Women in Combat: Unnatural, Foolish, Immoral, by Mark C. Atkins (Cottage Grove, TN: Gildersleeve Publications; 212 pp., $10.99). Mark Atkins describes himself as a “failed Marine” who has never been in combat and who writes “with the same authority as that little boy who cried, “The Emperor has no clothes!” He is also a businessman who is fully aware that he is neither a born nor a practiced writer. There is something moving about his willingness as a private citizen to step forward in print with an argument against sending women into combat that few people in today’s feminized society dare to make. Mr. Atkins considers, in three parts and 22 chapters, the subjects of unchanging human nature, of history, and of the false ideas that are held about these things; of feminist notions versus the reality of female nature, the family, and the U.S. military; and the reasons why we ought not to institutionalize the concept of female combatants on the completely erroneous notion, which has developed since the last world war, that close combat has become a thing of the past. As one would imagine, Atkins writes directly and clearly, with more than sufficient competence to argue his case effectively. His book has been endorsed by many professional soldiers, active and retired. Perhaps he is not a “failed Marine” after all.
The Price of Greatness: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and the Creation of American Oligarchy, by Jay Cost (New York: Basic Books; 256 pp., $21.99). The thesis of this excellent and exceptionally well-written book is that the disagreement between Alexander Hamilton and James Madison about the character of the young United States and the direction the country should take in future was a fundamental one at the time, and has been ever since. Hamilton’s plan for the country envisioned a wealthy and powerful nation that would eventually rival the great European powers; Madison’s saw a more humble republic that valued political equality and economic fairness, rather than what today is called “American greatness,” as its end. That disagreement seemed to have been resolved when Madison came to view Hamilton’s program as necessary to national economic development. In the wide-open circumstances of early 19th-century America, economic development led almost immediately to nationalism, and the two combined to achieve “greatness.” Since then, American political history has been the story of the tension between these opposing interests. Jay Cost, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and columnist for National Review, makes the perceptive and cogent argument that “the Constitution did not settle the relationship among liberalism, republicanism, and nationalism for all time. Public policy, in all forms, necessarily advances or hinders each principle.” The three strains present in the minds of the Founders do not, as Mr. Cost says, always agree with one another, and holding them in some sort of balance has been, and remains, a perpetual struggle:
Neither Madison nor Hamilton “solved” the problem, for it is a paradox that admits of no final answer. But both are to be credited for trying to solve it, for in doing so they helped bring about a better understanding of how government functions in practice. We the people must endeavor to do likewise.
Flannery O’Connor and Robert Giroux: A Publishing Partnership, by Patrick Samway, S.J. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press; 320 pp., $39.00). Robert Giroux was editor-in-chief of Harcourt, Brace & Company and, later, editor-in-chief and chairman of the editorial board at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. He was also the last of Flannery O’Connor’s three editors—she claimed, her best. Giroux brought out the three books of hers published in her lifetime, and edited her last collection of stories. Fr. Samway’s book is a fascinating study of their professional and working relationship that goes beyond the immediate subject to include O’Connor’s friendships with many other writers of the period. The text is extremely detailed but never dense, though it is probable that this book will interest chiefly literary scholars and readers deeply and intensely familiar with Flannery O’Connor’s work: the novels, the essays, and the letters. As someone who has learned a great deal from her writing (and, more importantly still, her faith), I found it fascinating. Many of O’Connor’s letters printed here have never been previously published, which by itself makes Samway’s book invaluable. (I know of at least one O’Connor scholar who considers The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor her best book.) As for Robert Giroux, whom I had the pleasure of meeting many years ago at a publishing party he gave John Lukacs at Professor Lukacs’s house in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, Fr. Samway has succeeded admirably in conveying a sense of a publishing-house editor of the old school. The following quotation from Giroux’s “Education of an Editor” is perfectly chosen:
The traditional function of an editor as the author’s close collaborator from manuscript to printed book, and through all the aftermath, has too often been neglected, with deplorable consequences, in the current atmosphere of heightened commercial pressures and a largely acquisitive publishing posture. Editors used to be known by their authors; now some of them are known by their restaurants.