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Walker focuses on the years 1964-1981, Laurel Canyon’s “golden age.” He divides his book into two sections: “Jingle-Jangle Mornings” examines the Sixties while “Cocaine Afternoons” explores the Seventies. “As a group,” Walker contends, Laurel Canyon artists “were nominally countercultural, favoring long hair and thrift-shop apparel, but possessed of ambition as blinding as any junior investment banker in a Brooks Brothers suit.” Of course, this drive produced such rock classics as “California Dreamin’,” “It’s Too Late,” “Our House,” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”
A deft writer, Walker has a sharp eye for detail. Take, for instance, this vivid passage: “The change between 1964 and 1965 in Los Angeles was astonishing. In a photograph of a Johnny Rivers performance at the Whisky in 1964, the patrons look like extras from an episode of Dobie Gillis: short brilliantined hair and skinny neckties for the boys, Doris Day-style bouffants and sack dresses for the girls. One year later, post-Beatles, the Byrds are onstage—David Crosby has grown his hair and Yosemite Sam mustache and is wearing fringed buckskin; the audience appears to have been made over by some species of hip aliens.” And consider Walker’s depiction of singers Cass Elliot and Michelle Phillips. Mama Cass, whose house served as Laurel Canyon’s “de facto salon, a rock-and-roll Bloomsbury,” had “a nurturing personality as expansive as her girth, plus a quick mind and highly evolved sense of humor. Inevitably, her obesity kept her from being a sexual object, and that in turn allowed her to become closer to many of the canyon’s male musicians than they, or she, might otherwise have allowed…Michelle Phillips, a lithe, gamine beauty, had the opposite effect; men competed for her sexual attentions inside and outside the band, and her presence became just as inevitably divisive.”
Walker also delves into the dark side of Laurel Canyon history. He discusses the terrifying Manson murders (the Tate house was located in nearby Benedict Canyon); the notorious Altamont concert, in which a young African American, Meredith Hunter, was stabbed to death by a member of the Hell’s Angels; and the shocking butchery on Wonderland Avenue. Walker asserts that the Wonderland killings, “just up the road from the house where Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell composed their hippie pastorals, were more than anyone could take…Porn stars, moldy drug misanthropes, and murder were about as far as you could get from peace, love, and understanding.” Furthermore, he documents the damage caused by cocaine’s arrival in Laurel Canyon. According to Walker, cocaine “leeched whatever charm and innocence, real or imagined, the canyon scene still possessed. Whereas pot and acid were seen as tools of enlightenment, encouraging collaboration and damping, as much as was possible, the egos raging beneath the tie-dye and buckskin, coke magnified and amplified the worst qualities of nearly everyone who became heavily involved with it.”
Walker interviewed such former denizens of Laurel Canyon as Pamela Des Barres, Chris Hillman, Graham Nash, Mark Volman, and Gail Zappa; this is truly impressive. His bibliography, however, lacks a number of key texts, including Barney Hoskyns’s Waiting for the Sun: Strange Days, Weird Scenes and the Sound of Los Angeles, Johnny Rogan’s Timeless Flight: The Definitive Biography of the Byrds, and The Family, by Ed Sanders. Surely Walker consulted these essential works during the course of his research. Additionally, it should be noted that the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” is on Revolver, not Rubber Soul.
Pop culture students and readers interested in the history of twentieth century Los Angeles will heartily applaud Walker’s effort. In sum, Laurel Canyon is an exceptional book, insightful, entertaining, and skillfully written.
SOURCE: Written for HNN. ()
In Viteritti’s view, we have more to fear from the left than the right, from Michael Newdow (who objected to the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance) than from Judge Roy Moore (who refused to remove the Ten Commandments from his courtroom). But, Viteritti says, we have to be careful not to give too much to either side. “Finding the correct balance has never been easy,” he says, “but there are broad analytic considerations that can be useful in working our way through the problem.”
Despite Viteritti’s willingness to ignore George W. Bush’s heavy thumb on the scale, he has a defensible argument. But his book’s tangled, almost perverse structure seriously limits its impact. The sequence of chapters seems almost random, and the individual chapters, while sticking more or less to their declared themes, run back and forth (and back again) through time so abruptly that the reader cannot follow the overall trajectory of events that Viteritti is responding to.
The caution flags go up right away. Viteritti takes two-and-a-half pages in his preface to explain the contents of his nine chapters (and still never gets around to explaining he calls the book “the last freedom”). Chapter 1, he says, “outlines the main argument of the book,” then Chapter 2 “further structures the larger discussion” by focusing on “the current political environment” and the “unseverable connections that exist between politics, morality, and religion.” (In other words, Chapter 2 has two themes by itself.) Chapter 3 throws us back to the Scopes Trial of 1925, then jumps forward to the Mozert case of 1986, which “highlights a central point I want to make about the vulnerability of religious minorities in a secular culture.”
Chapter 4 goes back to Jefferson’s ideas about education, then considers Horace Mann’s approach (saturated by Protestant moralism) and then John Dewey’s (now-dominant) secular outlook. After Chapter 5 “brings us to the twentieth century” and looks at decades of controversies in education, including struggles over textbooks, religious instruction, school prayer, and the like, Chapter 6 examines Supreme Court cases. (In the course of this chapter, Viteritti notes that between 1947 and 1997, the Supreme Court heard 52 cases dealing with the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, and he touches upon many of them.) Chapter 7 throws us back to a discussion the ideas of the nation’s Founders.
Readers who haven’t already suffered chronological and/or thematic whiplash will get it from Chapter 8, which again leaps to the present and talks about the findings of researchers such as Alan Wolfe and Robert Wuthnow, who suggest that most Americans occupy religion’s “hollow middle” (Viteritti’s term, and an unfortunate one) and favor compromise on the presence of religion in schools and the “public square.” Chapter 9 attempts to pull it all together by talking about how to maintain distinctions between “private life and public life, political speech and political action, politics and government, the special place of schools, and the distinct role the Supreme Court plays in mediating our differences.” Got all that? Pay close attention. There may be a quiz.
The book doesn’t work as a series of “stand-alone” essays either. Viteritti’s penchant for what might be called analysis interruptus means that there are too many sentences like “We will return to these considerations in a later chapter.” If this were a movie, the editor in charge of continuity would deserve to be fired.
The best thing about the book may be its treatment of individual Supreme Court cases. Viteritti discusses, among many others, the Everson case (1947), which put the Establishment clause and the Free Exercise clause “in legal tension,” and the Lemon case (1971), which established a stringent test for public funding of activities at religious institutions. And, of course, he looks at the Zelman case (2002), in which the Court upheld a Cleveland school voucher program in a decision that “emphasizes the need for evenhandedness or neutrality in the treatment of secular and religious institutions.” So in some ways at least, the country may be moving in the direction Viteritti would prefer. But he looks at so many other cases—and so many other issues, and in such random order—that it’s hard to tell which way Viteritti thinks the grunion are currently running.
That’s a shame, because the debate over religion’s place in public life and education badly needs the pragmatic approach that Viteritti tries to take. But Viteritti’s moderating voice is too often drowned out by static. The Last Freedom is most unlikely to reach the broad audience that he seeks.
The author of over a dozen previous books, including a study of the Hiroshima bombing, Rhodes’ begins his book with an insightful biographical portrait of Gorbachev, who while a committed Communist apparatchik, nevertheless possessed reformist tendencies and a genuine desire to avoid military confrontation with the United States and limit the spread of nuclear weapons. His outlook was shaped in part by his having experienced the destructiveness of World War II, as well as the fall-out surrounding the Chernobyl crisis, which exposed the social and environmental hazards of nuclear proliferation (in addition to its exposure of the inefficiencies of the rigid command-style Soviet economy). In countering the mythology that Reagan’s arms build-up resulted in the collapse of the U.S.S.R., Rhodes cites a perceptive, but forgotten 1976 article by a young French scholar which recognized the untenable character of the Soviet command economy, the paradoxical existence of rampant social inequalities and cronyism in spite of Marx’s emphasis on economic justice, a dearth of consumer products and mass popular disaffection. It had little to do with U.S. policies.
Rhodes goes on to compare the realities of Soviet capabilities with the hysterical claims made by U.S. defense “experts” such as Paul Nitze in documents like NSC-68 about an expansionist and militarily powerful Soviet empire. Ignoring the paradoxes of American democracy at this time, including the disenfranchisement of African-Americans in the South, they also cast the Cold War as a Manichean struggle of good versus evil. As Rhodes tells the story, Nitze and contemporaries in the National Security establishment like Albert Wohlstetter believed in the necessity of using force to confront seemingly totalitarian enemies. They also embraced the doctrine of massive deterrence, which held that a defense build-up was the only safeguard to foreign invasion and to protect national security.
Rhodes critiques their views on several grounds. Besides overestimating Soviet capabilities and subscribing to an overly simplistic view of the world – especially with regards to Third World liberation movements which were often indigenously supported and not part of some Soviet plot – he argues that the weaponry being developed was so terrible, that if used even once would kill millions of people, while inviting equally destructive counter-retribution. Strategically, they were thus of little value. The deterrence formula also helped to foster the growth of what Dwight Eisenhower himself characterized as a “military-industrial complex,” which twisted governmental priorities in privileging defense contracts and military subsidies at the expense of social welfare and poverty eradication programs.
The Reagan era and promise of the abolishment of nuclear weapons spawned by Gorbachev’s reforms in the Soviet Union represents the tragic denouement of Rhodes’ story. While Reagan was a hard-line hawk who supported vicious proxy wars in Central America and referred to the USSR as an “evil empire,” he was nevertheless open to dialogue with Gorbachev and to considering arms reduction treaties late in his presidency. Though the original superpower talks in Iceland stalled because of Reagan’s commitment to the Strategic Defense Initiative (a missile defense shield to ostensibly protect the U.S. from invasion – derided by critics as a senseless waste of resources), the final blow came from the influential Committee on the Present Danger headed by hard-line conservatives (including Paul Nitze, Sovietologist Richard Pipes, and Richard Perle) opposed to Kissinger’s détente policy of the 1970s. Committed to the use of force in world affairs, and portraying Gorbachev’s oeuvres as a “propaganda ploy,” the Committee pressed for a rejection of any rapprochement with the Soviet Union, resulting in the breakdown of talks.
Rhodes presents this as a major turning point in world history and a great opportunity lost for the United States, magnified by the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War several years later. It provided the occasion to destroy once and for all America’s stockpile of high-tech weaponry, which continue to represent a menace to humanity and drain on American resources.
On the whole, Rhodes has written an engaging and insightful, though ultimately sad book about the devastating humanitarian effects of the arms race and potential horrors it portends. His work is important in countering conservative mythologies about the end of the cold war and its ramifications and legacies, which continue to haunt us all. It also demonstrates that there is window for dialogue and compromise within most political systems that belies the rhetoric of hard-line ideologues of all political stripes.
Only five years after the end of the “Good War,” North Korea and the dictatorial ideologue Kim Il Sung—distrusted by Mao and mocked by Stalin and Douglas MacArthur --(“Where is Kim Buck Tooth?” he laughed on one of his rare trips to Korea soon after he asked his aides, “Any celebrities here to greet me?”)--- pleaded with the Soviet and Chinese dictators to allow him to invade the South and finish off a low key Korean civil war. After all, Secretary of State Dean Acheson had inexplicably omitted South Korea from the American defensive perimeter in the Far East. Kim finally received reluctant approval from Beijing and Moscow, neither of whom trusted him or his military. Then, without asking for Congressional ratification, and against the advice of some of his military advisors, Harry Truman decided the time had come to draw a line against what he believed to be a simple case of Communist aggression and fight a “limited war,” but always careful lest the Chinese and Soviets intervene too. On June 30, 1950, U.S. ground forces, initially consisting of poorly trained service troops and officers living comfortably in Japan, were suddenly thrown into combat with an enormous loss of life.
As they always do, Americans rallied around the flag. It was what the libertarian scholar Llewellyn Rockwell, Jr. described as that “mysterious thing called nationalism, which makes an ideological religion of the nation’s wars.” There were virtually no protests other than pacifists such as Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker and the principled Senator Robert Taft. Having just smashed the Nazis and Japanese it seemed that America’s military machine was unstoppable. Communism had to be stopped by any means necessary, or so the popular mantra went in those years. Even so, as the war dragged on fewer and fewer Americans rallied to the war, if they cared at all. “Korea would not prove a great national war of unifying singular purpose, as World War II had been, nor would it, like a generation later, divide and thus haunt the nation,” writes Halberstam. “It was simply a puzzling, gray, very distant conflict, a war that went on and on, seemingly without hope of resolution, about which most Americans, save the men who fought there and their immediate families, preferred to know as little as possible.”
Because Truman had stubbornly and foolishly refused to ask Congress for a declaration of war, “the opposition was off the hook in terms of accepting responsibility for America’s response.” As a result, the more protracted the war became, the more it became a political war whose legacy contributed to further poisoning American political life. It certainly helped give rise to the fabrication about domestic enemies and the media “stabbing our troops and the country in the back,” a distortion first spread by the unrepentant and defeated World War I German General Erich Ludendorff, repeated after Vietnam and which will surely be heard again when and if the Iraq War ever ends.
Halberstam delineates the stunning blunders and character defects of the major actors. Stalin, the cruel cynic, finally gave Kim his approval to cross the 38th Parallel but also warned him never to expect help from Soviet troops. "If you should get kicked in the teeth I shall not lift a finger,” Stalin told Kim, though obviously hoping to keep the U.S. bogged down in an unwinnable war if the Chinese were to become involved. Mao had nothing but contempt for Kim and the North Korean military but once MacArthur ordered his troops to the Yalu River border with China, Mao dispatched 300,000 “volunteers” to fight Americans (the South Korean military having largely collapsed, much like the South Vietnamese military in the seventies). Kim and South Korean strongman Syngman Rhee surely deserved one another. Halberstam tell us that General John Hodge, who had once led US troops in South Korea, loathed Rhee. As the military historian Clay Blair wrote, Hodge despised Rhee as “devious, emotionally unstable, brutal, corrupt and wildly unpredictable.” Still, Rhee was America’s man until he unwisely sought to subvert the truce finally signed in July 1953.
Halberstam never loses sight of the war and his crisp and readable text is filled with examples of the courage of ordinary soldiers and marines, obviously a reminder of what he witnessed in Vietnam. If he sophomorically seems to glorify Generals by always referring to them by their nicknames (Lightning Joe Collins, Dutch Keiser, Al Gruenther, etc.), he does name feckless senior officers who he insists failed their troops.
No officer was more incompetent, concludes Halberstam in his provocative appraisal of General Douglas MacArthur, the all-powerful proconsul in Japan and commander of forces in the Far East. (Max Hastings, the highly-regarded British military historian, blamed MacArthur for the WWII defeat in the Philippines: [He] “abandoned his doomed command on Bataan, and escaped to safety with his own court, complete even unto personal servants, and made good the claim that his own value to his country surpassed that of a symbolic sacrifice alongside his men”).
During the Korean War MacArthur flew into Pyongyang after the First Cavalry had reached the city. The very critical Halberstam then notes: “He did not spend a night in Korea; in fact he did not spend the night there during the entire time he commanded.” In fact, he remained in Tokyo, bunkered down with his politicized generals, and did not return to Korea until two weeks after the Chinese struck. His military intelligence was “doctored” by his obsequious staff; moreover, his goal now was to invade China.
Why China? Again, Halberstam quotes Max Hastings: “It will never be certain how MacArthur’s affronted personal hubris influenced his attitude toward the Chinese, how far he became instilled with a yearning for crude revenge upon the people who had brought all his hopes and triumphs in Korea to nothing.” General Omar Bradley was far less forgiving. He wrote about his fellow General that his “legendary military pride had been hurt. The Red Chinese had made a fool of the infallible ‘military genius.’ ” His only recourse, Bradley went on, was to revenge himself by initiating “an all-out war with Red China and possibly the Soviet Union, igniting WWIII, and a nuclear holocaust,” much like today’s American ideological fanatics who are promoting what they call World War IV in the Middle East, consequences be damned.
What MacArthur did after the successful landing at Inchon led his supporters to believe the war had reached its end. He triumphantly told his troops the mission was accomplished and predicted they’d be home by Christmas. And then, defying orders from Washington, he sent his troops north to the Yalu, a move cheered on by the China Lobby and the capital’s home front warriors. This challenge to the President’s authority set up a profound constitutional clash between an elected President and the general with a Napoleonic complex. When Truman fired him, MacArthur returned home to a nation he barely knew with his eye on the White House. Huge crowds lionized him and Truman was widely excoriated until it became clear that other than urging war with China and possibly the Soviet Union, MacArthur had little to offer the country.
By disobeying orders from Washington to cease and desist doing whatever he pleased and then winning support among politicians and the press, Halberstam crowns this marvelous book by writing, “…domestic politics had now become a part of national security calculations, and it showed the extent to which the American government had begin to make fateful decisions based on the most limited of truths and the most deeply flawed intelligence in order to do what it wanted to do for political reasons, whether it would work or not.” He then rightly cites Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush as two recent prime examples of presidential arrogance and ignorance that has led to so much chaos and bloodletting in their wars.
Luckily, Washington finally sent General Mathew Ridgeway to Korea and while ostensibly subordinate to MacArthur, he reorganized his forces so that at least an unsatisfactory deadlock might finally be reached. It was Ridgeway, a general’s general in Halberstam’s admiring treatment, who famously and memorably said of the men who served under him, “All lives on a battlefield are equal and a dead rifleman is as great a loss in the eyes of God as a dead General. The dignity which attaches to the individual is the basis of Western Civilization, and this fact should be remembered by every Commander.”
SOURCE: Providence Sunday Journal ()
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam wanted to change that. Best known for The Best and the Brightest, his 1972 chronicle of America’s descent into the Vietnam quagmire, Halberstam spent years researching this, his twenty-first book, a top-to-bottom, beginning-to-end rendition of an American experience known to many people only through re-runs of M*A*S*H. He had just put the finishing touches on it when he was killed in an auto accident last April.
All of the authorial virtues and vices displayed in Halberstam’s previous books are on display here. On the one hand, there’s his vigorous prose, his gift for vivid portraiture of the leaders (including Generals Douglas MacArthur and Matthew Ridgway) and the led (Sgt. Paul McGee and dozens of other GIs whom Halberstam interviewed), his willingness to set a larger context for the smallest actions, his eye for the symbolically significant detail.
On the other hand, there’s his tendency to pile up insignificant details and turn minor digressions into major ones—for instance, we get many more biographical details than we need on virtually every American political and military leader. Moreover, the emphasis on personalities shortchanges any discussion of larger forces at work. Halberstam places most of the blame for the pain caused by Korea on General MacArthur, who followed up his daring triumph at Inchon by recklessly sending troops north toward the Chinese border at the Yalu River, insisting in the face of contrary intelligence that the Chinese would never enter the war.
They came in with a vengeance and pushed United Nations forces back down the peninsula during the “Coldest Winter” of 1950-51, before being halted at the 38th parallel, where the line between the communist North and anti-Communist South remains today. Fighting in weather so cold that oil froze in jeeps and tanks, on terrain resembling a cratered moonscape, American GIs came home with stories of savagery and matter-of-fact bravery that, as Halberstam relates them, will deepen every reader’s understanding of what the war was like.
Halberstam tells his tale as a series of set pieces that different readers will approach differently. Those unfamiliar with the war can march through every page-- pausing periodically to orient themselves, especially when Halberstam shifts the scene abruptly. Those who know the war’s politics can do some readerly “island-hopping,” flying over familiar scenes of policymaking in Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo, and alighting on those focused on the GIs, whose experiences from Unsan to Chipyongni deserve the careful attention Halberstam gives them.
In short, despite its flaws, Halberstam’s book has its rewards for all readers, even though, sadly, it also writes “30” to a distinguished career.
Greenfield excels at character description. Consider, for instance, his depictions of Keith, Mick (whom Greenfield snidely, and frequently, refers to as Michael Philip Jagger), and Gram Parsons. Of the Glimmer Twins, Greenfield patently prefers Richards, the “hero...[and]antihero,” of the book(p. 13). A superb musician with a severe drug problem, he possesses a mighty soul. Keith, Greenfield writes, is “our Jesus of Cool,” a rock star rebel who has “long since left behind all bourgeois values...Keith is an outlaw but he has a code of his own. He is fiercely loyal to his friends. He loves his son. He loves getting high. More than anything, he loves his guitar. At Nellcote, it is a physical extension of his body. The man literally never goes anywhere without it” (pp. 13, 15). A libertine, “Keith has seen and done it all--acid, Mandrax, cocaine, and heroin, not to mention also sex, offered up freely and willingly by women of all ages and classes as a reward for his undeniable talent and overwhelming success” (p. 14).
Greenfield, really, has few kind words for Jagger, whom he sees as calculating, artificial, and mercenary. “When it comes to survival,” he writes, Mick “was a genius. It was this primitive instinct that formed the core of his personality” (p. 25). Additionally, Jagger “was a born showman who was always on. There was never a room too small for Mick to work. No audience was too tiny for him to entertain. In truth, his primary interest was always to amuse himself. Everything he did seemed carefully planned to elicit a specific response. Because Mick had an agenda, he was always prepared to play a dazzling variety of games to achieve his aim” (p. 25). A master at manipulation, Jagger “liked to move human pieces around the chessboard. While it was usually sex that was his short-term goal, in the end it always came down to power” (p. 121). And finances. “Always, his primary goal seems to have been to make money” (p. 27).
Greenfield views Parsons, late of the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, as a gifted but tragic figure. Unlike Jagger and Richards, he was not a survivor. Gram, a “brilliant singer-songwriter,” eagerly joined Keith at Nellcote (p. 116). Their camaraderie worried Mick, who quickly grew jealous. Parsons, debilitated by his heavy intake of cocaine and heroin, began to suffer blackout spells. Eventually, probably at the behest of Anita Pallenberg, he was banished. What, precisely, were Gram’s crimes which led to this forced departure? The wild child from Waycross, Georgia, Greenfield explains, “is using too much of their stuff [drugs],he is falling out all over the place, and, as much as Keith may love playing and singing with the man, their time together is doing nothing to help the new album get made”(p. 122). Crestfallen, Gram left Nellcote; he’d never see Keith again. But his influence remained. “Torn and Frayed” and “Sweet Virginia,” two standout tracks on Exile, obviously carry the “unmistakable stamp” of Gram Parsons (p. 120).
Certainly, Greenfield’s study is not without flaws. To begin with, it lacks an index, something every book should possess. Greenfield lauds Marianne Faithfull’s autobiography as “the best book ever about the Stones” (p. 2), but disparages authors Stephen Davis (Old Gods Almost Dead) and A. E. Hotchner (Blown Away). Chastising Davis, for example, Greenfield cattily remarks, “Next time you want to check a fact about the Stones, please feel free to call me in the office” (p. 59). But incredibly, on the very next page, Greenfield asserts that “Jumping Jack Flash” appeared on Sticky Fingers. “Jumping Jack Flash” on Sticky Fingers? Downright careless. Finally, Greenfield seems to lose focus in the last thirty-odd pages of his book. In a volume called Exile on Main St.: A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones, are such topics as the Bigger Bang tour, the Stones Super Bowl appearance, and Keith’s recent head surgery in New Zealand really relevant?
Despite these criticisms, Greenfield’s volume stands as an impressive achievement. When it comes to books about the Stones (and scores have been written), many fail to deliver; you can’t always get what you want. Satisfaction, however, is guaranteed for those who read Greenfield. Perhaps music journalist Barney Hoskyns, quoted by Greenfield, sums it up best: “All rock records should be made in dank basements of old Nazi strongholds on the Cote d’Azur, with reliable heroin connections in Marseille and Gram Parsons hovering in the paneled hallways. That way they might sound half as good as Exile” (p. 207). Amen, baby. Amen.
The reformers of the Progressive Era and New Deal were motivated and guided in part by the reformist impulses of those Christians identified with the Social Gospel tradition. A good example of this was Frances Perkins, Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor, and a principal political architect of the Social Security Act of 1935. In addition to being a labor legislation reformer, a consumer advocate, and a settlement house reformer, Perkins was motivated by her deep Social Gospel convictions. (Harry Hopkins is another example of a prominent New Dealer who could be counted among the Social Gospel's adherents.)
While the Social Gospel was a Protestant movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was, in a broader sense, a prominent part of much of modern Judeo-Christian social reform philosophy—shared beyond its Protestant practitioners. The Social Gospel tradition, in this context, was the simple insight that by joining forces with the secular state, and crafting state-based programs, the religiously-motivated reformers could give concrete embodiment to their moral values and their aspirations for a better world.
But the Social Gospel has fallen on hard times as of late. Most of the Christian-reformist action in recent years has been from the other end of the pew—from the moralistic evangelicals whose impulse is not to the social justice reforms of the Social Gospel, but rather, to moral reforms of what they view as a decadent culture. Hence, the need felt in some quarters to restore this missing tradition of religious-based social welfare reform. The Bush claim to be a “compassionate conservative” seemed to some to portend a renewal of the Social Gospel tradition, but the type of reform sponsored by the Bush Administration turned out to be something very different.
The Conservative Counter-Reformation
What Lew Daly has written about is the Bush Administration's faith-based initiative, and how radically it differs from more recent ideas of the relationship of church and welfare state. Daly—-who is a former pastor and a policy advocate, not a historian-—has managed to write a serviceable summary history of the Bush initiative in the first two-thirds of his book and a much less satisfactory policy prescription in the final third. It turns out that the faith-based initiative formally announced by President Bush in early 2001 was not just a give-away to an important voting constituency in the Republican coalition. It was an elaborate, historically grounded, theoretically rationalized, alternative model of the relationship of the church to the welfare state. It was a counter-Reformation in national social policy.
The advocates behind the initiative grounded their approach in two old theological ideas—the Dutch Calvinist idea of sphere sovereignty and the Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity—each of which was part of a 19th century movement to which the faith-based initiative looks for conceptual validation. Sphere sovereignty is the idea—promoted by Dutch statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper and his Anti-Revolutionary Party—that the proper source of sovereignty in such spheres as education and social welfare lies with religious institutions, not with the state. The concept of subsidiarity emerged from the efforts of the Catholic Church to clarify the obligations of religious charity. In his 1891 papal encyclical, Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII put the church on record as engaged on issues of economic and social justice. Liberal Catholics generally take Rerum Novarum to be their inspiration. But it was Pope Pius XI in a 1931 encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, who articulated the conditions on the Church=s engagement with the state. Pius emphasized the concept of subsidiarity, by which he argued that the church, being more proximate to the people and more intimately involved in their welfare, had first call on responsibility for their social welfare. So the central idea here—of what I would call the Christian Revivalists—is that the church must reacquire its ancient power and authority over matters of social welfare.
Beginning in the late 1980s, a small core group of religiously motivated movement conservatives began formulating an alternative philosophy of social welfare, using these two earlier theological movements as their models and the sources of their rationalizing principles. By the time of the 1996 welfare reform debate, they were already exerting influence on policymakers. These activist scholars managed to get then-Senator John Ashcroft to insert a provision in the 1996 legislation authorizing “charitable choice,” which was the term of art at the foundation of what would become the faith-based initiative. Charitable choice permitted religious institutions to provide government-funded social welfare services without adopting secular principles of equal access or non-discrimination.
While Governor of Texas, George W. Bush sponsored the preparation of a 1996 report entitled Faith in Action, which was the state version of what Bush would federalize once he entered the White House. In the words of the report, Governor Bush's vision was that: “We must move beyond ‘devolution’ merely parsing duties between different levels of government and embrace genuine reform . . . . We must think anew about the relationship between government and non-government, and, ultimately, vest power beyond government back to individuals and social institutions.”
Bush's first major speech of his 2000 presidential campaign was entitled “The Duty of Hope” and its theme was his faith-based agenda. Once Bush assumed the presidency, this agenda was put vigorously into motion. Bush issued two quick executive orders: the first creating the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and the second institutionalizing the policy shift by creating satellite offices in each of the five major domestic cabinet agencies responsible for social programs. More executive orders followed, inserting faith-based offices in other federal agencies.
As soon as Bush's faith-based initiative was announced in January 2001, conservatives rallied around the philosophical ideas on which it was based. George Will was quick to editorialize about the virtues of the concept of subsidiarity, and even Senator Jesse Helms called for reconfiguring the system of foreign aid based on his understanding of subsidiarity. Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation announced he supported subsidiarity as a guiding principle and John DiIulio, the born-again Catholic who Bush tapped to be the first head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, said that the Administration's initiative was a “blue-print for applied subsidiarity.” Bush adviser Charles Colson saw the faith-based initiative as the triumph of the Calvinist view of sphere sovereignty.
What is particularly interesting about the Christian Revivalists is that they are not strict representatives of the more familiar cohorts of the Republican coalition. They are not even “values voters” per se. Daly's key insight is that these members of the Republican coalition—despite being Christian conservatives—are not principally concerned about social values issues. For the advocates behind the faith-based initiative, the purpose is to shift power from the state to the religious sector. It is not really about moral values as much as it is about the locus of political power. The faith-based initiative is after something quite different than a mere improvement in the moral climate.
Daly is calling attention to a counter-revolution in the ideals of Christian charity. No longer do religiously motivated reformers appeal to the ideals of the Social Gospel to inform their efforts. Now Christian reform—under the helpful policies of the Bush Administration—harkens back to 19th century revivalist movements. Those 19th century movements sought to prevent the enlargement of the state at the expense of the church. Now that this enlargement is essentially a fiat accompli, the modern Christian Revivalists want to restore the balance between church and state to something closer to that which prevailed before the Progressive Era.
Daly's Third Way
This book is too short, in crucial ways. For one thing, it lacks a convincing historical grounding in the Social Gospel tradition and its role in this history. But the biggest shortcoming of the book is that Daly's alternative “model” for religious-inspired reform is little more than the repeated observation that the teachings of the scriptures requires Christians and Jews to confront economic inequality by a direct moral condemnation of the institutions of wealth and privilege that embody those inequalities. Daly is not antithetical to the secular welfare state; nor is he necessarily opposed to church-based charity assuming a larger role in social welfare. But he wants to insist that whoever takes up this responsibility must do so in a way that effectively reduces the vast and rising economic inequalities in American society.
The core difference between Daly and the Christian Revivalists is that he sees the attack on institutions of political and economic power as part of Christian teaching, while the Revivalists effectively immunize these institutions from criticism by shifting responsibility for the problems of economic injustice to the churches and to private charity. In this way economic inequalities become not matters of public policy but matters of the relationship of the individual to a religious tradition.
But this kind of moral exhortation has proven to be of little practical effect, without some way to institutionalize the sentiments behind it. The genius of the Social Gospel reformers of the Progressive and New Deal eras was that they formed a partnership with the secular state in creating institutions which partially embodied their ideals. Daly seems bent on returning to an even older tradition of moral exhorters, who want to shame us into desired social change. Daly seems not to have learned the key lesson of the Social Gospel partners in the creation of the welfare state. Daly's efforts—although admirable enough—strike me as a pretty good reminder of the value of the idea of the modern secular welfare state and the need for it.
Daly’s book is, however, a reminder of how much is really at stake in the move of government policy toward faith-based initiatives. This slim, small-format, book can be read in an afternoon's sitting. It is certainly worth that much of our time.