I am trying to discern what Margaret O’Brien Steinfels’s column was trying to accomplish (“Racism in America,” March 22). Of course stories about conflict deserve fact-checking, and I agree that social media are inflammatory and not the place for deciding who is contrite enough or who can still function in office. But the column’s choices of language (such as “evidence of how Black History Month has succeeded in its purpose” and “don’t forget or underestimate what has worked”) make me wonder if Steinfels ran the column by anyone with significant African or African-American ancestry to check for European-American self-congratulation.

Meanwhile, the city council of my community of Tulsa meets tonight to decide whether to have public hearings about policing reform—a measure resisted by some in city government and law enforcement although, as the Black Wall Street Times points out, “five unarmed black men have been killed as a result of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials in five high-profile cases in Tulsa in the last five years.” I suggest that Commonweal columnists study the work of Showing Up for Racial Justice to learn ways of undermining white supremacy that involve a bigger commitment than excerpts from Treemonisha.

Ruth Piatak
Tulsa, Okla.



Brad East (“The Specter of Marcion,” February 22) slanders John Locke in asserting that “both Jews and Catholics” were “considered intolerable” in his Letter Concerning Toleration. Neither here nor elsewhere does Locke even hint that Jews should be expelled or oppressed. The Letter’s conclusion, furthermore, insists that “neither pagan nor Mahometan nor Jew ought to be excluded from the commonwealth because of his religion,” and it earlier affirmed that Jews should not be punished for denying that the New Testament is “the word of God.” Although the Letter conveys an array of harshly anti-Catholic statements, finally, it does not explicitly exclude Catholics from toleration.

Peter Minowitz
Professor of Political Science
Santa Clara University
Santa Clara, Calif.


Prof. Minowitz is right. I got it wrong when I wrote, loosely and without qualification, of Locke’s intolerance of Jews. In his Letter Concerning Toleration he admirably and justly calls for civil rights to be extended to Jews, including free gathering in synagogues. It seems to me, however, that Locke’s treatment in the Letter of atheists and Roman Catholics has logical implications for Jews (as well as Muslims and Anabaptists, though in different ways and for different reasons) that Locke fails, to his credit, to follow through to the end. Those whose commitments sunder society’s bonds—whether through lack of faith altogether, allegiance to a foreign head of state, or sabotage of basic goods in common on which the polity depends for its life—are not to be tolerated. On the one hand, laws against such groups have often included the Jews among them. On the other hand, any such laws, particularly when formulated on Christian grounds, will inevitably stumble across the perennial Judenfrage. Locke’s answer is on the side of the angels. But does he, or the liberal tradition of which he is a part, have resources sufficient to fund that answer? So that Jews are not a “problem” for the state, a perpetual exception to the rule? Here I demur. But in any case, Prof. Minowitz is correct to call for greater clarity and charity, and I thank him for that.


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Published in the May 3, 2019 issue: View Contents
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