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The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God [Paperback]

By George Weigel (Author)
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Item description for The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God by George Weigel...

Argues that Europe's separation of religion from politics has led to its decline and that religion, instead of being suspect, should be viewed in the U.S. and Europe as an ally of human rights and freedom. Reprint.

Publishers Description
Why do Europeans and Americans see the world so differently? Why do Europeans and Americans have such different understandings of democracy in the twenty-first century? Why is Europe dying, demographically? In "The Cube and the Cathedral," George Weigel offers a penetrating critique of "Europe's problem" and draws out its lessons for the rest of the democratic world. Contrasting the civilization that produced the starkly modernist "cube" of the Great Arch of La Defense in Paris with the civilization that produced the "cathedral," Notre-Dame, Weigel argues that Europe's embrace of a narrow and cramped secularism has led to a crisis of civilizational morale that is eroding Europe's soul and failing to create the European future. Even as thoughtful Europeans and Americans wrestle with these grave issues, many European political leaders continue to insist-most recently, during the debate over a new European constitution-that only a public square shorn of religiously informed moral argument is safe for human rights and democracy. The most profound question raised by "The Cube and the Cathedral" is whether there can be any true "politics"-any true deliberation about the common good, and any robust defense of freedom-without God. George Weigel makes a powerful case that the answer is "No"-because, in the final analysis, societies and cultures can only be as great as their spiritual aspirations.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Basic Books
Pages   212
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.9" Width: 5" Height: 0.6"
Weight:   0.4 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Feb 28, 2006
Publisher   Basic Books
ISBN  0465092683  
ISBN13  9780465092680  

Availability  92 units.
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More About George Weigel

George Weigel GEORGE WEIGEL, Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Catholic theologian and one of America's foremost commentators on issues of religion and public life. A Newsweek contributor and Vatican analyst for NBC News, Weigel is the author of fifteen books, including the New York Times bestseller Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II. His work has been translated into more than a dozen languages.

From the Hardcover edition.

George Weigel currently resides in Bethesda, in the state of Maryland. George Weigel was born in 1951 and has an academic affiliation as follows - Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, DC the Ethics and Public.

George Weigel has published or released items in the following series...

  1. Library of Religious Biography
  2. Pennsylvania-German History and Culture Series

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Product Categories

3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality

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Books > Church & Ministry > Church Life > Roman Catholic

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Reviews - What do customers think about The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God?

Not Merely Morality, but Morale  Apr 27, 2008
knowing only of George Weigel as the biographer of Pope John Paul II, and from having once heard him speak, I felt no real need to read this book, which was, I thought, only tangential to my interests, at best. I'm bored by the endless campaigning in an election year, and find most politics either an endless debate or a snooze. I had Weigel pegged firmly in the other camp, among those excited by which states are blue or red, and who see the world as endlessly divisable into left and right, who are able to overlook the clownish persona presented by the presidential hopefuls, more than ever in the 2008 election year, and can act as if there is something else at stake.

After all, wasn't this book listed as a "Foreign Affairs bestseller"? Is that a way of limiting the subject category to such a small circle of books so as to end up on top? "Foreign Affairs" is not a category I would skim through looking for a bit of light reading. Nevertheless, having once cracked the cover, I was instantly hooked. This is the sort of urbane, yet clear writing I thought had perished from the earth. This brings back the days of reading George Steiner, deRougemont, Marshall McLuhan (I didn't say I understood all of it), Norbert Wiener, Gregory Bateson, what I would call the elegant essay. I had no idea how rare it was until I tried to find it among writers of popular science, and in this area gently flowing writing that is a delight to read is exceedingly rare, regardless of how many science essay books are supposedly best sellers.

Reading out of category, as it were, out of interest area, and out of subject matter, in short, foraging entirely outside of my standard reading practices, was even riskier. Yet here I find a thinker and writer, an analyst, one might say, who can roam freely in things French and European without ever making the reader feel entirely at sea, can lay out abtruse ideas on the table, as it were, for all to see, can undercut the verbosity and hoopla so much the stock in trade of political commentators, and simply get to the res, the thing itself.

I suppose one expects a reviewer to delve into the subject matter of the book, and even perhaps offer reasoned opinions about it. What, and deprive the reader of dipping into this book on their own, exactly the sort of book that makes you wish the train ride were a bit longer and everything else a bit shorter, so you could get back to your book? Nevertheless, I don't plan reading far afield in future, but should I venture to do so, I will take along Weigel as a trusted and welcome guide.
Okay Read  Feb 10, 2008
Very interesting subject and hoped he would speak more on the current situation rather then spending the majority of time proving his position from an historical perspective. Seem to rely heavily on a few particular authors and felt at times I should just read their books rather than this one.
Review  Feb 8, 2008
Quite readable and interesting. Took the Cube in Paris and the Cathedral of Notre Dame - also in Paris - as symbols of man without God and man with God. Attempted to show - reasonably successfully in my opinion - the deficiencies of a political system that tries to operate as if God did not exist. The author, George Weigel - always worth reading - is writing from a Christian point of view, which I share. A good read, especially for those who, while believing in the separation of Church and State, would like to see Christian insights having more influence in the public square.
Countering Efforts to Erase Christianity's Contributions from Contemporary European Consciousness  Jan 1, 2008
After going 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts at age 20, Dwight Gooden never came close to matching that phenomenal season. After having history's best selling live album at age 25, can anyone remember a single song from Peter Frampton which is NOT from 1975's "Frampton Comes Alive"? After birthing "Citizen Kane" at age 25, Orson Welles is best remembered by some for "serving no wine before its time" (After having "The Sixth Sense" at age 29, some say that films such as "Signs" and "The Lady in the Water" point to a similar pattern of youthful masterpiece followed by mediocrity in M. Night Shyamalan's work.).

After writing "Witness to Hope" at age 48, is George Weigel subject to the anti-climactic pattern of Gooden, Frampton, and Welles? As JP II's biography is one of my all time favorite books, I would be especially vulnerable to viewing anything else by Weigel with particularly critical eyes. Yet, "The Cube and the Cathedral" does NOT disappoint!

Weigel reminds us that "the deepest currents of history are spiritual and cultural, rather than political and economic" (p. 30). He vividly describes a prevalent prejudice, which "stresses the Enlightenment roots of the democratic project to the virtual exclusion of democracy's historic cultural roots in the Christian soil of pre-Enlightenment Europe" (p. 76).

While Weigel strikes me as insufficiently critical of current American foreign policy, he does not soft peddle Christendom's sins: "That the Church did not always behave according to these convictions is obvious from history, especially European history" (p. 112). At the dawn of the new millennium, he reminds us how Pope John Paul II and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger led the Church in recommitting "to live out the truth it professed about the freedom of the human person to seek the truth and adhere to it" (pp. 113, 114).

It could be argued that Weigel pays insufficient attention to Europe's non-Christian roots. Yet, it should be remembered that he is primarily aiming to counter efforts to erase Christianity's contributions from contemporary European consciousness. "It takes a deliberate act of willfulness - an act of Christophobia, to borrow from Joseph Weiler - to dismiss the notion that this rich civilizational soil contains the nutrients that nourished the democratic possibility in Europe and throughout the Western world" (p. 105).

Since La Grande Arche de La Defense and the Cathedral of Notre Dame are such important symbols in this book, the jacket would benefit from much clearer (and larger!) photographic images. Appendices providing additional background on these symbols would also be helpful.
Great Analogy, Good Annotated Bibliography, and 150 Unnecessary Pages  Nov 17, 2007
At its best, this book poses a question using "the cube" (L'Arche de la Defense) and "the cathedral" (Notre Dame) as representatives for two cultures:

"Which culture, I wondered, would better protect human rights? Which culture would more firmly secure the moral foundations of democracy? The culture that built this stunning, rational, angular, geometrically precise but essentially featureless cube? Or the culture that produced the vaulting and bosses, the gargoyles and flying buttresses, the nooks and crannies, the asymmetries and holy 'unsameness' of Notre-Dame?" (2)

He is not suggesting "a return to something like the Middle Ages... That is impossible and would be undesirable if it were possible. The answer may lie, however, in a different way of reading the modern project" (167), and for that he looks to John Paul II. "John Paul II did not propose a return to the premodern world. Rather, he offered a thoroughly modern alternative reading of modernity" (169). Europe is dying, says our author, because people have no hope. The dominant reading of modernity cannot offer hope, even a reason to reproduce, while John Paul II's alternative modernity can. It brings us a freedom to be excellent, not just a freedom to do whatever we want to do.

Weigel argues that 'atheistic humanism' and 'exclusive humanism' lead to totalitarian oppression, but 'Christian humanism' can actually give an account of why to have tolerance, pluralism, inalienable rights, etc. The reason: Christianity offers a transcendent moral reference point. From this he concludes not that we should thrust Christianity on everybody but instead that the public square cannot be worldview-neutral; instead, communication in the public square should be based on certain shared moral commitments, though we may each have different sources for those commitments.

Unfortunately, once we pass page 2's excellent analogy -- the "people of the cube" and the "people of the cathedral" -- the book isn't particularly good. It lightly sketches an argument about the problems of Europe and the promise of a Christian moral foundation for the public square and only hints at arguments as to why 'atheistic humanism' and 'exclusive humanism' cannot provide that moral foundation. None of this is sufficiently argued so you will only come out of the book agreeing with him if you came into the book really wanting to do so.

As a final positive, Weigel heavily relies on sources that are more than worth pursuing (Henri de Lubac, for instance), so "The Cube and The Cathedral" turns out to be an excellent annotated bibliography. The subjects he raises (such as whether we view freedom as freedom for excellence or freedom of indifference, Aquinas vs. Ockham) and the authors he cites (such as John Paul II) are definitely relevant and definitely worth looking into.

My personal analysis: I think he's pointing to some real problems, but I also think he's trying much too hard to salvage Neuhaus's vision of Christianity in the public square.

So: Read the first two pages, then skim through the footnotes and index,and look into the authors and ideas you find there.

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