Monday, August 7, 2017
I had the opportunity earlier this summer to speak at the Portsmouth Institute Summer Conference, "Being Human: Christian Perspectives on the Human Person." I was asked to present on human ecology and, in the main, spoke from prior writings on this topic, some of which I'd published in Public Discourse earlier this year.
Relying on Pope John Paul II (and others), I made the claim in both the PD piece and at the Portsmouth Institute that perhaps "human ecology" could serve as a better analogue to the reality classically understood as natural law. Here's some from the original piece in Public Discourse:
For these recent popes, “the ecology of man” seems to approximate what would have been described classically as natural law: the idea that the human person possesses a nature that must be understood and nurtured for his full flourishing (eudaimonia, for the Greeks; beatitude, for the Christians). But the modern connotations of both nature and law are, without a great unlearning, too fixed or static to represent the dynamism of the human person in an authentic way. Consequently, natural law as a concept today is greatly misunderstood. For most, it is almost unintelligible.
But I wanted to dig a bit deeper at the Portsmouth Institute than I had in the PD piece about why "natural law" had become unintelligible to modern ears. Perhaps this was too complex to get at sufficiently as a sidebar (and may have taken my presentation too far into the weeds!), but I thought MOJers may find it of some interest. Here's some of that sidebar:
The natural law of course requires that good is to be done and evil to be avoided. But it emerges more fully from reflections upon man’s natural inclinations to goodness, truth, and beauty, to self-preservation and intimate union, and to living in community. It is organically discovered (and discoverable) from within, we might say, not artificially (or arbitrarily) imposed from without.
But (sadly) “human nature” and natural “law” are concepts that have become reified over time (that is, these terms, to the modern mind, inaptly connote something fixed or static and, yes, imposed artificially and arbitrarily). The ecological analogue may better allow that same mind to reflect then, with fewer intellectual stumbling blocks perhaps, upon the dynamic and complex internal structure of the human person and of human experience.
For the inner intelligibility that informs the natural world—that which allows scientists to study it, to understand it, to promote methods of protecting it—that same intelligibility informs all of creation, man no less. As Bishop Robert Barron reminds us, it is intelligibility itself, the capital ‘L’ Logos that is at the heart of, is that which makes possible, every quest for human understanding-- every small “L” logia (from ecology to biology to psychology).
And so, the intelligible dynamic structure of the human person ought not be confined within concepts that have lost their capacity to ignite insight into the reality of things themselves, the reality, most essentially, of the transcendent yearning for truth, goodness, and beauty that God has placed in each and every human heart.
So, for instance, the term “law” now inaptly conjures for many a kind of Hobbesian command, a fixed statute borne of the arbitrary will of the legislator (to which each solitary individual owes his obedience)--with little sense of the reasoning, principles, and concrete particularity by which and from which it was derived. (This, we should be reminded, is a far cry from the more organic, reason- , virtue-, and tradition-dependent, common law understanding in which the jurist, accompanied by the accumulated wisdom and experience of the precedents before him, employed his reasoning capacity to ‘discover’ rather ‘create’ or ‘invent’ (or ‘rationalize away’) the way in which enduring legal principles might inform new circumstances. …And so we can begin to see how this older understanding of law would have properly served as a strong analogue to natural law in prior days).
And so, with the loss of law as a really good referent, the analogy to “ecology” may more readily represent to the modern mind the complex reality of human contingency, human agency, and human interdependence: that the human person is created, and he is endowed with a dynamic internal structure by which he desires, knows, and wills, and yet, by his choices, he creates himself; that he is deeply influenced by and, in turn, influences others; that he is conditioned by the environment in which he finds himself and yet is capable of transcending it.
Now, we should of course continue to work to recover the authentic meanings of natural law and of human nature in our post-modern age (and great philosophers such as Servais Pinckaers, Bernard Lonergan, and Karol Wojtyla have helped us begin to do just that). But in the meantime, those of us engaging others in the world can work to reach them by speaking in the tongues of our current culture.
Moreover, translating natural law insights not only affords a potential bridge to our fellow man; it also inspires those of us doing so to re-appropriate for ourselves the tradition anew so that we do not, in Russell Hittinger’s words, simply “regurgitate truisms,” without ever penetrating these ancient truths for ourselves. This inauthenticity is rejected immediately today, as well it should be...
Human ecology, as used by the popes then, implicitly assumes the existence of the moral law written on the heart of every human person, that when nurtured through love, cultivated in virtue, and protected from moral toxins, affords each of us an internal guide toward happiness. But “ecology” is also better able than “law” today to help conjure in the modern mind’s eye the social influences that may either support or undermine the development of that internal guide. In John Paul the Great’s words: "Man receives from God his essential dignity and with it the capacity to transcend every social order so as to move towards truth and goodness. But he is also conditioned by the social structure in which he lives, by the education he has received and by his environment. These elements can either help or hinder his living in accordance with the truth."
What the great saint was urging us toward, of course, is a more dignified culture, a social ecology worthy of the dignity of the human person. [It was to that topic I then turned.]
For more on how thinking ecologically can assist in the assimilation of ancient truths with scientific discoveries --and how all this can help get us beyond the (destructively) false modern idea of freedom as autonomy, I cannot recommend enough Matthew Crawford's brilliant book, The World Beyond Your Head: Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction. You may have seen reference to the book in John Water's must-read First Things piece, "Back to Work."
In case you needed any more summer reading...
Thursday, June 1, 2017
This week, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Bret Weinstein, a biology professor at Evergreen State College. Weinstein tells the now familiar tale of irascible student protests (responding to his pleas for reasoned debate about race on campus). This portion of his piece is especially noteworthy as a general critique of the structure of the modern university and what it has wrought for today's students (emphasis mine):
[T]he protests resulted from a tension that has existed throughout the entire American academy for decades: The button-down empirical and deductive fields, including all the hard sciences, have lived side by side with “critical theory,” postmodernism and its perception-based relatives. Since the creation in 1960s and ’70s of novel, justice-oriented fields, these incompatible worldviews have repelled one another. The faculty from these opposing perspectives, like blue and red voters, rarely mix in any context where reality might have to be discussed. For decades, the uneasy separation held, with the factions enduring an unhappy marriage for the good of the (college) kids.
One could get discouraged as this news becomes the new normal at college and universities around the nation. So, in these final days of Easter, I wanted to pass along reasons for hope: new—and old—voices, offering not critique of the current climate so much as alternatives ripe for revitalization. (I well acknowledge that I spend much of my day alone in my home study, entirely free of university shenanigans or the pressures that come with tenure-seeking, etc. And, happily, the latter part of my days is spent with my children who are blessed to be receiving a first-rate classical education at St. Benedict's outside of Boston - where we were recently encouraged by George Weigel's remarks on these topics at our annual auction.)
In The Idea of the University, Cardinal Newman beautifully articulates the very purpose of such an institution, implicitly devastating the silo-ing of disciplines about which Weinstein insightfully casts much of the blame for today's woes:
It is a great point then to enlarge the range of studies which a University professes, even for the sake of the students; and, though they cannot pursue every subject which is open to them, they will be the gainers by living among those and under those who represent the whole circle. This I conceive to be the advantage of a seat of universal learning, considered as a place of education. An assemblage of learned men, zealous for their own sciences, and rivals of each other, are brought, by familiar intercourse and for the sake of intellectual peace, to adjust together the claims and relations of their respective subjects of investigation. They learn to respect, to consult, to aid each other. Thus is created a pure and clear atmosphere of thought, which the student also breathes, though in his own case he only pursues a few sciences out of the multitude. He profits by an intellectual tradition, which is independent of particular teachers, which guides him in his choice of subjects, and duly interprets for him those which he chooses. He apprehends the great outlines of knowledge, the principles on which it rests, the scale of its parts, its lights and its shades, its great points and its little, as he otherwise cannot apprehend them. Hence it is that his education is called "Liberal." A habit of mind is formed which lasts through life, of which the attributes are, freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom; or what in a former Discourse I have ventured to call a philosophical habit. This then I would assign as the special fruit of the education furnished at a University, as contrasted with other places of teaching or modes of teaching. This is the main purpose of a University in its treatment of its students.
In recent years, Bishop Barron has explored with characteristic intelligence and aplomb just how the intelligibility that grounds all reality makes the search for knowledge and truth even possible, across all disciplines. I'd especially recommend this 2011 lecture at the University of St. Michaels, but all of his lectures are top-shelf.
The Lumen Christi Institute has recently made available online a lecture at the University of Chicago by Professor Jared Ortiz. It is an admirably clear exploration of classical liberal education, especially as he compares the traditional approach with the more recent Great Books revival. Ortiz recounts his own transformation at Chicago under the tutelage of Leon and Amy Kass (who “trained his loves”), as well as Paul Griffiths. Ortiz, like Bishop Barron, points to Christ the Logos as the principal of all intelligibility, and thus suggests, in conclusion, that the liturgy ought to properly be at the 'heart' of the 'core' curriculum.
Finally, I'm about half way through Senator Ben Sasse's book, The Vanishing American Adult. It's excellent - but what is especially encouraging to me is that this learned statesman, en route (one hopes) to a presidential bid in coming years, would pen a book devoted entirely to the rearing and education of young children. A topic once considered essential by the most influential thinkers in history (Plato, Aristotle, and Rousseau come immediately to mind) was strangely downgraded more recently. Sasse, a Yale-trained historian, well understands that the intellectual and moral formation of the young is the most crucial work of a civilization that hopes to persist (and thrive!). Here’s a taste of the book in an interview with Bill Kristol. But read the book – and be heartened that a man concerned about these important matters sits in the upper chamber of Congress. I am.
Thursday, April 27, 2017
Last week I had the great honor of receiving the Susan B. Anthony Award for Commitment to Life from the Harvard Law Students for Life. (I'm pictured below with the incoming president of the organization, Steven Obiajulu.) The organization was founded by a merry band of students in 2016, advised by the ever courageous Mary Ann Glendon and fellow MOJer Adrian Vermuele. The students presented the inaugural SBA award last year to Robert George.
Over lunch, I gave a lecture to the law school community, co-sponsored by the HLS Federalist Society. My topic, "Revisiting Planned Parenthood v Casey: Does 'Relying' on Abortion for Equality Actually Serve Women's Equality?" was a summary of a law review article I've written for a symposium on the 14th Amendment and abortion, convened by Steve Gilles at Quinnipiac University School of Law. The symposium, inspired by Steve's recent pro-life legal scholarship, took place at Quinnipiac this past Saturday and included contributions from Michael Stokes Paulsen and Charles Camosy (as well as Steve and myself). The articles will be published in the Quinnipiac Law Review's late summer issue. (NB: The dean of the law school, Jennifer Brown, participated in symposium in its entirety, offering incisive questions and important critique. Her support of Steve's work -- and her engaged and thoughtful participation in the Symposium -- are an admirable example of an institutional commitment to intellectual diversity. Bravo!)
For those who haven't read Gilles' pro-life work, Why The Right to Elective Abortion Fails Casey's Own Interest-Balancing Methodology -- and Why It Matters, 91 Notre Dame L. Rev. 691 (2015) is a good place to start. His forthcoming article is a much-needed critical analysis of Whole Women's Health v Hellerstadt, and specifically, Justice Breyer's failure to be faithful to Casey. With characteristic surgical precision, Gilles explores the Casey compromise, and why Hellerstadt could be a bigger blow than some might realize.
My forthcoming article argues that Casey has been inadequately understood by those most critical of it. Specifically, I argue that concerns about women's equality are the interpretative lens through which to read the substantive due process discussion (re women's "unique liberty"), the attempted (and I think failed) comparison of the contraception cases with Roe and its progeny, and finally the stare decisis holding (wherein the oft-quoted 'reliance' language makes its debut). (Much too could be said about the spousal notice discussion but I give it only a footnote, perhaps to return to it more fully some other day.) Here's a bit from my HLS talk:
Many have ably critiqued the Court’s use of stare decisis in Casey both as a general constitutional matter and by taking each of the considerations the Court reviews one by one...most notably the late Justice Scalia in his Casey dissent and eminent constitutional law professor Michael Stokes Paulsen. But when, in the Joint Opinion, the Court declared that “a terrible price would be paid for overruling [Roe],” both Scalia and Paulsen understand the Court to be concerned primarily with the legitimacy and integrity of the Court itself. Though it’s probably not so prudent to argue against these two constitutional giants, I think the text of the Joint Opinion indicates that the Court was actually primarily concerned with something else: the impact reversal would have upon women’s enhanced status in society. This is not to say that the voiced concern for the court’s legitimacy and institutional integrity expressed in Part III of the Casey decision was not important to the justices in the plurality, for surely the space afforded and the sheer energy manifest in that part reveal that it was.
It is to say, however, that by its own terms, Casey indicates that women’s constitutionally protected "liberty" to access abortion to “participate equally” in the “economic and social developments” of the nation is the key concept undergirding the controversial reaffirmation. Now perhaps the Court’s concern about its own institutional integrity may have gone hand in hand with worries about how the Court would have been perceived had it upended the constitutional right to abortion--what had become, over the intervening nineteen years, the sine qua non of the modern day women’s movement. My point here is not to disturb others’ critiques of the stare decisis or institutional integrity arguments; my point is only that critics of Casey have not taken the underlying concerns about women’s equality seriously enough.
I spend some time exploring and then critiquing the reliance arguments concerning the interplay between abortion and contraception (arguing, most fundamentally, that the moral hazard effects of abortion as a back up to failed contraception has made this interplay far more complex than the Casey plurality assumes). I then look at the reliance arguments concerning women's equal participation in social and economic life. Here's some from the presentation, where I borrow from Justice Holmes' dissent in Lochner to shape my point:
[W]hen Holmes wrote in his Lochner dissent that "a constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory,” I would suggest that these words are equally applicable to Roe, and more explicitly to Casey, if one replaces “economic theory” with “feminist theory.” For by constitutionalizing the right to abortion in Roe, and reaffirming it through equality reasoning in Casey, that is precisely what the Court was doing: it illicitly appropriated a particular feminist theory, newly popularized in the 1970s, into the Court’s interpretation of the 14th amendment --with social consequences that remain salient for women today....
Just as the Lochner court chose to constitutionalize one particular theory of how to respond to the asymmetries in the employer/employee relationship after the cultural upheaval of the Industrial Revolution, Casey doubled down on a particularly inhumane way of securing women’s increased social status in society after the Sexual Revolution. In so doing, Casey thwarted more humane responses to the asymmetries that naturally exist—and socially persist—due to women’s disproportionate role in human reproduction.
I'll post when the issue comes out.
Thursday, April 6, 2017
I just returned from a three day trip to Rome, where I had the great honor of speaking on the topic of the family at the international conference commemorating the 50th anniversary of Pope Blessed Paul IV's Popularum Progressio. The conference was convened by the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (merging prior Vatican offices of Justice & Peace, Cor Unum and others).
I enjoyed my time there immensely -- and, as a speaker, was among the few to receive a personal greeting from the Holy Father. I've included a picture below of that blessed encounter (in which I asked him to bless my family and, recalling his request for work articulating a "new theology of women," gave him a copy each of Women, Sex & the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching and Promise and Challenge: Catholic Women Reflect on Feminism, Complementarity, and the Church.) The Holy Father addressed the conference, speaking to the need to "integrate" all of the persons of the earth, noting that "the duty of solidarity  obliges us to seek fair ways of sharing."
Both Cardinal Turksen, prefect for the new dicastery, and Cardinal Müller, prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave truly beautiful introductory remarks. Both began with the anthropological foundations--and transcendent realities--that undergird the Church's work in the world.
Cardinal Turksen was especially eloquent on the unique God-given nature of the Church's mission in the world. He spoke first of the person's communal nature, the centrality of solidarity with the poor, and the Church's "persevering commitment to the common good." And then, emphasizing the duties the rich have to the poor, he paraphrased Pope Paul VI's use of a quote of Saint Ambrose in Popularum Progressio. St. Ambrose: "You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich."
But he then went on to say that each person must be an "artisan" of his or own destiny, since "every man is born to seek self-fulfillment, for every human life is called to some task by God" (PP, 15). He said, importantly, that the development of the self is derived from the transcendent call of God, and so is "incapable of supplying its own meaning." And thus, he went on to emphasize, now quoting Pope Benedict, that agents of development must be people of prayer. He happily noted that some in the world development community had widened its focus to include more than indices of economic and social transformation in its analysis of development, but that "the Church still contributes something special: prayer."
More Turksen themes: The transcendent character of the human person is the reason the Church has authority to speak--and must speak--in the world. Without our acknowledgement of God and of the human person's eternal destiny, development is denied or truncated. The human person may accumulate wealth but does not truly develop. Development is not something done to a person, but is an invitation to answer his vocation, to take responsibility for his own fulfillment. Thus, the principle force in development is the rule of charity: making Christ's love and invitation real to others.
Cardinal Müller, for his part, spoke of the need to reflect on Gaudium et Spes, the "magna carta" of development, written just before Popularum Progressio, in order to fully understand the nature of the person and his efforts in the world. All the institutions of the Church must always work to reveal God's love to each person: the origin, essence, and mission of the Church must be understood in light of the incarnation, so that the human person might reach his fullness according to the moral and spiritual nature of man.
The Cardinal differentiated the Catholic approach of development from the many political ideologies especially powerful during the 20th century, but still present in different names or forms today. From the CruxNow article reporting on the conference:
Non-Christian visions of development include the “communist” idea of “creating heaven on earth,” the “utilitarian” idea of seeking “the greatest level of happiness for the most people,” the “Darwinian” or “imperialistic” notion of the survival and thriving of the strongest, and the “capitalistic” vision “with the exploitation of the world and labor.” “If we use these means, we are violating man’s dignity,” Müller said.
Echoing themes from Cardinal Turksen's remarks, Cardinal Müller reminded the participants that we cannot produce God's kingdom on our own strength. We need grace: we must ask the help of the Holy Spirit, the "spirit of charity that sanctifies us." "Even good works are worth nothing if not rooted in the love of God through the Holy Spirit."
He concluded by talking about new forms of "colonialism" conveyed under the term "modernism" or the "well-being society." He said these can be a denial of other cultures that are "authentic expressions of the human...Different people can announce the work of God in another language...the single culture is the culture of God." And finally, we must not forget that each person must be redeemed by overcoming sin within himself. Only this interior struggle against moral evil will allow for the creation of "dignified conditions."
I could go on, recounting other terrific, eye-opening speeches, offered by cardinals and bishops from around the world, as well as a good number of impressive lay people. But let me turn to my own.
Notably, the section on the family comes right at the heart of Popularum Progressio. Here's much of it: “The natural family, stable and monogamous, as fashioned by God and sanctified by Christianity, —"in which different generations live together, helping each other to acquire greater wisdom and to harmonize personal rights with other social needs, is the [very] basis of society." (PP36) Thus, the title of my talk (as given to me) was: "The Family: Between Personal Rights and Social Needs."
My remarks were self-consciously American, offering a glimpse into our free and prosperous nation, now at risk of "coming apart."
[A]s we think together about integral human development, I hope to offer some lessons from the United States that might serve as a kind of bell-weather for developing nations, so as not to, in the words of Popularum Progressio, “allow economics to be separated from human realities” (PP, 14). As Pope Paul VI warned: “The developing nations must choose wisely from among the things that are offered to them [by the wealthier nations]. They must test and reject false values that would tarnish a truly human way of life, while accepting noble and useful values in order to develop them in their own distinctive way....” (PP, 41)
I focused especially on "the diametric trajectories of the marrying rich and unmarrying poor," given the data on outcomes for the children of each, and that this trend was especially foreboding for both income inequality and the flourishing of the most vulnerable. I went on to diagnose the decline of marriage among the poor as being, at least in part, due to the especially harsh effects of the sexual revolution upon poor women:
[W]hat has become increasingly difficult to ignore, even for secular thinkers, is the way in which the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s dramatically altered the circumstances in which poor women bear and raise their children. The decoupling of sex from marriage and marriage from childbearing, ushered in by the sexual revolution, unraveled a working-class culture of once stable marital bonds that children need and both mothers and fathers relied upon for their success at home and at work, and in all of life.
I then turned to some new data showing that the most well-educated women in the US are getting and staying married at the highest rates of all demographic groups today.
Whether working outside of the home or exclusively within it, these elite women well understand the unique contributions their husbands make to their children’s well-being and to their own happiness. They well understand that collaboration and “reciprocity” (AL, 54) in their marriages is the surest ticket to their children’s well-being—and to their own.
And then here's the central part of the talk:
In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis rightly notes that “[h]istory is burdened by the excesses of patriarchal cultures that considered women inferior,” and that were sometimes “marked by authoritarianism and even violence.” But recent history, as experienced by poor single mothers in my country and across the Western world and beyond, does not look kindly upon the radical feminist corrective to the harsh inequities that sometimes accompanied traditional marriage. As Pope Francis suggests, these inequities “should not lead to a disparagement of marriage itself, but rather to the rediscovery of its authentic meaning and its renewal.” (AL, 53), since, Amoris Laetitia again, “violence contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union” (AL, 54).
Ensuring women’s rights within the family and in society requires strong prohibitions against domestic violence and other forms of violence against women and children; legal protections for women in the workplace; just honors and support for the culturally-essential care work that women disproportionately undertake in all societies, including the most egalitarian; and equal access to food, health care, education and, importantly, political participation.
But, in the effort to help families more authentically “harmonize personal rights with social needs,” developing nations with strong family traditions ought not give into the “ideological colonization” that threatens the family from powerful feminist organizations within wealthier nations, especially my own.
Equal rights for women does not require that women suppress their fertility, reject their unborn children, or abandon their hopes for a joy-filled, life-long marriage. The feminist response to the sexual asymmetry between men and women—the fact that women get pregnant and men do not—too often demands that women seek a sort of faux-equality with men, by “imitating models of ‘male domination,’” (EV, 99) as Evangelium Vitae put it, in prioritizing abortion and contraception over women’s educational and broader health care needs. Rather, the far better, and indeed more equitable, just and authentically pro-woman response to sexual asymmetry, is to reconfirm in all cultures the essential and distinctive obligations that fathers have in the family, and to reimagine the dynamic collaboration of men and women in the lives of their children and beyond.
“We often hear” Pope Francis writes, “that ours is ‘a society without fathers…. In our day, [Francis continues] the problem no longer seems to be the overbearing presence of the father so much as his absence, his not being there” (AL, 177). The Holy Father suggests that “some fathers feel they are useless or unnecessary…[and even that] manhood itself seems to be called into question” (AL, 176).
And so, even as we celebrate the progress for women in many countries—and seek to promote it more authentically in still others— we must bring into sharper relief the essential contributions men make as husbands and fathers within the family. Eminent anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said that “the central problem of every society is to define appropriate roles for the men,” as women’s identity has always been caught up in forging life and building relationships, in the home, in the wider community, and now, in a growing number of countries, in the corporate boardroom and the hospital emergency room. With changing roles for women, men are struggling with their identities more than ever; many men are floundering, feeling unneeded, even unwanted, opting out of life through drugs and pornography, or re-asserting their presence through violence and terror.
But men are needed in the family today, as they always have been, by their children—and by their children’s mothers. Studies out of the US show that a father in a loving relationship with the mother of his children is far more likely to have children who are healthier, both psychologically and emotionally. And, as it turns out, the single most important determinant of a mother’s happiness is the very same: the father’s commitment to and emotional investment in the woman’s well-being and in that of their children. In addition, both marriage and fatherhood can have a deeply transformative effect on men themselves: they work harder, advance in their jobs, are less likely to commit crimes, have less substance abuse, better health, and importantly, grow in religiosity. The positive impact upon men of marriage and fatherhood—and in turn, of religious faith—redounds not only to the benefit of their wives and their children, but also to their workplaces, their communities, their nations.
The rest of the talk is dedicated to the transformative power of indissoluble marriage upon both women and men - and, of course, children.
The primary obligation parents have to their children, after the most basic of necessities, is for their parents to truly love, respect, and honor one another....
And thus, we must always affirm that assistance to developing nations does not detract from, but instead promotes the mutual love and collaboration between husband and wife, helping each, as necessary, to recognize the inherent dignity of the other, and teaching them to grow in affection and in trust....
And so, it is we, in the Church, who must prioritize the health and strength of every marriage – for who else in the world right now knows how important each and every marriage is to the development of persons and of nations!? The Holy Father again: “As Christians, we can hardly stop advocating marriage…We would be depriving the world of values that we can and must offer” (AL, 35).
I conclude (to the great satisfaction, I learned, of the many Africans in the room):
As Popularum Progressio rightly notes, “many nations, poorer in economic goods, are quite rich in wisdom and can offer noteworthy advantages to others” (PP, 40). As we come together these days to promote the integral human development of all peoples, let us heed the wisdom of those nations that still enjoy rich family cultures and let us learn from them. It is, after all, the meek and the vulnerable, the cared for and the caregivers within the family, who will inherit the earth.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
Robbie George and Cornell West have written an elegant yet powerful statement in response to the debacle at Middlebury, inviting folks from political left, right and center to join on. Middlebury professor Allison Stanger was among the first to sign. I've just signed on. Here's hoping you will too.
Sign the Statement: Truth Seeking, Democracy, and Freedom of Thought and Expression - A Statement by Robert P. George and Cornel West
March 14, 2017
The pursuit of knowledge and the maintenance of a free and democratic society require the cultivation and practice of the virtues of intellectual humility, openness of mind, and, above all, love of truth. These virtues will manifest themselves and be strengthened by one’s willingness to listen attentively and respectfully to intelligent people who challenge one’s beliefs and who represent causes one disagrees with and points of view one does not share.
That’s why all of us should seek respectfully to engage with people who challenge our views. And we should oppose efforts to silence those with whom we disagree—especially on college and university campuses. As John Stuart Mill taught, a recognition of the possibility that we may be in error is a good reason to listen to and honestly consider—and not merely to tolerate grudgingly—points of view that we do not share, and even perspectives that we find shocking or scandalous. What’s more, as Mill noted, even if one happens to be right about this or that disputed matter, seriously and respectfully engaging people who disagree will deepen one’s understanding of the truth and sharpen one’s ability to defend it.
None of us is infallible. Whether you are a person of the left, the right, or the center, there are reasonable people of goodwill who do not share your fundamental convictions. This does not mean that all opinions are equally valid or that all speakers are equally worth listening to. It certainly does not mean that there is no truth to be discovered. Nor does it mean that you are necessarily wrong. But they are not necessarily wrong either. So someone who has not fallen into the idolatry of worshiping his or her own opinions and loving them above truth itself will want to listen to people who see things differently in order to learn what considerations—evidence, reasons, arguments—led them to a place different from where one happens, at least for now, to find oneself.
All of us should be willing—even eager—to engage with anyone who is prepared to do business in the currency of truth-seeking discourse by offering reasons, marshaling evidence, and making arguments. The more important the subject under discussion, the more willing we should be to listen and engage—especially if the person with whom we are in conversation will challenge our deeply held—even our most cherished and identity-forming—beliefs.
It is all-too-common these days for people to try to immunize from criticism opinions that happen to be dominant in their particular communities. Sometimes this is done by questioning the motives and thus stigmatizing those who dissent from prevailing opinions; or by disrupting their presentations; or by demanding that they be excluded from campus or, if they have already been invited, disinvited. Sometimes students and faculty members turn their backs on speakers whose opinions they don’t like or simply walk out and refuse to listen to those whose convictions offend their values. Of course, the right to peacefully protest, including on campuses, is sacrosanct. But before exercising that right, each of us should ask: Might it not be better to listen respectfully and try to learn from a speaker with whom I disagree? Might it better serve the cause of truth-seeking to engage the speaker in frank civil discussion?
Our willingness to listen to and respectfully engage those with whom we disagree (especially about matters of profound importance) contributes vitally to the maintenance of a milieu in which people feel free to speak their minds, consider unpopular positions, and explore lines of argument that may undercut established ways of thinking. Such an ethos protects us against dogmatism and groupthink, both of which are toxic to the health of academic communities and to the functioning of democracies.
Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.
Cornel West is Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy in the Divinity School and the Department of African and African- American Studies at Harvard University.
If you would like to join Professors George and West as a public signatory to this statement, please submit your name and title and affiliation (for identification purposes only) via email to jmadison@Princeton.edu. Open to all to sign.
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Monday, March 13, 2017
Just a word, since the insanity at my alma mater last month has been covered in almost every noted publication to date. As Professor Allison Stanger returned to the hospital yesterday with a concussion, we still await definitive action on the part of the administration. Thankfully, on March 6, 100 professors spoke out swiftly in favor of free inquiry, offering "core principles that seem to us unassailable in the context of higher education within a free society."
Having had Stanger as a senior at Middlebury in the 90s, these student (and outside) protesters don't know what they missed. She was as tough as nails and would have given any thinker (especially one positing spurious claims) a run for his money. Then again, watching a good portion of the (now removed) video of Charles Murray's talk presented in a protected Plan B setting leads me to think the students would have found in Murray some ammo for their current assault on 'privilege' (in which, at a hefty price tag, Middlebury so manifestly indulges). Too bad they couldn't just...listen. Rod Dreher's investigative reporting presents some evidence from the campus newspaper of what-was-going-on-at-Middlebury ahead of Murray's arrival.
To think Middlebury was the site of my own intellectual conversion, precisely because it was a place willing to invite (and employ!) diverse thinkers that challenged my own far left/secularist thinking: most notably professors Murray Dry, Paul Nelson, visiting professor Paul Carrese, and guest speaker Stanley Hauerwas.
But that was the 1990s.
The Heritage Foundation hosted a lovely live-streamed lunch-time panel today on the life and legacy of the late Michael Novak. Panelists included friends, collaborators, and students of the celebrated (if controversial) theologian who died last month. (As a participate in the Tertio Millenium Seminar in Poland, I number myself among his many grateful students--and was honored and delighted to spend time with him at Ave Maria and CUA over the last year.) Hosted by Ryan Anderson, panelists Catherine Pakaluk, Samuel Gregg, George Weigel and Mary Eberstadt offered intelligent and moving accounts of their friendship with Novak and his enduring legacy.
Catherine Pakaluk, a Harvard-trained economist and now assistant professor of economics at the Busch School of Business and Economics at CUA, made the case for Novak as a true economist, articulating similar themes in the beautiful tribute she scribed for NRO last month:
The economics curriculum at my university (and Penn was not unique in this) suffered acutely from the problem identified by James M. Buchanan in his 1964 article “What Should Economists Do?” What frustrated Buchanan, who went on to win the Nobel prize in economics in 1986, was that to most economists “our subject field is a problem or set of problems, not a characteristic human activity” (emphasis mine). He argued that this mistake would lead inexorably to the disintegration of “economics as a well-defined area of scholarship.” What he did not say but might have said is that a set of merely technological problems cannot inspire, cannot ennoble, and risks a sort of massive irrelevancy with respect to the great questions of human life. I raise this point because it seems to me that there is no better way to describe Novak’s work than to say that he never touched on a subject as anything other than “a characteristic human activity.”
It is worth noting that Novak’s formal education in philosophy, theology, and religious studies was much more like that of Adam Smith than like that of any modern-day economist. This has profound implications for higher education and may explain why Novak was such a fan of religious colleges, helping to found Ave Maria University and finishing his academic career at The Catholic University of America. We should expect, I hope, many initiatives in the coming years, especially at religious institutions, which seek to unpack the importance of philosophy and theology for economics and social science at large.
Catherine offers her own brilliant unpacking in a paper she wrote on the occasion of receiving the Acton Institute's 2015 Novak Award (which recognizes "outstanding scholarly research that examines the relationship between religion, economic freedom, and the free and virtuous society.") The paper, now available online (behind the paywall at the Journal of Markets and Morality, but more readily at academia.edu), is entitled, "Dependence Upon God and Man: Toward a Catholic Constitution of Liberty." Putting Catholic social thought in conversation with liberal thinkers such as Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, Catherine seeks to develop what she calls a "'liberty of dependence'...a doctrine of freedom in society that isn't quite a manifesto of personal liberty as Hayek might have wanted it--but rather a manifesto of social freedom in which freedom for the individual is required so that he can be dependent and responsible."
As one who also has written of late on the theme of dependency as an essential and forgotten element of the human condition--and as one happy to call Catherine a dear friend--I heartily recommend this deeply philosophical and learned approach to political economy. Catherine is a mentor to many, an intellectual force for good, and a true gift to the Church. She is also the mother of eight very blessed children.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
CNN contacted me before Christmas to ask if I'd weigh in on Trump and abortion. I was thankful for the invitation as I'd really not said much about his candidacy during the general election. (Rick was thoughtfully expressing many of my own sentiments.) Like many others, I was more relieved by Hillary's loss than I thought I would be. I am now also hopeful for solid judicial nominations [identity politics warning: perhaps a woman to eventually overturn Roe!] and the life-changing possibilities for poor schoolchildren in a Department of Education that favors school choice. Still, like so many on the left and right, I remain deeply concerned about Trump's character. (I'm hoping Kellyanne Conway provides as much counsel as possible...it'd help as a start if she just took away his phone.)
CNN held the piece for weeks, well, until the Women's March on Washington became a...thing. So I contextualized. CNN then took the liberty of suggesting in their title that I was among those concerned about not being included in the march. Just for the record, though I understand the desire for some pro-life feminists to be represented--to give voice to another perspective--I would never have attended their march to protest a fair election, especially a demonstration that so extols abortion and even links its availability to human rights; my serious concerns with Trump put me too in the wait and see (and pray and write) category. And to further aggravate this pro-lifer, this "women's march" (for half the country's women anyway) is getting far more press than the annual March for Life which generates hundreds of thousands of protesters each year! Thus, my friend Carol Crossed's piece in today's Washington Post is more aptly titled for my way of thinking about all of this. Alas, here's my piece at CNN.
More happily titled is the two part series also published yesterday at Public Discourse on how to think ecologically about our culture's current...mess. I think the concepts of human and social ecology are especially helpful in responding to the ubiquitous Millian worldview that considers the "harm principle" as the only just way to think about cultural issues. (JS Mill, by the way, said this: “[M]isplaced notions of liberty prevent moral obligations on the part of parents from being recognized, and legal obligations from being imposed, where there are the strongest grounds for the former always, and in many cases for the latter also....")
I hope these articles--mining social commentary from the 1990s--help a bit. More to come in months ahead in the form of a law review article... and, if all goes as planned, a book.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Mary Eberstadt and I gave back to back presentations at last spring's Human Ecology conference at the Busch School of Business and Economics. EWTN was on location and is airing our talks this Saturday, January 14th from 2-3pm. Mary's excellent presentation is on religious liberty. A bit from my presentation, which will also be published in Public Discourse later this month:
When John Paul II used the term “human ecology” in Centesimus Annus, he was entering a robust conversation that was already taking place among social thinkers here in the U.S., and perhaps across the Western world. Since the beginning of the last century, social scientists had been making use of the term to describe the now common idea of society as a complex organism, and to study the myriad ways in which various human surroundings influence the human person. The Russian-American psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner notably wrote in 1977 of an “ecology of human development” in which one seeks to understand the human subject from within his “nested,” varied and ever-changing arrangement of environmental structures. An ecological approach is one that is intrinsically interdisciplinary, that seeks to integrate diverse perspectives to achieve a wider angle.
And so by the 1990s, social theorists from across the political spectrum were thinking ecologically about the dynamic interaction among familial, political, economic, and social influences and how these “mutually conditioning systems” affected children, families and communities across America. The ecological analogue helped a diverse group of thinkers to diagnose, even without agreeing to causes, the growing deterioration of once stable families and communities, the deleterious impact that was having upon the nation’s children and the nation’s poor, and in turn, the consequences of this cultural, or ecological, disintegration upon American institutions. In particular, communitarians such as Michael Sandel, Amitai Etzioni, and our own Mary Ann Glendon, worried together that America’s celebrated free economic and political institutions were actually at great risk of undermining their own foundations due to an erosion of the “moral ecology” or, in Robert Putnam’s term, “social capital” that these free institutions needed to thrive.