Well, it’s time we gave Carl an “ism,” joining Ralphists and the wavists. For one thing, Carl has displayed who is he is a very unguarded and deep way in his response to Tom West below. And a small group of very distinguished inside-the-beltway public intellectuals contacted me yesterday wanting to know who Carl is and why they didn’t know about him.

Carlism, so far, is a statement of problems that plague the various attempts to establish a decent and credible American public philosophy of liberty. I don’t have solutions to those problems, but the first step to “recovery” is honestly getting your problems straight. Carl is nailing THAT.

It’s true that, on balance, Aristotle is better than Locke. But on the truth-o-meter, as Carl suggests, Locke is better and worse than Aristotle. Locke is, for example, more Christian (in spite of himself, you can say) and less relational than Aristotle. So his understanding of moral virtue is too instrumental, and anyone who defends the proud experience of self-conscious freedom that comes with being magnanimous and generous and courageous is better than Locke. So too would be someone who defends the charitable experience of personal love. Still, Locke is really good at defending personal freedom against the comprehensive claim of “the Laws.” So he is, for example, great in defending the religious liberty we all have by nature.

So Carl is on board with a Christian, natural law interpretation of what the Founders accomplished and even thought. That understanding can’t be completely uncritical, of course. It is also based on the, in a way, American-heretical premise that Thomas Aquinas is the mean between the extremes of Aristotle and Locke in important ways. Here the Americans have the neglected resource of Orestes Brownson, who is being “mined” by Richard Reinsch.

Carl’s discussion of the LOCHNER problem is quite nuanced and honest. The problem is that Peckham and Holmes represent unsustainable extremes. The truth is that Harlan’s measured dissent isn’t that different from Peckham’s opinion, although it has a different spin on the facts. But LOCHNER has come to stand for “economic autonomy” or a kind of liberty that can be judicially protected from democratic political regulation. ROE, of course, has come to stand for another kind of autonomy that requires that kind of judicial protection. So Carl, I think, is for more DEMOCRATIC enlightenment concerning and protection of humanly worthy POLITICAL liberty against the excesses of the various forms of apolitical libertarian extremism. He’s right, of course, that the actual result in LOCHNER isn’t that important and is legitimately contestable. In those respects, it’s way different from ROE.

Wish I had more time. But thanks again to Carl.

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Articles by Peter Lawler


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