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David J. O’Brien E . J. Dionne, Jr., is among our most thoughtful commentators on American politics and Souled Out is his unusually sophisticated examination of the role of religion in American public life. Historians should love Dionne. His earlier books located American political controversies in an historical context extending from the Progressive Movement through the New Deal and the watershed of the sixties to the rise of conservatism across all sectors. He helped us understand “Why Americans Hate Politics” and, at a low point for progressives, he explained “Why They (We) Only Look Dead.” In books, columns, magazine articles and frequent TV and radio appearances, Dionne offers news and commentary that actually is “fair and balanced.” Yet he makes no secret of his views, stating early in this book that Americans have “had enough” of political religion that is “excessively dogmatic, partisan and ideological.” More than most media pundits, Dionne is a genuine political intellectual. A Rhodes Scholar, Georgetown professor and Brookings Fellow, Dionne is one of the few contemporaries who deserve a place with such classic newspaper columnists as Walter Lippman, Max Lerner, and James Reston. Dionne is also a wellinformed and well-connected Catholic, open about his faith, respectful of church authority, engaged with Catholic ideas and interested in his fellow Catholics. Perhaps as a result, Souled Out, almost alone in the growing library of books about religion and American politics, provides accurate information about the political ideas and activities of American Catholics and draws on Catholic sources to support a more comprehensive and constructive understanding of faith and politics. The first reason to read this fine book is to get a summary of the surveys, monographs and memoirs exploding under the heading of religion and American politics. Dionne has read it all. He summarizes religious surveys and voting data, he draws on scholarship and journalism, and he talks to a great many people. His sources include liberals, conservatives, and moderates, and his treatment of people and ideas is a model of civility. Readers of U.S. Catholic Historian will be particularly interested in Souled Out because Dionne shares our interests. He references Michael Kazin on William Jennings Bryan and John McGreevy on Catholics and liberals, and Michael Novak and John Paul II on markets and their limits. He cites John A. Ryan and John Courtney Murray, S.J., and he knows his Reinhold Neibuhr, whose commitment to justice and realism about power he finds helpful “after the Religious Right.” So Catholic historians will be pleased, but they might find his Catholic history a little 115 stale and ask him to drop by Catholic University for an update on recent historical scholarship that might expand even further his imagination about religion and American politics. There are many important points made in this book. Dionne thinks “the era of the religious Right is over,” a wider range of social gospel concerns are awakening among evangelicals, constructive proposals are replacing polarized debates about abortion, and leaders are paying attention to the religious and political center, where the vast majority of Americans reside. The future will not belong to the left but to new configurations where secular liberals are more respectful of religion, committed religious people are more aware of the disciplines of pluralism, and concern for the common good replaces the self-righteousness of recent culture wars. Dionne is a hopeful but not a perfect guide: he has always been stronger on domestic affairs than foreign policy, he is a bit passive about political history, as if violence and corruption had little to do with winners and losers, and at times he seems almost too calm, wondering why people are so upset. But Souled Out is the best book to date (and there are a lot of them) on this important subject of religion and recent American politics. Still, hoping to spark further conversation, I would like to offer three comments: one about American politics, another about American Catholics, and a third about America itself. On American politics: Dionne needs to think a bit harder about power. This may seem odd when his central theological reference is Neibuhr, famous for his insertion of power into the moral reflections of...


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pp. 115-118
Launched on MUSE
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