Thursday, January 18, 2018
In light of Rick's posts on liberalism - and the various interesting articles at First Things, especially - I wanted to mention a book published out of Cambridge University Press this year that may be of interest. The Political Theory of The American Founders describes, in a kind of archaeological dig, the evidence of the consensus theory of the founders as one bound by natural rights.
Probably the most unique and important contribution of the book is the middle section on the Moral Conditions of Freedom. Here, the author, Hillsdale Professor Thomas West, culls research from state constitutions at the time of the founding. West claims that most scholarship on the founding tends to focus on the philosophies of this or that particular founder, or delve into the thinkers who informed them, notably John Locke. He sought instead to find public material that would show consensus among thinkers.
If you only have an hour, watch this video with West and commentary by Patrick Deneen and UChicago professor Joshua Mitchell. West's short presentation doesn't do justice to the book, in my view, but Deneen is Deneen at his best. Mitchell offers some really thoughtful commentary on whether understanding the founding as the founders understood it actually does us much good. We are, after all, living worlds apart from their worldview, consensus or not, and so we probably couldn't recreate their theory today even if we better understood it.
It is my view - always subject to change - that shoring up our moral ecology is the most important work we have today, whether to provide the conditions for republican forms of government, or more primarily, because that is the most important work human beings must undertake, whatever form of government we have.
Thursday, December 28, 2017
I haven't yet written about the Harvey Weinstein #metoo affair. I guess I haven't felt it necessary to use this particular cultural moment to jump up onto my regular soapbox. Suffice it to say, I'm not at all surprised this predatory behavior emerged out of the dark underbelly of Hollywood, the cultural epicenter (and exporter) of a vulgar and sex-saturated America. One is just left wondering whether the moment will serve as an opportunity to rethink how we think about sexual intimacy, sexual difference, and sexual equality. Might I recommend Women, Sex & the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching?
Public Discourse has published some really good essays on the topic over the last few weeks. And the January issue of First Things has two well worth reading. All suggest how the #metoo moment presents the Church with an opening for which she has been preparing since JPII's Wednesday audiences more than thirty years ago. (Or, strike that: since her very founding). For a quick read that hits all the right notes, read this new editorial at the National Catholic Register. Here's a bit:
More than ever, we need a new social movement inspired by the Church’s own teachings on sexuality and chastity — chastity not as a form of social control, but as the path to an interior freedom born of self-restraint. This freedom makes it possible for a man to see every woman, but especially the woman he loves, as a priceless gift, not as an object to be used....And in marriage, this freedom creates the conditions for an authentic sexual relationship of mutual self-gift.
Though even further afield from 'Catholic legal theory,' I want to add one really practical (parenting) note about the self-restraint (though I prefer self-mastery) needed for self-gift. From my talk on the "hook up culture" at the World Meeting of Families in 2015:
The role of parents in forming our children to live lives of sexual integrity does not begin when boys and girls have reached their teen years and sexual hormones are already raging. If young men and women are going to resist both the urgings of their bodies and the cultural pressures toward recreational sexual encounters, self-mastery must be learned, in the smallest of ways, in the early years at home. As the Catechism puts it, chastity requires “an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is training in human freedom.” [Here I list the many, many practical ways the family serves as a school of virtue.] If children are habituated to give into their bodies’ every desire in little things [food, electronics, etc] or to remain sluggish in the face of family responsibilities, even well-catechized, intellectually converted teens will be hard-pressed to resist the allure of a premarital sexual relationship.
Finally, apropos of larger philosophical trends, if you haven't yet read Robby George's latest book, Conscience and Its Enemies, check out this lively presentation of its key chapter (in my view) at the recent Love & Fidelity Network conference. His description of the classical/revisionist disagreement of the nature of liberty and of a liberal arts education--to wit, what is it that we seek to liberate ourselves from?--is the proper lens through which we ought to understand the bad behavior in Hollywood and elsewhere. Is reason to be the master of my desires in and through the cultivation of intellectual and moral excellence (aka, virtue), or is reason, ala Hume, merely the "slave of the passions"?
Culturally, we've opted for the latter - so why are we so surprised?
Thursday, December 7, 2017
Faulker University Professor of Law Adam McLeod hit a nerve when last month he published a speech he'd delivered to students in his course, Foundations of Law. Impatient with his students' tendency to express "feelings" about topics or assume that they'd made an adequate case against an argument by merely dropping an "ism" such as "sexism," he took the time to lay some ground rules for the remainder of the course. Students were simply not to use "isms" when they contributed to class discussions; they were to define terms that they may have previously assumed admitted of only one definition ("equality" for instance); and, most notably, their professor warned them that if they began a contribution with "I feel," they'd have to cluck like a chicken.
In response to inquiries about the new ground rules, McLeod said: "I'm training lawyers here, and lawyers make arguments. Arguments consist of propositions and facts, or in other words, reasons...reasons don't always care how we feel about them...."
The whole speech is worth your time, but here's my favorite part:
Third, you should not bother to tell us how you feel about a topic. Tell us what you think about it. If you can’t think yet, that’s O.K.. Tell us what Aristotle thinks, or Hammurabi thinks, or H.L.A. Hart thinks. Borrow opinions from those whose opinions are worth considering. As Aristotle teaches us in the reading for today, men and women who are enslaved to the passions, who never rise above their animal natures by practicing the virtues, do not have worthwhile opinions. Only the person who exercises practical reason and attains practical wisdom knows how first to live his life, then to order his household, and finally, when he is sufficiently wise and mature, to venture opinions on how to bring order to the political community.
Cicero would be proud.
Monday, November 13, 2017
I've recently posted on SSRN my forthcoming article, "A Putative Right in Search of a Constitutional Justification: Understanding Planned Parenthood v Casey's Equality Rationale and How it Undermines Women's Equality." In the article, I argue that women's equality is the key interpretative lens through which to understand Casey's controversial reaffirmation of Roe but one that has not been understood adequately by those most critical of Casey. The article aims to fill the void - and specifically critiques the "reliance" arguments made in Casey. It could be understood as a companion to my 2011 HJLPP article, "Embodied Equality."
The Federalist Society at Harvard and Yale law schools have had me to campus to speak on the article in recent months. I'll be out at Stanford in February doing the same.
Also, happy to announce I am beginning a year-long fellowship at Harvard Law School in February as a Visiting Scholar, under the faculty direction of Mary Ann Glendon. I am working to complete a book on women's rights that most prominently features her work.
Monday, October 30, 2017
I will be at Yale Law this Thursday, speaking on "Revisiting 'Reliance Interests' in Planned Parenthood v Casey: Does 'Relying' on Abortion for Equality Actually Serve Women's Equality?" The talk is sponsored by the Yale Law chapter of the Federalist Society and will take place in Room 120 from 12:10-1:30pm.
Friday, October 20, 2017
Arizona State University has just launched the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership under the direction of the wise and learned Paul Carresse, former professor of political science at the Air Force Academy and author, most recently, of Democracy in Moderation: Montesquieu, Tocqueville, and Sustainable Liberalism. The school aims to steep its students in the study of America's founding principles. Check out these courses and this upcoming speaker series.
The school's moto: "Inspiring Leadership and and Statesmanship for the Common Good." The timing of this new initiative is impeccable. May it attract many students and bear much fruit.
Friday, October 6, 2017
Harvard Law Students for Life hosted a standing room only panel yesterday at noon, featuring Mary Ann Glendon, Robbie George, and Jacqueline Rivers. Their common topic: "Why We Are Pro-Life: Dignity, Equality, Human Rights."
Mary Ann Glendon was up first, leaning on her well-known gifts as a raconteur to describe the various ways in which growing up in a small New England town influenced her views. (Her town was "a town much like those described a century earlier by Tocqueville...a town of 5000, the ideal size of a polis, according to Aristotle.")
First, small town life allowed a young person to experience and appreciate the ebbs and flows of human life -- births, deaths, disability, dependency--and allowed one to recognize how the decisions that individuals and families make in such circumstances have a cumulative impact over time. Choices matter and have long-ranging effects. Second, as Tocqueville observed, nearly everyone in a vibrant small town is engaged in some sort of civic activity. For her mother, that meant conservation, for her father, the Democratic Party (which stood for the working man, lending a hand to one another). When she arrived at college, those habits of civic engagement turned to the civil rights movement. Once abortion rights came around as a "cause" -- the 1970s -- Mary Ann assumed that the Democratic Party would be the obvious home for the pro-life movement, as yet the next phase of "expanding the beloved community," as MLK had inspired so many a decade before. It came as a frightful surprise then to find the Democratic Party abandon this basic principle. She concluded: "I began to worry that we were drifting toward a philosophy that I'd thought had been put to rest at the end of WWII: that some lives are more worthy than others, that some lives are not worthy at all."
Jacqueline Rivers spoke next, beginning with a firm statement that her pro-life views are rooted in her Christian faith: human life is sacred, science indicates that human life begins at conception, and all lives--regardless of race, gender, social condition, stage of development--are created in the image of God. As an African American woman, she said that she had a special concern for abortion's impact upon the African American community (black women make up 14% of the female population but have 40% of the abortions). She spoke at good length about the intersection of poverty, abortion, out-of-wedlock childbearing, and the retreat from marriage. Her work seeks to challenge the ecumenical black church - the most religious ethnic group in the country - to create a movement that is pro-poor, pro-life, pro-family. The Seymour Institute -- and her courageous work on the streets of Boston for decades now -- does just that. She testified last week against the assisted suicide bill that is (yet again) before the MA State House. I wiill post her powerful testimony in the days to come. Here is a re-up of my reporting on another excellent panel contribution - on religious liberty.
Robbie concluded the panel with a "biographical, biological, and philosophical" account of his views (all that in 15 minutes). The last two are familiar to MOJers, but the biographical aspect was new to me. Robbie said the single greatest influence on his views was his mother ("who is still alive and still a force of nature") who taught unequivocally that every person was the bearer of profound dignity. These were not mere words: she lived this creed profoundly and sacrificially, actively reaching out and caring for women in difficult situations, especially those who lived with abusive husbands or boyfriends. Through his mother's inspiration, he became active in the nascent pro-life movement when he was 13 (in the years before Roe came down), and through the movement met university students who were reasoning through the issue philosophically. Thus, one of our time's most gifted philosophers was born.
All three sought to encourage members of the audience to decouple the pro-life cause from its current association with the Republican Party. This is merely a historical happenstance, and a dramatic change from prior times (when so many of the most well-known Democrats were pro-life, namely Jesse Jackson, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, and some of the most libertarian Republicans were pro-choice).
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived was released from Crown Forum today. The late justice's son, Christopher Scalia, co-edits the volume, alongside former Scalia clerk and EPPC president (and my boss), Ed Whelan.
It is a remarkably funny collection of speeches, culled by the editors for a lay audience. Ever intelligent and witty, Justice Scalia's levity enchants almost every page (granted, I haven't yet read the chapter on the Holocaust). The speech "Games and Sports" begins: "I have been asked many, many times to what do I attribute my well-known athletic prowess." His response unfolds as an amusing narrative of the neighborhood pastimes of his youth, from marbles to roller skating to Ringalevio (about the last, he writes: "I don't know how to spell it; I actually don't think it has ever been written down.") In his deeply moving introduction to the book, Christopher quips that his father wasn't all that sure how to pronounce his own name either...
Justice Ginsburg writes the foreword to the book, sharing her gratitude for their mutual friendship over the decades they served on the bench together. Yesterday, CBS News released an interview of Justice Ginsburg together with the late justice's widow, Maureen Scalia. The two recounted how important the justices' friendship was, as puzzling as it may have seemed to the wider world. They lamented the loss of the time when "across the aisle" friendships were more common. In a tribute to Ginsburg included in the book, Justice Scalia refers to the working relationship they developed as a "mutual improvement society," admiring Ginsburg's propensity to want to improve rather than correct. ('Not, 'this is wrong, Nino,' but 'the point would be even stronger if.'")
Both justices are celebrated as icons by opposing camps in the legal world today. The sharp vision of each seemed to have been honed by the other. Would that younger generations of Americans would learn the lessons of this remarkable friendship.
All Catholic lawyers will want to read Scalia Speaks for its substance alone. Chapters include "Catholic Higher Education; Church and State; Faith and Judging; Nature Law; and Judges as Mullahs." But all of us would benefit from spending more time with this great man, whose good will - and great humor - ingratiated him to one of his greatest adversaries on the Court, and to untold audiences over the course of his lifetime.
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
A few posts ago, I recommended Matthew Crawford's book, The World Outside Your Head. To convince MOJers to pick it up, I wanted to offer an excerpt. From the book's final chapter, in a section called "The Dialectic with Tradition," I pull here the lessons from Crawford's study of organ-makers. (This is transcribed from the audio, so excuse formatting or other mistakes.)
We moderns have inherited a view that pits the technical spirit versus tradition. Partisans of the first will say it embodies reason and that the latter amounts to little more than inherited prejudice. For their part, partisans of tradition often see in technology a spirit of vandalism that can only destroy meaningful human activity. But to be in conversation with a tradition is a kind of rationality, a mode of thinking that helps us get at the truth about things....
The dialectic between tradition and innovation allows the organ-maker to understand his own inventiveness as a going-further in a trajectory he has inherited. This is very different from the modern concept of creativity which seems to be a crypto-theological concept: creation ex nihilo. For us, the self plays the role of God and every eruption of creativity is understood to be like a miniature Big Bang coming out of nowhere. This way of understanding inventiveness cannot connect us to others or the past. It also falsifies the experience to which we give the name creativity by conceiving it to be something irrational, incommunicable, unteachable....
According to the Enlightenment concept of knowledge we explored [earlier in the book], the exemplary sort of knower is a solitary figure and his knowing happens always in the present tense. He is not encumbered by the past nor does he recognize the kind of authority that operates in communities. His arguments are demonstrative... they float free of any particular historical circumstances or set of lived experiences. Tradition is thus disqualified as a guide to practice. Tradition may convey some truths, it will be conceded. But to be ratified as such, the truths in question must be scrutinized by a mode of reasoning that is independent of what came before. To be rational is to think for oneself. For the most part, this Enlightenment understanding views tradition as a darkness that grips men's minds and a habit of inflexibility to be rooted out. But this view gets a lot wrong.
As we saw also in the case of scientific apprenticeship [earlier in the book], in the development of any real competence, we don't judge everything for ourselves, starting from scratch each morning. Rather we have to begin by taking a lot on faith, submitting to the authority of our teachers, who learn from their teachers. The individualist conceit that we do otherwise - and the corresponding discredit that falls on tradition - makes people feel isolated. As we learned from Tocqueville, this isolation brings with it a certain anxiety which we try to relieve by looking around to see what others - our contemporaries - are thinking and feeling. The rugged individualist becomes the statistical self....
In the book, Crawford dives deep again and again into various sorts of expertise (e.g., short order cook, hockey player, glass-maker, motorcyclist, engineer) to show, among other lessons, the reality of the human person as a situated, embodied self who develops competency and independent judgment within the tradition within which he or she works, "going-forward from" but always dependent upon it. In a word, we are only capable of independent judgment - of thinking for ourselves and innovating anew- when we've appropriated the traditions from which we come. Only then can we look back with reasoned critique. But in making our critique, we best be wary of tearing out root and branch that which has given us the capacity to do so.
[Sept 24 update: Thanks to a reader, original typo corrected.]
I am not on social media much, but from what I gather the vitriol that seems often to characterize the medium has heated up on religious matters. Whether it's with regard to the unconstitutional treatment of judicial nominee Amy Barrett, Fr. Martin's new book, Building a Bridge, or Pope Francis (always Pope Francis), online religious warfare is apparently at its zenith. This should concern all who care about faith - but even more broadly, all who care about reason. After all, it is the capacity to offer coherent reasons for one's perspective, as well as the capacity to listen and civilly engage those who differ, that makes constitutional democracy possible--and well, we live in one.
The founders of our republic took a great risk in presuming human beings could engage in public-spirited dialogue about matters of the common good. But to them, the historical alternative was not all that appealing. And we might be reminded of that from time to time. Religious warfare - even of the increasingly digital variety - leads neither to changed hearts nor minds, and it certainly does not lead to peace among people. It degrades the human person - who by his capacity to reason most distinguishes him from the animals - and it degrades the common life we live together.
So I was happy to see Bishop Barron's address to employees at Facebook earlier this week. Bishop Barron, like Pope Benedict and others before, does even more good in his defense of reason than even in his defense of the faith. His talk, "How to Have a Religious Argument," brings together many of his recurring themes, but most especially that faith is opposed to neither reason nor science. The talk is outstanding as a matter of apologetics. There is simply no one better.
But perhaps the talk is most instructive in its final minutes when he walks the audience through the medieval method of disputation as best exemplified by the great St. Thomas Aquinas. Thomas formulates arguments for atheism far better than the modern atheists, Barron tells his audience; perhaps you might go and read them. No argument is off the table; best to know your interlocutor's argument better than even they do, noting points of agreement when you see them; treat each person with whom you disagree with the respect he or she deserves.
None of us is Thomas Aquinas, and few of us can treat an opposing argument with the charity and dexterity Bishop Barron does, but we can all seek to improve along these lines. As Catholic lawyers, we have an obligation to do so. For if not us, who else will?
Bishop Barron offers a way forward, but not just for religious argument. The medieval approach to dialogue, disagreement, and debate that Barron recommends would do our republic a whole world of good. If we cannot restore the capacity for reason-giving, if all disagreement becomes a battle of the will to power, we have seized to be a republic. I, for one, am not ready to give up on that project yet.