Politics & Policy

Shelf Life

The transformation of the judiciary into an activist legislator of social change has been one of the most remarked-upon — and, among conservatives, decried — political developments of the past century. In Living Constitution, Dying Faith: Progressivism and the New Science of Jurisprudence (ISI, 241 pp., $25), political philosopher Bradley C. S. Watson does an impressive job of analyzing how, exactly, this happened. The judges of today play a dramatically different role than was envisioned for them in the Constitution, largely because they no longer consider themselves primarily as backward-looking servants of timeless truths embodied in that document. Instead, notes Watson, they view themselves as mediators of progress away from — that is to say, up from — the ideas of the original Constitution. Two late-19th-century currents of thought combined to make this shift possible: social Darwinism and pragmatism. The common thread between the two was a philosophy of history that made it easy to relativize ideas of the past, and thus the Constitution itself. Writes Watson: “Having rooted itself so firmly in the thought that guides the Western world as a whole, and having gained so much strength and momentum on its virtually uninterrupted path, [the new jurisprudence] will not be slowed down, or wiped clean, any time soon. Its success is marked by the fact that it no longer seeks victory, only legitimation in a constitutional system still at odds with it.”

‐ One of the most remarkable recent success stories in publishing is Crossway’s English Standard Version translation of the Bible. In the face of an unprecedented glut of Bible translations, the ESV, which came out in 2001, has managed to win a great deal of acceptance among conservative readers looking for a relatively literal modern rendering. A couple of recent editions may make it even more popular: The massive new ESV Study Bible (Crossway, 2,752 pp., $49.99) is now the best conservative study Bible on the market — a comprehensive resource with clearly designed maps and diagrams as well as exhaustive notes. And Oxford’s new English Standard Version Bible with Apocrypha (1,446 pp., $25) includes the books traditionally omitted by the Protestant canon — and thus makes the ESV more useful to Catholic and Orthodox readers. Even before this ecumenical edition, the prominent Catholic theologian Fr. Richard John Neuhaus called the ESV “quite splendid”; I think he would have agreed it’s getting even better.

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