Reading this book is like joining an ongoing conversation, since Jeffrey Stout has been discussing religion and democracy with Stanley Hauerwas, Alasdair MacIntyre and Richard Rorty since the mid-1970s. Often when we interrupt an animated conversation, it’s best to politely excuse ourselves and move on. But this conversation is worth overhearing.
When listening in on such discussions we’re apt to begin by agreeing with the first speaker we hear, though we may not understand what’s at stake. Stout’s initial examination of piety and hope in American democracy, which he traces from Emerson to the “blues sensibility” of Ralph Ellison and connects to Augustine’s ideas about virtue, may seem right on target. But Stout knows that he’s already deep into controversial territory. Emerson’s piety is not like Augustine’s, and as Stout says, “There are Augustinians and Augustinians.”