Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Internet Debates

Further to Mark's post about the level of the discussion on Catholics and voting, MOJ readers might be interested in the results of a recently released Pew report. Contrary to fears that had been expressed by many that the internet would hurt democratic deliberation, the report concludes that the Internet has contributed to a wider awareness among those who use it.

"At a time when political deliberation seems extremely partisan and when people may be tempted to ignore arguments at odds with their views, internet users are not insulating themselves in information echo chambers. Instead, they are exposed to more political arguments than non-users. While all people like to see arguments that support their beliefs, internet users are not limiting their information exposure to views that buttress their opinions. Instead, wired Americans are more aware than non-internet users of all kinds of arguments, even those that challenge their preferred candidates and issue positions."


October 31, 2004 in Stabile, Susan | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

A Bit of Hyperbole and Another Question

Well, Rick, with his usual acuity, caught me in a bit of hyperbole, as I tried to state the dilemma that this election poses for Catholics. It is true that Kerry is not necessarily the poster boy for Catholic social teaching , and that re some issues he may not be much better than Bush (capital punishment?) But it is hard to see that he could be much worse than Bush. Rick's question for me raises an even more fundamental question for my friends among Catholic progressives. So far, everyone has been debating whether it is permissable to vote for someone with a record like Kerry's on abortion because Bush's record on other issues central to Catholic moral and social teaching is unacceptable. We've aired the arguments pro and con pretty thoroughly on that threshold question. Lat's assume, just for the sake of argument, that it is legitimate to ignore the abortion issue because the other harms are proportionately greater. Have those who would vote for Kerry on that basis in fact made the case that Bush's offenses to Catholic values are proportionately greater? I think they have, and there certainly have been references in MOJ posts and elsewhere to the ways in which Bush has offended, but I'm not sure I have yet seen the comprehensive case made in detail. There is a lot to talk about here (just war, capital punishment, economic policy and poverty, human rights, and more), so consider this an invitation to weigh in. This is an invitation, however, not just to a list of Bush's failures or wrongs, but to an explanation of them as failures or wrongs explicity in terms of Catholic moral and social teaching.


October 31, 2004 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

A Question for Mark

I appreciate Mark's paper. His demolition of the "I can't impose my religion" argument is, well, just that. And, his exploration of the dilemma that some politically progressive, pro-life Catholics are facing -- a dilemma that has been explored thoroughly on this blog in recent days -- is, as the saying goes, "fair and balanced."

I would add two friendly amendments, though: Mark says (below) that "the two candidates thus leave us with no choice but to confront the question of whether it is possible to support a candidate like Kerry whose record on life is beyond the pale because his opponent's record on everything else shows a disregard for the consistent ethic of life." Now, I do not believe that Bush's "record on everything else shows a disregard for the consistent ethic of life." And, with respect to those matters (say, the death penalty and pre-emptive war) where Bush's record might be said to show such a disregard, it is not clear to me that Senator Kerry would, as President, be any better, from a pro-life perspective. (President Kerry could not -- and, I'm confident, would not even if he could -- do anything about the death penalty in the States, and it is worth remembering that he has also endorsed the idea of pre-emptive wars).

In any event, though, I think that we should all add to the mix, in addition to the "seamless garment" of life questions, the issues of religious freedom (e.g., for Catholic hospitals and social-service providers) and educational choice. On these crucial issues -- issues to which the Catholic Social Thought tradition speaks with some force -- I think it is clear that a Bush Administration and Bush-appointed judges would be superior. And, it seems to me that this fact should at least be part of the "for whom should we hold our nose and vote" decision with which many Catholics are wrestling. Mark, what do you think?


October 31, 2004 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 30, 2004

A Summary of the Arguments

A while ago one of my colleagues in our Center for Peace and Justice Education at Villanova asked me to speak in a series the Center was presenting on issues for Catholics in the current election. I was naive enough to think that I could toss something off quickly on the issue I was aked to discuss: respect for life. Between the time I was asked to speak and my presentation last Tuesday, this topic began to fill not only MOJ but the op ed pages and other parts of the blogosphere. So, my goal became to summarize for our primarily undergraduate audience the many arguments that have surfaced here in all of their variety and sophistication. The resulting paper is posted in the side bar under my name and the title "Election 2004: Respect for Life issues." Because my goal was to provoke discussion in the audience, I did not propose a resolution at the end of my presentation, although I think you will see where I am heading. I do, however, try to make some points. Here's a summary:

1. The disagreements among Catholics (particularly Catholic intellectuals) reflect a growing fissure in the Church, paricularly over the understanding of Bernardin's image of the Seamless Garment and the consistent ethic of life, with one side bitterly rejecting the "moral equivalence" of abortion and the other concerns, and with the other seeing the notion of the consistent ethic as more fully expressing the Catholic commitment to life.

2. This election has forced this conflict to the fore because the two candidates pose the dilemma so starkly: Kerry, with a reprehensible record on abortion and no capacity for dialogue or moderation on the issue; Bush with a record on almost everything else equally reprehesible on Catholic grounds. The two candidates thus leave us with no choice but to confront the question of whether it is possible to support a candidate like Kerry whose record on life is beyond the pale because his opponent's record on everything else shows a disregard for the consistent ethic of life.

3. Kerry's attempt to elide the issue thru invoking what Ken Woodward recently called Mario Cuomo's "ancient sophistry", the private belief/public responsibilty dichotomy, does not bear serious scrutiny.

4. One answer to this question insists that the intrinsic evil of abortion cannot be put into the balancing scales with merely prudential concerns regarding other issues about which reasonable people might disagree. This argument, disarming in its simplicity, has been met by a variety of arguments that contest on both principled and pragmatic grounds the conclusion that a faithful Catholic has no choice but to vote for Bush. These arguments cannot be easily dismissed simply by invoking Kerry's terrible record on abortion.

My paper does not offer the depth, subtlety or detail of many of our posts, but I hope you will find it a useful summary.


October 30, 2004 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sowing Division or Speaking Hard Truths?

I’ve refrained from posting anything on the Mirror of Justice during the past twenty-four hours, wanting to think carefully about the double-barreled complaint that my prior “screed” (Professor Kaveny) tended to “cross[] over into a kind of partisanship” (Dean Sargent). Given my respect for both complainants, and especially my admiration of Mark Sargent as our moderator, I have thought it wise to allow the matter to subside for a while, to permit others to offer their assessments (both through other postings to the blog and the numerous e-mails I’ve received), and to re-read my posts and those of my interlocutors. I do appreciate the encouraging messages I’ve received from so many quarters, even from those not fully persuaded by my words.

Having now taken stock, certainly I am disappointed and saddened that some have taken offense. I want to be liked as much as anyone. Running so badly afoul of a prominent law professor and theologian at perhaps the leading Catholic academy in the nation, such that the expression of my thoughts is termed a mere "screed," is most distressing. Nonetheless, reviewing all of these messages in context, I find it difficult to see where I did anything other than to speak uncomfortable truths and do so emphatically, for which I should not be be chastised. And, without meaning to say that such was the design or intent here, I do worry that the accusation of divisiveness can too readily be invoked to avoid continued engagement with those with whom with we disagree, especially when they confront us with difficult questions.

Importantly, I have never questioned anyone’s character or integrity (other than of course that of John Kerry, who has placed his character directly at issue by seeking public endorsement and by a two-decade record of promoting abortion as his favorite cause). Furthermore, I have not maintained that anyone who cast a vote Kerry’s way was either irrational or manifestly sinful, confessing to Michael Perry that I could not in the end make that definitive and uncharitable judgment. But those concessions and qualifications seem to count for naught to my detractors.

Yes, as Professor Kaveny objects, I have described those making the opposing argument as “Catholic apologists for Kerry.” To me, the description seemed apt, given that it was applied only to those who do not merely cast a private vote in secret but instead have broadcast a public message advocating the election of John Kerry. The messages I’ve received indicate the description resonated as accurate for many others, especially those who in the pro-life movement within the Democratic Party who have felt betrayed by Catholic endorsements of Kerry (“betrayal” is their word and expresses their feelings, not mine, as I have no investment in the Democratic Party). And the Kerry campaign certainly has found reason to be cheered by these affirmations by prominent Catholics, however much that support may have been rhetorically hedged. But perhaps the label is not altogether fair, given that the authors of these messages have expressed chagrin about John Kerry’s position on abortion and the sanctity of life, an acknowledgment that ought to be given credit. In the hope that those expressions of unhappiness by the "hold-the-nose-Kerry-voters" will only grow in number and intensity should he be elected, I will avoid using the label in the future.

Still, in reviewing my posts and the responses to it, the primary basis for the charge of incivility focuses upon my insistence, admittedly with vigor, emphasis, and repetition, that John Kerry’s record not be soft-pedaled or passed over lightly. For that reason, far from concentrating my fire against my interlocutors on this forum, I have devoted most of my attention to exposing that record. I cannot apologize for doing so, especially when others have appeared reluctant to examine it closely. Indeed, I have submitted that those making the case for a vote John Kerry appear less than willing to fully engage with the repulsive details of his record of pro-abortion extremism. Has that sugestion really been wide of the mark?

Admittedly, the truth about John Kerry’s record on abortion is brutal, but it is so precisely because of the ugliness which is unveiled. I acknowledge it is not a pleasant subject. But am I unreasonable to insist that those who seek to justify a vote for John Kerry are obliged to forthrightly acknowledge and engage with that pernicious record? Have I been unfair in perceiving those on the other side as wanting to avert their eyes and speak of that stark record only in generalities (and, if so, I must say that perception is widely shared, at least if my correspondents are any indication)? Especially when the assertion is made that a vote for John Kerry could be justified in terms of his comparatively superior political character and leadership capacity, is it not appropriate to highlight those inconvenient and devastating facts that contradict that evaluation? When I’ve also complained that those who make the case for Kerry too often fail to acknowledge the peculiar harm and painful scandal to the Church’s teaching and witness that would be occasioned by electing a Catholic to the presidency with such despicable views and record, where in their statements was that acknowlegment and evaluation?

In closing this posting, which will probably be my last for awhile, I observe that the Catholic Encyclopedia lays out these facts on its web site masthead: "In the past sixteen months capital punishment killed 98 Americans; the War in Iraq killed 100,000 people; and abortionists murdered 1,750,656 American infants." Even assuming the accuracy of the 100,000 figure, which is contested, a simple comparison leaves no question as to which is the greatest and continuing evil that we confront as a nation. I hope no one will find it divisive or inflammatory for me to highlight these cold, hard, and damning facts. But if so, then I have to think that the fault lies in our discourse as incapable of encompassing and confronting difficult truths, rather than with me.

With sincerity and always with hope,

Greg Sisk

October 30, 2004 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink | TrackBack (0)


I guess the role of a moderator is quite literally to "moderate" things, ie to calm passionate discussion when it gets too passionate, and to help antagonists find common ground. One of the things that I like best about MOJ, and am proudest of, is that I have had to do virtually no moderating. Our blogistas and guest blogistas have debated with a civility unusual in the blogosphere. Non of the characteristics of that world I find so tiresome -- snarkiness, flaming, pointless monologues on trivial points, bad writing, impulsive and poorly-thought-through posts -- have been present here. Even more important, our blog group includes Catholics of widely different stripes. Such diversity of opinion is very unusual in the blog world, and also not the norm in Catholic journals and organiztions. I think the fact that MOJ is a place where Catholics who disagree with each other about something as important as this election can confront each others arguments intelligently and without rancor is one of the reasons why our average daily hits went last week from about 250 to over 2600. I thus have encouraged my fellow blogistas to continue this discussion over the election because the issues are of historical importance and we are doing as good a job of covering them as anyone. I thus regret that Cathy feels compelled to leave this discussion. I agree with Cathy that Greg's last post, at least in tone, crossed over into a kind of partisanship inconsistent with the tenor of his prior posts. On the other hand, Cathy has tossed down the occasional rhetorical gauntlet herself. I hope we can all put bad feelings aside and continue this important discussion remembering that as Catholics there is far more that links us than sets us apart.

October 30, 2004 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Griffiths on Novak

The current issue of Commonweal includes, among other things, a review by Paul Griffiths of Michael Novak's new book, "The Universal Hunger for Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations is Not Inevitable." (It also includes a good review of Professor Griffith's own new book, "Lying").

Here is a link to an American Enterprise Institute event, at which Novak presented his arguments. Here is an on-line discussion of the book, hosted by the Carnegie Council.

I wonder if our fellow MOJ blogger Steve Bainbridge has had a chance to read the book yet? I'd appreciate his "take."


October 30, 2004 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

"Aristotle and the Graces"

This new paper, by Bernard Jacob of Hofstra School of Law, looks interesting:

This paper is a reading of Aristotle's book on justice (Book V of the Ethics) as what he says it is, a study of the disposition or inclination towards doing just (or unjust) acts. In that light, the content of Aristotle's famous treatments of distributive and corrective justice are only incidental, for their true role is as clues to a meaningful picture of the Just and the Unjust person.

Aristotle's treatment of Being Just as a specific virtue is the most detailed treatment he offers of any moral virtue. Being Just as distributive justice emerges as a commitment to the equal treatment of all citizens, but to an equality tempered by always contentious considerations of merited reward. Being Just as corrective justice is a commitment to protecting and repairing the sphere of each person's dignity and opportunity from damaging and sometimes malicious interactions.

But more is required. For Being Just means overcoming the disordered and misdirected desire that both Aristotle and Plato call "pleonexia", wanting - tyrant-like - more-of-and-more-than. If that is overcome by re-directed libido, the virtuous will then have to integrate more subtle elements if they are to achieve an inclination to this tempered, but real equality.

These elements are two. One is present only implicitly, the passion Aristotle calls nemesis, a demand that the world – and justice within the world – must never permit an evil person to go unpunished or a good one, to suffer harm. That passion cannot be admitted, but at best can only be temporarily stilled.

The second impediment arises from the dynamic of human communities that are made up of diverse and actively striving individuals: such citizens, haunted by suspicion grounded in their own pleonexia, demand that the community be one of laws. That creates a true dilemma, for in Aristotle's estimation, no set of rules can cabin any virtue. The Rule of Law is in tension with the particularity of justice in real life, and that tension is ultimately only bearable through the invention of equity, the trusted deviation from the law to preserve the law.

In making this abstract I have had to leave untouched the subject matter of the first and two last chapters, but in my paper I do treat these. More importantly, I also show how all political community and the inclination to seek to be a Just Person rests on a gracious act of reciprocal commitment.

Thanks to Larry Solum for the link.


October 30, 2004 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

"Culture of Law" Lecture Series

The Intercultural Forum for Studies in Faith and Culture, at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., is hosting the "Culture of Law" lecture series. (The series is co-sponsored by the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy at the University of St Thomas, Minnesota). Speakers so far have included Patrick Brennan, John Witte, Harold Berman, Kent Greenawalt, and Bob Destro. On Nov. 4, Tom Berg (of St. Thomas University School of Law) will be speaking on "Christianity and the Secular in Modern Public Life" and, on Nov. 18, Steven Smith (University of San Diego) will deliver a lecture called "Hollow Men: Law and the Declension of Belief."

Here's a link for the series. If you are in or near Washington D.C., check it out.


October 30, 2004 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

"Public Scandal / Public Witness" Conference

A few weeks ago, in Washington, D.C., the Ave Maria School of Law presented "Public Witness/Public Scandal: Faith, Politics, and Life Issues in the Catholic Church." Presenters included Notre Dame Law School's Gerry Bradley and John Coughlin, OFM; and also Princeton's Robert George, John Langan, S.J., of Georgetown University, and Monika Hellwig, executive director of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. The conference papers are available here.


October 30, 2004 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)