Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Jacoby on Secularism

Today's New York Times contains this review of a new book by Susan Jacoby, "Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism." Here's a quick excerpt of the review:

"Susan Jacoby regrets in her new book that . . . freethinkers have fared poorly in the culture wars that have roiled society since then. In the 19th century and the opening decades of the 20th zealous Protestants secured laws to ban the sale of alcohol, erotic literature and diaphragms, and the teaching of Darwinian theory in public schools. Roman Catholic censors took the offensive during the 1930's with strictures against sex and four-letter words on screen that Hollywood wove into its official Production Code.

For a few decades after, secularists fought back successfully, aided by a strong American Civil Liberties Union and a liberal Supreme Court. But a new Christian right took the offensive in the 1970's and has never let up in a campaign to install its morality in law and custom. Ms. Jacoby concludes her book with a shudder as she describes Justice Antonin Scalia's belief that the American state derives its legitimacy not from the citizenry but from God."

According to the reviewer, Michael Kazin, Jacoby's book includes a defense and appreciation of Paul Blanshard's infamous, bestselling tract, "American Freedom and Catholic Power." (Kazin criticizes this feature of the book). The review concludes:

"Religious diversity untrammeled by government is a hard-won and signal achievement of our society, thanks to the efforts of James Madison and other enlightened minds. It would be unreasonable to suppose that a rigorous humanism could replace this kind of freedom, which remains rare in a world of warring faiths."



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