Thursday, January 25, 2018
Don't miss this moving Washington Post story describing the courtroom testimony of former gymnast Rachael Denhollander: "She helped bring down Larry Nassar. At his sentencing for sex crimes, she spoke about her faith."
She was the first, in 2016, to accuse Nassar of sexual abuse, back in 2000 when she was 14 and he was the sports physician at Michigan State University. On the stand, she spoke to Nassar of the biblical description of the final judgment “where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you.”
She continued: “Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you. I pray you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.”
There's more. Check out the whole story. How fitting that this testimony be reported on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
Thursday, January 18, 2018
The Thomistic Institute at Harvard Law School is co-hosting a conference on March 2-3rd dedicated to discussing the (irreconcilable?) tensions inherent in the interplay of liberalism and Christianity.
Speakers include: Prof. Emerit. Rémi Brague (the Sorbonne), Fr. Dominic Legge, OP (the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception), Prof. Helen Alvaré (Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University), Prof. Candace Vogler (University of Chicago), Fr. Thomas Joseph White (Dominican House). Panel participants: RR Reno, Adrian Vermeule, and Margarita Mooney.
Pre-registration is required, and I hear it is filling up.
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.