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

Politics and Prose

Bryon Borger


July 1, 2011
by Bryon Borger

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

Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age by Gregory Wolfe (ISI Books)

One need not agree with a literal reading of the famous Dostoevsky line of the title (a favorite of Catholic activist Dorothy Day, by the way) to appreciate the profound way in which Wolfe underscores the aesthetic dimension for the common good—and how paying closer attention to the arts can help us recover a decent sense of civility and resist the sloganeering of the cultural warriors.  The first half of the book is fairly philosophical as he explores the role of the artist in modernity and explains the tradition of Christian Humanism.  Next he highlights a handful of our most profound writers (Waugh, Woiwode, Berry, Endo among others).  He has three chapters on three contemporary painters, another section on four “men of letters” from Russell Kirk to Malcolm Muggeridge.  I trust that those interested in the reformation of our social architecture, and politics in particular, will appreciate this wonderfully dense, extraordinarily learned, and prophetically tinged study of what it means to bear God’s image in our decimated cultural landscape.

World of Faith and Freedom: Why International Religious Liberty is Vital to American National Security by Thomas F. Farr (Oxford University Press)

With endorsements from a diverse range of scholars—from Professor of Jurisprudence Robert George to military historian Andrew Bacevich and world religion scholar Philip Jenkins—we can know that this is a serious book that many are taking seriously.  Farr has taught at West Point, been active in Foreign Service, done important diplomacy and has years of firsthand experience within government dealing with this crucial but often-neglected foundational principle.  He was the first Director of the State Department's Office on Religious Freedom.  No one has done such helpful, clear, and compelling work on this vital international topic.  In this age of religiously-motivated wars, pro-democracy movements, debates about Sharia law and pervasive secularized assumptions about world affairs, this is not only interesting, but vital.

Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All by Oran B. Hesterman (PublicAffairs) 

Yes, foodies like Alice Waters have endorsed this.  But so have Governors, scientists, economists and anti-hunger activists.  Hesterman is perhaps the most knowledgeable and active leader in this field, an agronomist (with a PhD) and years of public dedication to reforming systems, programs and policies to help provide a more healthy and sustainable environment.  His Fair Food Network is legendary, and we can rejoice that its story is told here.  When huge cities like Detroit have no major grocery stores, it is time to listen to such longtime pioneers in rethinking the food chain.  He does more than advocate CSAs (community supported agriculture) or wax eloquent about heirloom tomatoes: this policy-heavy book walks us through how to be the very sort of citizen advocates the Center for Public Justice has tried to nurture. It delightfully calls us to a fascinating path of imaginative reframing of institutions and policies, and holds up practical steps towards making helpful changes in the way our food systems work.  There are remarkable stories here, good news to know about, important efforts to join.  An important, stimulating book—and I would suggest quite apropos for Christians wanting to go beyond personal steps toward more active social reformation.

Good Poems: American Places, selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor (Viking)

Soon our U.S. citizens will be celebrating our nation’s heritage with fireworks and picnics.  Some might do some speechifying at local events; we all might do well to ponder our own sense of place and the joys and sorrows of our own towns.  Keillor here introduces a whopping 475 pages of poems grounded in place, that tell of locales and locations.  Many of these are famous, many are not.  Some are quite specific, others less so.  Keillor wisely avoids doing a state-by-state arrangement, but has them grouped by theme—snow, cities, on the road, good work, the place we were naked, out west, and so forth.  Can poetry make us better citizens?  These mature works can at least touch our hearts about what it might mean to be loyal to a land.  Enjoy!

—Byron Borger runs one of our favorite bookstores, Hearts & Minds Books. Read some if his review essays on that site; you will be glad you did!



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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.”