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On a note more appropriate to our Advent season, I should mention that I have started reading Paul Gavrilyuk’s The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought.   So far, it seems an excellent study in the theological and historiographical problem of understanding the interpretation of God’s essential impassibility and His suffering in the flesh.  Gavrilyuk sets out to be the ultimate anti-Harnack, and has so far been entirely persuasive in his arguments (I am still only in chapter 3).  I recommend it to you all.

Slightly related to our modern theologically-inflected political controversies, my copy of Nicaea and its Legacy by Lewis Ayres arrived today.  I haven’t looked at it before, but I’ve heard many good things about it.  The fourth century controversies are fairly intimidating in their complexity even to those of us who spend our waking hours contemplating the significance of monotheletism.  We who work on the seventh century have the luxury, so to speak, of a paucity of sources and limited prosopographical information, so we are not simply inundated with information, and the fourth century looms so large and has been the focus of so many works that it quite an undertaking to put forward another general interpretation.  I look forward to reading it during vacation this month.

It is not yet available, and it is rather difficult to get information about its contents, but an interesting new book is coming out next year on Orthodox theology: The Cambridge Companion to Christian Orthodox Theology.  I do know that it will have a submission from Prof. Papanikolaou of Fordham, who recently organised a conference on Orthodox readings of Augustine (whose papers will be published in a volume edited by Papanikolaou and Prof. Demacopoulos) and who has also written a work on the Trinitarian theology of Lossky and Zizioulas, Being with God: Trinity, Apophaticism and Divine-Human Communion.  I would have very much liked to attend the Augustine conference, but the timing was no good for me.  Another excellent (and expensive) collection of papers that came out in recent years, unrelated to Prof. Papanikolaou, was the volume Byzantine Orthodoxies, edited by Prof. Louth, which has a wonderful paper on the Arian controversy by Fr. John Behr and another on the Synodikon. 

So Publisher’s Weekly has reviewed Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism and given it generally good marks.  It is a brief review (located all the way at the bottom of the page), and the points that it highlights mostly sound like a conventional right-liberal/conservative analysis of fascism.  I don’t say that dismissively.  I think right-liberal and conservative analyses of fascism that identify it as a leftist ideology are absolutely right, but this is also not a terribly new interpretation.  Recognising the similarities between American progressive eugenics and Nazi eugenics or between the New Deal and fascist corporatism is all well and good (as we all know, the latter derives from Old Right critiques of Roosevelt), and if these things can be popularised more that will be a real contribution.  I remain skeptical that it will make the kind of fine distinctions that such a subject needs, but then I am hardly a Goldberg fan.  Still, goodness knows that it can’t hurt to acquaint a modern audience with a somewhat more rigorous understanding of fascism in an era where such nonsense words as Islamofascism prevail.   

If the book does describe JFK’s “cult of personality” as something that “reeks of fascist political theater,” as the review claims, I think Goldberg will have a hard time making that claim stick.  The Fuehrerprinzip and a cult based around the Leader are defining elements of fascism, but what really distinguishes fascist cults of personality is the staged mass “political liturgy.”  Unless we keep that distinction in mind, there is nothing to distinguish democratic, communist or authoritarian cults of personality from the fascist version.    

From what the review tells me, it is pretty much what I expected.  Back in March I wrote:

Goldberg’s argument will probably end up making a certain amount of historical sense, because he will largely be echoing what other students of this question have already said. 

There may be something new in the book that makes it the “very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care” that Goldberg has said that it is.  He has said that previous writers “never carried the argument out as far as I have in the American context nor, needless to say, have they accounted for more recent American politics.”  For that reason I will gladly take up the challenge, even though I think my criticisms of the book–based on the description available to the public–have already been among the more informed and, for the most part, among the more generous.

NRO blogger Tim Graham has a stunning piece of news: FoxNews isn’t the jingoistic party-line conduit for pro-administration spin that you think it is, because Judge Napolitano gave a positive blurb to a non-interventionist book.  (The book actually looks pretty good.) 

Yes, that sure throws me for a loop.  After all, what are years of shameless warmongering and administration loyalism compared with a book blurb?  The premise of Graham’s “observation” is silly.  Judge Napolitano, author of The Constitution in Exile (not exactly Cheney’s bedtime reading), is probably one of the last people still associated with FNC who speaks publicly about civil liberties in defense of them (rather than seeing them as obstacles on the path to Victory), so he is not exactly representative of the network’s news and commentary.  FoxNews also still employs Alan Colmes, which must similarly prove that there is no pro-war, pro-administration bias at the network generally. 

P.S. By Graham’s standard of political analysis-by-book-blurb, Sean Hannity’s blurb for Napolitano’s book would represent some actual sympathy with the argument that the federal government has overreached in the PATRIOT Act and detaining citizens without charge, when we all know that this is absurd.  Hannity’s blurb, meanwhile, is just two blurbs away from Alan Colmes’ blurb.  A product of media consolidation or an elaborate ideological web that unites both Hannity and Colmes?  You decide.

St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press’ catalogue just arrived, and it includes Andrew Louth’s forthcoming book in SVS’ “The Church in History” series, Greek East and Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071.  Fr. Andrew’s book will be available as of Nov. 15.  If it is as good as the two other volumes in the series that I have, Meyendorff’s Imperial Unity and Papadakis’ The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy, we should all be in for a treat.

I have to apologise for the delay in getting this up, since it has been available for several days.  Tom Piatak, who also often writes for Chronicles, has a superb, devastating review of Hitchens’ God Is Not Great.  If you haven’t already done so, you should read it. 

Harry Potter, in fact, functions something like a Rorschach Blot: In countries around the world, it captures various national anxieties about contemporary culture and international affairs. French intellectuals, for example, debate whether or not Harry Potter indoctrinates youngsters into the orthodoxy of unfettered market capitalism [!]. Some Swedish commentators decry what they perceive as Harry Potter’s Anglo-American vision of bourgeoisie conformity and its affirmation of class and gender inequality. In Turkey, we find a significant discussion of Harry Potter that pivots around issues of Turkish civilizational identity: whether Turkey is part of the West, the East, or a bridge between the two. A few Turkish writers have even asserted that controversies over Harry Potter in the United States demonstrate how Turks are more “Western” than Americans. And in Russia, a country whose concern over international status and prestige becomes more apparent each day, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta created a minor firestorm when it claimed that the film visage of Dobby the House-Elf was a deliberate insult to President Vladimir Putin [bold mine-DL]. ~Daniel Nexon

What is the strange obsession that people have with imputing grandiose cultural significance to the Harry Potter books and films or the popularity of Harry Potter?  Why must everyone constantly be looking for clues as to its political message, or seeking some lesson of political morality from a tale of battling wizards? 

If you look very closely, and really try to see the resemblance, I suppose you can see one, but then you would have to be extremely anxious to find negative portrayals of Putin in a story about adolescent wizards.  What does it say of your own view of the Russian President that you see a similarity between him and an imbecilic, droopy-eyed elf? 

Does it actually make any sense to be offended by this?  Granted, the character in question is a slave and not terribly bright, but he does come across as genuinely good and as someone interested in helping the hero with various (admittedly dimwitted) stunts.  To put it mildly, this is not how Putin’s critics view the man.  On the contrary, his critics concede that he is smart, shrewd and ruthless, but they also regard him as utterly villainous–more Draco than Dobby, to say the least.  For Putin to resemble a character who hates his Death-Eating master is actually a kind of compliment to Putin (the realisation of which will probably lead to a flurry of anti-Potter articles as subtle pro-Putin propaganda).  At the rate these ridiculously politicised readings of Potter are going, we will shortly hear from the Kremlin’s answer to Michael Gerson, Vladislav Surkov, who will assure us that the Order of the Phoenix is actually just a proxy for Boris Berezovsky’s seditious efforts against the Russian government and the depiction of the Ministry of Magic is designed to make Russians lose faith in their government as part of Britain’s grand conspiracy to subvert Russia from within by way of the Potter movie franchise.  Enough is enough.

Personally, though, if I were running for president I’d site [sic] something obscure like Andrei Bely’s objectively pro-terrorist modernist classic Petersburg. ~Matt Yglesias 

This is an interesting choice, a very intriguing…hm, yes, quite a unique selection.

Okay, so, I can’t really replicate the odd style of Bely, but I have to commend Yglesias on the selection.  As weird, Hesse-like, pre-revolutionary Russian novels go, it’s right up there.

Schumacher’s greatest achievement was the fusion of ancient wisdom and modern economics in a language that encapsulated contemporary doubts and fears about the industrialized world. The wisdom of the ages, the perennial truths that have guided humanity throughout its history, serves as a constant reminder to each new generation of the limits to human ambition. But if this wisdom is a warning, it is also a battle cry. Schumacher saw that we needed to relearn the beauty of smallness, of human-scale technology and environments. It was no coincidence that his book was subtitled Economics as if People Mattered.

Joseph Pearce revisits Schumacher’s arguments and examines the multifarious ways in which Schumacher’s ideas themselves still matter. Faced though we are with fearful new technological possibilities and the continued centralization of power in large governmental and economic structures, there is still the possibility of pursuing a saner and more sustainable vision for humanity. Bigger is not always best, Pearce reminds us, and small is still beautiful. ~Description of Joseph Pearce’s Small Is Still Beautiful.

Clark Stooksbury, Jeremy Beer and (I suspect) many others familiar to us all from our Crunchy Cons and Look Homeward, America adventures earlier in the year will be assembling next month for the group blog about Mr. Pearce’s new book, whose name it bears: Small Is Still Beautiful.