Dragon and Judge Book Review

Dragon and Judge: Dragonback book 5
by Timothy Zahn
320 pages
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy (March 27, 2018) in a set with volumes 4 and 6

Finally, five volumes in, we find out what really happened to Jack’s parents, and who they really were. I’ve been waiting a long time for this revelation, and it is just as good as I expected.

Virgil Morgan and Obi-wan share a point of view

Virgil Morgan and Obi-wan share a point of view

It wasn’t hard to suspect that Virgil Morgan wasn’t telling the complete truth about Jack’s parents, but on the other hand he did pretty well by Jack, even as he used him in his cons and trained him in an ethos of radical self-sufficiency. On the gripping hand, we also start to see that Jack and Draycos’ meeting on Iota Klestis was not mere happenstance, but rather a providential act that would ensure that justice can be done for everyone.

Justice is a key theme of the Dragonback series. Draycos needs justice for his harried and beleaguered people, fleeing from genocidal war. Jack wants justice for himself, to start anew after being conscripted into a life of crime by his benefactor. Jack needs justice because the unscrupulous are only too willing to try to take advantage of his checkered past to enlist him in dubious schemes. Justice is clearly in short supply in the Orion Arm.

Another key theme is birthright. Draycos and Jack are each special because of who they are. The key dramatic element in Dragon and Judge is, who is Jack? Where did he come from? Who are his parents, really? We don’t have to wonder much about Draycos, who is after all a dragon and a warrior, although some surprises are yet in store. Jack is an orphan, an archetype of import, and together they have a destiny to fulfill.

In Dragon and Judge, we also have a storyline involving Alison Kayna, Jack’s compatriot from book 2, and Taneem, a phooka turned K’da by bonding with Alison. With the mystery of Jack’s parents cleared up, we have a new mystery to ponder in Alison. We don’t truly know who she is or who she is working for. While we consider this, we also get to see Zahn explore her character. Everything Alison does is of necessity duplicitous, since she is observing Jack at the behest of an unknown party, but her charade is eased by what appears to be genuine agreement with Jack and Draycos’ mission to save the K’da refugee fleet.

Earnest and naive Taneem serves as a foil for Alison, as Zahn gently probes the moral dilemma of doing what is right versus maintaining your cover. Since this is a juvenile, we aren’t going to see Alison faced with an atrocity. That would have been an interesting setup with Draycos’ unyielding sense of right and wrong, but this isn’t that kind of a book. While the stakes are dramatically high, this is the PG version.

All of the pieces are now in place for the dramatic conclusion. Let us see how Zahn wraps it all up.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Other books by Timothy Zahn

New Thrawn series:
Thrawn: Alliances

Quadrail series:
Night Train to Rigel: Quadrail book 1 review
The Third Lynx: Quadrail book 2 review
Odd Girl Out: Quadrail book 3 review
The Domino Pattern: Quadrail book 4 review
Judgement at Proteus: Quadrail book 5 review


Original Thrawn Trilogy:
Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

Blackcollar series:
The Blackcollar: Blackcollar series book 1 review
The Backlash Mission: Blackcollar series book 2 review

Dragonback series:
Dragon and Thief
Dragon and Soldier
Dragon and Slave
Dragon and Herdsman

Starcraft: Evolution

Cascade Point and Other Stories

Message for the Dead Book Review

Message for the Dead

Message for the Dead

Message for the Dead: Galaxy's Edge #8
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 496 pages
Published April 25th 2018 by Galaxy's Edge

In a tweet storm last month, I threatened to write an essay about the millennialism of the lighthuggers portrayed in Imperator when I had a chance. As it turns out, the end of the world came and found me before I was ready. Let my unreadiness serve as a warning to the others. Tempus fugit. Memento mori.

Tempus fugit. Memento mori.

Tempus fugit. Memento mori.

In many ways, this is a book of endings. An end to scheming. An end to corruption. An end to freedom. An end to life. The progression from the first to the last is the essence of the Faustian bargain. We trust more in our own power than in the power of God. We insist that our will be done.

Isildur's moment of doom

Isildur's moment of doom

Griffith about to make Isildur's mistake

Griffith about to make Isildur's mistake

For Goth Sullus, the vice that makes his fall possible is justice. Yes, justice. I am not fool enough to call good evil just to make a point. However, it is precisely by means of a thirst for justice, for vengeance!, that evil enters the soul of the man known as Goth Sullus. [I admit that I suspect envy played a part as well, but we shall see] Yes, the galaxy is a dumpster fire. And Sullus insists that justice be done, though the heavens fall. His justice is swollen to madness in isolation from all else that is good and holy.

Yet, there is still hope. That hope is a slim hope, desperate even. Yet for all our weakness and foolishness, we have not been left to face the monsters alone. Although, it damn well feels like it. What it feels like, is the end of the world.

As I said, this is a book of endings. Yet, this is a specific type of ending. Not every apocalypse is created alike you see. This is only an introductory apocalypse. In an introductory apocalypse, the wicked system of the world is swept away. The world will then be united under the rule of the saints. During that time, things will be as they should be. However, the great enemy has merely been bound, not destroyed. At the end of the eponymous millennium, a revolt will occur, in which the cosmos will be consumed. That is a terminal apocalypse. Simply the end.

Now, clearly, something is amiss in the schema I have just described. While Goth Sullus certainly sees himself as worthy, I have my doubts. We also don't really know what role Aeson Keel, or Ravi, or Prisma Maydoon will serve in the end. We don't even really know what happened to Reina, although I have some dark suspicions. 

Without the ability to see into the hearts of men [or whatever Ravi is], we cannot really know what is to come. It is only by their fruits that we shall know them. Yet despite the bitter fruits that have fallen from Goth Sullus, I have hope for him too.

My other book reviews

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review

Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review

Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review

Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review

Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review

Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review

The Long View: An Angel Directs the Storm

Calm  and  serene  he drives the furious blast; And, pleas'd th' Almighty's orders to perform, Rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm. ~  Joseph Addison   By Gustave Doré and me, Angel 007 - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paradise_Lost_1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5885087

Calm and serene he drives the furious blast;
And, pleas'd th' Almighty's orders to perform,
Rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm. ~ Joseph Addison

By Gustave Doré and me, Angel 007 - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paradise_Lost_1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5885087

This is a fine example of John's best work. In retrospect, President George W. Bush did some crazy things, but his critics were often even crazier.

An Angel Directs the Storm:
Apocalyptic Religion & American Empire
By Michael Northcott
I.B. Tauris Co Ltd., 2004
200 Pages, US$35.00
ISBN 1-85043-478-6


The title of this book comes from a famous question that John Page asked his fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, about the American Revolution: “Do you not think that an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs the storm?” The book’s author, a Reader in Christian Ethics at the University of Edinburgh, takes this apparently innocent question about the role of Providence in history and uses it as an emblem for this thesis:

“It is a tragic deformation of Biblical apocalyptic that in America for more than two centuries millennialism, far from unveiling [in the sense of unmasking] empire, has served as a sacred ideology that has cloaked the expansionary tendencies of America’s ruling elites.”

Northcott’s argument is compounded, in large part, of the ecclesiology of John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas, the eschatology of Rene Girard, the geopolitics of Andrew Bacevich, and the postmodern political prose poetry of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Unfortunately, these people are not obviously in agreement about fundamental issues, and the author makes little effort to reconcile them. What holds the book together is a rambling, Soviet-surplus critique of the United States, updated by the propaganda of the antiglobalization movement.

Some of this filler material is amazing. We learn, for instance, that 67% of the children of US veterans of the first Gulf War have some serious birth defect. We further learn that Islamism is, simultaneously, an artifact of American funding; an indigenous reaction to American-imposed post-colonial underdevelopment; and a modern, pseudo-Islamic ideology that mirrors America’s neoliberal globalism in being totalitarian and universalistic. The author even moves the great die-off of elderly people during the European heat wave of 2003 from France to Chicago. By the end of this book, American malefaction has become so ubiquitous as to be virtually unfalsifiable.

This is a shame, since there are real issues here about the nature of American political culture and the interrelationship of eschatology, soteriology, and macrohistory. The author makes a remarkable hash of all of them.

It is true, as Northcott points out, that the principle of “the priesthood of all believers” gave American political culture a bias toward voluntarism and the market. More important, it is also true that the Puritans in America saw their story as a reprise of the Book of Exodus, but on a larger scale, and with world-historical significance. There really is a strong millennialist streak that runs right through American history (the best-known discussion of which remains Tuveson’s “Redeemer Nation”). From the colonial era, and into the 20th century, the dominant model of history was “postmillennialism,” which holds that society would be perfected within history, during the millennium, only after which would the Second Coming occur. After the Revolution, a synthesis of ideological republicanism and Puritanism arose. It assigned an important but subordinate place for the Church, as the institution that would educate citizens in virtues needed to make the polity function. Northcott is not pleased:

“American postmillennial apocalyptic involves the claim that the American Republic, and in particular the free market combined with a sort of marketised democracy, is the first appearance in history of a redeemed human society, a true godly Kingdom. But true Christian apocalyptic, the Christian belief that Christ has come, that the spirit of Christ is present in the Church, and that Christ will come again, points Christians precisely to the temporary and imperfect nature of all efforts to establish the reign of God on earth.”

There are tensions in Northcott’s critique, to put it mildly. He posits, reasonably enough, that the philosophy of John Locke has strongly affected American political culture. The author then asserts that the Lockean understanding of government as essentially a device for protecting property is not orthodox theology, and is indeed postchristian, whatever the denominational affiliation of actual Lockeans may be. Well, maybe, but readers may find it hard to reconcile Northcott’s indictment of the sacralization of government with his antipathy to Locke’s political theory, which was designed precisely to keep government modest, both in its powers and in its ontological status.

Be this as it may, the most important development in the history of American eschatology was the transition to premillennialism, which began about the middle of the 19th century. Premillennialism, sometimes called dispensationalism, holds that the Second Coming will occur before the millennium, preceded by disaster and apostasy. It does not see secular progress as a good thing, if progress is acknowledged at all. Its influence has spread steadily; today, it is perhaps the most widespread historical model among evangelical Christians in the United States (and elsewhere, one might add). It is associated, often if not invariably, with Biblical literalism, and with support for Zionism, which is held to be a fulfillment of prophecies of the Endtime.

We are told that there is a synergy between dispensationalist fatalism and the ideology of the market, since both denigrate the possibility of collective action. This would be interesting, were it not for the fact that freemarketeers are optimists of the most annoying sort. Still, it is certainly easier to make that argument than to suggest, as Northcott also seems to do, that premillennialism is a religion of immiseration. In the US, the key figures associated with the revival of premillennialism were high-status churchmen and laity based in Manhattan. In the 19th century, this eschatology was not particularly popular in those regions that suffered social disruption in the course of industrialization. By the later 20th century, some form of premillennialism was becoming the mark of the rising classes of the Next Christendom outside the West. This only repeated its history in America, where evangelicals of all descriptions tend to be richer and better educated than the population as a whole.

Neither will it do to make premillennialism a religion of capitalism, either international or domestic. Contrary to what Northcott believes, Americans by the later 19th century were not satisfied with their “national Bank” and its capitalist ways. America did not have a central bank from 1836 to 1913 because the people in the states that later became highly evangelical were suspicious of large institutions. In fact, they also made sure that private banks could not operate nationally until relatively recently. High tariffs, restricted immigration, and suspicion of finance are the evangelical political tradition. The current association of evangelicalism with big business in the Republican Party is a historical accident, occasioned chiefly by the decision of the Democratic Party to walk the plank on the abortion issue.

It would be hard to quarrel with the assessment that Woodrow Wilson’s domestic Progressivism and his plan to make the world safe for democracy are manifestations of America’s traditional postmillennialism. That view of the world long lingered in elite circles. In fact, the sentiment never entirely dissipated, even if the theology did. There is a good argument to be made the Bush Administration’s War on Terror is just a revival of Wilsonianism with a Kantian twist supplied by the neoconservatives. However, Northcott’s analysis forces him to make a bad argument:

“[T]he mutation of the American dream into a global war with those who are said to oppose America’s interests and its values is a consequence of Enlightenment rationalism. The universal story of an enlightened humanity progressing toward peace legitimizes a perpetual war to bring it about…However it is not in the name of reason, but of an apocalyptic faith that Bush and bin Laden seek to take charge of the destiny of the world.”

Northcott asserts that Bush’s policy “is consistent” with the abandonment of the attempt to build the postmillennial Zion in America (of which the Puritan Fathers dreamed, however mistakenly), in favor of a premillennial project to aid the construction of a Jewish Zion in Israel. This is an interpretation against the text, since the fact is that the Bush Administration does claim to be acting in the name of reason. Certainly that is how the Administration talks about geopolitics. That is even how the Administration talks about Israel. Only when we dismiss the canard that George Bush is trying to trigger the Battle of Armageddon do we come to the really interesting point: under Northcott’s analysis, Christians would have to oppose any forcible attempt to maintain world order, or indeed national order.

This form of pacifism is based on a reading of the New Testament that retrojects 20th-century underdevelopment theory onto first-century Palestine, thereby turning Jesus into an ardent if peaceful anti-imperialist. To this end, Northcott adopts strange readings of such texts as Mark 12: 13-17. That is the passage in which Jesus, in response to a question about the licitness of paying taxes to the Romans, says to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s. As Northcott would have it, that Jesus did not legitimize the payment of the tax:

“… Jesus already steals a march on his opponents because he demands that they show him the imperial coin – the Denarius – in which the tax was paid [since] neither he nor his disciples carried the coinage of empire… The question already names Jesus’ opponents as idolaters since they possess the coin and he does not.”

What we have here is a studied refusal to hear anything from scripture that the exegete does not want it to say (from my limited experience this is characteristic of Girardian exegesis). Northcott does not confine this practice to small points. Here is a broader misreading for you:

“The real meaning of Revelation is that the Roman Empire – variously the ‘beast,’ the ‘dragon’, the ‘whore of Babylon’ – and the Roman emperor – the Antichrist – are already defeated.”

To this, one may say that anyone who thinks that the word “Antichrist” appears in the Book of Revelation could have his license to practice eschatology revoked. In any case, we need to remember that if Revelation really were just an anti-Roman tract, it would not be very interesting, and we would not be reading it today. Anti-Roman sentiment is, of course, present in that book: the Whore of Babylon is Rome. However, she is killed at the behest of the Beast. The message is that, bad as Rome is, it’s really just a front for something much worse: of the archons, of whom St. Paul wrote, who really rule the world, and against whom it is the real business of Christians to struggle.

To be fair, we should note that the author acknowledges that Jesus did not preach political resistance, even of the passive Gandhian variety. We are also told, eventually, that Paul commanded obedience to the state, but then we are also told that Paul meant that the powers of the state were legitimate only when they were used for right purposes. At the risk of getting into a proof-texting contest, I find this hard to square with the remark of Jesus to Pilate that Pilate’s power was “from above,” even when Pilate was about to have Jesus executed. Theocracy is a poor notion, but it should not be confused with the immemorial Christian principle that the state is a part of a providential order, and not simply a feature of a fallen world.

The preferred eschatology of “An Angel Directs the Storm” is an almost complete preterism. Though allowing that the Lord will come again at some indefinite point in the future, under circumstances we cannot now imagine, Northcott repeatedly reminds us that all prophecy was fulfilled in the first century. Indeed, history ended then, with the resurrection. This is why, for instance, the doctrine of Just War is invalid (though Northcott says that George Bush managed to violate it anyway). The New Testament shows:

“[T]here is no more need for war; in the language of the Book of Revelation the war in heaven has already ended, Michael and his angels have already put down the elemental powers and the fallen angels…Christians are called not to fight against them, rather to enact their defeat in the communities of worship and reconciliation.”

Northcott’s pacifism rejects pietism. Pietism, he says, comes from the error of putting the soul in the care of religion, while leaving the body to the control of the state. That error, in turn, comes from viewing the Church as one association among many, rather than as a comprehensive community. The politics of the Christian community is “the non-coercive quest for peace and justice in a sinful world.” Christian community does not require self-segregation: far from it. Christians should pray for the welfare of the city into which they have been sent, and work for its welfare, as Jeremiah advised the exiles from Judea. They must never take charge, but hold those to account who try to take charge, particularly if they try to take charge in God’s name. On the global level, Christians are to reject the temptation to control history’s outcome, which was among the things that the devil unsuccessfully tempted Jesus to do.

The confusion here is obvious enough: Northcott has a divinized concept of history. Hegel did too, of course, but Hegel was trying to replace theology rather than practice it. Perhaps this will clarify the question:

The fate of the modern international system is important, because the international system is a very big thing. The atmosphere is a very big thing, too, but we usually don’t accuse people who study or to try to influence it (by controlling industrial emissions, say) of usurping a divine prerogative. The historical world is different from the atmosphere, of course, particularly in that the historical world consists of human groups in conflict. Northcott says that God does not choose sides between these groups. To that, the short answer may be to stop telling God what to do.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century

Peak Oil

Peak Oil

There was a minor panic over theocracy in the United States during the George W. Bush presidency. We'll get to Damon Linker's book on the subject soon, but he was far from the only one to perceive the national mood had shifted from the post-Cold War relaxation that characterized the late 1990s. 

John Reilly's point here was to remind his readers that the "City on a Hill" mode of politics is a perennial in America. It waxes and wanes, but it never leaves us. There has been an effort to retcon contemporary secularism into the Deism of the 18th century, but this attempt very much misses the point of a movement that would seem pretty conservative and religious by modern standards.

One point where I will object to John's critique of Kevin Phillips' book is this:

God’s Peculiar People of Dixie, however, have traditionally been inclined to isolationism, even xenophobia. The recent American attempts to recast the international system are distinctly unsouthern.

By my reading of history, most of the crackbrained exhortations to invade and annex Mexico and Canada in the antebellum era came from the South. The South provided lots of eager soldiers in the the wars of the twentieth century too. The real home of isolationism in the US, at least in the twentieth century, was the heavily German Midwest.

As for Peak Oil, it continues to be the case that God has a special providence for fools, drunkards, and the United States of America.

American Theocracy:
The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century
By Kevin Phillips
Viking Penguin, 2006
462 Pages, US$26.95
ISBN 0-670-03486-X


Addressing the nominating convention of the Progressive Party in 1912, former president Theodore Roosevelt told the audience, “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord!” John Kennedy, in his inaugural address 49 years later, expressed a similar sense of a transcendent dimension in American politics: “And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.” And of course, in the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson began with a statement of principles of natural law and political legitimacy that Thomas Aquinas would have approved. The fact is that Americans have always thought of their country as in some sense elect, even if only as an Awful Example. There has never been a time when theology and morality have not informed the rhetoric of American politics, and sometimes its substance.

With this in mind, we can appreciate the full novelty of the campaign over the past 40 years to laicize the operations of government and to extirpate religion from the common culture. The latest specimen of this endeavor is American Theocracy. The author is Kevin Phillips, a Republican political strategist who achieved fame in 1969 with the publication of The Emerging Republican Majority. That book correctly pointed out that the South was tending Republican, and predicted that the Republican Party would soon have a lock on the presidency and a good chance of taking control of Congress. In American Theocracy, however, Phillips admits that there are features of the Republican ascendancy that he had not anticipated. Indeed, he sometimes sounds like the horrified couple in “The Monkey’s Paw,” who use the last of three wishes to “put it back the way it was!”

The book uses a critique of political religion to tie together parallel critiques of US oil policy, particularly Bush family oil policy, and a set of alarming observations about the growth of public and private debt in America. The upshot is a prediction of national decline. The forecast differs from the similar predictions made in the late 1980s (by people like Paul Kennedy, for instance) chiefly in suggesting sudden and catastrophic decline. To make his macrohistorical points, the author employs lengthy and stunningly inapposite analogies from the histories of Habsburg Spain, the Dutch Republic, and Great Britain. With regard to the last, for instance, he argues that the evangelical revival in Victorian Britain was a symptom of national senescence that promoted irrationality and provoked an apocalyptic climax in the First World War. In fact, of course, religious revival of one sort or another inspired Victorian Britain’s greatest scientists (Faraday, and Darwin in mirror image), its art (the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, whose echoes continued through 20th-century Art Deco), and its remarkably successful social reforms (let’s just cite Gladstone). The interpretation that Phillips gives Victorian religion sets a high standard of historical obtuseness from which the book rarely retreats.

The author makes useful points when he discusses matters he knows something about. He notes that the accident of the Watergate Scandal, which forced Republican President Richard Nixon to resign in 1974, temporarily discredited Nixon’s party and delayed the Republican ascendancy that Phillips had predicted. However, during those years, there was also an offensive by the cultural left that included the constitutionalization of abortion rights, the campaign to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (which would have made it illegal for governments to recognize any gender differences), and a drive to ban religious expression from all public institutions. The artificial Republican eclipse ensured that all these developments would be intimately associated with the Democratic Party. The Republican Party, in its revival, naturally attracted the opposition to them. The result was that the Republican Party became something new in American history: “an ecumenical religious party, claiming loyalties from hard-shell Baptists and Mormons, as well as Eastern Rite Catholics and Hasidic Jews. Secular liberalism had become the common enemy.”

This is interesting, though perhaps not incontrovertible. At various times in American history there have been important confessional differences between the parties, sometimes nationally and very often at the state level; and of course, as I write this, the Democratic Party is making mighty efforts to prevent its being branded the Party of Unbelief. However, even if we accept the thesis in the strong sense, the development it describes is not self-evidently objectionable. Most Western countries have some kind of “Christian Democratic Party,” after all. Phillips thinks otherwise, though, despite the fact he knows that political Christianity was not the first aggressor:

“In the 1960s and 1970s, to be sure, liberals grossly misread American and world history by trying to push religion out of the public square, so to speak. In doing so, they gave faith-based conservatism a legitimate basis for countermobilization. But in some ways the conservative countertrend has become a bigger danger since its acceleration in the aftermath of September 11.”

The danger is magnified, in his estimation, by the pervasiveness of petroleum economics and the nature of the Bush dynasty, which benefited from the larger cultural trend. America does not have just a petroleum economy, but a petroleum culture that is both inflexible and stultifying. The Bushes are its avatars:

“The war to expel Iraq from Kuwait was oil-related, undertaken in part to protect the American lifestyle, as President George H.W. Bush acknowledged. Once military power had secured Middle East oil supplies again, television news clips showed the forty-second president roaring along the Maine coast at the wheel of his rakish, high-speed cigarette boat, Fidelity. The broader symbolism leaped out: guilt complexes and hair shirts were gone, and with a Texas Republican at the helm the United States was back practicing gunboat diplomacy and taking what it wanted.”

Kuwait had, of course, been annexed by the Baathist regime in Iraq for the unforgivable offense of lending Iraq more money than the government there was inclined to repay; the characterization of the liberation of Kuwait as “gunboat diplomacy” is what leaps out from that paragraph.

We will not dwell here on the book’s account of the “Peak Oil” scenarios, or on the long, very long, history of the oil business. What struck this reviewer far more was the self-refuting nature of the author’s explanation of the Iraq War of 2003. Phillips does not argue that the war was merely “oil related”: he says the Bush Administration was in cahoots with the major Anglo-American oil producers to seize and privatize Iraq reserves in a short-term scheme to release a flood of oil onto the world market. Most of his sources for this hypothesis date from the run-up to the war. Even when they were new, some people might have been inclined to dismiss them as mere polemics. They look especially fishy in retrospect, since neither the Bush Administration nor the oil companies have seemed much interested in exploiting Iraqi oil. Phillips characterizes the lack of a post-invasion oil boom as another Administration failure. That might be plausible, if the Administration had actually attempted what Phillips says it failed to do.

Phillips may well be right when he says that popular interest among Americans in the Middle East stems in large part from the Bible. For several centuries, a sympathetic predisposition toward Zionism has not been unusual among people familiar with the Old Testament. However, Phillips focuses on people with a keen interest in the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, particularly as these are redacted through the eschatology of premillennial dispensationalism. Again, these views are widely and strongly enough held to have some electoral weight, but nowhere do we get an explanation of exactly how. The author repeatedly cites Tim LaHaye and Phillip Jenkins’ Left Behind series as an incitement to a crusading and interventionist policy, but the fact is that the series itself contemplates no such thing. Neither does any other apocalyptic novel of which I am aware. Almost without exception, these books foresee a time in the near future (rather like Phillips himself, oddly enough) when the United States is in decline. The Antichrist conquers or deludes America. One could argue that this eschatology maintains a baselevel of popular American support for Israel, but American crusades just are not part of the scenario.

In The Emerging Republican Majority, Phillips predicted a “southernization” of the United States as electoral heft and economic growth flowed to the South. What surprised him later, he says, was the amplification to national dimensions of the southern versions of patriotism and religion. The United States as a whole has some sense of national election, but the South is a special case because of the Civil War. That war, and the Reconstruction period that followed, created the South. This new subnationality, according to Phillips, joined a very small class of political cultures:

“The reason for spotlighting history’s relative handful of covenanting cultures is the biblical attitudes their people invariably share: religious intensity, insecure history, and willingness to sign up with an Old Testament god of war for protection. To use a modern-day analogy, they are proud, driven people, not ones who would find it easy to get risk insurance. Besides comparing the Boer, Ulster, and Hebrew covenanting mentalities [historian David] Akenson finds other parallels in their shared Old Testament moralities of tribal purity and sacred territoriality. The reasons for the elaboration in these pages have less to do with Ulster and South Africa and more to do with the United States and particularly the South. Israelis and, to an extent, Scripture-reading Americans are on their way to being the people of the covenant.”

To the extent that this is true, it contradicts Phillips’ thesis that the Bluish Administration has harnessed apocalyptic mania for the purpose of conducting crusades. There is a crusading streak in the old elites of the northeast, though it owes less to the Puritan tradition than to Immanuel Kant’s Democratic Peace: that is in fact the logic that chiefly underlies the Bush Administration's foreign policy. God’s Peculiar People of Dixie, however, have traditionally been inclined to isolationism, even xenophobia. The recent American attempts to recast the international system are distinctly unsouthern.

Phillips thesis about the southernization of American religion, and particularly the new importance of the churches associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, simply does not hold water:

“By the late 1980s, after ten years of conservative appointments had remade the bureaucracy, the eighteen-million-member Church of the Southern Cultural memory was on its way to becoming a newly fledged Church of Biblical Inerrancy and Biblical Ascendancy—an extraordinary metamorphosis full of national and even global implications.”

As an example of this importance, we are reminded that in 1996 the President of the United States, the Vice President, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives were all Southern Baptists. But surely the inference is not that the Baptist denomination is hegemonic, but that it is irrelevant. Any denomination that can include Vice President Gore and Senator Strom Thurmond must be a tent as wide as the sky.

Phillips is aware that the premillennialism of many evangelicals militates against casting any social project in theological terms. Historically, the great reform movements of the modern English-speaking world were underpinned by postmillennialism, which holds that the Second Coming will not occur until after Christians have perfected the world in history. In America, postmillennialism has to a large degree melted into the principle of progress. However, there are some theological postmillennialists still. Phillips duly reminds us that some of these are genuine theocrats, with plans for a Christianized world that bears comparison with the Islamist project for a universal caliphate.

Views of this kind are variously called Reconstructionism, Dominion Theology, or theonomy. The problem is that the people who espouse these things are awfully thin on the ground. We are reminded again of the work of the late Armenian-American-Presbyterian R.J. Rushdoony, of his son-in-law Gary North, of the fact that one of George Bush’s favorite social critics, Marvin Olasky, sometimes quotes theonomist writers with approval. As Phillips himself notes, this is all a matter of “ties” and “influence” that are “difficult to measure.” He acknowledges that his description of the shadowy kingdom of Reconstructionism is reminiscent of conservative journals 50 years ago and their exposés of the great Communist conspiracy, but he also points out that the opening of Soviet files after the Cold War proved that many of these conspiratorial ties were perfectly real. That’s a good point. However, the Communist conspiracy was a menace not because of its own aims and powers, but because it existed to support the Fatherland of Socialism that was the Soviet Union. If ever there is a foreign Fatherland of Theonomy, then we should worry.

Then there is Phillip’s treatment of theologically informed social doctrine and its public reception:

“The belief that society can be seriously reformed only by saving souls, not by embracing government welfare or manipulation, has become a tenet of evangelical religion, not just a mere ‘value.’ Values are what society holds; what churches hold is theology and belief.”

How churches and societies, or values and beliefs, could ever be hermetically sealed off from each other is a mystery too great for human understanding. Be that as it may, we should note that the friendlier social-policy reception accorded religion in recent years results from the wide acceptance of the hypothesis that culture counts. The welfare reforms of the 1990s and the successful implementation of the “broken windows” strategy of policing have confirmed this hypothesis about as securely as any sociological hypothesis has ever been confirmed. Similarly with “abstinence education,” which the author repeatedly cites as an example of theocratic obscurantism. In fact, it has empirical support. Studies in the US show that it is helpful, but not a panacea, in preventing teen pregnancy. Similarly, the US promotion of abstinence-based AIDS prevention in Africa is based on the moderately successful AIDS-prevention program developed by Uganda. The author repeats the complaint of international AIDS bureaucrats to the effect that they are not in the business of promoting morality. Surely these are the last people in the world not to get the memo explaining that morality has survival value.

The author alludes to a supposed anti-scientific-bias of religion, and its deleterious effects on public policy:

“The evidence that natural-resource issues are taking on theological as well as political overtones is mounting. As we will see, theology is creeping into ever more nooks and crannies of the national debate. Although the exact portion of the GOP electorate taking an end-times view is unknowable, polls suggest that close to a majority of those who voted for Bush believe the Bible to be literally true.”

We don’t get any actual examples of how evangelicals or pentecostals are undermining the practice of geology, except a report that a visitor-center bookshop at the Grand Canyon sells a book promoting a Young Earth dating of the canyon. The important point about religion and environmental issues, however, is that almost all the mystification has come from the cultural left, by way of the New Age Movement. Public skepticism on these matters has less to due with the Scofield Bible than with the unending parade of food phobias and other alarms that the environmental movement has been promoting for the past 35 years. Most Christians of all descriptions persist in regarding environmental issues as prudential questions, even when their leaders urge them to theologically based “stewardship.”

The author notes correctly that there is quite a lot of junk-science in government circles these days, much of it religiously motivated. He recites the litany of alleged Bush dogmas that includes neglect of global warming, opposition to embryonic stem-cell research, and support for Intelligent Design. These accusations have varying levels of justice. However, we should note particularly the canonization of embryonic stem-cell research as the model of cutting-edge science. This could be a tactical mistake for ideological secularists: the opposition to the research is indeed metaphysical, but there are empirical grounds to suspect the whole approach, already badly tainted by fraud, will turn out to be a dead end. In any case, nothing the Bush Administration has proposed is likely to do as much damage to education as the “self-esteem” campaign of the 1990s.

Evangelicals, to take one loosely defined confessional category, tend to be slightly richer and somewhat better educated than the population as a whole. Their professional degrees are likely to be in engineering and other science-related specialties. The postmodern humanities, in contrast, are not just antireligious but profoundly antiscientific. Skepticism and reason in the early 21st century have become alternatives.

At least for this reviewer, the most disappointing part of this book was its treatment of American debt. The Bush Administration’s fiscal policies makes even its supporters foam at the mouth. Bizarrely, however, Phillips has relatively little to say about the federal budget. Rather, he collects 30 years of warnings about finance bubbles and stock market instabilities without quite taking in the fact that they warn against bubbles that have long since burst and instabilities that stabilized a generation ago. These warnings serve as a backdrop for a critique of the deindustrialization of America. Despite a blizzard of statistics, however, one would never learn from this account that the US industrial sector grew by a third between 1990 and 2005. The finance and service sectors grew by much more, maybe too much more, but then the relative growth of services is characteristic of all advanced economies. This book praises the Japanese and German industrial policies. I don’t think any American has done that since the early Clinton Administration.

No doubt the world really is heading for a period of turbulence as the era of petroleum fuel draws to a close. There are elements of the national financial system that are under-regulated and even abusive. For that matter, the alliance between God and Mammon that we see in the Republican Party really is unstable and will probably prove ephemeral. Does any of this unfit the United States to maneuver through the 21st century? Not at all.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: Ecumenical Jihad

Ecumenical Jihad is another book I read because of John. I like Peter Kreeft's work, but I find him a little odd. I think John did too. Which isn't to say his ideas aren't interesting. John recommends reading this book along with Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations. I'm willing to guess the readership for the two books doesn't overlap much. More's the pity, since you can learn a lot more from the two together.

There are a couple of lines in this review that strike me 18 years later. John, like me, has an eye for Providence. One of the more reasonable versions of American Exceptionalism notes that America has done far better than any judicious independent observer would have predicted [except maybe Tocqueville]. History seems to show many instances where things have turned out better than anyone intended. You should not be surprised by this.


An interesting feature of Kreeft's Holy War is that he does not purport to be able to say how it will be won, or even what victory would look like. God is full of surprises, he reminds us, and we are likely to be astonished by the solution God actually devises. Though he does not mention the analogy himself, the whole thing sounds rather like the strategy devised at Rivendell for Tolkien's War of the Ring. By any reasonable criteria, defense against the Shadow was hopeless and an offense would have been insane. In the event, however, victory depended on not being reasonable.


He is plainly in love with Thomism and, like many people in love with a theory, he genuinely cannot see why other people do not accept it.


Throughout fourteen centuries of Muslim-Christian conflict, both sides have repeatedly noted the commonalities between the two faiths and sometimes hoped for a commonality of interests. Never yet have these hopes been realized beyond the sort of temporary military alliances of which Samuel Huntington might approve. Kreeft more than once cites a poll finding that only 5% of Muslims today understand Jihad in a military sense. I don't quite see how you could poll the members of a religion that extends from Bosnia to Malaysia. Whatever that number represents, however, I strongly suspect that the percentage of Muslims who believe that Jihad absolutely excludes a military sense is zero.

Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War
by Peter Kreeft
Ignatius Press, 1996
172 Pages, $10.95
ISBN: 0-89870-579-7

The Really Good War

This book belongs on the same reading list as Samuel Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations." Huntington's thesis is much discussed these days. According to him, whereas the global politics of the past few centuries was about conflicts between nations within western civilization, the global politics of the twenty-first century will be about conflicts among civilizations. The primary contenders will, perhaps, be China, Islam and the West. He further alleges that the moral and political principles that the West, and particularly the United States, spend so much effort promoting in the world as universal goods are in reality culture-specific customs. Freedom of speech, from this point of view, is as parochial a practice as eating with forks, and so is only imperfectly exportable. He advises that we cease trying to promote a pseudo-universal ethic and concentrate on realistic issues of trade and military balance.

Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, thinks otherwise. According to him, the real division in the world today is between those who accept some form of natural law and those who do not. While people on either side of this divide can be found in every society, today overwhelming the opponents of natural law are to be found in the West, particularly in the United States (and even, one suspects, in no small part in the neighborhood of Boston). His analysis is explicitly eschatological. What we are seeing, he says, is the tangible incarnation of the City of God and of the City of the World as described by Saint Augustine. While he carefully distances himself from the proposition that the Battle of Armageddon is necessarily imminent, he does suggest a three-stage model of Christian history in which the first millennium was one of unity, the second is one of division, and the third will be one of unity restored. Such a schema is, of course, more than a little suggestive of Joachim of Fiore's three-stage model of history, as is Kreeft's expectation of a dramatic transition between the second and third eras. According to Kreeft, what we should not only expect but prepare for is a universal conflict in which the allied forces of light within every nation do battle with the forces of darkness, who are increasingly in league.

What we have here is a diversity of opinion. The short answer to Huntington might be that his cultural relativism is as Western as Occam's Razor (in fact, I strongly suspect it is a lineal descendent of Occam's Razor). The short answer to Kreeft might be that he was overly impressed with the success the Vatican achieved in alliance with conservative Muslim states at the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population. (On that occasion, readers will recall, this alliance succeed in defeating some of the more obviously pathological proposals of the American and West European delegations regarding the definition of the family and the status of abortion rights under international law.) Short answers are rarely complete answers, however, and in fact there is something to be said for both theses. Here I will attempt to provide a long answer to Peter Kreeft.

"Ecumenical Jihad" is not a call for a shooting war. Rather, the author calls for an alliance of Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Muslims, even ethical pagans and agnostics, to conduct the Culture War on a more equal footing against a (not altogether figuratively) demoniacal Western cultural elite. The book is dedicated to Chuck Colson, Michael Medved and Richard John Neuhaus, who have already made something of a name for themselves as culture warriors. (Colson and Neuhaus are the principals in the "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" initiative.) The groups Kreeft has particularly in mind are, not unexpectedly, Protestant Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews and theologically conservative Roman Catholics of the sort who do not believe themselves to be more Catholic than the pope.

The author's list of evils to be combated is familiar: abortion and its logical corollary euthanasia, laws that discriminate against traditional family structures, an educational establishment that has fallen into the hands of malign ideologues, brutalizing films and music, and a constitutional policy of forced secularization of all public institutions. The measures that Kreeft has in mind, at least for the present, include equally familiar things like political action, community organizing and the cultivation of virtuous domestic life. Despite the control by the City of the World over the media and the courts, it is still possible to seek the reform of society through normal electoral processes, aided sometimes by boycotts and civil disobedience.

An interesting feature of Kreeft's Holy War is that he does not purport to be able to say how it will be won, or even what victory would look like. God is full of surprises, he reminds us, and we are likely to be astonished by the solution God actually devises. Though he does not mention the analogy himself, the whole thing sounds rather like the strategy devised at Rivendell for Tolkien's War of the Ring. By any reasonable criteria, defense against the Shadow was hopeless and an offense would have been insane. In the event, however, victory depended on not being reasonable.

Reasonability aside, I cannot say that I find Kreeft's idea of an intercultural alliance of theists and other well-disposed persons altogether promising. Kreeft is a convert to Roman Catholicism from Calvinism. He is plainly in love with Thomism and, like many people in love with a theory, he genuinely cannot see why other people do not accept it. What he is essentially proposing, if I understand him rightly, is a Thomistic "big tent" in which theological conflicts will be suspended in the interests of civil peace for the duration of the emergency (which at one point he calls "the Age of Antichrist"). I suspect that what we are dealing with here is another case of "beyondism." Beyondists of a sort are often found on the pro-abortion side of the abortion debate, arguing that we should move "beyond" today's current squabbles by accepting the holding in Roe v. Wade but being very solemn about it. Kreeft, rather more ingenuously, is proposing a kind of ecumenical beyondism in which all parties tacitly agree to the centrality of Catholicism, but with the understanding that they do not have to pay Peter's Pence this year. Unless they want to, of course.

In addition to problems with the theory of the alliance, some people might find his definition of its key participants to have certain drawbacks. First of all, getting evangelicals to do anything as a group is like herding cats. As Protestants, they have a natural predilection to be "against the government" in ecclesiastical matters. Second, although the Orthodox wing of American Judaism is perhaps the most self-confident part of the whole community, still it is a surprisingly small part. (Kreeft may not be using "Orthodox" in the narrow sense of the word, however. Certainly it would be a mistake to conflate Reform Judaism with liberal Christianity.) As for the Roman Catholic Church in America, Kreeft himself has a very lively sense of the degree to which the administrative apparatus has been taken over by duplicitous cultural liberals who occupy themselves sabotaging what they regard as the reactionary episcopate, all the while waiting for their chance to remake the Church in the image of the 1960s. Kreeft says of Catholic liturgists that they as "as poisonous as lizards and lawyers." Even if you accept that liturgists can ultimately be saved, it is hard to see what help there is in such people.

This brings us to his project of militant universal ecumenism. In its support, the author spends a lot of time in this book relating conversations with dead foreigners. Thus, he pretends he spoke to Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed and Moses during an out-of-body experience he had while storm-surfing in the aftermath of Hurricane Felix. (You see what extreme sports will do to you?) He meets these worthies in Purgatory, where they explain in turn how their teachings either did not conflict with Christianity or, where they did, were not flawed beyond the inevitable incompleteness of private revelations.

These portrayals perhaps leave something to be desired. To pick one minor nit, Confucius did not live during the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.), but the during preceding Spring and Autumn period (770-476 B.C.). (It seems me that if Kreeft has a problem with the Enlightenment, then he probably would have a problem with people like Confucius, who lived in a time of pre-deluge "enlightenment" similar to Plato's Hellas and 18th century Europe). In any event, the most interesting meeting, particularly in light of the title of the book, is the encounter with Mohammed. During it, we are given to understand that the Koran is indeed a record of divine revelation, but not part of the canon of revelation and so of course not inerrant.

Kreeft seems to be yet another student of history startled by the discovery that Islam is a Christian heresy more than it is anything else. (There is, in fact, an argument to be made that Islam is a "Reformation" of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, though one that went rather farther than the Reformation of the Latin West.) Additionally, Kreeft seems to have had many sympathetic conversations with pious Muslim students who were properly aghast at the moral state of contemporary America. They express outrage at the disrespect Christians allow to be visited on Christian symbols, since Jesus is after all a Muslim prophet. Kreeft believes that Christian cooperation with Muslims both in America and internationally could expand this sympathy into reconciliation.

The problem is that this is not a new idea. Throughout fourteen centuries of Muslim-Christian conflict, both sides have repeatedly noted the commonalities between the two faiths and sometimes hoped for a commonality of interests. Never yet have these hopes been realized beyond the sort of temporary military alliances of which Samuel Huntington might approve. Kreeft more than once cites a poll finding that only 5% of Muslims today understand Jihad in a military sense. I don't quite see how you could poll the members of a religion that extends from Bosnia to Malaysia. Whatever that number represents, however, I strongly suspect that the percentage of Muslims who believe that Jihad absolutely excludes a military sense is zero.

The other dialogue of the dead is in a chapter entitled "Is There Such a Thing As 'Mere Christianity'?: A Trialogue with C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther and Thomas Aquinas." It appeared as an article in "The New Oxford Review" some time back, and it is much more fun than the interviews in Purgatory. The setting is Lewis's study as he is finishing "Mere Christianity." Luther and Aquinas appear to Lewis to exhort him not to create a new denomination of "mere-ism" with his book, but at the same time to emphasize that Catholics and Protestants have the same religion, even though they have different theologies. Again, though Kreeft tries to do Luther justice, it is my impression that Aquinas gets the better of most of the arguments. The piece may or may not facilitate Evangelical-Catholic cooperation, but it is a wonderful piece of apologetics.

So what is left of Kreeft's Jihad? The Confucians are in East Asia, pre-occupied with the manufacture of compact disks. The Muslims in the Middle East are smuggling uranium for use in a most unmetaphorical Jihad against Jerusalem and Paris and Washington. Even in America, the Southern Baptists mutter darkly into the foam of their non-alcoholic sodas about the Gunpowder Plot and the wiles of the Scarlet Woman. Is the situation therefore hopeless? Will the City of the World triumph amid the divisions of all who still oppose it?

I would not bet on it. Though I quarrel with his practical proposals, Kreeft's central insight is essentially correct. God will not permit the world to damn itself, and He will save it in part through the actions of many sorts of people who do not now know they are on the same side. For instance, the day is not far distant, I suspect, when science will again be the friend of faith, and the powers of evil will be forced to resort wholly to rhetoric and obscurantism. As for the enemies of the City of God, we should remember that they are motivated for the most part not by radical evils but by corrupted virtues. As the fall of communism must remind us, hearts can change in the twinkling of an eye. Finally, though this is a dark consolation, in a disordered world the war between the two cities is can never remain completely metaphorical for long. Should another world crisis arise, much folly and nonsense would be cast aside as the West again cultivates the natural virtues necessary for its survival.

The insight which Kreeft shares with C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and St. Augustine, that we may know the goal of history without knowing how we will get there, must be repeated in every age. The immediate future may be just as dreadful as we foresee. The ending of the story, however, will be far more wonderful than we could have imagined.

This article first appeared in the April 1997 issue of Culture Wars magazine.

Copyright © 1997 by John J. Reilly

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Prisoner's Hope Book Review

by David Feintuch

506 pages; $5.50

This is the first book in the Seafort Saga that I actually started to like Nick Seafort. He's a little older, more experienced, more jaded maybe. He is still the anguished scrupulous perfectionist, but he has finally started to apply the lesson that sometimes what an officer doesn't see is as important as what he sees.

This book follows the same structure as the others in the series, the first three-quarters of each book give Nick ample opportunity to alienate his friends, disrespect his superiors, and make new enemies, while providing the background for the enormity Nick will perpetrate at the end of the book when the fish return.

The backdrop for this story is the restive colony world of Hope Nation, an agrarian world dominated by a few powerful landowners. Since Nick cannot forswear his oath to duel the Admiral who abandoned him to die in the last book, he finds himself recuperating on shore duty, reluctantly appointed as the liaison to the landowners. Surprisingly, this is a duty he discharges well, without undue self-recriminations or creating personal enemies. Which isn't to say it goes well. Nick acquires enemies and his friends suffer, but it isn't personal. Of course, the rebellion of the colonists is complicated by the return of the fish, who care little for the twists of politics, other than perhaps in having a sense of tragic timing.

John Reilly noted this series is indelibly marked as a product of the 1990s.

On the other hand, there are many things about the Seafort Saga that mark it as a work of the 1990s. Some of these are scientific fashions, such as the notion that animal life in general and intelligent life in particular are so improbable that the human race is unique in the universe. (The alien menace, as we will see, leaves something to be desired.) The physics of faster-than-light travel may owe something to the theories of the cult-physicist, David Bohm. Aside from science, the series reflects the period of its composition in such matters as the relentlessly coed military and the fact that socialism is absent from the conceptual universe of the characters. Indeed, the most interesting difference from the science fiction of fifty years earlier is the change in the cultural trajectory of the future history the author imagines. Mid-century science fiction usually assumed that the alternative to secular modernity was barbarism. The world of the Seafort Saga, in contrast, really is postmodern in a way that will remind readers of Oswald Spengler’s forecast of the “Second Religiousness.”

Somehow, the best literary representations of a point in time are the futures imagined in science fiction. The aspect of Prisoner's Hope that struck me most strongly this way is the UN resolution banning so much as the mention of nuclear weapons. Unlike the somewhat nominal capital offense of blasphemy, this ban is enforced with deadly seriousness. Like bomb jokes in an airport, even using the phrase can end in the hangman's noose. When the Cold War was fresher in memory, everyone took this sort of thing more seriously, but after the spectacular failure to find any sort of nuclear program in Iraq after 9/11, public interest is waning.

Nick turns to the forbidden nuclear weapons out of desperation, both personal and professional, fully expecting to pay for his sins, personal and professional, with his life. Of course, it doesn't turn out that way. In a twist, Nick ends up covered in glory by trying to protect his friends from the [perceived] enormity of his crime. If he been more true to his iron code, the ultimate sacrifice he inspires in others could have been given its due. Providence never gives Nick a break.

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Challenger's Hope Book Review

by David Feintuch
407 pages; $5.50

The last time I read through David Feintuch's Seafort Saga, I stopped here. The second time, I forged through to Fisherman's Hope, the fourth book in the seven [eight] book series. I can at least recommend that anyone who is interested in this series persevere that far. I hope to finish the last three books soon. There was an eighth in the pipeline when Feintuch died, but I don't know if it will ever see the light of day.

I liked Seafort the least in Challenger's Hope. I blame his youth, and his unexpected, but unrelinquished, authority. At the august age of twenty, he is insufferable in command, although other fictional Captains I have known have done better at that age. However, this is the crucible where he forges his character, for better, well actually for worse, and the rest of the series would be incomprehensible without it.

I think the hardest part of this book for me is how I find Seafort a little too much like myself. Seafort suffers from the spiritual malady a Catholic would call scrupulosity. James Chastek at Just Thomism recently penned this bit about scruples:

-Scruples: They are a trick that keeps us from seeing our true faults. We obsess and worry over dramatic faults and wonder if we have fallen into something that we have no real love for or even temptation towards, when in fact what we need to work on – the evils we are much more attached to – go unnoticed.

Those who suffer under scruples are eaten alive by them, but it helps to see them as impediments to moral growth. Whether by subconscious connivance or a trick of the devil, they are smokescreens that keep us from getting to the things that we really need to work on and change. We continually fantasize about dramatic moral improvements when in fact the real real improvements we need to make are at once more obvious and harder for us to see in the face of scruples.

Nicholas Seafort's faults are many, but they are precisely not the things he worries the most about: being a poor leader, and being damned for breaking his oath. I blame his father for that. His father did do well, by his own lights, but he did poor Nick a disservice by passing onto him a strict interpretation of the creed his personality could not sustain. It helps to be a Catholic, rather than a Protestant. Especially an English Protestant. After Henry VIII made a mockery of religious oaths, the Jesuit order in particular helped push away from the inspirational, but very literal interpretation of oaths that was popular in Christendom pre-Reformation. So much else the English non-conformists tossed away, but this thing they kept, and cherished, and polished to a bright hue. And by this thing, Nicholas Seafort felt himself damned, when he is really the most dutiful, and honor-bound man in the United Nations Naval Service.

Nick can forgive anything, except himself. What he really needs to do, is admit that he is a great man. Nicholas Seafort inspires men to die for him. Of course, he makes mistakes, loses his temper, and makes a general mess of things. In fact, I think I hated him here. So did many others. However, he inspires greatness in others, precisely because he expects more of himself than he does of anyone else. And because he really is incorruptible. No one cares less for their career, or their life, than Nicholas Seafort. Of course, Feintuch makes him suffer for it. Everything Seafort does advances his career, no matter how hard he tries to resign. Providence reigns in his life. There is something else he needs to do.

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