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.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Tea Parties", Catholic legal theory, and Godwin's Law

I suspect we can all agree with Bob Hockett that many, even most, of those who are participating in the "tea party" demonstrations and "movement" are -- compared to us, of course -- inadequately informed about relevant economic, political, and other facts, and use inappropriate, unattractive political rhetoric.  (We should also be able to agree that many of those who participate(d) in analogous left- or wherever-wing movements, 9-11 Truther forums, and Cindy Sheehan-esque events -- or who hang out in coffee shops, HuffPo comboxes, and some faculty lounges -- are similarly ignorant, (Bob's words) "frightened," "confused", ill-informed, and prone to inappropriate, unattractive rhetoric.) 

And, I would we think we can also all agree that more than what Bob calls a "nightwatchman" state is required, both by common sense and by the Catholic vision of the well functioning political community.  (To respond to Rob Vischer's question, developing this point -- giving an account of authentic human flourishing in community with the assistance of an appropriately, but not excessively, active state -- is what "Catholic Legal Theory" could and should do for the "tea party" movement, and for today's so-called "progressives".) 

So, I am not -- to be clear -- particularly sympathetic to the low-populist mode of political discourse that seems to me to pervade the "tea parties" (and to have pervaded Al Gore's 2000 campaign).  I share some of Rob Vicher's concerns, expressed here (though I have no objection to responsibly enthusiastic political activism that challenges what I see as the missteps, overreaches, and plain-old errors of the current Administration). 

That said, I do not believe it is helpful to charge (or even to suggest) that robustly expressed concerns (even half-informed ones) about (say) increases in public spending, increases in government ownership-stakes in major industries, and increases in (what might be seen) intrusive government regulation in various sectors reflect or portend "fascism" (friendly or not).  (Nor would it move the ball much to wonder aloud whether a recent political movement that seemed to anoint as something like a Messiah a relatively unknown, moderately experienced state legislator, that seemed creepily attached to a cult-of-personality-ish but appealing logo, and that was given to leading schoolchildren in songs of praise to this legislator was -- in a "friendly" way, of course -- "fascist."  Oops.)

Godwin's Law provides that "as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."  It is not, I imagine, intended as a happy observation.   


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