Friday, February 9, 2018
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.
Thursday, January 25, 2018
Don't miss this moving Washington Post story describing the courtroom testimony of former gymnast Rachael Denhollander: "She helped bring down Larry Nassar. At his sentencing for sex crimes, she spoke about her faith."
She was the first, in 2016, to accuse Nassar of sexual abuse, back in 2000 when she was 14 and he was the sports physician at Michigan State University. On the stand, she spoke to Nassar of the biblical description of the final judgment “where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you.”
She continued: “Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you. I pray you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.”
There's more. Check out the whole story. How fitting that this testimony be reported on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
Thursday, January 18, 2018
The Thomistic Institute at Harvard Law School is co-hosting a conference on March 2-3rd dedicated to discussing the (irreconcilable?) tensions inherent in the interplay of liberalism and Christianity.
Speakers include: Prof. Emerit. Rémi Brague (the Sorbonne), Fr. Dominic Legge, OP (the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception), Prof. Helen Alvaré (Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University), Prof. Candace Vogler (University of Chicago), Fr. Thomas Joseph White (Dominican House). Panel participants: RR Reno, Adrian Vermeule, and Margarita Mooney.
Pre-registration is required, and I hear it is filling up.
In light of Rick's posts on liberalism - and the various interesting articles at First Things, especially - I wanted to mention a book published out of Cambridge University Press this year that may be of interest. The Political Theory of The American Founders describes, in a kind of archaeological dig, the evidence of the consensus theory of the founders as one bound by natural rights.
Probably the most unique and important contribution of the book is the middle section on the Moral Conditions of Freedom. Here, the author, Hillsdale Professor Thomas West, culls research from state constitutions at the time of the founding. West claims that most scholarship on the founding tends to focus on the philosophies of this or that particular founder, or delve into the thinkers who informed them, notably John Locke. He sought instead to find public material that would show consensus among thinkers.
If you only have an hour, watch this video with West and commentary by Patrick Deneen and UChicago professor Joshua Mitchell. West's short presentation doesn't do justice to the book, in my view, but Deneen is Deneen at his best. Mitchell offers some really thoughtful commentary on whether understanding the founding as the founders understood it actually does us much good. We are, after all, living worlds apart from their worldview, consensus or not, and so we probably couldn't recreate their theory today even if we better understood it.
It is my view - always subject to change - that shoring up our moral ecology is the most important work we have today, whether to provide the conditions for republican forms of government, or more primarily, because that is the most important work human beings must undertake, whatever form of government we have.
Thursday, December 28, 2017
I haven't yet written about the Harvey Weinstein #metoo affair. I guess I haven't felt it necessary to use this particular cultural moment to jump up onto my regular soapbox. Suffice it to say, I'm not at all surprised this predatory behavior emerged out of the dark underbelly of Hollywood, the cultural epicenter (and exporter) of a vulgar and sex-saturated America. One is just left wondering whether the moment will serve as an opportunity to rethink how we think about sexual intimacy, sexual difference, and sexual equality. Might I recommend Women, Sex & the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching?
Public Discourse has published some really good essays on the topic over the last few weeks. And the January issue of First Things has two well worth reading. All suggest how the #metoo moment presents the Church with an opening for which she has been preparing since JPII's Wednesday audiences more than thirty years ago. (Or, strike that: since her very founding). For a quick read that hits all the right notes, read this new editorial at the National Catholic Register. Here's a bit:
More than ever, we need a new social movement inspired by the Church’s own teachings on sexuality and chastity — chastity not as a form of social control, but as the path to an interior freedom born of self-restraint. This freedom makes it possible for a man to see every woman, but especially the woman he loves, as a priceless gift, not as an object to be used....And in marriage, this freedom creates the conditions for an authentic sexual relationship of mutual self-gift.
Though even further afield from 'Catholic legal theory,' I want to add one really practical (parenting) note about the self-restraint (though I prefer self-mastery) needed for self-gift. From my talk on the "hook up culture" at the World Meeting of Families in 2015:
The role of parents in forming our children to live lives of sexual integrity does not begin when boys and girls have reached their teen years and sexual hormones are already raging. If young men and women are going to resist both the urgings of their bodies and the cultural pressures toward recreational sexual encounters, self-mastery must be learned, in the smallest of ways, in the early years at home. As the Catechism puts it, chastity requires “an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is training in human freedom.” [Here I list the many, many practical ways the family serves as a school of virtue.] If children are habituated to give into their bodies’ every desire in little things [food, electronics, etc] or to remain sluggish in the face of family responsibilities, even well-catechized, intellectually converted teens will be hard-pressed to resist the allure of a premarital sexual relationship.
Finally, apropos of larger philosophical trends, if you haven't yet read Robby George's latest book, Conscience and Its Enemies, check out this lively presentation of its key chapter (in my view) at the recent Love & Fidelity Network conference. His description of the classical/revisionist disagreement of the nature of liberty and of a liberal arts education--to wit, what is it that we seek to liberate ourselves from?--is the proper lens through which we ought to understand the bad behavior in Hollywood and elsewhere. Is reason to be the master of my desires in and through the cultivation of intellectual and moral excellence (aka, virtue), or is reason, ala Hume, merely the "slave of the passions"?
Culturally, we've opted for the latter - so why are we so surprised?
Thursday, December 7, 2017
Faulker University Professor of Law Adam McLeod hit a nerve when last month he published a speech he'd delivered to students in his course, Foundations of Law. Impatient with his students' tendency to express "feelings" about topics or assume that they'd made an adequate case against an argument by merely dropping an "ism" such as "sexism," he took the time to lay some ground rules for the remainder of the course. Students were simply not to use "isms" when they contributed to class discussions; they were to define terms that they may have previously assumed admitted of only one definition ("equality" for instance); and, most notably, their professor warned them that if they began a contribution with "I feel," they'd have to cluck like a chicken.
In response to inquiries about the new ground rules, McLeod said: "I'm training lawyers here, and lawyers make arguments. Arguments consist of propositions and facts, or in other words, reasons...reasons don't always care how we feel about them...."
The whole speech is worth your time, but here's my favorite part:
Third, you should not bother to tell us how you feel about a topic. Tell us what you think about it. If you can’t think yet, that’s O.K.. Tell us what Aristotle thinks, or Hammurabi thinks, or H.L.A. Hart thinks. Borrow opinions from those whose opinions are worth considering. As Aristotle teaches us in the reading for today, men and women who are enslaved to the passions, who never rise above their animal natures by practicing the virtues, do not have worthwhile opinions. Only the person who exercises practical reason and attains practical wisdom knows how first to live his life, then to order his household, and finally, when he is sufficiently wise and mature, to venture opinions on how to bring order to the political community.
Cicero would be proud.
Monday, November 13, 2017
I've recently posted on SSRN my forthcoming article, "A Putative Right in Search of a Constitutional Justification: Understanding Planned Parenthood v Casey's Equality Rationale and How it Undermines Women's Equality." In the article, I argue that women's equality is the key interpretative lens through which to understand Casey's controversial reaffirmation of Roe but one that has not been understood adequately by those most critical of Casey. The article aims to fill the void - and specifically critiques the "reliance" arguments made in Casey. It could be understood as a companion to my 2011 HJLPP article, "Embodied Equality."
The Federalist Society at Harvard and Yale law schools have had me to campus to speak on the article in recent months. I'll be out at Stanford in February doing the same.
Also, happy to announce I am beginning a year-long fellowship at Harvard Law School in February as a Visiting Scholar, under the faculty direction of Mary Ann Glendon. I am working to complete a book on women's rights that most prominently features her work.
Monday, October 30, 2017
I will be at Yale Law this Thursday, speaking on "Revisiting 'Reliance Interests' in Planned Parenthood v Casey: Does 'Relying' on Abortion for Equality Actually Serve Women's Equality?" The talk is sponsored by the Yale Law chapter of the Federalist Society and will take place in Room 120 from 12:10-1:30pm.
Friday, October 20, 2017
Arizona State University has just launched the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership under the direction of the wise and learned Paul Carresse, former professor of political science at the Air Force Academy and author, most recently, of Democracy in Moderation: Montesquieu, Tocqueville, and Sustainable Liberalism. The school aims to steep its students in the study of America's founding principles. Check out these courses and this upcoming speaker series.
The school's moto: "Inspiring Leadership and and Statesmanship for the Common Good." The timing of this new initiative is impeccable. May it attract many students and bear much fruit.