Catholicism and American Freedom

A History

John T. McGreevy (Author)

Overview | Inside the Book
 

"[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.

Book Details

  • Paperback
  • September 2004
  • ISBN 978-0-393-32608-6
  • 5.6 × 8.3 in / 432 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“Fascinating...a meditation on power and its shadow, marginality; on freedom, and its inevitable price, unfreedom.” — The Nation

“The most informative, analytically insightful, and even-handed account we have of the troubled relationship between Catholicism and the American experiment.” — First Things

“A brilliant book, which brings historical analysis of religion in American culture to a new level of insight and importance.” — New York Times Book Review

“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.” — Charles Morris, author of American Catholic

“A masterpiece that will be read eagerly not only for its insights into Catholic history but also for its rich understanding of American history.” — E. J. Dionne, Jr., author of Why Americans Hate Politics

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