Former First Things editor Damon Linker‘s new book criticizing his old boss, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, is starting to pick up media notice. My review of The Theocons appears in the forthcoming (in about a month) December issue of Reason, along with my take on Patrick Hynes’s In Defense of the Religious Right. In the meantime, Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist (and The Right Nation) reviewed it for the New York Times earlier this week, and Commonweal editor Paul Baumann has covered it for The Washington Monthly. Wooldridge and Baumann offer very different takes on the book, though they agree (with me, too) that Neuhaus and company are not nearly as powerful as Linker makes them out to be.
Also weighing in is Russell Arbens Fox of the In Medias Res blog, which includes a bit at the end that’s worth a quote:
There are, in fact, many of forms of deep and serious (even “conservative”!) piety that are obviously public but not in any sense driven by populist pre-occupations; populist sentiments themselves are, I think, quite abused when taken out of their subjective contexts and turned into an objectively accounted crusade. Among other things, that’s when populism is most likely to become warlike, exclusionary, paranoid–qualities which I do not at all agree with Damon in thinking always characterize public religiosity, but which admittedly have graced the pages of First Things a fair amount lately, especially as things have turned bad for their champion, George W. Bush.
There is a religious discontent with modern liberal secularism in this country; this Damon knows. He would have rather the theocons had, at the first signs of that discontent, rejected public religiosity entirely, embraced the liberal account of secularism as not only correct but a wise compromise, and preached solely private resistance to changes in our culture. I’m glad they didn’t; they have done good things with their influence, they’ve put issues on the agenda that might never have made it there otherwise. But now, with them fixated, at least as Damon persuasively presents them, on their current path of preaching unity between moral truth and popular power and partisan success, I think they need some serious correction. If Damon’s book can help provide it, more power to him.