André Gushurst-Moore’s The Common Mind provides an elegantly written and philosophically convincing survey of the worldview Burke inherited and that he helped transmit to posterity. The common mind, or Christian humanism, is understood from both the perspective of a philosophical inheritance and as a perpetual challenge to contemporary life as well; as a social and political tradition dependent on the ennobling of the good, the true, and beautiful; and, the exhibition of personal restraint, and an affirmation of the transcendent nature of existence. Gushurst-Moore begins his defense of this tradition by engaging in a process of retrogression, examining the central figures who affirmed the common mind, beginning with Thomas More and concluding with Russell Kirk. Six central elements in the common mind are identified: the inheritance of the humane, self-government and law, common sense in the classical form, literature that encourages the imagination, education with a moral basis, and politics and religion (pp. 14-18). Even though six of the fourteen essays that comprise this volume were published in journals of opinion, the book is thematically coherent and the essays possess a lucidity atypical in such collections.
In each essay, the thoughtful reader is introduced to new and erudite insights about key figures who have contributed to the common mind tradition, or Christian humanism. The commentaries on Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, and Russell Kirk deserve special commendation. Instead of a rather normative survey of Swift the satirist, the faith-based and enduring insights of the writer, and his “underlying religious assumptions,” and “distrust of intellectualism, rationalism and enthusiasm” are brilliantly outlined by Gushurst-Moore (p. 46). Swift, as a contributor to the larger patrimony of the common mind and advocate of self-restraint, becomes comprehensible, including the Swift “who anticipates Burke in asserting that if liberty is anything to be valued at all, it exists as a consequence of authority rather than in spite of it” (p. 60). In a similar vein, the essay on Johnson forces a reconsideration of the writer as a more thoroughgoing defender of the inherited tradition. The essays on Burke and Russell Kirk extol their respective contributions to Christian humanism. In effect, the essay on Burke refutes the arguments promoted by Robin by demonstrating that Burke was a defender of “traditional Christian humanism” (p. 82) premised upon a proper conception of the natural law. With Russell Kirk, Gushurst-Moore’s exegesis concentrates upon the thinker’s underappreciated fiction as a defense of the common mind.
Overall, Gushurst-Moore has advanced our understanding of Burke and the inherited tradition. The only weaknesses that would deserve emendation concern his criticisms of Luther, with an emphasis upon Luther’s view of transubstantiation (p. 33), and Gushurst-Moore’s neglect of important Protestant contributors to Christian humanism beyond T. S. Eliot and C. S. Lewis. In the first instance, his characterization of Luther (pp. 26, 28, 33, 34, and 37) is contradicted by recent scholarship. A closer examination of Luther’s sacramental theology suggests that while he criticized the prevailing view of transubstantiation, he always believed in a real presence, and later Lutheran confessional statements also demonstrate support for an eucharistic theology that proximates transubstantiation. Second, the addition of essays on the eminent Protestant philosophers of the common mind like Lynn Harold Hough and Bernard Iddings Bell would have enhanced the volume by presenting a more complete survey of 20th century contributors to Christian humanism.
H. Lee Cheek, Jr., Ph.D.
Chair, Social Sciences
East Georgia State College