March 26, 2010


Berman, Eli, Radical, Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism (Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England: The MIT Press, 2009) ("What makes some terrorist organizations viable while other fail? The economics we teach in business school . . . suggests an answer. Some organizations are more resilient than others. Much of this book will be about the vulnerabilities of terrorist organizations. I will argue that successful militias and terrorist organizations share one common characteristic. They have found a way to control defection, the Achilles' heel of coordinated violence. The more destructive terrorist organizations become, the more governments are willing to spend in order to buy information and bribe operatives into defection, and the more worried terrorist operatives must be about leaks and defection among their comrades." Id. at 14. "What we will see . . . is that violent radical religious organizations survive, and even thrive, because they can limit leaks and defections. Why? The answer will be quite surprising. It has to do with a subtle relationship between defection and a very benign activity--mutual aid. . . . By mutual aid I mean individual members providing goods and services through acts of charity with the community. . . ." Id. at 15-16.).

Buruma, Ian, Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2010) (This book "consists of three parts, one on church and state relations in Europe and the United States, one on religious authority in China and Japan, and one on the challenges of Islam in contemporary Europe. The thread that runs through these inquires, despite their wide diversity in space and time, is the question posed by Tocqueville: what is needed, apart from freedom of speech and the right to vote, to hold democratic societies together? Is the rule of law enough, or do we need common values, ethics, mores? And what is the role of religion in all of this; is it a help or a hindrance to liberal democracy?" Id. at 3. "The challenge posed by Muslims in Europe, then, is not cultural, civilization, or even, in the end, religious. It is social and political. The challenge is how to accommodate communities, whether they be Muslims, Christian, Jews, Sikhs, or any other group of believers, who wish to assert their own norms and beliefs in public. Forcing people to conform to norms set by the state, as is the tendency in France, is illiberal, to say the least. Encouraging people to stick to their own ways, as has been the tendency in Britain, does not foster a sense of inclusion. The way forward, then, is not to insist on social, let alone theological, conformity, but on observance of the law and of the basic rules of democratic society. As long as people play by the rule of free speech, free expression, independent judiciaries, and free elections, they are democratic citizens, whatever they choose to wear on their heads." Id. at 114-114. A thoughtful, and thought provoking, read.).

Caputo, Philip, Horn of Africa (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980) ("Certainly we would have been indicted if everything had happened in a place where lawyers and judges stage the little dumb-show we call justice; but it all took place in an empty desert in the midst of a revolution, neither of which allowed the slow workings of the law." Id. at 4. "And it was just the beginning. There would be more horrors and greater bloodshed because his lust for violence was like an addiction, requiring ever larger doses to satiate it. Murdering five men had not satisfied him. The battle had not satisfied him, and this latest outrage would not satisfy him. No catharsis would ever purge the murderous poisons within him. His appetite was limitless. I feared him, had respected his strength, had admired the power of his convictions; but now all I felt toward him was immeasurable disgust. He had come to Africa seeking a forbidden liberty, the freedom of man in isolation, and the price of that freedom was an enslavement to his miscreant impulses. And so I had a moment of enlightenment. I had had to kill to gain it, to cast myself into the darkness to see, but at least I saw him for what he was: neither madman nor monster, but the embodiment of all that was wrong with me, all that is wrong with our crippled natures." Id. 398.).

Nagel, Thomas, Secular Philosophy and the Religious Temperament Essays 2002-2008 (Oxford & New York: Oxford U. Press, 2010) (From the essay, "Problem of Global Justice": "What is the overall moral outlook that best fits the political conception of justice? . . ." "The normative force of the most basic human rights against violence, enslavement, and coercion, and of the most basic humanitarian duties of rescue from immediate danger, depends only on our capacity to put ourselves in other people's shoes. The interests protected by such moral requirements are so fundamental, and the burdens they impose, considered statistically, so much slighter, that a criterion of universality of the Kantian type clearly supports them. . . ." "This minimal humanitarian morality governs our relations to all other persons. It does not require us to make their ends our own, but it does require us to pursue our ends within boundaries that leave them free to pursue theirs, and to relieve them from extreme threats and obstacles to such freedom if we can do so without serious sacrifice of our own ends. . . ." "This moral minimum does not depend on the existence of any institutional connection between ourselves and other persons: It governs our relations with everyone in the world. However, it may be impossible to fulfill even our minimal moral duties to others without the help of institutions of some kind short of sovereignty. We do not need institutions to enable us to refrain from violating other people's rights, but institutions are indispensable to enable us to fulfill the duty of rescue toward people in dire straits all over the world. Further, it seems clear that human rights generate a secondary obligation to do something, if we can, to protect people outside of our society against their most egregious violation, and this is practically impossible, on a world scale, without some institutionalized method of verification and enforcement." Id. at 61, 76-77. From the book jacket: "This volume collects recent essays and reviews by Thomas Nagel in three subject areas. The first section . . . is concerned with religious belief and some of the philosophical questions connected with it, such as the relation between religion and evolutionary theory, the question of why there is something rather than nothing, and the significance for human life of our place in the cosmos. It includes a defense of the relevance of religion to science education. The second section concerns the interpretation of liberal political theory, especially in the international context. A substantial essay argues that the principles of distributive justice that apply within individual nation-states do not apply to the world as a whole. The third section discusses the distinctive contributions of four philosophers to our understanding of what it is to be human--the form of human consciousness and the source of human values." The four philosophers discussed by Nagal are Bernard Williams, David Wiggins, Brian O'Shaughnessy, and Jean-Paul Sartre.).

Weber, Katherine, True Confections: A Novel (New York: Shaye Areheart Books, 2010)
("'Truth is truth to the end of reckoning.' That's Shakespeare, Irene, Measure for Measure, which I happen to know you have never read or probably even heard of because you haven't been curious about what you don't know for a very long time, not since college. And even then, when that expensive education was at your disposal, when you could have done anything, gone anywhere, studied anything, thought about anything, you didn't have time for Shakespeare, because you were too busy reading about gendered space in the workplace and the sociology of heterosexuality and feminist environmentalism." Id. at 273.).