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The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God
     

The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God

by George Weigel
 

Why do Europeans and Americans see the world so differently? Why do Europeans and Americans have such different understandings of democracy and its discontents in the twenty-first century? Contrasting the civilization that produced the starkly modernist "cube” of the Great Arch of La Défense in Paris with the civilization that produced the

Overview

Why do Europeans and Americans see the world so differently? Why do Europeans and Americans have such different understandings of democracy and its discontents in the twenty-first century? Contrasting the civilization that produced the starkly modernist "cube” of the Great Arch of La Défense in Paris with the civilization that produced the "cathedral” of Notre-Dame, George Weigel argues that Europe’s embrace of a narrow secularism has led to a crisis of morale that is eroding Europe’s soul and threatening its future—with dire lessons for the rest of the democratic world.Weigel traces the origins of "Europe’s problem” to the atheistic humanism of the nineteenth-century European intellectual life, which set in motion a historical process that produced two world wars, three totalitarian systems, the Gulag, Auschwitz, the Cold War—and, most ominously, the Continent’s de-population, which is worse today than during the Black Death.And yet, many Europeans still insist—most recently, during the debate over a new EU constitution—that only a public square shorn of religiously-informed moral argument is safe for human rights and democracy. Precisely the opposite, Weigel suggests, is true: the people of the "cathedral” can give a compelling account of their commitment to everyone’s freedom; the people of the "cube” cannot.Can there be any true "politics”—any true deliberation about the common good, and any robust defense of freedom—without God? George Weigel makes a powerful case that the answer is "No,” because, in the final analysis, societies are only as great as their spiritual aspirations.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Paris's modernist La Grande Arche de la D fense and the Gothic Cathedral of Notre-Dame serve as metaphors for papal biographer Weigel's (Witness to Hope) examination of what has happened to Europe in the last several decades and its significance to Americans. Weigel, an American Catholic theologian who has lived and worked on the continent, defines the "Europe problem" as the sharp divergence of European views on democracy, the world and politics from those held by Americans like himself. For him, La Grande Arche ("The Cube") symbolizes the new Europe, retreating from democracy, en route to depoliticization, enamored of international organizations and intellectually Christophobic. Notre-Dame, which guidebooks claim would fit inside the Cube, embodies Europe's Christian history, now strangely absent from the constitution of the European Union. Weigel traces the "Europe problem" to the 19th-century rise of "atheistic humanism" and "the related triumph of secularization, or de-Christianization, in western Europe." He urges Americans to pay attention to what has happened there because it has implications for the future of democracy in the United States and throughout the world. In developing his thesis, Weigel draws on diverse sources, including the Polish-born Pope John Paul II, who has been keenly interested in Europe's democracies. Readers given to pondering European affairs will find much to pique thoughtful discussion. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
A Roman Catholic theologian and biographer of Pope John Paul II, Weigel has written a rambling attack on contemporary European secularism, with a condescension exceeding that of Robert Kagan. His central complaint is about the luckless European constitution's failure to acknowledge explicitly the Christian roots of Europe. Such de-Christianization is, in Weigel's telling, responsible for a variety of Europe's ills, including depopulation and spiritual emptiness — the kind of ills that have afflicted the continent ever since "the crisis of civilizational morality" that led to World War I. This sort of indictment tempts those at whom it is aimed to point out some of the indefensible positions of the Catholic Church in the last two centuries. (Maybe the church's failure to condemn the Holocaust in time — or the refusal of some theologians to acknowledge the possibility of a lay philosophy of conscience, toleration, and goodwill — explains European "Christophobia"?) This book will do little to advance the cause of a "politics with God." Those in Europe and elsewhere who believe in either a secular humanism or a Christ-centered humanism should celebrate what unites them rather than insulting one another.
Kirkus Reviews
Can the EU make the world safe for democracy? Not if it continues to deny its Christian roots, says Weigel (The Truth of Catholicism, 2001, etc.). Weigel's pithy polemic boldly assesses contemporary Europe. In his view, it's in peril. Its traditional populations are shrinking, and millions of Muslims are immigrating to western Europe; within 30 or so years, the majority of teenagers in the Netherlands will be Muslim. The EU is bent on pedaling "soft power" instead of military might, diplomacy instead of coercion-all well and good if it works, but hawkish Weigel suspects that it won't. What is the essence of the problem? It can been seen in the new EU constitution, which claims that European civilization grew from the soil of ancient Greece and the Enlightenment, making no mention of Christianity. Indeed, during the 2004 debate over the constitution, when lobbyists (including the pope) urged the EU to acknowledge Europe's Christian heritage, a Swedish member of the constitutional convention thought these lobbyists were joking, and many other commentators worried that mention of Christianity's role in shaping European mores might "exclude" non-Christians. (On that argument, Weigel wryly notes that the mention of the Enlightenment "excludes" postmodernists.) The author argues that this thin secularism, an agreement among Europeans to be officially neutral on matters of worldview, religion, and morality, will fail the very things the EU claims it wants to safeguard and promote: democracy and human freedom. It's quite a provocative stance, but Weigel sprinkles his own conservative Catholicism so readily throughout the text that readers who might have been persuaded by the contours of hisargument may well dismiss him as a right-wing nut. For example, admitting that America too has problems, he confines his list thereof to abortion, gay marriage, political correctness at universities, "courts usurping the prerogatives of legislatures," and the like. No mention of, say, environmental degradation or unchecked consumerism. Sure to be much discussed-and possibly to be remarkably influential.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465092666
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
04/04/2005
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
5.38(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.85(d)

Meet the Author

George Weigel, a Roman Catholic theologian and one of America's leading commentators on religion and public life, is the author of the acclaimed The Courage to Be Catholic, the international bestseller,Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II, and numerous other books that include The Truth of Catholicism and The Final Revolution. Now a Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., where he holds the John M. Olin Chair in Religion and American Democracy, Weigel writes a weekly column, "The Catholic Difference," that is syndicated to more than forty newspapers around the United States. He is an NBC consultant on the Vatican and appears regularly on network and cable television programs as well as national and local radio. Weigel lives with his wife and their three children in North Bethesda, Maryland.

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