Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 2, Spring 2008, pp. 158-59.
For much of their history, Mennonites have tended to think of themselves as apolitical, quietistic folk-"the quiet in the land"-who eschew involvement in worldly affairs, especially those involving the use of any kind of "force," whether it be political, military, or even that of labor unions (such as strikes). Mennonite identity has been wrapped up in a biblical pacifism or "nonresistance" that goes back to the sixteenth century, and this has resulted in an often tense and ambiguous relationship with governments, as James Urry documents in Mennonites, Politics, and Peoplehood. The book is a deeply researched and sprawling account of the Dutch/North German stream of Mennonites' political identity and involvement as they migrated from Holland to Prussia and on to Imperial Russia before coming to North America (Urry focuses on those who settled in Manitoba).
Part 1 is devoted to Mennonite political involvement in early modern Europe, which tended to take the form of seeking special privileges that allowed Mennonites to live in a relatively undisturbed fashion, yet without many rights. The narrative is full of historical detail and at times reads like a general history of European politics, as Urry strives to place Mennonites into their historical context. He documents Mennonites' evolving stance on government and their involvement in Dutch and German politics, including the Dutch "Patriot Movement" and the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848. Yet as Urry himself notes, "For 300 years or more, many Mennonite communities in Europe lived on the fringes of legality, outside the political system, and beyond the limited jural protections provided to the confessional subjects of early modern states."