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December 10, 2007


This sounds interesting but I would change the title to "Religion and Politics in the US" based on your list of books. With the possible exception of part of the book on Fascism, many of these works are talking about a specific time and place. I note this because my work touches on religion and politics, but not in the west, and not in the modern period. From my vantage, many of the bedrock assumptions people on both the right and the left make in discussions about church and state are really very historically contingent. In this context, the work of Talal Asad (Genealogies of Religion, Formations of the Secular) or Jeffrey Stout (Ethics After Babel, Democracy and Tradition) might be worth looking at because they attempt to examine situate ideas about religion in and politics of the current American moment in historical and global context.

Sara, your mention of your interest in George Marshall incites me to comment, even if tangentially to the main topic. 50+ years ago I became addicted to World War II history when I stumbled across Samuel Eliot Morrison's fifteen (or whatever) volume history of the US Navy in that war in my high school library. Over the years my interests have evolved in focus from the guns and gore that appealed to a testoterone-soaked adolescent to the impact on personal lives and the interplay of inevitable tides of history versus the influence of individual people. I've largely kicked the addiction over the past couple of decades, but every now and then something triggers the old craving, as happened a few weeks ago when I saw and heard Mark Perry, the author of Partners in Command: George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower in War and Peace, on BookTV.

Reading the book from the perspective of having lived through the past couple of decades, and especially the last seven, disastrous years, reinforces again the fact of how extraordinarily fortunate our country was to have those two men, plus a handful of others such as Franklin Roosevelt and Henry Stimson at the apex of our national leadership in those parlous times. Certainly the men immediately below Eisenhower in the European theater were nowhere near their caliber, nor were any of the other possible candidates for the COS position when Marshall was appointed in 1939, such as Hugh Drum or, God forbid, MacArthur.

In my view Marshall, especially, is in a class by himself. I don't see how anyone who has read about those years in some depth can doubt that the world would be a much different and worse place if someone else had been Army Chief of Staff during that war. And his contributions after the war, as Secretary of State and, later, Defense were very significant as well. But his impact during the war was crucial. It was he who had the vision to see, based on his First World War experience at Pershing's side, that a unified command structure was essential to success on the western fronts of the war. But just as importantly he had the combination of firmness in support of that view, plus the ability minimize the degree to which that firmness was taken personally by his British counterparts (and sometime adversaries) to successfully push his views through. For my money, Marshall is the greatest American public servant who never held the presidency, and in that latter category only Washington, Lincoln and perhaps FDR are near or above him in stature. And Roosevelt's historic reputation is based in considerable measure his having appointed Marshall as chief of staff over scores of more senior officers.

Another book which, to some extent, covers the topic which you might want to read is Albion's Seed


I think this is a great idea. As you might guess from my nom de blog, this is a topic that I'm more than interested in. I have some suggestions. From my point of view, the books you've listed appear to be more about Politics and Religion than Religion and Politics (I'll explain what I think the difference is). I haven't read any of them (except for Wallis's book), but I'm generally familiar with their content from excerpts, reviews, and my knowledge of many of the authors' other works.

The books on your list are primarily about the effect of religion on politics and I assume that is the focus of your series. This is an important topic and appropriate for this site. It is related to, but complete different from, the effect of politics on religion which is also of interest to me (even more than the other topic). This site is not the place for this latter topic. Other than Jacques Ellul, I'm not aware of any writer who handles both topics well.

I said all that just to say that I think it would be helpful if you provided a framing post discussing where you see the bounds of the discussion you want to have.

It's not a book, but it's a publication on the www that deals with the topics of this post of yours which you and your readers might want to explore : http://churchvstate.org/

I find the literature about witches very interesting.

So called WitchCraft played out as advantage and disadvantage for women, much as firearms did for Negroes.

MinnesotaChuck -- I agree with you, particularly recommending "Partners in Command" to anyone interested in why I find George C. Marshall so important. But I do not minimize FDR, because I actually think understanding how Marshall and FDR worked together over time is key to understanding that era. FDR comprehended how to keep fully advised, yet not day to day personally engaged in Military matters. They (FDR and Marshall) had a division of labor that was masterful. FDR deployed his political skills to support Marshall -- and Marshall knew how to work carefully with all factions in both the Congress and the military services, so as to open the way for FDR to do the kind of post-war political planning necessary to reaping the various goals of that war.

It is interesting how they forged their relationship. The first met on the margins of Versailles, relatively junior members of the political and military delegations. Marshall a temp. Lt. Col. on Pershing's staff, FDR, a young very social man with a famous name in Wilson's entourage. They met at various receptions, dinner parties, and being of comparable (low) rank, were seated a bit below the salt at these salons. Apparently both had traveled around Europe observing the disorder, the famine, and all the rest in the aftermath of 1918 -- shared discouragement with the emerging Versailles agreements, and if ever so briefly, they shared notes. The next time they would meet would be 1933 -- FDR needed the Army to build and staff camps for his rapidly expanding CCC program, and Marshall was in command of the base in N. Georgia closest to the earliest tree planting project. Marshall impressed, delivering camps under budget and before schedule. It was on those grounds they renewed their relationship...Marshall got promoted steadly, and FDR had precisely the kind of Military Partner he would need. They never really became social friends, apparently had few outside interests in common, rarely shared a joke, and neither seems to have ever reflected on the relationship. But somehow the two profoundly agreed on what shape a post Fascist world should take, and they worked as a total duo to get to that goal. It's too bad so little is generally known about the FDR-Marshall relationship, it really denies all of us the model against which to compare the present or any future President and his choice of military staff support. If people only knew as much about Marshall as they do about Patton.....

Have you read Eve LaPlante's "American Jezebel" about her ancester, Anne Hutchison?

Let me continue with what I wish to focus on here. My thesis is that Religion and Politics have always been related to each other in the evolving American Culture, at times in a profoundly beneficial way, and at other times in destructive and highly disfunction ways. I want to tease out some of the narratives so as to enrich our understanding of the relationships, (understood as shared universes) to get us beyond the business of just calling out the obvious. What this is about is just a pile of books devoted to recent explorations of the relationships, and what they might indicate as food for deeper thought.

If others have books I am not using as valuable to this exploration, please use comments to review them.

It is my intent to write this over several weeks, with a series of posts. Something like a magazine series.

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