Monday, February 12, 2018
Fr. Drew Christiansen, S.J., has this piece in America, defending "the Holy See’s possible rapprochement with the China’s Communist government on the appointment of bishops." I'm among those who has expressed grave reservations about such a move and I continue to regard the attitudes expressed by its defenders as quite naive. To be clear: to harbor and express such reservations is not to throw in with those who criticize in various ways the papacy of Pope Francis. This is a particular decision, I think, and I'm addressing it in particular -- though it is consonant with some recent and strikingly foolish statements made by a particular bishop to the effect that China is a world leader in implementing Catholic Social Teaching. It most certainly is not.
Fr. Christiansen's piece is worth reading, but one of his several suggested defenses strikes me as quite weak:
Anti-communist Catholicism: Time for aggiornamento? It has been 55 years since St. John XXIII’s encyclical “Pacem in Terris”(“Peace on Earth”). At the time of its publication, the letter’s most controversial affirmation was its opening to dialogue with political parties of the left, including the Italian Communists. Pope John himself penned the line that distinguished between adherents of an errant ideology and the ideology (Marxism) itself. “Pacem in Terris” cleared the way for a new relationship with the Communist governments of Eastern Europe and the re-establishment of the Catholic Church in the East. But even with shifts in the policies of the People’s Republic, that opening to Communists has not been accepted by intransigent elements of the underground church. Might it not be time to apply John’s teaching to relations with the Chinese government? Why should China be an exception to world Catholicism’s aggiornamento in church-state and political relations?
This is a fuzzy misuse of Pacem in Terris and relies excessively on "communism" as an abstract. Now, I would insist that any "rethinking" of Catholic opposition to communism, both as an ideology and as a lived regime, would be a mistake. "Communism," as it has been instantiated in regimes around the world, is antithetical to Christianity. Put that aside for now. Here, the "shifts in the policies of the People's Republic" that might be relevant are not identified here. Any "shifts" that might warrant a warming on the Church's part are dramatically outweighed by the continuation (and, in some instances, the worsening) of censorship, confiscation, disenfranchisement, and persecution.
The issue is not whether or not "aggiornamento" with something called "communism", or with some people called "communists", is warranted in the abstract. The issue is the reality that the PRC is not, in fact, a "People's Republic" -- no one should use that term without scare-quotes -- but is instead a repressive, secular dictatorship -- skyscrapers and billionaires notwithstanding.
Sunday, February 11, 2018
In the New York Times, Ross Douthat has a column that argues straightforwardly that we should "ban" hard-core pornography. Although the Supreme Court's precedents allow, in theory, governments to ban "obscene" material (see, e.g., Miller v. California), it seems to be the view that, practically speaking -- because of the ubiquity of and ease of accessing online pornography -- pornography is both unregulated and unregulatable (by the government).
My view of the First Amendment's free-speech guarantee tends to be the maximalist, old-school ACLU-type libertarian position -- i.e., the government may almost never regulate expression because of its content or because of the "viewpoint" it expresses. I hold this view not because I think it is compelled by the First (or the Fourteenth) Amendment's original public meaning but because, all things considered, I think it is "worth it" to endure offensive, misguided, foolish, and even dangerous speech rather than to trust officials with the task of identifying and policing, in a consistent and unbiased way, a line between speech that is permitted and speech that is not.
I admit, though, that I'm not entirely comfortable with this view (and not only because, again, it seems hard to square with what I understand to be the original meaning of "the freedom of speech"). Sometimes, those who hold this view justify it on the asserted ground that "sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me." Obviously, this is not true. Speech does cause "harms," to others, to the community, and to the moral ecosystem. What's more, there is no reason to think that these harms are distributed in an equitable way or, say, borne by those who benefit the most from a libertarian speech regime. Still, my well-grounded confidence that the power to regulate speech would be abused -- e.g., that rules against "hate speech" or "unsafe speech" or "harassment" will be used to suppress "conservative", "traditional", or otherwise insufficiently right-side-of-history views on various matters -- makes me reluctant to depart from the near-absolutist position.
And yet: Pornography is harmful -- and Douthat identifies some of these harms -- and it is immoral (despite what some woke and liberated sophisticates want to tell us) to produce or to consume it. The scathing piece that Douthat wrote after Hugh Hefner's death, responding to some of the ridiculous posthumous accolades, was spot on. (He was "a pornographer and chauvinist who got rich on masturbation, consumerism and the exploitation of women, aged into a leering grotesque in a captain’s hat, and died a pack rat in a decaying manse where porn blared during his pathetic orgies.") It's increasingly difficult for me not to agree that it should be regulated more than it is -- certainly, it should be marginalized, shamed, and disapproved more than it is -- and that meaningful lines between Pornhub and, say, The Rosy Crucifixion would not be as elusive as my fellow near-absolutists warn.
At the very least: Shouldn't every Catholic university employ (in ways consistent with researchers' academic freedom) filters and the like to at least complicate their undergraduates' dorm-room access to material that, the Church has always known and the world is increasingly appreciated, undermines their development, relationships, and flourishing?
SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT
The Catholic bishops of the United States have long and consistently supported the right of workers to organize for purposes of collective bargaining. Because this right is substantially weakened by so-called “right-to-work” laws, many bishops—in their dioceses, through their state conferences, and through their national conference—have opposed or cast doubt on such laws, and no U.S. bishop has expressed support for them.
Petitioner invites this Court to constitutionalize the “right-to-work” position—instantly, without exception, for all fifty states, almost irreversibly—in the public sector. Petitioner’s proposed rationale for this dramatic move appears designed to lay the foundation for a still more dramatic one: constitutionalizing, in a subsequent case, the “right-to-work” rule in the private sector as well. The Court should decline this invitation. It should leave constitutional space for the public policy position supported for so long by so many bishops and bishopled institutions, rather than declare still another such position outside the bounds of what policymakers are permitted to implement by law. See, e.g., Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015) (definition of marriage); Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) (prohibition of abortion). By its decision in this case, the Court should not only preserve that room for debate as to the public-sector context now, but avoid any threats to it in the private-sector context in the future.
[You can download the USCCB's amicus brief at this link:
Saturday, February 10, 2018
Story here. As a result, Bishop Ronald Fabbro
said he has decided that the Diocese of London will not apply for or accept any money from the Canada Summer Job Grants program. The program has funded an estimated 70,000 summer jobs for secondary school or college students, granting organizations the money for positions like camp counselors or landscapers. London-area organizations alone received nearly $4 million through the program last year.
This heavy-handed move by the Trudeau government seems to go beyond the kind of "compliance with nondiscrimination rules" conditions that are increasingly being tied to public funds, contracts, grants, and licenses in the United States. I'm reminded of the "law of merited impossibility" . . . .
Friday, February 9, 2018
Jay Webber is smart, talented, and conservative - and he's just announced he's in the race to capture the US House seat vacated Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen. Jay, a Harvard Law grad and devoted husband and father of seven, has served his district in the State House for the last ten years. He's a wonderful man and a dear friend.
Pay attention to this race - pray for him, and send monetary support if you can: [email protected]
The Abigail Adams Institute, founded in 2014 to serve the Harvard intellectual community, is hosting two intensive seminars for advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and select professionals again this summer. Application deadline is March 15, 2018.
The first seminar, July 22-August 4, is The American Proposition.
The idea of American exceptionalism continues to be seen as somehow linked with the advent of American statehood. How are we to account for this connection? What are the roots of American political identity? Of American national identity? Have subsequent American developments fundamentally transformed the nature of the country, or is our destiny as a people working itself out in accord with our beginning? The writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, Orestes Brownson and Fr. John Courtney Murray offer the starting points in our exploration of the continuities and changes of these and other charged terms through American and global history.
Faculty: Thomas D'Andrea, University of Cambridge; James Nolan, Williams College; and Danilo Petranovich, Director of AAI.
The second seminar, August 5-11, is Capital and the Good Life.
Capital: what is it, how is it created, and what kind of purpose does, can, or should capital serve? What is capital's relationship to work and to the notion of productivity? How does it influence our ideas of progress? In what ways does it order our society and government? The seminar looks at a variety of perspectives on capital creation, acquisition, and use. Our approach to capital and capitalism will be less from a strictly economic and more from a philosophical perspective. Featuring the thought of Adam Smith, Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Karl Marx, Friedrich Hayek, Karl Polanyi, Ludwig Lachmann, Thomas Piketty, and Robert Skidelsky.
Faculty: James Bernard Murphy, Dartmouth College; Plamen Nedeltchev, Cisco Systems; Leonidas Zelmanovitz, Liberty Fund.
Full Disclosure: I'm a Research Fellow at the Institute while at Harvard Law.
I have an op-ed in today's Minneapolis Star-Tribune using the Dodge Super Bowl ad brouhaha as an opportunity to reflect on other aspects of Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy that may be fading from view:
Dr. King’s faith was inseparable from his public witness. King was a Christian leader, and there is no point in trying to separate him, or any aspect of his public leadership, from his faith. King’s moral framework was not a vague, platitude-driven appeal to feel-good sentiments. He did not run from, nor water down, who he was or what he believed. Instead, he relied on the full power and scope of his own faith tradition to distill the essence of a foundational truth about the human condition. He focused on the restoration of relationships – on what he referred to as “the beloved community” – appealing to a widely accessible moral vision that was not dependent on any particular religious revelation or ideological agenda. It was a basic reminder not to ignore what we know about ourselves: we are social creatures who are accountable to the demands of love and justice.
You can read the whole thing here.
Thursday, February 8, 2018
Here. A bit:
Catholic social doctrine is built on four foundational principles: the inviolable dignity and value of every human person, the responsibility of all to exercise their rights in ways that contribute to the common good, the importance of social pluralism and civil society (and thus the rejection of totalitarianism), and the imperative of solidarity (the virtue of civic friendship that binds free societies together). Those principles helped shape the revolution of conscience that preceded and helped make possible the political revolution of 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe. Those principles were also in play in the democratic transformations of Latin America and East Asia in the latter decades of the 20th century. Those principles remain the core of the social doctrine of the Church today.
And in 2018, those principles are systematically denied, in both theory and practice, by the People’s Republic of China.
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
A few days ago, in New York, I had the pleasure and privilege of participating -- along with several other MOJ-ers -- in a (efficient and well-organized!) conference on the new Foundation casebook - "Christian Legal Thought: Cases and Materials" -- edited by our own Patrick Brennan and MOJ-friend Prof. Bill Brewbaker. I hope law professors all over the country use the book, and offer the course. And, I hope other MOJ-ers will weigh in.
My own remarks focused (predictably) on the centrality to "Christian Legal Thought" of moral anthropology, a theme that, I am pleased to report, figures prominently in the casebook.
The first panel featured Angela Carmella (Seton Hall), Michael Moreland (Villanova), and David Skeel (Penn). Angela's remarks focused on one of her own areas of expertise, i.e., church-state relations, and on the question whether there is a distinctively Christian account of those relations. Michael expounded on the often-misunderstood but crucially important idea of "subsidiarity." He clarified its content and explained its roots. And, David Skeel reflected, riffing on the "we've come a long way, baby" slogan, on changes in the landscape since the publication almost 20 years ago of the McConnell, Cochran, and Carmella volume, "Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought."
The second panel featured Randy Beck (Georgia), Patrick Brennan (Villanova), and some other guy (me). Randy reflected instructively on his own experiences teaching a Christian Legal Thought course. I threw out some Cormac McCarthy-invoking thoughts on the relevance of "who are we and why are we here?" questions for law. Finally, Patrick pulled together the various strands, responded to a range of points, and was effusively grateful. (We all prayed for Bill Brewbaker, who was not able to be present, because of a family emergency.)
I'm grateful to St. John's, and to my colleagues -- especially Marc DeGirolami and Mark Movsesian, and the great group of St. John's students! -- for an enjoyable, illuminating, and affirming time!