Thursday, December 15, 2022
John Gehring has published, in NCR, a long piece describing the career and views of Leonard Leo. (I am quoted in the piece.) Leo, it turns out, is both a practicing Catholic and a political conservative, and he has been successful as an institution builder and fundraiser. He's connected, in various ways, with the Becket Fund, the Federalist Society, Catholic University's business school, etc. Some, including Gehring and several sources, are troubled by the fact that Leo's causes tend to be on the conservative side of various debates, and also by the possibility that he is "reshaping" Catholic University. Such a reshaping would run counter, it appears, to what some regard as the natural order of things, namely, that higher education -- including Catholic higher education -- is and must be homogenously progressive.
A theme in the piece is the charge that Leo and others are "culture warriors", using organizations like The Federalist Society and "originalist" constitutional arguments in their partisan efforts. Near the end, Prof. Cathleen Kaveny, who was on the faculty at Notre Dame Law School for about 15 years, is quoted:
"It's an approach that is far more evangelical and fundamentalist than Catholic," Kaveny said. "If Catholics approached the Bible the way these originalists view the Constitution, we would be fundamentalists."
A former law professor at the University of Notre Dame, Kaveny watched as the school transformed and she glimpses a potential similar effort at Catholic University with Leo's influence.
"At Notre Dame Law School, they narrowed the notion of Catholic hiring to mean hiring a certain kind of Catholic who is committed to the culture wars," Kaveny said. "They hired very committed and talented people, and the money followed. It took 30 years, but they played the long game. And it was successful."
Prof. Kaveny should know better than to make the familiar, but inapposite, comparison between originalism as an approach to the interpretation of a written piece of positive law and "fundamentalism" as an approach to Scripture. She is certainly correct, though, that, during her tenure at Notre Dame Law School and mine, the institution hired a great many "committed and talented people", from the best programs and firms in the country, in no small part because the school, unlike nearly every other, declined to discriminate against practicing Catholics or people who might have clerked for Republican-appointed judges. Indeed, Kaveny herself was brought to the faculty, and promoted, as part of the John Garvey-led (and successful) effort to use Notre Dame's Catholic character as a brand-enhancer and program-strengthener. Of course, the claim that the "notion of Catholic hiring" was "narrowed" in the way she suggests is false -- the law faculty is easily the most balanced in the United States (and also in the University) -- as even a casual review of faculty hires over the last 25 years will confirm.
It's common, in publications like NCR, for "culture warrior" to used as a discussion-blocking epithet (though never against enthusiasts and activists on the political left). It appears to mean little more than "someone who thinks that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and that religious freedom is an important human good", or "someone who takes notice of various cultural developments and trends." Or, in a piece like Gehring's, it simply denotes "someone who is pursuing an understanding of the common good that does not align with my political team's."