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Testing the National Covenant

Fears and Appetites in American Politics

William F. May

Publication Year: 2011

Since the end of World War II, runaway fears of Soviet imperialism, global terrorism, and anarchy have tended to drive American foreign policy toward an imperial agenda. At the same time, uncurbed appetites have wasted the environment and driven the country's market economy into the ditch. How can we best sustain our identity as a people and resist the distortions of our current anxieties and appetites?

Ethicist William F. May draws on America's religious and political history and examines two concepts at play in the founding of the country -- contractual and covenantal. He contends that the biblical idea of a covenant offers a more promising way than the language of contract, grounded in self-interest alone, to contain our runaway anxieties and appetites. A covenantal sensibility affirms, "We the people (not simply, We the individuals, or We the interest groups) of the United States." It presupposes a history of mutual giving and receiving and of bearing with one another that undergirds all the traffic in buying and selling, arguing and negotiating, that obtain in the rough terrain of politics. May closes with an account of the covenantal agenda ahead, and concludes with the vexing issue of immigrants and undocumented workers that has singularly tested the covenant of this immigrant nation.

Published by: Georgetown University Press

Contents

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pp. vii-

Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

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Preface

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pp. xi-xviii

When pollsters and campaign consultants examine the role of religion in politics, they usually have in mind institutional religion. They band the legs of Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists and observe how they vote. That study is very important. However, this book does not examine the political behavior of in- ...

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Chapter 1: CONTAINING RUNAWAY FEARS IN AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY

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pp. 1-25

This cautionary tale recounts the religious apprehensions embedded in American politics, especially in our foreign policy after World War II, as the country dealt anxiously with the successive threats of global tyranny and anarchy. I am a Christian theologian, not a political theorist. Why would I venture into this topic since...

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Chapter 2: THE OVERREACH OF FREE MARKET IDEOLOGY: Business and Government

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pp. 27-48

The presidential election of 2004 troubled the nation more than most elections in living memory. The reaction went deeper than battles between Democrats and Republicans on particular issues. Policy differences reflected a far deeper struggle over identity—just who we are as a nation. ...

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Chapter 3: FREE MARKET IDEOLOGY: Bearing on Other Centers of Power

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pp. 49-64

Critics of free market ideology concentrate chiefly on the contest in power between business and government. However, other centers of power have a public responsibility, independent of their relations to either the marketplace or the government. ...

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Chapter 4: CURBING RUNAWAY APPETITES IN AMERICAN DOMESTIC POLICY: Oil and Other Carbons

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pp. 65-80

In the course of Rome’s decline the wide-eyed Saint Augustine saw Carthage and the imperial city as a “cauldron of illicit loves.”1 In his account of the waning middle ages, the historian Johan Huizinga reported on the carnival appetites that raged in continental Europe.2 ...

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Chapter 5: WE THE PEOPLE: A Contract or a Covenant?

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pp. 81-97

There are at least four ways to understand the question of the identity of a people that bear on the American scene: unnatural, natural, contractual, and covenantal. Only the last two figure centrally in this chapter. ...

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Chapter 6: FORMING A MORE PERFECT UNION: The Task

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pp. 99-119

The previous chapter concentrated on the element of gift in national identity—“We the People.” This chapter attends to the task— forming “a more perfect Union.” That purpose heads the list of common aims in the preamble. ...

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Chapter 7: KEEPING COVENANT WITH IMMIGRANTS AND UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS

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pp. 121-137

Why close this book with a chapter on the covenant with immigrants and undocumented workers? The answer lies in a comment made in chapter 5. There, the word “covenant” in the biblical setting emphasized an identity deeper than a contractual one. ...

Notes

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pp. 139-153

Bibliography

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pp. 155-163

Index

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pp. 165-174


E-ISBN-13: 9781589017924
E-ISBN-10: 1589017927
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589017658
Print-ISBN-10: 158901765X

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Politics and government -- 2009-.
  • Consensus (Social sciences) -- United States.
  • Political culture -- Moral and ethical aspects -- United States.
  • Public interest -- United States.
  • Common good.
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