness. While accepting the centrality of the The Federalist to American politics, he argues that its very success has made some of its key insights “obscure or illegible.” A shared vision of the authors who wrote as “Publius” is defended and the attempt to unlink the contributions of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay is refuted. Unfortunately, other scholars, especially George W. Carey and Albert Furtwangler, have more persuasively defended the concept of a unified Publius and disconfirmed the “split personality” thesis of earlier scholarship with greater textual accuracy.[1]

The first chapter addresses the challenge of constituency, or the means citizens assume in creating a republic. Frank acknowledges the tension between the vision of the Founders and the ever-changing needs of a diverse republic. This tension is viewed as a worthwhile, connective phenomenon by Frank, who notes:
The mythology of Founding and the appeal of our Great Lawgivers may serve in fact to keep us enthralled or captivated by the extraordinary moments of the appearance of the people’s constituent power, enthralled by the exception “in its absolute purity.”
The second chapter explicates the importance of political imagination in Publius’ project of promoting ratification of the Constitution. The role of political imagination aids the author’s thesis, but the concept deserves more refinement. Frank views American political discourse as unimaginative, although he also argues that the concept remains essential to the more enduring aspects of the American political mind. Instead of a Burkean conceptualization of the imagination as a moral guide that transcends a particular generation or political system, Frank suggests that the imagination assumes the form of “a heteronomic support to navigate the dilemmas of democratic self-authorization.” The imagination contains an element of diversity, according to Frank, but the role of “dilemmas” appear to only augment founding documents as empowering guides, without the possibility of the necessary and dynamic political restraint that must also be envisioned, if a regime is to endure.

The Federalist offers two central imaginative themes for Frank: Federalist #1’s juxtaposition of “reflection and choice” and “accident and force,” and Publius’ conversion to “the new science of politics” (Federalist #9) within the text itself. Frank accepts the famous dichotomy of Federalist #1 without reservation, and proceeds to explain its importance to the continuing political dialogue of the republic. He allows for an alternative reading, but fails to comprehend how many critics of the Philadelphia Convention could easily and correctly refute this problematic dichotomy.

The great Antifederalist “Centinel,” for example, responded that the republic should follow the wisdom of “time and habit,” suggesting the gradual evolution of political authority, guided by restraint and the acceptance of inherited practices. Centinel corrects Publius’ lack of understanding regarding political power, although these glaring limitations of The Federalist’s ill-formed political imagination are not encountered by Frank. What Centinel cherished has been described by M. E. Bradford as the “antecedent integrity” of the American republic—a neglected manifestation of political imagination itself—that existed among the states throughout the various periods of their political development before the Philadelphia Convention and the ratification process.[2] While Frank accepts Publius rather uncritically at some junctures, he is not without an understanding of the alternative, imaginative vision of the opponents of these ideas.
Thankfully, Frank departs from the once-dominant studies of James Allen Smith, Charles Beard, and Herbert Croly on the role of interest in The Federalist and American politics. Frank is, by the same token, not as preoccupied with the Progressives as are many conservatives, although he takes their criticisms of Publius seriously, avoiding a strategy of vilification. In other words, Frank offers a more prudent model of interpretation: Refrain from accepting a hagiographic view of Publius, while acknowledging that the Framers were interested in much more than personal and financial gain.

Frank’s third chapter continues this interpretative commitment by examining the role of interest as central to Publius’ theory of political obligation. He adopts Publius’ earlier plea for “the regulation of these various and interfering interests” (Federalist #10) as a primary requirement for American politics, but uncritically endorses Hannah Arendt’s notion of an intended “republic of interests.” More engagement with the contending arguments regarding theories of political economy associated with Publius would have made the author’s thesis more convincing.

The influence of Leo Strauss and his students in the interpretation of The Federalist, especially the work of Martin Diamond and Herbert Storing, is surveyed in Chapter Four. Frank herein dismisses the scholarship of Harry Jaffa and ignores the seminal contribution of W. B. Allen on The Federalist. the former is understandable, but the latter action can only be taken at the author’s peril.[2]

For Frank, Jaffa and many of his disciples are devoted to assimilating the rhetoric of Publius for the purposes of obtaining political power; such analysis has much merit. However, to neglect Allen’s extensive and focused commentary on The Federalist is to fail to confront the best and least ideological contribution of the Jaffa school to ongoing interpretative debates about The Federalist. Allen’s commentary provides the most accessible and best textual exposition of each Federalist essay available today, regardless of the occasional interpretative flaws of the book. To his great credit, Frank appropriately finds in other Straussians, especially Diamond and Storing, a deeper understanding of the “locus of authority” in The Federalist, a dynamic and enduring consideration often neglected by other students of Strauss.

Most of the final chapter of the book is devoted to The Federalist’s defense of elections provided by the proposed Constitution. Frank opines that Publius’ act of “envisioning—and institutionally interpellating—the people as an individualized and sociologically homogeneous electorate, and reducing their political agency to voting” established the new political order. He is concerned about what may have been lost in the process, but he generally sanctions the argument presented by Publius. For his part, Frank contends not only that elections are necessary events in a republic, but that these events also facilitate the governing of the regime. If some potential for popular participation was denied, an increased potential for stability was acquired. For Frank, “We the People” was transformed into “We the Electorate” by Publius, converting the “common deliberation of the citizenry” into an elitist arrangement for governing.

Ultimately, Frank agrees with Publius that republican institutions are sufficient for popular decision-making, but he is uneasy about such a conclusion. He also accomplishes his goal of “unsettling some of the prevailing notions” associated with Publius’ defense of elections specifically, and more generally, the political imagination of Publius so that Americans can “consider the tensions and foreclosed possibilities” for governing the republic that might be available.

The new approach to this subject in Publius and Political Imagination has many merits that deserve the attention of scholars. Its most important contribution is convincingly connecting The Federalist with refined views of citizenship and the continued evolution of and need for civic engagement. Jason Frank’s is a novel and engaging re-examination of The Federalist that should not go unnoticed.

[1] See George W. Carey, The Federalist: Design for a Constitutional Republic (University of Illinois Press, 1989), and Albert Furtwangler, The Authority of Publius (Cornell University Press, 1984).
[2] M. E. Bradford, Original Intentions: On the Making and Ratification of the American Constitution (University of Georgia Press, 1993), p. 68.
[3] William Barclay Allen, The Federalist Papers: A Commentary (Peter Lang, 2000; with Kevin A. Cloonan).

H. Lee Cheek, Jr., is Dean of the Social Sciences and Professor of Political Science at East Georgia State College. Dr. Cheek's latest book is Patrick Henry-Onslow: Liberty and Republicanism in American Political Thought (Lexington Books, 2013), and he is currently writing a new study of the origins of the American political system, The Founding of the American Republic (Bloomsbury, 2014).

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Excellent New Book on the Separation of Powers

Top of Form
CHOICE July 2014 vol. 51 no. 11

51-6425 JF229 2012-45392 CIP

Cameron, Maxwell. Strong constitutions: social-cognitive origins of the separation of powers. Oxford, 2013. 255p bibl index afp ISBN 9780199987443, $65.00 Cameron, Maxwell (author)

In this imaginative and readable book, Cameron (Univ. of British Columbia) provides a learned defense of the separation of powers. While not disputing the importance of the separation of powers as a source of restraint in democratic theory, the author contends that the concept allows for collective action, which can promote and sustain democratic regimes. Other conceptions of the separation of powers are integrated into his critique, as well as the importance of divided power in promoting the survival of any government. The separation of powers, if rightly understood, actually strengthens regimes. The refinement of democratic institutions is also based on the "social-cognitive" aspects of politics, especially the use of language that encourages "collective organization." The value of a written constitution is yet another extension of this analysis. Other factors in addition to language, including collective bargaining and "democratized" technologies, can aid the evolution of the "social-cognitive" contribution to the separation of powers. For the nonspecialist, the book also contains many useful assessments of a wide range of political thinkers, from Aristotle to F. A. Hayek. The tome is one of the most insightful defenses of the separation of powers to appear in many years. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduate, graduate, and research collections.

--H. L. Cheek Jr., East Georgia State College

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Lord's Supper as a Means of Grace: A Weary Methodist’s Perspective

            The current revival and increased appreciation of the sacraments within “Mainline” Protestantism offers the disciples of the Reformation with a great opportunity for liturgical recovery.  While a renascence has been taking place for some decades, often distracted by “political” and “liturgically correct” elements, Methodists remain in a unique position to advance their understanding and recover a rich, sacramental heritage.  While on one hand, the rearticulation of a Wesleyan concept of grace has forced Methodists to seek a reinvigoration of the role of grace in the all aspects of spiritual life; the increased emphasis on liturgical renewal and the evangelical witness within Methodism in recent years has also encouraged a more thorough appraisal of the role of grace in the sacraments.  In essence, contemporary Methodists are faced with a healthy conundrum: confronting the primacy of the concept of grace in their theology one hand; and, and applying this overarching theological consideration to an understanding of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper on the other.  This essay will be devoted to an examination of the role of grace as an instrument and symbol of the actual work of God as it relates to the Lord's Supper.  A concentrated effort will be made to assimilate the insight of primary sources, namely John Wesley's Sermons, John and Charles Wesley's Hymns on the Lord's Supper, Dean Brevint's Christian Sacrament and Sacrifice, as well as the scholarship of several important modern commentators.  We shall consider the relationship of grace to the sacraments; then proceed to the significance of the Lord's Supper as a means of grace and its association to the other collaborative means and attempt to suggest the more comprehensive attributes of the Lord's Supper as a means of grace.

The Centrality of Grace and the Lord's Supper
            While the characteristics of the Wesleys' concept of divine grace are multifaceted, the position of grace as the genuine and essential act of God's perfect love for humankind can inform our inquiry.  Humans are in a rather hopeless situation, removed from an intimate relation with God due to human sin.  As we begin to acknowledge the limitations of our condition, usually at a point where we are experiencing "the sleep of death, the weights of...a burden (sin) too heavy to be borne," we can appreciate the inner working of God's grace.[1]  H. Orton Wiley, a noted Wesleyan scholar, suggests humankind's inability is so complete that only God can save them;[2] this does at least allow for a response, which would prove untenable for orthodox Calvinism who place such emphasis on total depravity.  The Wesleyan concept of grace requires a response that is antithetical to "indolent inactivity."[3]  In God's grace we find the hope that brings order to our lives.  Without such a concept of grace, "the cosmos itself would fly into disarray and chaos."[4]  This grace can operate in a variety of forms, but it always assumes the sign of God's love of humanity.  Charles Wesley's sudden movement within his corpus of eucharistic hymns from "pardoning grace" to the "life of grace" suggests the importance of the concept to an accurate articulation of the tenets of Wesleyan sacramental theology:

Thou our faithful hearts prepare,Thou Thy pardoning grace declare;Thou that hast for sinners died, Show Thyself the Crucified. (34:3)[5]

The concept quickly assumes a "double" quality and grace becomes the personification of the perfect love of the divine:

Worthy the Lamb of endless praise, Whose double life we here shall prove, The pardoning and the hallowing grace, The dawning of and the perfect love (38:1)[6] 

The elongation of a concept of grace as an extended relationship with God over the course of lifetime of devotion, connected with an eschatological element becomes part of the evolution of the notion, especially within the context of the Lord's Supper:

Our life of grace we here shall feel, Shed in our loving hearts abroad, Till Christ our glorious life reveal, Long hidden with Himself in God (38:4).

Such a full appreciation of divine grace was essential to the life of the believer.  As Colin Williams suggests, John Wesley remained a devotee of the Protestant notion of salvation by faith through God's grace alone, although he also articulated the limits of "cheap grace"[7] as it was associated with Luther.[8]   Grace, as with the Lord's Supper, had a vibrancy associated with it that could not be excluded. 

            The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church begins with an unequivocal presentation of the centrality of the importance of the theological understanding of grace to the Methodist tradition: "Grace pervades our understanding of the Christian faith and life."[9]  Grace is at the core of our theological enterprise and our appreciation of the sacraments.

            The formal means of grace serve as mediums of presenting, confirming and defining our devotion to Christ: 

By 'means of grace,' I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby He might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.[10]

By naming these essential habits in such a way, the Wesleys have sided with the general trend of the Reformation to avoid describing the elements as "marks."  The "means" are to serve as an external sign of an interior grace and assume either a instituted or prudential form.  Among the instituted means, prayer assumes the pre-eminent position, described as the "chief" source.[11]  Within the same context, the Wesleys detail the use of scripture and the Lord's supper, possibly suggesting a special status for these means as compared to fasting and Christian conference that are mentioned at a later point.  The initial three are summarized as the ordinary means.  The three prudential means of "doing no harm, by avoiding evil," "doing good of every possible sort," and following the rules of the societies (small discipleship groups) and participating actively in the gatherings.[12]

            As a means of grace, the sacraments, with special emphasis on the Lord's Supper, also serve as the basis for identifying the Church in the world. For Calvin, it was to be found:

Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ's institution...[13]

Wesley obviously accepts this in a rather complete form when he presents his version:

The visible Church of Christ is a which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly administrated[14]

The sacraments as a means of grace are intimately woven into the life of the Church and serve as one of the foundations of its existence.  At the center of one's devotion to God as exhibited by participation in the means of grace was the Lord's s Supper, which was one of the more easily repeatable acts.  It is the special position of the Lord's Supper as a peerless spiritual and theological means that merits special consideration of its importance.

The Lord's Supper as a Special Means of Grace
            Of the means of grace, the Lord's Supper is one of few the Wesleys' reserve to separate and elaborate upon in the course of either a sermon or treatise or series of hymns.  This obviously suggests the exceptional importance of the Lord's Supper as a means of grace and as a central act of Christian worship for Methodism.  But the Wesleys affirm the Lord's Supper as a central teachings and practice of the Christian life.  For the communicant, they encourage an examination of the appropriate descriptions of the sacrament in the Gospels and First Corinthians, as well as the proper preparation for receiving the sacrament.  Both are, of course, operating under the assumption that the individuals who come to the table are already baptized; however, the proper preparation must always be part of the process of sharing in the Lord's Supper. 

            The Lord's Supper, more than the other forms of the means, requires an integration of the other means of grace.  Before one can adequately receive the bread and wine, they must prepare by "self-examination and prayer."[15]  This process allow for the "full purpose of the heart" by keeping the commandments and allowing for an openness to the work of God in one's life at all times.  For the Wesleys, the Lord's Supper served as a linchpin of the means of grace; it allowed for all the disciplines necessary for the Godly to come together and complement each other.  In terms of the devotional life, the Lord's Supper served as the anamnetic grounding for every other activity.  This eucharistic hymn presents an evocative affirmation of this sentiment:

Glory to Him who freely spent
His blood, that we might live,
And through this choicest instrument
Doth all His Blessing Give

Fasting He doth, and hearing bless
And prayer can much avail,
Good vessels all to draw the grace
Out of salvation's well

But none, like this mysterious rite
Which dying mercy gave
Can draw for all the promised might
And all His will to save (42).[16]

            The Wesleys’ comprehensive view of the spirituality associated with the Lord's Supper demanded a great deal of effort on the part of the participants, but the reward was also great; decadent humanity could be renewed and the renewal experienced from such devout participation would empower the people of God.[17]  The Lord's Supper must also be considered as an extraordinary amalgam of theological insight that also serves to unify the other means of grace.  Brevint argued the Lord's Supper was an additional contribution to the preached word of God: "The end of the Holy to make us partakers of Christ in another manner than when we only hear the word."[18] The Wesleys incorporated this insight and affirmed a strong sacramental doctrine as well an powerful doctrine of the Word. The mutual compatibility of the two means of grace was important to the Wesleys' understanding of normative worship practices and deserves the attention of contemporary leaders of worship.

            The holy meal was not only an combination of the means of grace, but it was the inner source of communication.  The late Bishop Borgen defends this notion of communication as an active process to perpetuate the active characteristic of Christ's power and love for His children.[19]  The communication Wesley describes by quoting the language of the Book of Common Prayer: "'The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion,' or communication, 'of the blood of Christ?'[20]  It allows the participant to share in a special mode of communication with the Lord.  A special circumstance is presented "wherein God entertains Man as his own Table."[21]  The essential elements of salvation can now be appreciated regardless of the chaos of earthly existence.  The sacrifice of Christ and our daily sacrifice for Him affords a new, more enlightened understanding.  The Lord's Supper can now be seen as Wesley describes it in his revision[22] of the Article XXVIII of the Augsburg Confession as: "(the) sacrament of redemption," and as the authentic presentation of our Lord.[23]

            We can now assert that the pivotal position of the Lord's Supper within Wesley's presentation of the means of grace serves to unify the potentially divergent threads of Wesleyan devotional life.  It provides the theological as well as ecclesical harmony needed to promote the Kingdom of God.  It encompasses the needs of a sinful humanity and a loving God.  As Bishop Borgen suggests: "God's purpose, man's need, and the support of Scripture stand behind Wesley's doctrine of the Lord's Supper as a means of grace."[24]  The sharing at the table, ultimately reminds the communicant of the hope in Christ and of the possibility of healing the wounds of earthly existence:

The promis'd Grace vouchsafe to give
As each is able to receive,
The blessed Grief to All impart
Or joy; or Purity of Heart (76:2)[25]

Selected Bibliography

The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 1992. Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1992.

Borgen, Ole E.  John Wesley on the Sacraments. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Francis Asbury Press, 1985.

Dieter, Melvin E. and Daniel N. Berg. The Church.  Anderson, Indiana: Warner Press, 1984.

Carter, Charles.  A Contemporary Wesleyan Theology. Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury Press, 1983. 

Collins, Kenneth J.  Wesley on Salvation: A Study in the Standard Sermons.  Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury Press, 1989.

Hinson, William H. The Power of Holy Habits: A Discipline for Faithful Discipleship. Nashville: Abingdon, 1991.

Kinghorn, Kenneth Cain. The Gospel of Grace: The Way of Salvation in the Wesleyan Tradition. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992.

Lawson, John.  The Wesley Hymns.  Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury Press, 1987.

Lindstrom, Harold. Wesley and Santification.  Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury Press, 1980.

Marquardt, Manfred.  John Wesley's Social Ethic: Praxis and Principles.  Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992.

Oden, Thomas C.  After Modernity...What? Agenda For Theology.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990.

--------------.  Doctrinal Standards in the Wesleyan Tradition Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury Press, 1988.

Outler, Albert C.  The Works of John Wesley, Volumes One to Four: Sermons.  Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1985.

Rattenbury, J. Earnest.  The Eucharistic Hymns of John and Charles Wesley. Cleveland: Order of Saint Luke Publications, 1990.

Sugden, Edward. Editor. John Wesley's Fifty-Three Sermons. Nashville: Abingdon, 1983.

Williams, Colin.  John Wesley's Theology Today. Nashville: Abingdon, 1960.

[1]Edward Sugden, editor, John Wesley's Fifty-Three Sermons (Nashville: Abington, 1983), p. 170.
[2]As quoted in Charles Carter, editor, A Contemporary Wesleyan Theology (Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury Press, 1983), p. 485. 
[3]Sugden, Ibid. p. 170.
[4]Kenneth Cain Kinghorn, The Gospel of Grace: The Way of Salvation in the Wesleyan Tradition (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992), p. 61.
[5]J. Earnest Rattenbury, The Euchararistic Hymns of John and Charles Wesley (Cleveland: Order of Saint Luke Publications, 1990), H-12. 
[6]Ibid, p. H-13.
[7]This is actually a term borrowed from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan, 1951), p. 1.
[8]Colin Williams, John Wesley's Theology Today (Nashville: Abingdon, 1960), p. 69.
[9]The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 1992 (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1992) p. 44.
[10]Sugden, Ibid., p. 171.
[11]Ibid.  This is a contestable point.  Several of the eucharistic hymns suggest the Lord's Supper is the primary act of the spiritual life (see footnote 17 and cited text).
[12]Albert C. Outler, John Wesley (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964), p. 178-179.  This is from Wesley's "Rules" of 1739.  In this list the Lord's Supper follows public worship and the ministry of the word.
[13]John Calvin, Institutes, edited by John T. McNeill, translated by Ford Lewis Battles, in the Library of Christian Classics, volumes XX and XXI (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), p. 1023.
[14]John Wesley, "Of the Church," The Works of John Wesley, Volume 5 (Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House), p. 396, as quoted in Melvin E. Dieter and Daniel N. Berg, The Church (Anderson, Indiana: Warner Press, 1984), p. 330.
[15]Outler, Ibid., p. 337. 
[16]Rattenbury, Ibid., p. H-14.
[17]I am borrowing at this juncture from Manfred Marquardt's depiction of Wesley in his John Wesley's Social Ethic: Praxis and Principles (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992), pp. 96-101.
[18]Rattenbury, Ibid., p, 151.
[19]Ole Borgen, John Wesley on the Sacaments  (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Francis Asbury Press, 1985), p, 184.
[20]Sugden, Ibid., p. 178.
[21]Duty of Receiving, as quoted by Borgen, Ibid.
[22]As Thomas Oden suggests, Wesley amends the Anglican Thirty-nine articles to suit his purposes [Doctrinal Standards in the Wesleyan Tradition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Francis Asbury Press, 1988), p. 111.].
[23]Ibid., p. 121.
[24]Borgen, Ibid., p. 184.
[25]Rattenbury, Ibid., p. H-24.