Clashing Languages of Liberty

You read Books & Culture, right? You should. They regularly have some of the most interesting articles on the Internets. The May/June issue has two good examples:

Clashing Languages of Liberty by Mark Noll is a review of Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves, and the American Revolution by Simon Schama. Noll grabs the reader’s attention from the start with a fascinating question:

Books like Rough Crossing raise a large, important, and tragically enduring question. It is whether the United States’ historical profession to be a land of liberty should be taken seriously. Ask generations of willing immigrants—ask adherents of countless religious minorities persecuted for one reason or another in their homelands—ask entrepreneurs beyond counting, the numberless founders of voluntary faith-based organizations or the great legion of American purveyors of print—and the answer must, on balance, be a conclusive yes. But concentrate on the history of African Americans, and the answer is not nearly so obvious. Is their experience an exception that proves the rule, or is it a deadly fly poisoning a hypocritical ointment?

Noll touches on this big question while reviewing and critiquing Rough Crossing. It is one of those rare reviews where you learn about the book; get a sense of its strengths and weaknesses; and ponder the bigger questions.

L’affaire Hochschild and Evangelical Colleges by Thomas Albert Howard also raises a number of interesting questions. It discusses the case of a Wheaton College professor who was let go after converting to Catholicism because it was felt that Catholic theology was incompatible with Wheaton’s statement of faith. After outlining the issues involved, Howard poses this question:

How should schools proceed prudentially in this heady climate, faced with partisan A, who would like to abolish all faith statements in the name of academic freedom, and partisan B, who would reify current arrangements in perpetuity? Both partisans, I should reiterate, have good cause for their arguments and both recognize that genuine principles of intellectual integrity are at stake, not to mention practical concerns about alumni loyalty, faculty morale, student recruiting, and the like.

Howard offers some intelligent and thought provoking answers. Read the whole thing to get a true sense of the issue and the potential solutions. Having attended a school very much in the Wheaton mold, and had friends who attended Wheaton, I found Howard’s presentation of this challenging issue well balanced and his suggested solutions very much worth considering.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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2 Comments

  • Mr. Schama’s opus appears to be the sort of stuff that shouldn’t be written. From the reviews I gather that he wanders in all sorts of adventures in the 18c world. I wonder if he ever really meets the people.
    It’s popular to seize a cause, paste a personal (self righteous) philosophy on a place and time, and declare, “Hey, look what REALLY happened!” That precludes any real grasp of the complex nature of history. (As one Amazon reviewer trumpets, ‘Hipocrisy knows no bounds.’ Well..)

    What we call ‘freedom’ today often can be labelled ‘freedom from knowledge.’ So–being a typical ‘hidebound’ colonist!–I will avail myself of said same privilege. I’ll avoid this political invention.

  • Mr. Schama’s opus appears to be the sort of stuff that shouldn’t be written. From the reviews I gather that he wanders in all sorts of adventures in the 18c world. I wonder if he ever really meets the people.
    It’s popular to seize a cause, paste a personal (self righteous) philosophy on a place and time, and declare, “Hey, look what REALLY happened!” That precludes any real grasp of the complex nature of history. (As one Amazon reviewer trumpets, ‘Hipocrisy knows no bounds.’ Well..)

    What we call ‘freedom’ today often can be labelled ‘freedom from knowledge.’ So–being a typical ‘hidebound’ colonist!–I will avail myself of said same privilege. I’ll avoid this political invention.

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