(I am indeed taking a break from blogging, but I do plan to use this blog as a way of making available things I am writing and publishing, as well as the occasional announcement of other things.)
I have a new piece in the Weekly Standard, December 24, 2007 issue, titled Mormons, Muslims, and Multiculturalism: The Deeply Dispiriting Romney-Huckabee Religion Showdown. You can find it at the Weekly Standard, open link, here.
(PS. I respond to Michael Novak's blatant misreading of my article (it appears in a quick drive-by attack in a National Review article) in a letter to the editor posted to the blog here, including links to Novak's article.)
(PPS. Looking at some comments and links people have put to Amazon and elsewhere - Kenneth Anderson is a pretty common name, so be aware that I am not the author of any books on Mormonism or religion or anything like that. Also not the Kenneth Anderson who blogs at the Brad Blog or Bonehead Compendium. I'm also not, alas, the wonderful author of the books on India, a descendent of that British general in WWII, the great African-American singer, the Harvard medical school professor, etc., etc. (I'm also not the Kenneth Anderson convicted recently of child molestation in some public school in the midwest. Amazing what you find when you google a common name like mine.) Also, if I might make a suggestion - actually reading my article, although it is long, is a pretty good idea before thinking to comment. You can get to it through the link to the Weekly Standard.)
The essay is very long - some 5-6,000 words, in fact - and I am very grateful to the Weekly Standard, and my editor Richard Starr in particular, for giving me such a sizable amount of space for this essay. As will be evident, oh, two sentences into the piece, I was quite angry when I wrote it - angry that there really does appear to be 30% or so of this country that is prepared to vote against someone - not my candidate - solely on account of their religion. Not aspects of that person's religion that have to do with public policy, but simply the religion itself and its most un-public policy, un-governance related aspects of it. So I did not hesitate to lampoon the evangelicals who are displaying this season such remarkable religious bigotry.
That said, the fact that I can lampoon them, fairly nastily, and know that at most they will leave rude blog comments - rather than firebombing my house - is a credit to them. It should not really be such a great credit to anyone, of course, that on account of angry or offensive speech, you forbear from killing them (wow! such restraint!), but these days I suppose you take what you can get.
The essay also sharply attacks Mitt Romney's Mormon speech - not on the usual liberal grounds that he left out the unbelievers, which I think it is true and wrong but not actually the greatest wrong of that speech - but instead on the grounds that he offers the country a sort of conservative multiculturalism, a conservative moral relativism, that puts his and everyone else's religion entirely beyond discussion.
That multiculturalism, while leaving Romney maximum ability to deflect questions of religion, is wrong because there are in fact important questions of religion that do need to be asked of candidates. And many of them need to be asked if, and at some point in time - as I deeply hope, will in fact be one of these days - that there are Muslims in America who, again as I deeply hope, will think that they have as much reason to be president as any other person does. Multiculturalism says that any questions about any of this are illegitimate, and that is both wrong and a practical disaster because it precludes the possibility of true integration and assimilation into the political culture.
Well, you can judge for yourself. It does manage to attack evangelicals, Mormons, Muslims, and Christopher Hitchens, which is why it is so long. I apologize to all those I left out as targets; perhaps next time. It is available at the Weekly Standard, and I look forward to the debate that I hope will follow.
I don't actually write very much about Mormons and Mormonism. However, I have written two review essays, both back in the 1990s, one for the Times Literary Supplement, here, and the other for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, here. The links are to SSRN, and you can download the pdfs free from that site if you like.
Here is a bit of the Weekly Standard essay:
Now consider Mitt Romney’s speech and the answer he
gave to the matter of religious tests. Leave aside the whining
secularists who complain that Romney left no place
for unbelievers in the Republic. Correct and not of unconcern
by any means, but frankly far less important than the
question of multiculturalism; and anyway, one may trust
left secularists to look after their interests in such matters.
No, the much more important matter was that Romney
announced what might be called, appallingly, “conservative
multiculturalism”—indeed, a form of conservative
moral relativism. If the demand of the evangelicals was
all‑in, then his answer was all-out.
To be sure, there was something good and liberal in
part of his answer, and we should start with that. Romney
said—correctly as a matter of deep liberalism—that for
him to give representations as to the content of his faith
would make him a representative of that faith, rather than
of the people, who are of many faiths. To do so would be
to head down the path of communalism, a political space
defined not by a religiously neutral public sphere but by
a division accepted as reasonably legitimate consisting of
groups—religious, ethnic, whatever—that have claims on
behalf of their immutably identified members. This is, by
the way, the relatively humane (in historical perspective),
but altogether illiberal political order of the Ottoman
Empire. It is what many Muslims from those historical
lands appear to think would be the best and natural political
order in the lands to which they have emigrated—Canada,
for example (which anyway has its own powerfully
illiberal forces driving toward group-identity communalism),
and, increasingly, Britain. It is not—at least not so
far—the American way, and Romney was right firmly to
But he did so, unfortunately, in a typically Romneylike
way, with a corrupt little wink-and-nod to his evangelical
inquisitors—oh, but don’t worry, “I believe that Jesus
Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind,” etc.;
just don’t ask me about Mormon underwear. It is corrupt
not because it is untrue, but because it aims to let him eat
his cake and have it, too. He rejected demands to explain
his faith, but did so while letting his interlocutors know
that he was really one of them. Too clever by half, in the
end, because they will not actually believe him, but this
is what comes of positions of moral conviction devised by
The “all-out” answer that Romney gave was the denial
that citizens might ever legitimately and ethically demand
to know the content of religious doctrines professed by a
candidate for public office. (“Each religion has its own
unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism
but rather a test of our tolerance.”) It is multiculturalist
because it essentially treats all private beliefs as immutable
and beyond reason, and because it says that to propose
to subject any of them to public scrutiny of reason is an act
of intolerance akin to racism. It is a position traditionally
asserted by the left on behalf of its identity-politics constituencies.
It is dismaying, to say the least, that Romney would
claim it for his own to deny the legitimacy of all questions.
It is, moreover, relativist in implication. Toleration is
not an assertion of relativism. It is, rather, the forbearance
from judging and acting on judgments in the public sphere
that one might well believe oneself entitled to make in private.
Toleration entails the suspension of public disbelief,
or at least political action thereupon, about matters that
one might nonetheless consider well within the realm of
private moral judgment. Relativism, by contrast, is denial
of grounds for judging at all. They could not be more different—
and, crucially, relativism removes the possibility
of toleration because it removes the possibility of reasoned
Romney’s “all-out” stance goes well beyond a plea for
liberal toleration to an assertion of genuine relativism and
the denial of the very possibility of moral judgment. And
all of this in the midst of a lecture on the decline of religion
in Europe. But of course it is not declining, it is rising
in the form of an Islam whose liberal commitments are in
doubt at best. Romney answered as a Mormon looking for
maximum room to maneuver, but seemingly without any
thought whatsoever to the institutional settlement implicitly
proposed, affecting not just Mormons and evangelicals,
but Catholics and Buddhists and Muslims and Hindus,
as well as the unbelievers and atheists he could not bring
himself to mention.
And then toward the end:
The firm demand of the state for conformity to neutral
standards is what—contrary to the claims of the multiculturalists—
provides the grounds of liberal toleration. There are many reasons, but the simplest is this: Taken together, the demands of religious groups for ever stronger and expansive special accommodations must eventually result in profound and antagonistic standoffs and conflicts.
Indeed, we have gone too far with special accommodations for religions that depart from neutral governance.
(Thanks to Ms. Althouse for the link, here. And welcome Instapunditeers, and thanks Glenn! Thanks also to Sandy Levinson for the link from Balkinization. And to Andrew Sullivan for calling this essay, um, "ornerily brilliant." Thanks also to Powerline, who correctly describe me as a Powerline reader, here. Also Peter Leithart. And Andrea Urseem at ReligionWriter.)