Thursday, March 28, 2013, 8:04 AM
I’m pleased to announce the publication by Oxford University Press of Reason, Morality, and Law: The Philosophy of John Finnis (edited by John Keown and Robert P. George). This volume of original essays on the thought of the great Oxford (and Notre Dame) legal, political, and moral philosopher includes contributions by Joseph Raz, John Haldane, Jeremy Waldron, John Gardner, Joseph Boyle, Timothy Endicott, Germain Grisez, Christopher Tollefsen, Leslie Green, Gerard V. Bradley, Neil Gorsuch, Matthew Kramer, Anthony Kenny, Julie Dickson, Bishop Anthony Fisher, Thomas Pink, Roger Crisp, and other luminaries.
It also includes a long essay by Professor Finnis, responding to each of the contributors. Unfortunately, even at the dicounted price offered by Barnes and Noble, the book costs $102. So I will understand if folks want to wait for publication of the paperback edition! For those who cannot defer gratification, however, here is the link.
Monday, February 11, 2013, 12:19 PM
Well, in case there was any doubt, we now have an ex cathedra announcement from the hierarchy of the New York Times:
“At some point, the church will accept contraception and female and non-celibate priests. Could it be in the next papacy?” – Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times
Although I ought to be used to it by now, I still find the parochialism of liberal secular elites stunning. Their small-minded preoccupation with sex and gender is, in its way, amusing. A pope abdicates for the first time in centuries, and what immediately pops into the mind of Nicholas Kristof and his ilk? Contraception, women’s ordination, and celibacy. Oy vey.
Also amusing is his uncritical–indeed unthinking–embrace of Hegelian-Marxian certainty about the trajectory of history. “At some point, the church will [embrace the ideology of the New York Times editorial board]. It just will, you see. History is open to no other possibilities. It’s a done deal. Already determined. Kristof was no doubt prevented only by the character limit on Twitter from saying “the correlation of forces . . . .”
Saturday, February 9, 2013, 5:40 PM
National Review, the flagship journal of the conservative movement, has published an editorial that is broadly sympathetic to the Justice Department’s “white paper” laying out the Obama administration’s legal argument for the targeted killings of individuals (including U.S. citizens) aligned with terrorists, without judicial recourse. But the editors make a damning point of criticism despite their sympathy for the administration’s legal claims:
To be fair, it is true that the Obama administration fetishizes drones and over-relies on them in its prosecution of the War on Terror. This is due in no small measure to its own undermining of the Bush-era institutions and procedures built up to deal with captured enemy combatants. In its distaste for these institutions and procedures, the current administration has increasingly relied on death from above — collateral damage and intelligence collection be damned — as the more palatable alternative.
Catholics and others who believe that not all is fair in love and war (or at least not in war) should have been speaking out against Obama’s overuse of drones long ago. The basic facts were known well before we learned about the “white paper.” Too many liberals were more interested in protecting their man than in speaking truth to his power; too many conservatives were cheering him on when it came to targeted killing by predator drones. For anyone paying attention, the thirteenth chime of the clock should have been heard before the election when Obama campaign adviser and former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, responding to a question about the death of Abulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16 year old son of al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, in a drone strike two weeks after his father was slain in a presidentially ordered targeted killing, said that the boy “should have had a more responsible father.” I myself raised concerns about the President’s increased use of drones in a comment here at Mirror of Justice last summer. I am taking the liberty of re-posting it:
June 18, 2012
Catholics Should Criticize Indiscriminate Drone Use
Since assuming office (and receiving his Nobel Peace Prize) in 2009, President Obama has massively increased the use of unmanned predator drones in what used to be known as the war against terror. According to Chris Kirk, writing in Slate, Obama has authorized five times the number of drone attacks authorized by President Bush. Liberals, who would be screaming bloody murder if it were Bush, have gone strangely (well, not so strangely) quiet about this, while conservatives are cheering on a president whose other policies they abhor.
The use of drones is not, in my opinion, inherently immoral in otherwise justifiable military operations; but the risks of death and other grave harms to noncombatants are substantial and certainly complicate the picture for any policy maker who is serious about the moral requirements for the justified use of military force. Having a valid military target is in itself not a sufficient justification for the use of weapons such as predator drones. Sometimes considerations of justice to noncombatants forbid their use, even if that means that grave risks must be endured by our own forces in the prosecution of a war.
The wholesale and indiscriminate use of drones cannot be justified, and should be criticized. This is something that Catholic intellectuals across the spectrum ought, it seems to me, to agree about. If we don’t speak, who will?
On the lethal side effects of the Obama drone strategy, see this article by Clive Smith.
Sunday, February 3, 2013, 5:20 PM
Those of us who are fans of pro football don’t want to think about the subject of this article on sex trafficking as we prepare to enjoy the Super Bowl, but we must.
The scale of the trafficking of women—often girls—into sexual slavery and other forms of exploitation in the United States is unknown to most Americans. Many people are aware that human trafficking is a reality, but have no idea how many women and girls are victims. They imagine that it is a handful. In truth, it is a massive number, probably about 200,000 annually. Some are runaway teenagers; some are women from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and parts of Latin America who have been lured here by promises of respectable and remunerative labor; many are addicted to drugs–often by design of the pimps who, for all intents and purposes “own” them; they live in fear of beatings or abandonment in a land where they have no connections and cannot even speak the language.
I was recruited into the fight against trafficking more than a decade ago by my friends Bill Saunders, Michael Horowitz, and Nina Shea. I am filled with admiration for the courageous and dedicated men and women with whom I have had the privilege of working in the movement—especially University of Rhode Island Women’s Studies Professor Donna Hughes and her extraordinary young colleague Melanie Shapiro. They fight at the “macro” level to improve policies and achieve greater and more effective law enforcement, and at the “micro” level to help individual victims to escape and rebuild their lives.
Unfortunately, some people think that the way to help victims of trafficking is to legalize prostitution and even make it respectable (using non-pejorative terms like “sex workers”). Anyone who is tempted to think such a thing should talk to people like Donna and Melanie and to women who have had the experience of being lured or forced into prostitution, but who have escaped from it.
Donna led the fight to recriminalize prostitution in Rhode Island after the state had several years of experience with de facto legalization. In addition to having to fight the shadowy criminal interests who were very happy indeed with the status quo, she and those of us supporting her efforts had to fight “civil libertarian” organizations who think that laws against prostitution violate people’s human rights, and even “women’s organizations” who suppose that having the right to sell sex “empowers women.” The opposition of the “civil libertarian” organizations did not surprise me–they are drunk on the ideology of radical expressive individualism and sexual liberationism; the opposition of he “women’s organizations” did. Still, Donna is a force of nature, and she prevailed.
Well, do enjoy the Super Bowl, but please pause for a moment to remember that, to our national shame, there will be many victims trafficked by evildoers to New Orleans to meet the demand for prostitutes. Some women will be forced, as the article reports, to “go through” 25 or even 50 men per day. These women are our sisters. They need our help. To begin with, they need us to recognize their plight, and to care about the issue. If you want to learn more about what can be done to fight human trafficking, please check out Citizens Against Trafficking, the excellent organization founded by Donna and Melanie; and the website of the Renewal Forum, which I helped to found with my pal Steve Wagner.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013, 10:01 AM
Thomas Sowell tells it like it is on Benghazi-gate. But Professor Sowell is a conservative and a Republican. Where are the voices of our liberal and Democratic friends and fellow citizens? Why the lack of curiosity about critical questions of governmental responsibility and accountability? Why the silence?
For heaven’s sake, an American ambassador and three other Americans were brutally murdered by terrorists (terrorists who appear to have links to Al Qaeda). This is a serious business, not a minor political dust up in which partisans can be excused for circling the wagons.
Why have so many on the liberal side of the political spectrum praised Secretary of State Clinton’s theatrical performance before the Senate committee, rather than damning her appalling evasions of the central questions? Why are so few–indeed, none, so far as I am aware (but someone please correct me if I am wrong)–demanding that President Obama tell the public when he became aware of the fact that the murders of Ambassador Stevens and the others were premeditated attacks by a terrorist unit, not (as he and others in the administration stated or implied for nearly a month) acts of spontaneous violence by a mob enflamed by an anti-Islamic film. Where is the Democratic “Howard Baker”?
Is there no one left in the party of Franklin Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson, the party of my grandparents and parents—the party to which I myself once gave allegiance—with the integrity and courage to demand answers to the key questions: What did the President know and when he know it?
If it is only conservatives and Republicans demanding answers, they will be dismissed as partisans simply trying to harm their political opponents—and the questions will go unanswered. No one will be held accountable for the falsifications and deceptions that went on for weeks in the run up to a national election. If the public good is to be served—and if we are to deter government misconduct of this nature in the future—it is critical that demands for accountability be bipartisan. Someone must be willing to break the (in this case blue) wall of silence. Someone on the Democratic side must speak.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013, 8:27 AM
I was struck yesterday, on the 40th memorial of Roe v. Wade, by several statements by those favoring legal abortion who stressed the “need to protect the right to choose for the sake of our daughters.” Our daughters. Hmmmm. . . . Every child (or, if you prefer, since it changes nothing, every “fetus”) slain in an abortion is male or female. The victim is not a male or female mosquito or rat. He or she is a male or female human—a son or daughter. As it happens, worldwide more often the child killed is a female, a daughter, and very often the child is killed precisely because she is female. A daughter is destroyed in the womb because her father or mother or both want a son, not a daughter. She is not good enough. She will not do. She must be gotten rid of. How sad an irony that the defense of the legal right to take the life of a child in the womb is made in the name of protecting “our daughters.”
Friday, January 11, 2013, 6:13 PM
Shortly before his death, Richard John Neuhaus, speaking at the annual convention of the National Right to Life Committee, delivered what I believe to be the greatest pro-life speech ever given. It will inspire the pro-life faithful of all traditions and stations until the field is finally won. It was, I believe, his final gift to the movement and to all men and women of goodwill. In this period of January between the anniversary of Fr. Neuhaus’ death and the anniversary of the Supreme Court case that licensed the deaths of millions of our tiniest and most vulnerable borthers and sisters, it is worth recalling his words, found here.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013, 8:37 AM
Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of the death of Richard John Neuhaus. Those who knew him intimately and those who knew him only through his writings share the pain of his loss. Since he was irreplaceable, it is scarcely a surprise that no one has taken his place in American intellectual and public life. Here is the tribute to him that I published at First Things shortly after his death.
Wednesday, January 2, 2013, 4:35 PM
My book with Sherif Girgis and Ryan Anderson, What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, was recently published by Encounter Books. Brandon Vogt has now interviewed me for Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly about the principal themes, claims, and arguments my co-authors and I advance.
Let me also take this opportunity to encourage people to read a splendid new book by Baylor University philosopher Alexander Pruss entitled One Body: An Essay in Christian Sexual Ethics. It appears in the Notre Dame Studies in Ethics and Culture book series. In my review of the manuscript for the University of Notre Dame Press, I said:
This is a terrific—really quite extraordinary—work of scholarship. It is quite simply the best work on Christian sexual ethics that I have seen. It will become the text that anyone who ventures into the field will have to grapple with—a kind of touchstone. Moreover, it is filled with arguments with which even secular writers on sexual morality will have to engage and come to terms.
John Finnis was similarly enthusiastic in his review:
Alexander Pruss here develops sound and humane answers to the whole range of main questions about human sexual and reproductive choices. His principal argument for the key answers is very different from the one I have articulated over the past fifteen years. But his argumentation is at every point attractively direct, careful, energetic in framing and responding to objections, and admirably attentive to realities and the human goods at stake.
Professor Pruss has thought as deeply and rigorously about the meaning and moral significance of human sexuality, and about the norms by which sexual choices should be guided and sexual conduct governed, as anyone of whom I am aware writing today.
Tuesday, January 1, 2013, 11:45 AM
So now, it seems, we have rather a good test for the elite media. We know how reporters and commentators would be reacting to this story on the arrest of an Occupy Wall Street protestor and his girlfriend if the people arrested were (or were thought to be) tea party activists, do we not?
So how will they react now?
I predict that the story will be covered by Fox News and some conservative journalists (the link I provided is to the report in the conservative-leaning New York Post) and largely ignored by most of the mainstream media—print, broadcast, and on-line. I hope I’m wrong about that. In any event, the folks at the New York Times, NBC, CNN, etc. will certainly not use the story to blacken Occupy Wall Street or the political left. They will not do what they almost certainly would be doing if the persons arrested had been tea party people. Of course, we’ve all more or less gotten used to this double standard; at this point even most conservatives have resigned themselves to it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. The common good of a democratic polity does not require a pristinely unbiased media, but it requires far more evenhandedness than ours gives us. Especially in circumstances of pluralism such as ours, groupthink in the media is not a good thing. It is even worse than groupthink in academia, though that too is bad—for everyone.
Monday, December 31, 2012, 7:09 PM
Jewish ultranationalist (and founder of the Jewish Defense League) Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was disqualified on grounds of racism from seeking seats in the Israel’s Knesset, used to say to his fellow Israelis “I say what you think.” After publishing this op-ed in today’s New York Times, Georgetown law professor Louis Michael Seidman might find himself saying much the same thing to his fellow progressives who would have preferred his remaining silent.
A lot of progressives really do think what Seidman (and only a few others) are willing to say: “Let’s give up on the Constitution.” Although Seidman’s declaration is startling to us, early progressives were often explicit in severely criticizing the Constitution. It was, they insisted, an eighteenth century document wholly unsuited to the circumstances of twentieth century life.
In 1908, future President Woodrow Wilson (my own ancestor in the McCormick chair in Jurisprudence at Princeton, but not, I hasten to add, in philosophy) constrasted the “Newtonian” vision of the American founders with a “Darwinian” understanding of government which was, in his view, much to be preferred.
When the public could not be sold on the idea of ditching their Constitution for a progressive alternative, the progressives sought to accomplish by creative reinterpretation of the old Constitution what they could not (or not fully) accomplish by formally altering it by the constitutionally prescribed processes. And so progressive jurists and legal scholars came up with the idea of a “living Constitution”—a Darwinian wolf in Newtonian sheep’s clothing. Professor Seidman is willing to ditch the disguise.
Saturday, December 29, 2012, 12:03 AM
This is horribly sad. NBC is reporting that Chicago has just recorded its 500th murder in the year 2012. Rahm Emanuel, the mayor, says this is “an unfortunate and tragic milestone.” That, I submit, is an understatement. Why is the country not in an uproar? Why is Chicago not in an uproar? Have we become inured to the violence in Chicago and other cities with appallingly high murder rates? Have we stopped asking why so many people hold human life in such contempt? The country was rightly shocked and outraged by the killing of school children in Sandy Hook. That was unpseakably evil. But where is the outrage about what happens virtually every day and night in Chicago and places like it? Many of the victims of these atrocities are children, too. What I am asking for is not lip service from politicians, or cheap, gimmicky, feel good, faux solutions. We need a serious national conversation about the deep sources of the problem. Perhaps this “unfortunate, tragic milestone” will be the occasion for such a conversation. I certainly hope so. It is long overdue.
Friday, December 21, 2012, 10:23 AM
At a Federalist Society forum in 2008, I was invited to offer some thoughts on Robert Bork’s book Slouching Toward Gomorrah, as part of a panel discussion devoted to the arguments advanced by Judge Bork in the book. Here, in tribute to him, I’m reprinting my reflections. ”May eternal rest be granted unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.”
When Slouching Toward Gomorrah appeared, it bore on its dust jacket a few words of mine praising the book and its distinguished author: “The ideological triumph of liberalism among American elites, far from bringing the individual and social enlightenment it promised, has produced unprecedented decay. The principal victims of this decay are the poorest and most vulnerable among us, those most in need of a healthy culture. Bork courageously and boldly states these truths. A judge as wise as Solomon has become a prophet as powerful as Isaiah.”
That is what I thought then, and I believe it even more firmly now. It was not that I agreed with everything that Judge Bork said in the book. I strongly dissented, for example, from Judge Bork’s attitude of suspicion toward the natural rights teaching and equality doctrine of the Declaration of Independence, though it must be said that even in the chapters of Slouching in which he articulates the grounds of his skepticism about the Declaration, I found characteristically Borkian flashes of insight and many important truths. (more…)
Wednesday, November 28, 2012, 8:25 PM
Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and I recently had an op ed piece in the Wall Street Journal defendng the idea of marriage as a conjugal union. Here’s a link.
The piece is a kind of precis of our new book What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (Encounter Books). The book develops and strengthens the argument we originally advanced in our article “What is Marriage?” in the 2010 volume of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. The book has a website here.
Saturday, October 27, 2012, 11:10 AM
In 2008 there were some serious pro-life people who actually bought the kind of argument Charles Reid is once again selling. I’m confident that it won’t happen this time. Those were “messianic days” when grown men and women could talk themselves into believing that the election of Barack Obama would stop the rise of the oceans and cause the earth to heal. So why couldn’t such a figure somehow hypostatically unite the apparent opposites of “pro-life” and “pro-choice” in the person of himself? The argument sounded novel and interesting back then. It’s now stale and, increasingly, ridiculous. President Obama is by far the greatest friend the abortion lobby and the movement for legal abortion and its public funding ever had in the White House. If you don’t believe me, just ask them. He’s their man.
Obama fervently believes, and has consistently acted on the belief, that children in utero have no rights that others must respect. He opposes any meaningful legal protections for unborn babies. Under the regime of law he supports, they may be killed at any time for any reason; and he has vowed to make sure things stay that way. He has even opposed the prohibition of sex-selection abortions. For the full litany of the President’s offenses against sanctity of life principles, just visit the websites of major pro-life organizations such as the National Right to Life Committee, Americans United for Life, and the Susan B. Anthony List. Or, if you prefer, you can get the information from the websites of major pro-abortion groups, such as Planned Parenthood or NARAL. It doesn’t matter which side you go to for the info.
Obama and his supporters do not try to hide his abortion extremism. They celebrate and praise him for it. (They just don’t call it extremism. They call it support for “reproductive health.”) So the information is easily available to anyone who wants to have a look. As for Charles Reid’s argument, as I said, I doubt that it will move many votes Obama’s way this time. Serious pro-life people just aren’t buying it. They know an abortion advocate when they have seen one in action as the nation’s chief executive for four years.
What Reid is offering will be relevant on November 6, if at all, only in salving the consciences of folks on the left who will, in any case, vote for Obama despite his pro-abortion record. It gives them a story to tell themselves about how they are actually, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, living by their principles and defending unborn babies. That story is that Obama may be a 100 per cent “abortion rights” guy by the standards of Planned Parenthood and NARAL, but actually he’s “the pro-life candidate.”
Sunday, October 21, 2012, 1:56 PM
Mary Ann Glendon and I will be appearing this coming Monday (October 22) at 7:30 p.m. in DiGiovanni Hall at the Harvard University Catholic Center to discuss “Catholic Faith and Public Life.” All are welcome.
Friday, October 19, 2012, 12:05 PM
I posted the following comment on my Facebook page. It’s generated an interesting discussion among my friends, including my wonderful former student, and Notre Dame Law School grad, Michael Fragoso (who does not quite see eye to eye with me on this one):
Conservative Friends: I know that both sides in politics take people’s remarks out of context whenever doing so provides a way of making opponents look bad. Liberals do it to conservatives; conservatives do it to liberals. Democrats do it to Republicans and Republicans do it to Democrats. Republicans do it to Republicans, and Democrats do it to Democrats, in primary elections. But that doesn’t make it right. The public good is not served by it, and often it is disserved. At the risk of coming off as prissy and perhaps something of a scold to boot, may I respectfully request that we not seize upon President Obama’s remark about losing four men in Libya being “not optimal”? In context, the remark was not disrespectful, callous, or otherwise untoward. Honestly, it is not fair to use it to depict the President as making light of the killing of our Ambassador and those who were murdered with him. My Facebook friends know I have been very tough on the President for his handling of the Libyan affair (and for many other things). I am working hard, as I know many of you are, to defeat him. I have been extremely critical of what I believe was a grotesque lie told by the President in the most recent debate, suggesting that from the start he had identified the Libyan attack as a premeditated act by terrorists, and not merely a spontaneous attack by a mob that had been enflamed by an offensive anti-Islamic film. I believe he will pay a heavy political price for that lie. And he should. But let’s criticize the President, and our political opponents generally, for what they deserve criticism for. Let’s not criticize them unfairly. Let’s be citizens, not partisans.
Friday, October 19, 2012, 9:09 AM
Last night I had the joy of getting together with my esteemed friend Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who was at Princeton to give a lecture based on his new book on religion and science. His talk was characteristically brilliant. Religion is ubiquitous in human society, but religious geniuses are rare. Britain, an officially Anglican nation, produced a Catholic religious genius in Queen Victoria’s time: John Henry Newman. (True, he began as an Anglican.) It has produced a Jewish religious genius in ours: Jonathan Sacks. In his exemplary humility, the Chief Rabbi would be embarrassed by the comparison, but it is, in my opinion, fully warranted. He is a teacher of people of every faith, and even those who, for now at least, are without faith. Speakers who come to Princeton often say that they are honored to be speaking at our University. In this case, the speaker truly honored the University by his presence.
Monday, October 15, 2012, 10:14 PM
Rick Garnett at Mirror of Justice has chosen the right word to describe Adam Gopnik’s comments on abortion: confused. What is striking (and mildly amusing) is that those comments are so poorly informed and intellectually unsophisticated. Now, I’m guessing here, but I suspect that Adam Gopnik regards himself as a well-educated and sophisticated person. He would, I have no doubt, view himself as intellectually superior to those people in small towns who allegedly cling to guns and religion and antipathy to people who aren’t like them. But judging from his comments, he isn’t. Perhaps he read Aristotle and John Rawls in college, but evidently he didn’t learn anything from them. Rawls, even in arguing for a quite limited role for religion (and other “comprehensive views”) in public life, knew that the question is complex and difficult. He was aware that there are serious counterarguments that needed to be engaged, and he famously retreated under the pressure of intellectual criticism on the question of abortion and “public reason.” He knew that he could not dismiss or defeat the pro-life argument by hand waving and name calling. He was far too well-informed and sophisticated for such shenanigans. Rawls was a serious man making a serious argument for liberal political morality. Judging from Gopnik’s comments, he by contrast is the journalistic equivalent of Yosemite Sam.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012, 10:22 AM
Regular readers know that I’m an advocate and practitioner of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and cooperation. I believe that persons, including leaders, of different traditions of faith should treat each other, and each other’s faiths, with respect and look for opportunities to work together to uphold and advance values they hold in common. This does not require pretending that there are not important differences between faiths. A fruitful ecumenism cannot be founded on religious relativism or indifferentism. Nor need ecumenical and interfaith partners refrain from criticizing teachings of each other’s faiths with which they strongly disagree. There are respectful, civil, and entirely appropriate ways to do this.
I raise these points in light of the goings on in San Francisco regarding the appointment and installation of Salvatore Cordileone as Archbishop. The city’s Episcopalian bishop “welcomed” the new Archbishop with (how shall we describe it?) a rather pointed open letter implicitly, but very clearly, characterizing Catholic teaching on sexual morality and marriage (and, perhaps, on abortion as well, though that is a little less clear) as “repression,” and implicitly characterizing the Archbishop himself, who is a strong defender of marriage, chastity, and the sanctity of human life, as an oppressor.
Well, it is San Francisco.
And we are talking about an Episcopalian bishop. It’s not exactly news that some bishops of the Episcopal Church (remember John Shelby Spong?) long ago traded classical (biblical, natural law) Christian moral ideas for the timeless doctrines of the Summer of Love. In response, many faithful Episcopalians have jumped ship to become Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, or Evangelicals, or formed breakaway churches within the Anglican communion, sometimes under the authority of bishops in Africa and other places where traditional Christian moral beliefs remain intact.
Evidently, the San Francisco Episcopalian bishop believes that “turn-about is fair play.” In his open letter, he invites left-wing Catholics who reject the Church’s moral teachings to join the Episcopal Church.
Some Catholics seem to have been offended by this invitation. I’m not one of them. Quite the opposite. I don’t much care for the Bishop’s manners; and I certainly don’t share his moral views; but I think it is entirely natural and reasonable for someone who strongly believes something to invite others to believe it. And it is even more natural and reasonable for someone in religious community A to invite people in religious community B who do not believe the teachings of B but do believe the teachings of A to leave B and join A. That, it seems to me, is precisely what Pope Benedict did in establishing the ordinariate for Anglicans who wish to join the Catholic Church while retaining certain aspects of their Anglican heritage.
Perhaps the San Francisco bishop could create a special community for Catholics in the city who wish to become Episcopalians, but who want to hang on to, I don’t know, folk masses and Teilhard de Chardin reading groups.
Just a suggestion.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012, 11:27 AM
U.S. News and World Report is reporting that a group called “Catholics for Obama” has been calling voters, asking such questions as “How can you vote for a Mormon who does not believe in Jesus Christ?” (Evidently, the calls also claim that President Obama does not support abortion and that Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of abortions and lobbyist for the abortion license, “helps children to get healthcare and prenatal care and does not promote abortion.” But lay those misrepresentations aside for present purposes.)
The Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights has condemned the anti-Mormon bigotry of these calls in the strongest possible terms. All Catholics should join in the condemnation. I don’t know who is behind these calls, but the Obama campaign should, in all decency, immediately try to figure it out and shut them down. This is only the most egregious of many nauseating examples of the anti-Mormon bigotry that has crawled out of the swamp in relation to Governor Romney’s nomination as the Republican candidate for president. Most examples are more subtle and “sophisticated”; but they are no less appalling. Of course, bigotry of any kind is appalling. But for those who recognize, as we all should, the extraordinary decency, generosity, and patriotism of the vast majority of our LDS fellow citizens, and their many (mainly unsung) contributions to the common good of our society, the defamation of Mormons and their faith is particularly grotesque. Whether or not we happen to support Governor Romney in this campaign, we Catholics should be united in our friendship with, and high regard for, the Latter-Day Saints.
Thursday, September 27, 2012, 12:01 PM
Yesterday I lost a dear friend and the academic world lost one of its most gifted scholars and teachers: Eugene Genovese, the great historian of slavery and the American South. Although born into a Catholic family, Gene was for most of his adult life a Marxist. Under the influence of his beloved wife Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, an eminent historian in her own right and a late-in-life convert to the Catholic faith, he eventually returned to the Church. But even in his Marxist days, he was driven by a passion for truth—and it was that passion that eventually brought him out of the errors into which he had been led by a passion for justice. I tell a bit of the story in the above video of a tribute to Gene I gave at a conference at Princeton held in his honor a couple of years ago.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012, 12:07 PM
I was recently asked to return to my alma mater, Swarthmore College, to participate in a forum on politics and folk music. Although I could not attend in person because of a conflicting obligation, the organizers invited me to submit some comments to be read at the forum. Here are my remarks:
I grew up in West Virginia, the grandson of immigrant miners. My maternal grandfather made his way out of the mines and into the grocery business. My paternal grandfather worked in the mines and on the railroads his entire life, and died of lung disease. He was a strong union man, and a strong anti-communist. The same was true of most of his co-workers. He and most of them were devoutly religious men. Their faith, I believe, gave them a powerful immunity against Marxist ideology and propaganda. Very few of them allowed themselves to be deceived about Stalin or the great Soviet “utopia.”
They were what we would today call social conservatives. They supported the New Deal, and very nearly worshipped Franklin Delano Roosevelt; at the same time, they strongly valued hard work, personal responsibility, self-discipline and self-restraint, and the integrity of the family. The slogan “if it feels good, do it” would have appalled and disgusted them. They were patriotically pro-American, viewing the United States as a great force for good in the world. Many were military veterans. They recognized that America had its faults—some of them very serious—but they saw the American story as a determined struggle by the nation to live up to its great founding principles. Those who, like my grandfathers, were immigrants were especially grateful to the United States for the liberty and opportunity the nation afforded them and their families.
The folk music I grew up with reflected these values. I grew up among coal miners and union men—their songs condemned unfairness and exploitation, and were often, and justly, critical of the coal companies—but it was not until I arrived at Swarthmore that I heard my first communist anthem. Some songs, such as Billy Ed Wheeler’s haunting “Coal Tatoo,” were critical of the union, at least implicitly, as well as the companies. Very many of the songs I heard, and later played, while growing up were hymns. My favorites were those of the Carter Family. “I’m Going to Take a Trip on That Old Gospel Ship,” “Hold Fast to the Right,” and, of course, “Will the Circle be Unbroken?”
The first song I learned to flat pick on the guitar was the great Carter Family classic: “The Wildwood Flower.” I still love to play it. After learning to play guitar, I picked up the five string banjo. The traditional style of playing in West Virginia and other parts of Appalachia was what is sometimes called “claw hammer” style, and we called “frailing.” By my time, though, Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, and Don Reno had made “three finger picking,” or what was also called “Scruggs style” or “bluegrass” banjo playing popular. I learned both styles, but found I could earn more money performing with bands at county fairs, church socials, and rod & gun clubs playing Scruggs style, so that became my focus.
I performed with a number of groups, most often with a pair of brothers who were my best school friends, Tom and Bob Smith. They were fine singers and musicians. I also played from time to time with a bluegrass band called the “Currence Brothers.” Jimmy and Lodi were the brothers and Malcolm was a nephew. All three suffered from hemophilia, which made earning a living playing music preferable to working in the mines. Lodi was an excellent guitarist and Malcolm was a good bass player, but Jimmy was the musical stand out. He was an incomparable fiddler, though unless I or another banjo player was around he usually played the banjo, at which he was also a virtuoso. It was an extraordinary blessing to watch and listen and learn from him.
With the Currence Brothers, our mix of numbers tended to be love songs (or love-gone-wrong songs), hymns, patriotic songs (including their own composition entitled “To Vietnam Our Son is Going”), and novelty tunes (such as Homer and Jethro’s marvelous “I’m My Own Grandpa”). Of course, there were also mining songs, my favorite of which was “Dark as a Dungeon” by the great Merle Travis. The mining songs were almost always, in some sense, “political,” though not always straightforwardly so, and often enough the political messages were, as I’ve already suggested, complex.
Monday, September 24, 2012, 2:49 PM
I do not hesitate to criticize President Obama—severely—not only for what I regard as his misbegotten policies, but also for his personal delinquencies (such as saying things that he knows are not true). I must in candor say, however, that I believe he is getting something of a bum rap on the statement that might, in the end, cost him the election if he ends up losing in a squeaker.
Recently I revisited the video of the President’s infamous “you didn’t build that” comment. It has been interpreted as saying to entrepreneurs and small business people that they did not build their businesses, the government did it for them. This, then, buttresses the picture of Obama as holding a fundamentally socialist outlook and having no appreciation of what it takes, and what it means, to build one’s own business.
Now, I think it is true that Obama has a dangerously inflated view of the proper role of government and very little understanding of business and the contributions to the public weal made by those risk-takers and hard workers who build businesses. But examined in context, I don’t think it is correct to interpret the “that” in “you didn’t build that” as referring to businesses.
Here, I believe, the President is telling the truth in saying that by “that” he meant the infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.) that makes it possible for businesses to flourish, but which businesses do not themselves provide. Now it is fair enough to say—in fact, I will myself say—that the money used by governmental authorities to build infrastructure comes from tax dollars generated by businesses (taxes on businesses, income taxes paid by business owners and their employees, etc.).
So this comment of mine is not intended as a defense of what Obama said, much less of his economic and regulatory policies generally. It is simply an ackowledgment by a rather severe critic that his comment has been misunderstood and his explanation of what he intended to say seems truthful.
Having said that, I can certainly understand why people interpreted the comment as they did—especially in view of the President’s inflated ideas about the role of government and his insufficient appreciation of entrepreneurship and business. In the video, he seems clearly to be speaking off the cuff and he chose his words poorly. I don’t think his critics are merely taking his words out of context to distort their meaning (which is what Mitt Romney’s critics did during the primaries with his comment about “not being concerned with the poor”).
For what it’s worth, I accept the President’s account of himself on this one as truthful. And I feel obligated to say so, since I am always so forceful in going after him when I believe he is not telling the truth (as, for example, on his position on re-defining marriage, and the grounds of his opposition to the Illinois Born-Alive Infants Protection Act). Fair is fair.
Saturday, September 22, 2012, 6:16 PM
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I’ve spent my career so far teaching philosophy of law, constitutional interpretation, civil liberties, and political philosophy to undergraduates and graduate students in the arts and sciences. From time to time, I’ve been offered teaching positions in law schools, and on a few occasions I’ve been approached to be a law school dean. Until three weeks ago, however, I had never actually taught law students. I’m doing that now as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School. I’m grateful to Dean Martha Minow for her kind invitation to do so, and to my old friend the Dean of the Faculty at Princeton for granting an exception to Princeton’s rather stringent rule against teaching for other institutions, even when on unpaid leaves of absence.
I wondered if the experience of teaching law students would be a lot different from the experience of teaching graduate students in philosophy, political theory, religion, and related fields. So far, I’m finding that it’s not. Of course, I expected Harvard law students to be bright and hard working. But I guess I didn’t expect that there would be a lot of enthusiasm for the rather “impractical” courses I teach: philosophy of law and philosophy of civil liberties. I had a concern that all but a few students would be narrowly focused on preparing for the practice of law, and that the students who did sign up for my classes might be impatient with my admittedly rather abstract approach. I needn’t have been concerned.
In addition to the courses I’m offering for credit, Mary Ann Glendon and I are running an informal weekly luncheon seminar on social issues. Participants include faculty and students from across the University, from the Divinity School to the Business School. (No jokes, please, about trying to serve both God and Mammon.) Of course, it’s a treat to be working with Mary Ann, with whom I am also serving on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and with whom I previously served on the President’s Council on Bioethics. Our theme song for the year is the Buck Owens classic: “Together Again.”
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