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May 25, 2004 10:27 am

Three Noteworthy Articles ...

Eugene McCarraher reviews Terry Eagleton's new book, After Theory. No one knows the Catholic Left better than McCarraher.

Carl Bernstein says that it is time for Republicans to belly up to the bar and ask Howard Baker's question: What did the President know and when did he know it? This Republican will drink to that. Thanks to Stephen at Big Tent for the tip.

The United States has done little to rebuild higher education in Iraq, says John Agresto, the administration's officer in charge of that effort. The $8 million it has provided compares to $500 million that will be needed, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. Its feature story is for subscribers only, but Hala Fattah's"The Plight of Iraqi Historians" at Askari Street tells it in the first of a series of reports on how it affects our own colleagues there.

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Jonathan Dresner - 5/26/2004

Like Chesterton said of Christianity, I don't think it's been properly applied yet.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/25/2004

I appreciate your preference for minimalism in this respect. I can't see that it has improved our condition by much, if any

Jonathan Dresner - 5/25/2004

Yes. But they tend to introduce fewer unnecessary postulates into the argument, and I'm a big fan of Ockham in this regard.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/25/2004

I assume that you've also considered the fact that the a-theological and anti-theological postures are also non-falsifiable.

Jonathan Dresner - 5/25/2004

You're right, but it's irrelevant. I don't believe that libertarianism is the natural (and certainly not the best) conclusion to reach from the idea of individual sovereignty as the prime unit and determiner of value; in fact, rational self-interest requires a communal ethic as well as an individual one to be secure, and communal self-interest requires limits to property rights such as give greater than instrumental value to the "recieved world."

I agree with the theology (mostly) and I agree with the critique of post-modern hyper-theory (mostly) but I disagree that the only way, or even perhaps the best way, to reach a position of meaningful values and ethics is through theology. Theology, as I've argued before, is a very weak basis for public discourse, as the non-falsifiable areas of disagreement undermine the creation of a consensus in a theologically diverse (including a-theological and anti-theological) community.

Richard Henry Morgan - 5/25/2004

I was watching a show the other day and it mentioned Carl Bernstein's early days at the Post, where he was sent forth as a cultural reporter. He attended a Zeppelin concert and pronounced it "unmodulated noise" in the pages of the WaPo. I'd hate to think that Carl is just another example of a one-trick pony (like Sy Hersh?).

Ralph E. Luker - 5/25/2004

Sure. McCarraher (and, according to him, Eagleton) are offering a theological analysis, one which assumes that post-modern theory has dead-ended in a highly individualistic frame of value. Against libertarianism, they want to re-assert both the value of the received world and a communal ethical attitude toward it. They want to acknowledge that the beauty and resourcefulness of the earth is _not_ altogether of our creation and, therefore, by implication, _not_ simply at our disposal. I suspect that there is more in that argument that you agree with than you might at first acknowledge.

Jonathan Dresner - 5/25/2004

I was struck by this line: "At his best, Eagleton takes an Augustinian turn. Secular modernity, he observes, strips the world of inherent worth, and the individual will becomes the sovereign source of value." [emphasis added]

He goes on to argue, with some leaps and bounds (OK, I'm not the most theoretical guy on the planet. Or even in this blog) that this is a bad thing. The fun is in the details: constructing a society in which individual will is as free as possible without harming others (beyond that which we deem acceptable, for we do permit a great deal of harm to be done to each other in the names of economic activity and entertainment). Any system which infuses the world of things with inherent value, in my humble opinion, must be deeply flawed. And any system which infuses the world with more meaning that we as individuals create within it is a theology, not a social analysis.

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