Book Talk with William F. May, author of Testing the National Covenant: Fears and Appetites in American Politics

William F. May’s new book, Testing the National Covenant, published by Georgetown University Press, draws on America’s religious and political history and examines two concepts at play in the founding of the country—contractual and covenantal. He contends that the biblical idea of a covenant offers a more promising way than the language of contract, grounded in self-interest alone, to contain our runaway anxieties and appetites. A covenantal sensibility affirms, “We the people (not simply, We the individuals, or We the interest groups) of the United States.” It presupposes a history of mutual giving and receiving and of bearing with one another that undergirds all the traffic in buying and selling, arguing and negotiating, that obtain in the rough terrain of politics. May closes with an account of the covenantal agenda ahead, and concludes with the vexing issue of immigrants and undocumented workers that has singularly tested the covenant of this immigrant nation.

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