Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Politics & Prose

Byron Borger


June 1, 2012

By Byron Borger

This is a continuation of a series of articles introducing new books significant to the principled practice of public justice.

Crossed Lives--Crossed Purposes: Why Thomas Jefferson Failed and William Wilberforce Persisted in Leading an End to Slavery  Ray Blunt (Resource Publications)  

This extraordinary new book is a fabulous read for anyone interested in history, biography or the questions of political science that informed the 18th century.  Blunt is a master storyteller, especially exploring the spiritual and intellectual convictions that shaped the two principle characters, Thomas Jefferson and William Wilberforce.  What caused them, Blunt asks, to start out so similarly (with public pledges to fight the evils of the slave trade) and end up so very differently?  Wilberforce, as Blunt shows, wonderfully kept up the good fight, month by month, year by year.  Jefferson, sadly, compromised and reneged, slipping increasingly into the mire he once loudly protested.  This is a book about how moral lives are shaped, how wise leadership develops, and how we can learn to be leaders that are winsome, effective and steadfast.  Some of the answers Blunt uncovered from his years of research may surprise you a bit.  This book is simply a must read for anyone interested in standing for public justice and exercising leadership in complex arenas of civic life.

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power  Rachel Maddow (Crown)

I am not always a fan of Ms. Maddow’s broadcasts.  Still, in this new, best-selling book, she is winsome, insightful and, frankly, politically moderate.  She is neither a pacifist nor a “blame–America-first” liberal.  Nonetheless, this powerful study of how the U.S. military has drifted into places it ought not be, taking up projects it ought not attempt, costing more and more money than it ought to demand, is hard-hitting.  Maddow has a PhD in political science from Oxford University and has a solid grasp of the debates about the role of a standing army among the founders; she is very interested in Constitutional questions and being faithful to America’s best principles. 

With feisty humor, Drift deftly explores key moments when our military drifted into means that have become problematic.  Maddow explains President Lyndon Johnson’s refusal to draw up the Reserves for the fight in Vietnam, the infamous confrontation between Senate leadership and President Ford as Vietnam fell, the bizarre and largely illegal shenanigans of Ronald Reagan’s invasion of Granada (a riveting chapter), questions of outsourcing (the Clinton years!) and our breathtakingly expensive and dangerous over-production of nuclear weapons. 

From the return of soldiers and a peacetime economy after World War II, Maddow offers hope: We can rein-in the over-reaching military.  Hawk or dove, conservative or liberal, there is much food for thought here.  It is upbeat and well told.  But this is urgent, urgent stuff and an excellent resource for citizens as we promote public discourse about the future of American foreign policy and the terrible matter of our huge national debt.  Drift challenges the way things are, closing with several attainable goals.  With the support of conservatives like Andrew Bacevich and Roger Ailes (CEO of Fox News), this cannot be dismissed as peacenik idealism. 

Drift offers Center for Public Justice supporters the opportunity to wrestle with these exceptionally important questions, particularly when read alongside James Skillen’s classic With or Against the World?: America's Role Among the Nations.

Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread: Taking Aim at Everyone Carl Trueman (P&R)  

The Center for Public Justice often prides itself in breaking barriers, not being easily pigeonholed, transcending the predictable ideologues on the left and right.  Trueman is a British Reformed evangelical and a bit of a curmudgeon who also cannot be easily pigeonholed.  And he is witty.  (On the back cover, reviewers liken his use of pointed humor and sarcasm to Martin Luther himself!)  This is a wide-ranging collection of essays, some from Trueman’s popular, if controversial, blog.  He can be hysterical as he exposes the lack of credible thinking in some religious quarters or pokes at the foibles of the American cultural zeitgeist.  He is harsh, but at times tender.  As Kevin DeYoung writes, it will “edify, entertain, and occasionally infuriate.” Anyone interested in cultural engagement, matters of the church or concerns of the public square will benefit from these pithy pieces.  Included are thought-provoking discussion questions allowing it to be used in book clubs or discussion groups.  Just be prepared to be surprised: Trueman really does think in in ways to which some of us may be unaccustomed.  Hooray for that!

Byron Borger runs Hearts & Minds Books. Capital Commentary readers can get a 20% discount on books listed here by ordering through Hearts & Minds.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”