Libraries & Spaces
Foreword to Religious Liberty and the America Presidency: A Study in Church-State Relations, by Patricia Barret (Herder; New York), v-vii.
It may be fairly said, if only because it has been said often enough, that we Americans are somewhat prone to live the unexamined life, without great regard for Socrates' dictum that such a life is not worth leading. We get things done; we go on to the next things to be done. We are not much given to reflection on the thing done or on the mode of its doing in order to appraise the significance and style of our own achievements. For instance, we made a bit of political history in 1960 by electing a Catholic to the presidency. The margin was close; nonetheless, the history was made. A due measure of professional attention has been given to statistical analysis of the vote with a view to estimating the influence of the religious issue on it. On the other hand, little reflection has been devoted to the issue itself, to the reasons for its rise in the campaign, its manifold content, or the variant modes of its presentation. This kind of reflection, however, is seriously needed. The 1960 vote settled the question of whether a Catholic can be elected to the highest office in the land. But in the electoral process of settling this minor and narrow issue, a number of larger issues and some passions too came up and out, and they were not settled or stilled by the vote.
These issues and the passions antecedent or consequent to them are still with us. The relation between religion and politics and between morality and law; the legitimate claims and rightful powers of religious communities, who are at war with one another on the plane of theology within the one body politic and whose climate must be one of civil peace; the reach of religious liberty in society, especially in the school, in relation to the legal implications of separation of church and state-these and cognate issues cannot be settled by the technique of the ballot box. In fact, they cannot be finally settled at all; they are inherent in the permanent public argument.
Here the merit and service of Mother Barrett's book appear. It is a summons to reflection on the past, on the electoral campaign of 1960; it is also a call to continuing public argument on the issues that the campaign revealed to be still burning, or at least smoking, among us. The book is excellent in every respect. It is the product of painstaking research, whose doing must have been a test of temper as well as of intelligence-of intelligence because most of the 1960 campaign literature on the religious issue was extremely confused, and of temper because much of it was the passionate sort of nonsense that tends to wake in the reader a weary impatience, if not some more incandescent sentiment. The serenity of Mother Barrett's study commands instant admiration. So too does her clearsighted objectivity and the unerring insight with which she finds her way through the clashing confusions of the campaign argument to the heart of the issues involved. This is the outstanding value of the book: that it transposes the issues into a form of statement that makes them arguable. The author's own arguments are a model of reason and candor. They are presented forthrightly and with sturdy Catholic conviction; their presentation is also informed by the gentle spirit of civic friendship. Mother Barrett has made a major contribution to the substance of the public argument. She has also done the further service of setting its proper tone.
JOHN COURTNEY MURRAY, S.J.