Redeemer Novel

Some years ago Ernest Tuveson argued in his landmark study Redeemer Nation that our country's Puritan background has led it through a series of historical crusades—from Indian wars to Vietnam—to bring righteousness to a corrupt world. It's an interesting idea, disturbing and perhaps perverse, that deserves more attention than it has gotten. Tuveson's study leads the reader to consider what happens when a country, which began its history motivated by the belief that faith in God required men to perform righteous acts, loses its faith but retains its zeal. One possibility is that it will continue to act with a fervent confidence in its own purity even as it loses its formerly sound foundation and clear purpose. That may describe the history of America and suggest why our country must regain something of its earlier self, however modified, if it is to survive in a world where other empires act with equal or superior zeal and deadly serious purpose.

Tuveson's argument kept popping in and out of my mind as I read Louis Auchincloss' latest novel. Honorable Men. Not that the novel is a perfect fictional form for its themes. Auchincloss' method of dual narration (first person in some chapters, third person in others) distracts rather than facilitates the narrative, and the novel-ending conversion of the protagonist, Chip Benedict, from his errant ways is less than convincing.

Yet elements...

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