"[McGreevy] has written the best intellectual history of the Catholic Church in America."—Commonweal
For two centuries, Catholicism has played a profound and largely unexamined role in America's political and intellectual life. Emphasizing the communal over the individual, protections for workers and the poor over market freedoms, and faith in eternal verities over pragmatic compromises, the Catholic worldview has been a constant foil to liberalism.Catholicism and American Freedom is a groundbreaking tale of strange bedfellows and bitter conflicts over issues such as slavery, public education, economic reform, the movies, contraception, and abortion. It is an international story, as both liberals and conservatives were influenced by ideas and events abroad, from the 1848 revolutions to the rise of Fascism and the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, to papal encyclicals and the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s; and by the people, from scholarly Jesuits to working class Catholics, who immigrated from Europe and Latin America.
McGreevy reveals how the individualist, and often vehemently anti-Catholic, inclinations of Protestant intellectuals shaped the debates over slavery—and how Catholics, although they were the first to acknowledge the moral equality of black people and disavowed segregation of churches, even in the South, still had difficulty arguing against the hierarchy and tradition represented by slavery. He sheds light on the unsung heroes of American history like Orestes Browson, editor of Brownson's Quarterly Review, who suffered the disdain of abolitionists for being a Catholic, and the antagonism of conservative Catholics for being an abolitionist; and later heroes like Jacques Maritain and John Courtney Murray, who fought to modernize the Church, increased attention to human rights, and urged the Church "to adapt herself vitally . . . to what is valid in American democratic development."
Putting recent scandals in the Church and the media's response in a much larger context, this stimulating history is a model of nuanced scholarship and provocative reading.
“Fascinating...a meditation on power and its shadow, marginality; on freedom, and its inevitable price, unfreedom.”
“The most informative, analytically insightful, and even-handed account we have of the troubled relationship between Catholicism and the American experiment.”
Boston Sunday Globe
“More than any book I have read, McGreevy's shows how constituent and various an element Catholicism, in its several strains, has been in shaping this nation.”
New York Times Book Review
“A brilliant book, which brings historical analysis of religion in American culture to a new level of insight and importance.”
“A laser-like examination of the central tension between Catholicism and the American experiment. Deeply intelligent, well written, and based on wide research in original sources, this will be the standard work for a long time to come.”
E. J. Dionne
“A masterpiece that will be read eagerly not only for its insights into Catholic history but also for its rich understanding of American history.”
“A masterful work, learned, wide-ranging, brilliantly done. I cannot think of a single urgent question in Catholic life today in the United States that will not be enriched and deepened by McGreevy's history. The work forces us fundamentally to rethink the narrative of American Catholic history, and the field will be forever changed by it.”
John T. McGreevy is the John A. O'Brien Associate Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He lives in South Bend, Indiana. His previous book, Parish Boundaries, won the John Gilmary Shea Prize of the American Catholic Historical Association.