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.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A reader's response to Bottum's response to Garnett

A MOJ reader send in these comments:


In Mr. Bottum’s last response, I think he misses the mark on a couple of points, particularly here:



"The first is thinking that advances in law and policy have any permanence: The pendulum swings, political gains are reversed, the House changes hands, and then what do we do? As for the second mistake, we wander into magical thinking when we suppose that law and policy can drive culture more than a little, when the culture is resistant." 




I don't know anyone of serious intellectual heft--particularly not you, Professor Garnett--who thinks that advances in law and policy have any permanence, and certainly not in the arena of the culture war. But advances they are, and advances they will remain so long as they are vigorously defended.

Second, I don't agree that it is "magical thinking" to suppose that law and policy can drive culture "more than a little" where it is resistant. Historical examples abound in our country or elsewhere of a change in law driving a shift in culture. Depart from the culture wars for a minute, and look to two recent examples: seat belts and recycling. I'm too young to remember the seat belt push (a telling admission of my youth, since states only began enacting them in the 80s and 90s), but reading about it and discussing it with a college professor who used it as an example in teaching the Nichomachean Ethics leaves me with the impression that our attitude towards seat belt use today is directly a product of that legal campaign, and not an inherent widespread cultural desire to change.

The same point applies to recycling: we feel a discomfort if forced to discard glass and plastic in the regular trash. Why? There has been a cultural push, but I'd argue that it's equally the response to laws incentivizing recycling. People become attuned to the goal of the law and become uncomfortable when unable to comply--not because of a fear of punishment, but because the law creates the impression that a thing is good and desirable.

Even if one disagrees with my examples, the idea that the law has a strong role in shaping personal character and perceptions of morality is not a new invention. The idea has appeared in Western philosophical thought for millennia, starting at a minimum from Aristotle and renewed in turn by the Romans, St. Thomas, and some of America's own founders. I don't wish to make this a pure argument from authority, but I also don't believe they were engaging in magical thinking.

As to the rest of Mr. Bottum's argument, I don't find anything serious to disagree with, though I'm not entirely certain what his point is by the end. With regard to the serious pro-life intellectuals engaged in the legal battles of the culture war, I've never met one who seemed prone to believing that the process was the point. Perhaps Jody's experience is different. But at least among those who approach these issues with intellectual seriousness, I have seen legitimate outrage, not ginned-up outrage. It may be fatigue-inducing to write philosophical responses to the Women's Studies faculty again and again, seemingly falling on deaf ears except among an already-willing audience, but it remains important. 




Not least, it remains important because it shows--so long as such arguments are advanced charitably and in good faith--that there is an intellectual seriousness and philosophical depth to the Faith and its Teachings that allows it to stand its ground against all the errors of modernism. The early Apostles stood on both sides of this argument, illuminating Christ's love for the world through martyrdom and engaging the Jews and Romans as serious intellectuals. I don't think it's about preaching social ethics rather than living the love of Christ. Each is necessary to the existence of the other.

"And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, arguing and pleading about the kingdom of God; but when some were stubborn and disbelieved, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the hall of Tyran′nus."





Garnett, Rick | Permalink