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The Public Square: On Ordered Liberty

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From First Things, June/July 2005, No. 154, p. 69

The Public Square: A Survey of Religion and Public Life
• Rome Diary, etc., Richard John Neuhaus

• Of the thousands of books that deserve a review, relatively few get reviewed here or elsewhere. Sometimes we plan a review but, for one reason or another, it doesn’t pan out. Happily, that can be partially remedied by borrowing, as I here borrow from Daniel J. Mahoney’s excellent review of Samuel Gregg’s On Ordered Liberty: A Treatise on the Free Society. Writing in the Journal of Markets & Morality, Mahoney notes: “On Ordered Liberty exposes the radical limitations of utilitarian thinking and shows that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in the philosophy of academic liberalism. It also provides a much-needed alternative to libertarian dogmatism in all its forms. It shows that there is nothing authentically liberal about an approach that fails to distinguish between better and worse preferences and that refuses to acknowledge any rationally discernable distinction between the noble and the base. In truth, Gregg’s real target is not utilitarianism, as he declares, but rather the ‘contractualism’ that is at the heart of post-Hobbesian political thought. Social contract theorizing denies the naturalness of the political community and affirms that those authoritative institutions (family, church, and other intermediate institutions) that civilize and socialize human beings lack legitimacy because they limit the free choices of autonomous human beings. Defenders of the free society must finally choose between the contractualist and conventionalist denial of the Good and a more truthful and salutary concept of human freedom. They must choose between an older liberalism that freely acknowledged the dependence of modern freedom on premodem moral capital and a liberty that refuses to bow even before the requirements of Truth. It is to Samuel Gregg’s great credit that his book so thoughtfully clarifies this inescapable battle for the heart and soul of liberalism.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.


  • From First Things, June/July 2005, No. 154, p. 69 The Public Square: A Survey of Religion and Public Life •…