Bellah on Barack

The eminent sociologist Robert Bellah, the lead author of the landmark book Habits of the Heart, has a fascinating essay on Barack Obama the website The Immanent Frame.  And these reflections on the president-elect and the "common good," a popular phrase in Catholic social teaching.  H/t to Tom Reese, SJ.

Advertisement

An excerpt:

"If you look at Obama’s specific policy concerns you will find the common good at the core of almost all of them.  Universal health care is an obvious example.  And why, except for our culture of radical individualism, don’t we already have it as every advanced society in the world has it?  Because in normal times common good arguments do not carry the day in America.  Obama’s jobs program, his environmental program, his foreign policy concerns are all examples of making the common good the focus of politics.  What all this leads to in my opinion is that Obama is not concerned with center-left or center-right but with making America into a country with a concern for all its citizens and not just the privileged few, a country like other advanced countries and less like a third world country.

There is another element in Obama’s thinking that needs comment:  his concern for America and its historical promise.  It has been hard for his opponents to call Obama unpatriotic when he speaks so glowingly of our nation and its heritage.  It is the eloquence with which he did that in his keynote address in 2004 that first told me that a remarkable new presence had arrived on the American scene.  But what Obama has stressed is the promise of America, one that is still unfulfilled.  It is our task as he has so often said to help create a more perfect union because this one is so imperfect.  Obama has rejected the idea that supporting the Iraq War is a measure of patriotism.  He has said, in effect, that the true patriot will oppose such a war."

Whether or not you agree with him, Bellah is a true public intellectual, and one who has never shied away from reflecting on the complicated topic of the place of religion in American culture.  Be sure to read the rest of his reflection.

James Martin, SJ

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

The news from Ireland and the United States remind us of Herod, of Pharaoh. What culture betrays its children?
The EditorsMay 26, 2018
A woman religious casts her ballot May 25 in Dublin as Ireland holds a referendum on its law on abortion. Voters went to the polls May 25 to decide whether to liberalize the country's abortion laws. (CNS photo/Alex Fraser, Reuters)
The repeal of Ireland's Eighth Amendment, which guarantees the right to life of the unborn, is passing by a 2-1 margin with most of the votes counted.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The Secretary of Education stirred up controversy when she said it was up to schools to decide if an undocumented student should be reported to authorities.
J.D. Long-GarcíaMay 25, 2018
Thousands gathered in Dublin May 12 to say "Love Both" and "Vote No" to abortion on demand. They were protesting abortion on demand in the forthcoming referendum May 25. (CNS photo/John McElroy)
“Priests and bishops get verbal abuse by being told, ‘How can you speak for women? You don’t know what it’s like!’”
America StaffMay 25, 2018