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August 30, 2012

This is me, not blogging about the conventions and election

The Republicans are holding their convention, and the Democrats soon will.  In November, there will be an election. 

My reactions to and thoughts about these conventions, and this election, are shaped (I hope!) by my ongoing, work-in-progress effort to understand and live out better the call, challenge, and promise of the Gospel.  In my view, given all the givens, at this particular time, the common good of all -- that is, the "sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily", conditions which include, inter alia, the rule of law, religious liberty, a sustainable economy, and a thriving civil society -- will be better (not perfectly, but better) served if Gov. Romney is elected (and so appoints federal judges, fills upper-level administrative positions, takes the lead in proposing a legislative agenda, "executes the laws", and so on), and if Republicans have a majority in the Senate, than if President Obama is re-elected, and the Democrats retain their majority in the Senate. 

A whole lot of Catholic (and other) bloggers, writers, commentators, and public intellectuals will be, in great detail, arguing that this conclusion of mine is wrong, or explaining why this conclusion is right, in a wide variety of venues and outlets.  I hate to miss out on the increased blog-traffic that usually comes with election season, but -- not out of disingenuous false modesty, and certainly not because I'm somehow serenely "above politics" -- I'm inclined to try to not say much more about or in defense it (i.e., this conclusion) here.  The engaged and thoughtful people who read, or come across, this blog have probably reached their own conclusions, and are comfortable with them.  Some will prioritize (a horrible word!) the issues that I tend to -- school choice, religious freedom, pluralism in the non-state sector, the selection of federal judges, abortion regulation -- and some will emphasize others (which I certainly agree are important).

The "Catholic Legal Theory" project -- the Mirror of Justice project -- is about more than answering the "for whom should we vote? and "which policies should we enact and enforce?" questions (thought these are, obviously, crucially important questions).  It is also, and maybe more fundamentally, about the implications for the legal enterprise, and our understanding of what "law" is and is for, of the Christian proposition that every person is created, sustained, loved, and saved by God.

As I wrote in my first MOJ post (in February 2004):

One of our shared goals for this blog is to . . . "discover[] how our Catholic perspective can inform our understanding of the law."  One line of inquiry that, in my view, is particularly promising -- and one that I know several of my colleagues have written and thought about -- involves working through the implications for legal questions of a Catholic "moral anthropology."  By "moral anthropology," I mean an account of what it is about the human person that does the work in moral arguments about what we ought or ought not to do and about how we ought or ought not to be treated; I mean, in Pope John Paul II's words, the “moral truth about the human person." 

The Psalmist asked, "Lord, what is man . . . that thou makest account of him?” (Ps. 143:3).  This is not only a prayer, but a starting point for jurisprudential reflection.  All moral problems are anthropological problems, because moral arguments are built, for the most part, on anthropological presuppositions.  That is, as Professor Elshtain has put it, our attempts at moral judgment tend to reflect our “foundational assumptions about what it means to be human."  Jean Bethke Elshtain, The Dignity of the Human Person and the Idea of Human Rights: Four Inquiries, 14 JOURNAL OF LAW AND RELIGION 53, 53 (1999-2000). . .

In one article of mine, "Christian Witness, Moral Anthropology, and the Death Penalty," here, I explore the implications for the death penalty of a Catholic anthropology, one that emphasizes our "creaturehood" more than, say, our "autonomy."  And, my friend Steve Smith (University of San Diego) has an paper out that discusses what a "person as believer" anthropology might mean for our freedom-of-religion jurisprudence  that fleshes out excellent article.  I wonder if any of my colleagues have any thoughts on these matters?

Of course . . . who am I kidding?  It's only a matter of time before a "Real Catholics love teacher-unions" or "President Obama is the pro-life candidate" post or piece will pull me back in, right?  [Insert smiley-face emoticon here].

Posted by Rick Garnett on August 30, 2012 at 05:29 PM in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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There is an issue that doesn't come up very often (or at least that is how it seems to me) in discussions of Catholic thought and its application to politics, and that's the issue of the morality not of governing but of *campaigning*. Whichever candidate you support, especially in a presidential campaign, he or she is probably lying. How is a faithful Catholic supposed to deal with the fact that the candidate he or she supports has, for the purpose of the campaign, at least, decided the best way to win the election is to lie?

Posted by: David Nickol | Aug 31, 2012 10:00:22 AM

"The "Catholic Legal Theory" project -- the Mirror of Justice project -- is about more than answering the "for whom should we vote? and "which policies should we enact and enforce?" questions (thought these are, obviously, crucially important questions). It is also, and maybe more fundamentally, about the implications for the legal enterprise, and our understanding of what "law" is and is for, of the Christian proposition that every person is created, sustained, loved, and saved by God."

Amen. And that's what goes on between the blogger professors generally. The best back & forth discussion comes through multiple blog posts between the professors, and not from us commenters.

If you open comments, you're not likely going to get much in the way of thoughtful, reflective discussion on a difficult topic in the comments section. When you blog about partisan politics, it lends to a visceral reaction in readers that leads to more nonsense comments than with posts concerning issues of the law. That's just the nature of blogging, IMs, twitter, etc.

Posted by: CK | Aug 31, 2012 10:52:18 AM

You do a very good job overall with the Mirror of Justice in providing a forum for reasoned discourse on important subjects where Catholic legal theory, politics and philosophy intersect. I agree with CK above that the back and forth between professors, in particular, can lead to some good developments. With this in mind, I can't help but notice the absence of posts from the so-called "progressive" voices, such as Bob Hockett, Steve Shiffrin, Michael Perry, Susan Stabile (and some bloggers have quit the forum entirely, such as Eduardo Penalver). I am unsure of the reason for their reluctance to post here in recent months, but their absence has been missed, and I think leaves the overall level of discourse in this forum has suffered as a result.

Posted by: Jim D. | Sep 5, 2012 4:46:53 PM

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