Tucked behind its subscription wall is the Wall Street Journal's review of Charisma by Adam Wolfson. Peter Klein (at Mizzou), an actual economist, has provided free excerpts at his Organizations and Markets. Key line:
Reviewer Adam Wolfson describes the book as a jeremiad against popular culture, much like Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind.
"Like Bloom, Rieff puts forward a compelling critique of modernity, focusing in his case on Weber’s reworking of the religious notion of charisma into a secular, “neutral” category and thus emptying it of religious significance."
But Rieff -- who some have said is just a second-rate Strauss -- takes up his jeremiad from the pro-cultural counterposition to Bloom's Straussian Platonism: salvation not by reason but by faith. Peter Lawler puts the point squarely in his critical analysis of Bloom's Closing of the American Mind, on its twentieth anniversary, in the latest issue of the Intercollegiate Review:
Throughout The Closing of the American Mind, Bloom repeatedly mentions the case for revelation without actually making the case. In doing so, he implicitly admits that his own inability to be moved by faith was a limit to his own open-mindedness. What he does show is just how questionable his (and Socrates') lives -- lives without God, country, and family -- really are. Such lives are childishly disconnected from the animating personal experience of moral responsibility; they may in fact be distorted [...].
Rieff's insistence upon the inadequacy of saving reason and the position of saving faith as the source of social order itself mirrors that of a very different but also rather faithful Jewish intellectual, Michael Walzer. In "Interpretation and Social Criticism," Walzer suffices to argue more humbly than Rieff that the revealed Law is now (regardless of what one thinks about the objective nature of that revelation) with us, and the 'discovery' and 'invention' of moral law is essentially outdated and capricious. The commanding interdicts of our social order are given; it is our task to interpret only. The interpretive 'we' is not coterminous with the whole human race taken as a single social unit. "It is a mistake" for Walzer "to praise the prophets for the universalist message."
Such an approach to social order expresses what I called here recently singular parochialism, a moral-social order invented by the Jews, which is frankly to say, all things considered, invented by the God of the Jews. That particularist order, which locates its authority in expressly non-universalist terms, has been reinterpreted by Rieff and Walzer within the tradition of twentieth-century Jewish culture that more or less lost its religious faith but found it again, or something quite like it, through fearless/fearful intellectual work. Their work suggets that reason is not out of accord with revelation, particularly on their shared point that, despite the parochialism of moral order, the capacity for the moral charisma of right living is, in fact, universal within that parochiality. Walzer quotes Lindblom that the Jewish prophets acted as if they knew " 'that their words could be immediately understood and accepted' -- not, however, that they would be: they knew the people for whom they prophesized."
So do we, whomever we are. But can you prophecy to those with reason but no faith? This is a question Socrates, I think, pushed toward too. I think the Gorgias is instructive on this point. But Strauss' branch of the post-Jewish path of Jewish thought represents a fundamentally different course than that taken by Rieff and Walzer. It abandons Jerusalem for Athens.