Tuesday, September 27, 2016
I have an extremely critical post on it over at Liberty Law. From the end:
[T]he crown jewel in this disaster is Commission Chairman Martin Castro’s one-paragraph statement at page 29. It has to be read to be appreciated, and so let me only discuss the chairman’s choice of epigraph. The words are attributed to John Adams, but they are actually a provision in the Treaty of Tripoli passed in large part in order to negotiate with Muslim national powers in Africa for protection against pirates.
They are: “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
There are at least two problems in beginning this way. The first is that it shows Mr. Castro to be ignorant of Adams’s actual views when it came to, for example, Christian establishments of religion in the early republic. Of all the platitudes he could have chosen, he landed on a spectacularly inapt one.
The second, and larger, difficulty is that it suggests that for all the commission’s talk of nondiscrimination, it harbors hostility to one religion specifically: Christianity. The commission should be upfront about it, and simply state that its real object is to repudiate the country’s Christian heritage and to target Christianity for special legal disability. It would have saved all of us a lot of time and frustration.
Indeed, it is especially irritating for me to write this post because I wasted my time traveling to Washington, D.C., three years ago to testify before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. My testimony is at page 213 of the report and following, and I’m grateful at least to see the statements of Commissioners Peter Kirsanow and Gail Heriot. But I repent of my decision to testify. I’ll think twice and three times before ever doing it again.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
I have posted a new paper, Religious Accommodation, Religious Tradition, and Political Polarization (UPDATE: link fixed). It's likely to generate disagreement from those on all sides of this issue. Though my subject is not the same as Professor Muñoz's, the two are related in several ways, and I'll have a post or two about the connections soon. Here's the abstract:
A religious accommodation is an exemption from compliance with the law for some but not for others. One might therefore suppose that before granting an accommodation, courts would inquire about whether a legal interference with religious belief or practice is truly significant, if only to evaluate whether the risk of political polarization that attends accommodation is worth hazarding. But that is not the case: any assessment of the significance of a religious belief or practice within a claimant’s belief system is strictly forbidden.
Two arguments are pressed in support of this view: (1) courts have institutional reasons for acquiescing on the burden question; and (2) courts have anti-establishment reasons for doing so. Courts, it is said, do not decide about the quality of religious burdens. Claimants do that. Courts defer so as to reduce the political polarization that might result if some should perceive that their religious beliefs and practices are comparatively powerless to obtain exemptions. Deference on the burden question preserves the religious neutrality of courts and mitigates the politically polarizing dangers of accommodation.
This essay contests that view. It argues that this approach to religious accommodation has generated considerable difficulties of its own that have aggravated the political polarization they were intended to reduce. Political polarization is now a pervasive feature of religious accommodation, but this essay focuses on only some explanations for this unfortunate state of affairs—those that relate to the antagonistic relationship between religious accommodation and established religious groups and traditions.
First, hyper-deference as to the burden on religion systematically undermines the view that religions are institutional phenomena with established, stable, and longstanding traditions. In doing so, it damages the argument that courts are institutionally incompetent to evaluate religious ideas. Claims about the institutional incompetence of the judiciary to inquire into religious burdens proceed on the assumption that there is something unique—and intelligibly unique—about religious beliefs and practices that make them different from, say, individual foibles, fraudulent schemes, flights of fancy, or private predilections. Arguments about the judiciary’s institutional incompetence as to religious questions contemplate the existence of other institutions that are competent as to those questions. Lacking such other institutions, the institutional competence of courts to evaluate religious claims is greatly strengthened. Courts are perfectly competent to evaluate fraud, idiosyncrasy, gibberish, and personal preference. Yet when courts are disabled from evaluating some varieties of idiosyncratic eccentricity (denominated “religious”) but not others (not so denominated), then “religion,” and therefore religious accommodation, is bound to be politically polarizing. The category of religion, having been stripped of its institutional character for legal purposes, designates nothing coherent at all. And people begin to suspect with some justice that decisions about accommodation are being made on the basis of other reasons altogether.
Second, the hyper-deferential approach to religious accommodation assumes and promotes a particular and decidedly non-neutral view of religion as irrational and utterly incomprehensible to anybody other than an individual believer. Accommodation is not for established religious groups or traditions—groups that are organized, enduring, and that might offer substantial resistance to prevailing political and cultural orthodoxies. Accommodation is for the exotic, the personal, the unthreatening, and the peculiar. That view is part of the heritage of the highly individualized, subjective approach to religion steadily constitutionalized by the Supreme Court since the mid-twentieth century, and that now seems to be the foundation of one powerful strain of the contemporary cultural understanding of religion in America. It is a view whose promotion in law has profoundly entangled the state with religion. The refusal of courts to make any serious inquiry into the nature of the asserted religious burden has encouraged increasingly aggressive, self-indulgent, and ephemeral assertions of religious freedom. It will—and indeed, it already has—promoted unserious religion. Small wonder that religion as a legal category is in such disreputable odor. Small wonder that religious accommodation is increasingly perceived in politically partisan terms.
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
Over at the Law and Religion Forum, my colleague Mark Movsesian and I are hosting an online symposium over the next month or so on Professor Vincent Phillip Muñoz's paper, "Two Concepts of Religious Liberty: The Natural Rights and Moral Autonomy Approaches to the Free Exercise of Religion." Phillip's complete paper was recently published in the American Political Science Review, but he summarizes it nicely in this opening post. Here's a bit to give a general flavor of the argument:
The founders rejected the language of toleration, because toleration presumes that the state possesses legitimate authority over religious exercises. Instead, the founders recognized that the right of religious liberty inheres in the individual prior to state recognition. Individuals possess a right of religious free exercise on account of their created nature and their pre-political obligations to God. That is why it is a natural (as opposed to an acquired) right....
That the founders understood worship according to conscience to be an inalienable natural right can be seen in the founding-era state declarations of rights, the founders’ philosophical defenses of religious liberty—including Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty and Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance—and in influential political sermons of the time....The inalienable character of the individual’s authority over worship meant that the state could never legitimately acquire sovereignty over religious exercises per se.
Religious exercises, accordingly, remain beyond the jurisdiction of government. This means that state officials lack legitimate authority to directly prohibit, mandate, or otherwise regulate religious exercises as such....[T]his lack of sovereignty also means that judges—who, too, are agents of the state—lack authority to balance elements of the inalienable natural right to religious liberty against other state interests. The act of balancing itself assumes jurisdiction: The “balancer” places competing rights and interests on a scale. Even if the scale is tilted toward religious freedom (as it is under the Sherbert Test), the act of weighing assumes an authority that the founders deny. Judges may not exercise such authority because the state itself lacks jurisdiction over religious exercises as such....
Largely because of Sherbert, we tend to think that any belief or action motivated by religion falls within the First Amendment’s protections. The founders’ understanding is more nuanced and more limited. The founders distinguished core inalienable elements of religious free exercise from what we might call religious “interests.”
The inalienable core includes the “freedom to embrace, to profess, and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin,” to use Madison’s language from Article 4 of the Memorial and Remonstrance. These core elements of religious worship remain beyond the state’s direct jurisdiction. Religious “interests” include activities of faith that fall within the state’s otherwise legitimate sovereignty. When exercising its legitimate authority and pursuing otherwise legitimate civic ends, the state may burden religious “interest.” It also may relieve burdens on religious “interests” through discretionary exemptions....
If the Free Exercise Clause only protects against direct state restrictions on and regulations of religion, what protections does it really offer?
[My response is] that the founders’ understanding does not protect against “indirect” religious burdens—that is, laws and regulations such as a military draft that do not target or mention religion as such but, when implemented, burden some religious individuals or institutions. I must acknowledge that, in the context of our modern regulatory state, the founders’ natural rights understanding may not seem adequate to protect against all the different ways the state encroaches on the lives and interests of religious individuals. This observation, I note, is what led Justice William Brennan to eschew the framers’ approach and adopt the Sherbert Test over fifty years ago.
Whether the founders’ approach is adequate for our times, however, is a different question from what the founders’ approach is. In the larger context of human history, moreover, denying the state authority over religious exercises is a monumental achievement in the service of human freedom. We often speak of “limited government.” We do not often remember that the fundamental limit the founders imposed on government was to deny it religious authority. That American governments still do not typically attempt to directly prohibit, prescribe, or regulate religious exercises is a testament to the founders’ achievement. We need only to look to the Middle East to appreciate what the founders bequeathed us....
Church-state scholars are so accustomed to assuming that the right of religious liberty means exemptions that we tend to fail to consider the obvious alternative: that the state may not prohibit or otherwise regulate religious exercises as such. The founders did not share our presumptions. At the level of constitutional design, rather than having judges protect religious liberty via the superintendence of allegedly burdensome state action, they sought to demarcate that a relatively narrow but profoundly important area of human life remained outside of the sovereignty of the state.
Stay tuned for responses from Gerard Bradley (Notre Dame), Donald Drakeman (Cambridge), Matthew Franck (Witherspoon Institute), George Thomas (Claremont McKenna), Jack Rakove (Stanford), and Corey Brettschneider (Brown), with a final reply by Phillip thereafter.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
I have a reply to the essays of Professors Bernstein, Levinson, and Stoner up at the Liberty Fund blog. It is the last in this series, and I've enjoyed it very much. Here is a portion from the middle, responding to some of Professor Levinson's challenging remarks:
It is a somewhat different thing to reply to Professor Levinson, who has earned more attention in this reply by being considerably less sympathetic than my other interlocutors to the value of exploring the relationship of tradition in law. He makes three primary points: 1) My essay was pitched at a sufficiently abstract level so as to be criticized with the aphorism that we are all traditionalists in America so long as we are essentially liberal Progressives (or libertarians). 2) American Founders such as the authors of the Federalist Papers were revolutionaries, not traditionalists, so that the predominant American political-legal tradition is liberal Progressivism, if not radicalism. 3) To the extent a non-liberal-Progressive traditionalism has been part of American intellectual history, it has been responsible for terrible things—slavery most prominent among them—that have rightly been abandoned.
As to the first point, it is difficult to think of anybody (not even Professor Levinson’s traditionalist incarnation, Edmund Burke, would qualify) who holds that a positive view of tradition implies or requires stasis or the total absence of change. Even for those, like Burke, well-disposed to adhere to past patterns of behavior, it is necessary to devise new ones if only because the situations to which those traditional patterns must be applied are different than those that preceded them—“confirming the wisdom of what remains,” as Professor Stoner has it. At any rate, though the relationship between tradition and social change is complex, at least this much may be said: It is not a one-sided affair. It is not all tradition and no change or progress. Otherwise, we would all be liberal Progressives.
Perhaps the differences between Professor Levinson and me are therefore more matters of mood, disposition, or emphasis. He lights up at those moments in American culture and history in which people exercise their freedom to “denounce” the inheritance of the past. It is probably fair to say that I find such moments less electrifying, though I agree with Professor Levinson that they do exist.
I offer the Madison of the National Bank controversy. He counters with the Madison of Federalist 14 (though I might observe that a “decent regard to the opinions of former times” is not the same as an indecent contempt for them).
I could parry with language in Federalist 15 (“experience” as “the best oracle of wisdom”) or the very final Federalist 85 (“No human genius, however comprehensive, is able by the mere dint of reason and reflection to effect it. The judgements of many must unite in the work.”). Or even Federalist 2, in which John Jay notes with some pride that “Providence” has seen fit to give the country to a people “very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long ad bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.”
Doubtless Professor Levinson would have a riposte at the ready, and so it would go on. He characterizes these as internal “contradictions” within The Federalist but they may simply be different features of the moral and political experience of these three authors, each representing its own portion of wisdom. Many of them do not vindicate liberal Progressivism in the least.
In fact, it severely distorts the American Founding to call it either committed to a liberal Progressive ideological program or rabidly radical. True, there were elements of the Old World that were cast off by the new nation, but as historians from Forrest McDonald to Eric Nelson have (in their own ways) shown, the temper of the American Founders may have been even more traditionalist than their English progenitors. Early Americans were the inheritors of an English constitutional traditionalism that was centuries old. Their revolution was motivated by the Crown’s denial of what they perceived as their traditional, ancient rights as Englishmen, rather than by the desire to denounce and exchange those rights for something altogether and radically different. What they desired for themselves was what they already knew well as the tradition of self-government in liberty.
The English Bill of Rights was a model for ours, just as the Act of Union was a model for our federalism. As Greg Weiner has put it in his fine recent essay for Law and Liberty, “Of course, the colonists were deeply affected by the ideas of the Enlightenment, as they were by the ideas of antiquity (far more essentially a staple of their curricula).” Tradition and change were at least equally parts of their political and intellectual constitution. As they should be (but regrettably are not) of ours.
Friday, August 19, 2016
The final response to my essay on law and tradition has been posted over at Liberty Law, and it is superb: Professor James Stoner's Legal Realism, Legal Revolution. Jim's work has been formative for my own learning about the relationship of the common law tradition and American constitutionalism--and in particular about the erroneous and all-too-common characterization of constitutional law as "judge-made law." It's wonderful to have his contribution. A bit from the end of Jim's piece:
Just a little over two months after praising Americans for discarding a “blind veneration” of legal tradition, Madison wrote a most interesting passage in Federalist 49. In that February 2, 1788 essay he explained the need for the Constitution to earn what I infer must be enlightened “veneration” (he repeats the noun, without an adjective) from the people. This would come over time, as the system established by the Constitution demonstrated its capacity to insure good government. I think Madison had in mind a respect that inclines people to work within the system to seek improvements, and an inclination to wonder whether even what appear to the most agitated of us to be “stupidities” or “rigging,” might not have a reasonable purpose, even if that purpose has come to be overlooked or forgotten.
“In a nation of philosophers,” he continued, “this consideration ought to be disregarded. A reverence for the laws would be sufficiently inculcated by the voice of enlightened reason. But a nation of philosophers is as little to be expected, as the philosophical race of kings wished for by Plato.” The impossibility of such a nation, moreover, is not accidental, but somehow essential, if the limits of human reason are understood. As Madison explains a few papers later, “Had every Athenian citizen had been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.”
DeGirolami seems right on point in describing the anti-traditionalism of the legal academy today and, since this has been the case for more than a generation, of the bar and bench that they have trained. The thirst for novelty, driven by academic practices that ultimately imitate the natural sciences without showing anything like scientific progress, except perhaps to partisans of dominant opinion, has corrupted the respect for tradition that once imbued the law and that—let me repeat by way of emphasis—made possible genuinely successful reform.
Perhaps, as DeGirolami hopes, something can be salvaged of the common law tradition, in its new guise as “judicial process,” to guide pragmatic reformers who don’t want to scrape their shins on the furniture—even if the brightest and most ambitious eschew Holmes’ path of “profound interstitial change” in favor of openly promoting causes they think noble. I confess to being a bit skeptical that tradition can be recovered as a formal category and an independent good apart from the actual, concrete tradition of common law and constitutionalism which we inherited, developed, and now seem eager to spend down. I doubt, too, whether that tradition could be restored unless the difficult philosophical work were done inside the law schools and outside of them—the work that would be needed to revive the thought, the experience, and even the faith in human reason out of which our tradition first emerged.
Monday, August 15, 2016
Professor Sandy Levinson has an enjoyable and highly critical take on my essay about law and tradition. It's a pleasure and an honor to be in conversation with him. I'm already at work on my reply. Last up next week will be Professor Jim Stoner. A bit from the beginning of Professor Levinson's essay:
Professor DeGirolami has written an interesting Liberty Forum essay in behalf of paying respectful attention to tradition as a major aspect of our legal order. However, I think there are two major problems with it. The first is theoretical, particularly in relation to the American political and legal experience. The second has to do with actual practices or examples. The essay, albeit interesting, is written from a lofty perspective; there are too few concrete examples that truly allow the reader to ascertain the implications of his argument. Almost always, when it comes to politics or law, the devil (or saving grace) is in the details, and Professor DeGirolami needs to put more real flesh on his otherwise skeletal argument....
Professor DeGirolami tellingly quotes both Khloe Kardashian and Oliver Wendell Holmes. One is hesitant to embrace Kardashian as a normative exemplar of American culture, and Holmes, of course, has become a central target of those who view “Progressivism” as a defining moment in the decline of that culture and Holmes as a central figure in that decline. So let me offer two other sources that call into question another notion that there was an Edenic period in America when tradition, however defined, reigned before the Fall instantiated in figures like Holmes and Woodrow Wilson.
Consider one of the ur-texts of American political thought, The Federalist. Needless to say, any series of 85 essays, written by three authors in a remarkably short period, will have its share of contradictions. That being said, my own favorite paragraph among the 85 is the conclusion of Federalist 14, which is, among other things, about the virtues of the “extended republic,” in contrast with what might be said to be traditional notions of republican political thought that emphasized the importance of relatively small and homogeneous societies as a prerequisite for republican governance. Publius dismissed such arguments:
Hearken not to the voice which petulantly tells you that the form of government recommended for your adoption is a novelty in the political world; that it has never yet had a place in the theories of the wildest projectors; that it rashly attempts what it is impossible to accomplish. . . . Is it not the glory of the people of America, that, whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to overrule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience? . . . They accomplished a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society. They reared the fabrics of governments which have no model on the face of the globe. (emphasis added)
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
Very interesting interview by my colleague, Mark, about Rusty Reno's new book. Have a look. A bit from the q&a:
You call for “a national culture not dominated by Christians but leavened by them.” Could you say a little more about this? Isn’t there a danger that, in a Christian society, the voices of non-Christians would be excluded and their communities disvalued? Is a Christian society consistent with pluralism?
Reno: One of the great promises of secular progressivism is “inclusion.” The notion of diversity gets a great deal of play. But in actual fact our society today is far more policed than it has ever been, not just in the literal sense of cops on the street, but through groupthink and political correctness. So it seems that secular progressivism preaches pluralism but practices a kind of mono-cultural approach to public life.
The reason for the paradox is simple, I think. Without a transcendent orientation, secular progressivism makes a god of politics. Christianity, by contrast, recognizes that politics, while important, is not ultimate. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” St. Augustine distinguished between the City of God and the city of man. For this reason, a Christian society can accommodate pluralism in a way that a supposedly neutral secularism can’t. The social consensus in a Christian society need not be final, as it were. It can be penultimate, and thus more open. Compare that with our current climate. The Obama administration seems unable to countenance any dissent from the sexual revolution. Everybody must participate in gay weddings! Everybody must participate in the contraceptive culture!
Finally, I’d like to say a word about Judaism, Islam, and other religions in contemporary America. For the last century the biggest threat to a Jewish parent trying to pass down his religion to his children has not been Christianity. It has been secularism. For every Jew who has been converted to Christianity there have been thousands upon thousands who have assimilated into our secular, materialist culture. For any believing Jew, the danger is conversion to the pagan religion of health, wealth, and pleasure, not Christianity. Reflective Jews and Muslims recognize this. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has been quite explicit: a renewal of Christianity in the West would go a long way toward helping Jews sustain their own religious communities against the pagan idolatry of our time.
Monday, August 8, 2016
When it comes to American constitutional law, by the late 19th century there was widespread agreement on two principles: that when interpreting the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court’s role was to protect those natural rights that had been crucial to the development of Anglo-American liberty; and that the United States had an unwritten Constitution based on traditional principles, much like Great Britain’s, that informed constitutional analysis.
For the most part, the Supreme Court justices of the pre-New Deal period did not engage in a jurisprudence of originalism that would be recognizable to modern advocates of originalism. Rather than focusing on the original public meaning of discrete portions of the text, they instead interpreted the Constitution in light of the classical liberal values they believed were embedded in America’s written and unwritten constitutions. They sought to protect those liberties that underpinned the development of Anglo-American liberty. Their Progressive critics recognized this as a form of originalism, and accused them of allowing the dead hand of the past to rule the present. The critics instead advocated a “living Constitution” that would privilege social science and the perceived needs of modernity over the protection of traditional American liberties.
The old Court permitted the government to impinge on recognized liberties when the government was acting within the contours of the so-called police power. Importantly, that power included not simply the protection of public health and safety, but also the protection of public morals, as defined by Anglo-American tradition. For example, despite the Court’s endorsement of liberty of contract, it had no difficulty unanimously upholding a law that restricted work on Sundays.
The Supreme Court’s concern for protecting natural rights as understood in the context of Anglo-American history did not survive the New Deal and the triumph of legal progressivism. That triumph was so complete that for a long time the only significant debate in American constitutionalism was in effect between old Progressives who wanted to severely limit judicial review, and new Progressives who agreed that judicial review should generally be limited, but who sought to carve out certain preferred freedoms for special judicial protection. These freedoms were not defined by reference to tradition or history, but by the need to ensure that the modern special-interest state had democratic legitimacy. As the American state-building project continued, it was considered crucial to ensure that freedom of speech allowed for public debate and input, that criminal suspects received federal procedural protections, and that minorities such as African Americans did not become a permanent underclass, with their status imposed by government.
Tuesday, August 2, 2016
That's the title of an essay I have at Law and Liberty's monthly Forum on the relationship of law and tradition. The essay is a bit of a trumpet flourish for the Tradition Project, the first part of which will be occurring in October of this year, keynoted by Michael McConnell and with subsequent workshops on the meaning of tradition, the American religious tradition, the American political tradition, tradition and the common law, and tradition and constitutional law.
I'm delighted and honored that Professors David Bernstein, Sandy Levinson, and James Stoner will write up responses to my essay, to be published serially in the next few weeks. I'll get a chance to reply after that to what I know will be challenging and insightful pieces. Here's a bit of the beginning of mine:
What is the relationship of law and tradition? Tradition, either as a proposition of independent legal value or a register in which to discuss and explain the persistence of our legal arrangements, has very little traction today. In law, as in many other areas of contemporary American life, tradition as a normatively powerful idea is wildly unfashionable—even disreputable.
When tradition’s influence on law is considered, responses ordinarily fall somewhere along a predictably confined range—from dismissal and disdain to something like revulsion. A fairly recent Slate article on Khloé Kardashian’s checkered and rather perplexing spiritual practices concisely sums up the general view: “What’s more American than taking a tradition, tossing out what you don’t like, and remaking it in your own image?”
Deep calls unto deep: writing more than a century earlier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. seems to have been of like mind when he thundered that “it is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV.” These words by one of the most influential of American jurists suggest that there has long been—perhaps there has always been—something of a reluctance (to put it gently) in the American legal intellectual to admit the connection of law and tradition. Arguments that depend upon tradition are widely thought to offer nothing against, or even in conversation with, the predominant intellectual legal frameworks—those inclined toward progress, efficiency, and technology, for example.
And yet the repudiation of tradition as a modality through which to think about and evaluate law is much more deeply ingrained today than in prior periods. One is unlikely, for example, to hear from any contemporary American Bar Association functionary or legal academic anything like what one once heard from ABA founder and Yale Law School Professor Edward J. Phelps. Phelps gave a speech in 1879 on the legacy of Chief Justice John Marshall and constitutional law in which he observed:
“It is idle to say that our sky is free from clouds. It is useless to deny that wise and thoughtful men entertain grave doubts about the future. The period of experiment has not yet passed, or rather has been again renewed. The stability of our system of government is not yet assured. The demagogue and the caucus still threaten the Nation’s life. But we shall not despair. . . . Let us join hands in a fraternal and unbroken clasp, to maintain the grand and noble traditions of our inheritance, and to stand fast by the ark of our covenant.”
Reliance on the justificatory support of tradition is in fact of long lineage in Anglo-American law. “Erravimus cum patribus”: such was Lord Coke’s response when summoned before the Privy Council to answer various frivolous charges in his ongoing disputes with King James I over his conduct as Chief Justice of the King’s Bench. If there was error, “we have erred with the fathers.” There was a time when this was thought answer enough.
Indeed, American law—and English law before it—historically has depended upon tradition as a vital source of stability and justification. Usages, dispositions, and moral views that endured from one generation to the next were presumed valid and true. There was an implicit judgment of value in these continuities: the wisdom contained in tradition would not have endured, people believed, if it did not advance basic human well-being. True, traditions could change or fall out of use and people did not defer to the past mindlessly. But the past had definite claims; one could not cast it aside as though it had nothing to offer to, or require from, the present.
What complicates the story of tradition’s contemporary decline is that in some ways, tradition as a source of meaning, justification, and even identity in law persists. The common law method, for example, in which law develops gradually and internally from precedent, depends upon traditional instincts and traditional processes. Lawyers and judges cannot ignore the cases that have come before; they must fashion arguments in ways that cohere with earlier judgments. They must incorporate the past into the present. They must respect the American legal tradition—do right by it as they resolve cases.
Saturday, July 30, 2016
From Chapter 4 of Edward Shils's Tradition:
Muteness of sentiment and unthinking acceptance of a model visible in the conduct of others, the recognition of convenience and the acceptance of results at an expected level of satisfactoriness, are sometimes infused with a level of piety toward the past. The pastness of a model of action or belief may be an object of reverence. Not givenness, and not convenience, but its sheer pastness may commend the performance of an action or the acceptance of a belief. Deference divested of reverence is contained in the principle of the jurisprudence of the common law which commands respect for precedent. The fact of pastness is acknowledged as normative. A decision under the common law ordinarily entails no attachment to a particular epoch or a particular deed or a particular generation in the past, it is the pastness of the precedent as such. Its normative necessity is self-evident: that is the way it was, that is the way it ought to be. There is no sentiment of reverence formed about the way it was. Attachment to a particular past epoch infused with charismatic quality by sacred revelation or a sacred person and sacred events which is characteristic of the Christian attitude toward the age of the Gospels is a different sort of thing in sentiment and in the scope of significance from the attitude toward the judicial precedent. Both attachments have in common, however, the normativeness of the past pattern.
Interesting observations, which make me wonder precisely in what position constitutional stare decisis might be situated in terms of sentiments of "attachment to a particular epoch or a particular deed or a particular generation in the past."