Friday, April 3, 2009, 10:06 AM
Friday, April 3, 2009, 10:06 AM
Ryan Sayre Patrico thinks that Richard Dawkins is silly for saying that, if death is complete annihilation, then it is illogical to fear death. Nevertheless, this was the view of some of our greatest philosophers. Here’s Socrates in the Apology (40c-e):
There is good hope that death is a blessing, for it is one of two things: either the dead are nothing and have no perception of anything, or it is, as we are told, a change and a relocating for the soul from here to another place. If it is a complete lack of perception, like a dreamless sleep, then death would be a great advantage. For I think that if one had to pick out that night during which a man slept soundly and did not dream, put beside it the other nights and days of his life, and then see how many days and nights had been better and more pleasant than that night, not only a private person but the great king would find them easy to count compared with the other days and nights. If death is like this, I say it is an advantage, for all eternity would then seem to be no more than a single night.
And here’s Cicero, speaking through Cato the Elder in De Senectute (xix):
O wretched indeed is that old man who has not learned in the course of his long life that death should be held of no account! For clearly death is negligible, if it utterly annihilates the soul, or even desirable, if it conducts the soul to some place where it is to live forever. Surely no other alternative can be found. What, then, shall I fear, if after death I am destined to be either not unhappy or else happy?
This analysis might be wrong, but I don’t think it’s silly.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009, 12:32 PM
Wednesday, April 1, 2009, 12:32 PM
Michael Novak’s daily article today raises some fascinating moral and economic issues. In arguing that providing certain benefits (but not cash) to induce people to donate their organs, Novak is moving towards the view, commonly accepted by law-and-economics scholars (see the entries on selling organs on the Becker-Posner Blog here), that allowing a market in bodily organs would greatly increase the supply of such organs and so save a great many lives.
Now, in making this argument, Novak is careful to reiterate his opposition to creating a full-blown market in bodily organs. He mentions, in fact, two distinct reasons for this opposition. On the one hand, there is the idea that, creating a market in bodily organs “could lead to awful abuses” because “the poor and vulnerable would be victimized by ‘harvesters,’ who would make money by using intimidating techniques” to induce them to sell their organs. On the other hand, following John Paul II, there is the idea that “any procedure which tends to commercialize human organs . . . must be considered morally unacceptable, because to use the body as an ‘object’ is to violate the dignity of the human person.” These ideas, however, do not sit easily together.
The first argument—that a market in bodily organs would lead to abuses—does not show that such a market, in and of itself, is immoral; it shows only that, if we have such a market, we should regulate it in certain ways to prevent abuses. Lots of markets are like this. When we worry that people will sell their labor too cheaply or otherwise on unfair terms, we don’t prohibit employment; we create minimum-wage laws and other legal protections for workers against employers. By parity of logic, if the objection to a market in human organs is that unscrupulous dealers will coerce the poor and vulnerable into selling their organs on unfair terms, then there would presumably be a regulatory solution in the form of licensing requirements for dealers, informed consent laws, required disclosure, waiting periods, and, at the extreme, legally-required minimum prices. Hence, if this first argument is correct, the solution is to regulate the market, not suppress it entirely.
The second argument—John Paul’s argument that all commercial dealings in bodily organs violate the dignity of the human person—does indeed entail that any market in bodily organs, even when not leading to abuses, should be suppressed. This argument, however, proves too much. For example, some blood banks pay cash for a blood donation; does this violate the dignity of the human person? What about when women cut their hair and sell it to wigmakers? If someone offers you cash for a glass of warm spit, do you sin if you take the deal? I think not. Pace John Paul, there are some cash transactions in body parts that are morally unobjectionable.
Now, these unobjectionable transactions suggest another argument why a market in bodily organs is undesirable. For one big difference between donating blood and donating a kidney is that, while there is no appreciable danger in donating blood, donating a kidney involves risking one’s life—both in the initial surgical procedure and down the road if the remaining kidney fails. Hence, if someone sells a kidney, he is taking money in exchange for risking his life, and this makes us uncomfortable because we worry that the price, no matter what it may be, is necessarily too low. We worry that the buyer is thus taking advantage of the seller. How right we are to worry about this in unclear, for we don’t object when people accept higher wages for more dangerous (even life-threatening) work—think lumberjacks, oil-rig workers, stunt pilots—but worry we do. Consider this thought-experiment: If someday, because of advances in medical technology, donating a kidney becomes as safe as donating blood or paring one’s fingernails, would there be any objection to people selling kidneys? Even if accepting money for a bodily organ was immoral, it would be hard to see why a transaction that would save one person’s life and endanger no one else’s should be illegal.
Of course this argument does not apply to organs that can be donated only once the donor is dead—hearts, for example. Why a market in organs like that should be illegal is even more obscure. There is a danger, of course, that people would be murdered so that their organs—now valuable commodities on the organ market—could be harvested. For example, if relatives of an otherwise healthy person severely injured in a traffic accident could profit by selling his organs, they would have added incentives to cease life-prolonging treatment. That would be a real problem, but there may be a regulatory fix even for that.
Even more curious is why it is acceptable to offer people things of value—like burial services, health care, and access to national parks—to donate their organs, but not cash. Cash, after all, is merely a medium of exchange. It has no value in itself; it just facilitates the exchange for real resources—things like, for example, burial services, health care, and access to national parks. I don’t think Novak is right when he says that such transactions are not commercial, for it seems clear that bodily organs are being exchanged for things of value. The transactions are not financial, for there is no money involved, but that’s quite different. If I offer to pay your health care costs for life in exchange for the title to your car and you accept, you’ve sold me your car. The same is true if we’re talking about your right kidney. The item is being bought and sold in the only sense that counts in economics.
The argument for the system Novak advocates, therefore, cannot be that the system doesn’t create a market in organs. It certainly does, albeit a very limited market because the currency is restricted to a short list of real resources and there is only one permitted buyer—the government. The argument for this system must be that it will not lead to the abuses of a full-blown market. That is very likely correct, but that the system does indeed create a market—a system of voluntary exchange for things of value—seems to be incontestable. This suggests, as do the other examples above, that the real concern is with abuses in a market for bodily organs, not with such a market in and of itself. And if that is right, it is an empirical question as to which restrictions on the market will best eliminate abuses while maximizing supply.
Thursday, March 26, 2009, 5:27 PM
Thursday, March 26, 2009, 5:27 PM
In yesterday’s daily article, Joshua S. Trevino’s main point is that the mainstream media’s understanding of religion is deplorable, and about that he’s certainly right. In the course of discussing Catholic doctrine and canon law in connection with the Recife case, however, Trevino says a few things I think go too far.
First, Trevino says that it’s a “myth” that the Catholic Church “imposed excommunications” on the young girl’s mother and physicians for aborting the girl’s unborn twins. His argument is that the excommunications were not the result of any juridical process in canon law (e.g., were not the result of any decision by any ecclesiastical official) but were rather excommunications latae sententiae, i.e., excommunications that happen automatically under canon law without any official action by anyone. In Trevino’s account, “The mother and physicians were not excommunicated by the Church; they excommunicated themselves.”
This makes it sound as if the Church had nothing to do with the matter. The reality, however, is that Pope John Paul II, in revising the Code of Canon of Law in 1983, affirmatively chose to retain (it had existed in prior canon law too) the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae for the canonical crime of procuring an abortion. The pope, who makes canon law as he pleases, could have chosen to impose a lesser penalty on those who procure an abortion or no penalty at all. But, for various reasons, including the gravity of abortion in Catholic moral theology, John Paul chose to retain the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae. Right or wrong, this was a conscious decision by the Church made by an authority no less than the Roman Pontiff. The individuals excommunicated in the Recife case are excommunicated not only because they chose to procure an abortion but because the Church, in the person of the pope, chose to impose the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae on all Catholics who do such things. Hence, to say that the Church had nothing to do with excommunicating these people is simply untrue.
Second, Trevino says it’s a “myth” that “the Church imposes a lesser sanction upon a pedophiliac rapist than upon a well-meaning abortionist.” His argument is that rape, since it’s a mortal sin in Catholic moral theology, results in the loss of sanctifying grace in the soul of the perpetrator and thus in eternal damnation, unless the perpetrator repent in time. This, he thinks, is a more severe penalty than excommunication. But here Trevino is confusing several different things.
To start with, in Catholic theology procuring an abortion is just as much a mortal sin as rape is, and so it too results in the loss of sanctifying grace and eternal damnation, unless the perpetrator repent in time. Hence, as far as the loss of grace and eternal damnation go, the rapist and the abortionist are in the same boat.
Furthermore, the loss of grace and consequent eternal damnation are not punishments imposed by the Church. They are punishments imposed by God. The only sanctions the Church imposes are imposed pursuant to canon law. Under that law the most severe penalty is excommunication latae sententiae. It is the penalty reserved for the most serious canonical crimes, such as a priest’s directly violating the seal of the confessional (Cn. 1388), and, as Trevino recognizes, it is the penalty imposed on procuring an abortion. Rape, while probably punishable at canon law under Cn. 1397, is punished less severely. On any reasonable reading, therefore, the Code of Canon Law punishes procured abortion more severely than rape, even the forcible rape of a child. The sentence that Trevino says is a myth—that “the Church imposes a lesser sanction upon a pedophiliac rapist than upon a well-meaning abortionist”—is in fact the absolute truth.
What we actually have in the Recife case is the juxtaposition of an especially horrific rape with an especially sympathetic abortion. While everyone agrees that rape is always a terrible crime, everyone also agrees that some rapes are worse than others, and the repeated, forcible rape of a child is about as bad as it gets. Among people who think that abortion is wrong, everyone agrees that some abortions are less wrong than others, and an abortion performed for medical reasons on a very young girl who became pregnant as a result of a forcible rape is about as little wrong as abortion gets. Add to these facts canon law’s blanket imposition of the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae on all who procure abortions, regardless of mitigating factors, and the result is that canon law—and thus the Church—can easily appear to be punishing the less guilty party more severely than the more guilty one.
Now, there may well be good reasons for this. With respect to law generally, we punish actions at law not simply because they’re immoral. Cruelly wounding the feelings of another, for example, is quite wrong, but it is almost never a crime under civil law. As to canon law in particular, it is not intended to be a general purpose penal code, setting forth just penalties for all crimes. It is intended, rather, to answer to the special theological purposes of the church, and thus it may make perfect sense for canon law to punish procured abortions—which are generally no longer crimes at civil law—but not rape, which is indeed a crime at civil law and which the state, at least most of the time, prosecutes diligently. If we want to make sense of the Recife situation, it is considerations such as these that we need to bring forward—considerations about why human societies in general and the Church as a supernatural society in particular makes any laws at all. The question is not merely about the moral gravity of the wrongdoing; it is about the nature and purposes of various kinds of legislation.
Monday, February 9, 2009, 9:06 AM
Monday, February 9, 2009, 9:06 AM
Villanova Law and University of St. Thomas School of Law are pleased to announce the third season of their summer law study program in Rome. Located at John Cabot University in the heart of Rome, the summer program offers comparative law courses and, when possible, courses related to the Catholic mission of the sponsoring schools. Students may earn six credits, while experiencing the many religious, cultural, and historical aspects of Rome. Courses offered in summer 2009 are Comparative Consumer Protection, International Art & Cultural Heritage Law, International Entertainment Law, and Professional Responsibility in the United States and Abroad.
Students in good standing who have completed at least one year of full-time or part-time study at an ABA-accredited law school are welcome. Applications will be accepted through February 16 or until the program is filled.
For more information, see www.law.villanova.edu/rome or contact Assistant Dean Diane Edelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, October 13, 2008, 2:55 PM
Monday, October 13, 2008, 2:55 PM
In his daily article today, Rusty Reno quotes Paul Griffiths as saying that “the term [limbo of the fathers] is not found in the 1992 Catechism, nor in the Catechism of the Council of Trent,” the implication being that neither text supports Pitstick’s claim that (in Reno’s words) “the Church teaches that Christ’s descent was to ‘the limbo of the Fathers,’ which is to say, to the patriarchs of the Old Testament, in order to liberate them.”
Well, it’s true that neither text uses the phrase “limbo of the fathers,” but both use the synonym “bosom of Abraham” and both say that Christ descended there to liberate the holy souls. Here it is from Part I, Article V of the Catechism of the Council of Trent:
Hell, then, here signifies those secret abodes in which are detained the souls that have not obtained the happiness of heaven . . . .
These abodes are not all of the same nature, for among them is that most loathsome and dark prison in which the souls of the damned are tormented with the unclean spirits in eternal and inextinguishable fire. This place is called gehenna, the bottomless pit, and is hell strictly so-called.
Among them is also the fire of purgatory, in which the souls of just men are cleansed by a temporary punishment, in order to be admitted into their eternal country . . . .
Lastly, the third kind of abode is that into which the souls of the just before the coming of Christ the Lord, were received, and where, without experiencing any sort of pain, but supported by the blessed hope of redemption, they enjoyed peaceful repose. To liberate these holy souls, who, in the bosom of Abraham were expecting the Saviour, Christ the Lord descended into hell . . . .
Having explained these things, the pastor should next proceed to teach that Christ the Lord descended into hell, in order that having despoiled the demons, He might liberate from prison those holy Fathers and the other just souls, and might bring them into heaven with Himself.
As for the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, in number 633 we read:
Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell”—Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek—because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into “Abraham’s bosom”: “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.” Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.
Friday, September 26, 2008, 3:43 PM
Friday, September 26, 2008, 3:43 PM
In addition to my article on Secretary Paulson’s plan to bailout the credit markets, ROFTERS looking for further guidance on these issues may want to watch the video from a panel several of my colleagues and I at the Villanova Law School did on the crisis earlier this week. The speakers included (in order of appearance) Dean Mark Sargent, Prof. Richard A. Booth, Professor Jennifer O’Hare, me, and Prof. John Murphy.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008, 10:34 PM
Tuesday, July 15, 2008, 10:34 PM
Judge Bork has an excellent essay on the judicial usurpation of politics in the June issue of The American Spectator. Referring to how activist judges have enshrined in constitutional law their particular policy preferences, he argues that “the aristocracy that the anti-Federalists feared has been created and empowered in large part by the very Bill of Rights they demanded as a bulwark against aristocracy.” The article is available on the Federalist Society’s website, along with an online forum about the article, featuring Roger Pilon, Steven Calabresi, Barry Friedman, and Jeremy Rabkin.
Incidentally, Judge Bork’s article also includes a long quotation from FT contributor Maureen Mullarkey. It’s pretty good when, if you’re writing about art as Maureen does, Robert Bork quotes your throw-away lines on constitutional law. Maureen’s piece from which Judge Bork is quoting is in the Weekly Standard.
Monday, June 30, 2008, 5:58 PM
Monday, June 30, 2008, 5:58 PM
Question: Which presidential candidate has a son who served in Iraq? Further question: Why doesn’t he talk about it? For the answers, see this editorial in the Jerusalem Post.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008, 12:08 PM
Tuesday, June 17, 2008, 12:08 PM
In a web article last week, I reproduced my testimony before the Appropriations Committee of the Pennsylvania Senate concerning S.B. 1250, a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would limit marriage to unions of one man and one woman. I argued that sooner or later someone will file a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s current marriage laws and that such a suit will require the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to decide whether the general anti-discrimination provisions in the state constitution require the state to recognize same-sex marriages. I then argued that judges have no superior insight into the moral, philosophical and political questions that the issue of same-sex marriage raises, and so it would be better to settle the question democratically by allowing the people of Pennsylvania to vote on the matter.
Responding to this argument, some critics (including Michael Perry at www.mirrorofjustice.org, for which see here and here) have said that, if the key point concerns resolving the issue democratically rather than judicially, then I ought to support not the amendment actually proposed in S.B. 1250 (which limits marriage to unions of one man and one woman) but an amendment that would simply strip from the Pennsylvania judiciary the ability to decide the issue (e.g., “Nothing in this constitution shall be interpreted to require or prohibit the state from recognizing marriages between individuals of the same sex”). Such an amendment would prevent a judicial resolution of the issue and leave the matter in the normal legislative process.
There is some truth in this argument, and I would happily support such an amendment. Political realities in Pennsylvania are such, however, that if the legislature approves any amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution, it’s very likely to be in the form of the amendment actually proposed in S.B. 1250. Hence, for practical purposes, it’s S.B. 1250 or nothing. If there is to be a political debate in Pennsylvania about same-sex marriage, therefore, the Pennsylvania legislature has to bring S.B. 1250 before the voters.
This raises, however, another important point, which is that people on different sides of the same-sex marriage debate will tend to think differently about the relative merits of a democratic versus judicial resolution of the issue. In short, opponents of same-sex marriage have a special interest in a democratic resolution whereas proponents of same-sex marriage have a special interest in a judicial resolution.
For, if the state supreme court takes a same-sex marriage case, there are roughly two possible outcomes: either, the court decides that the state constitution requires same-sex marriage (as in the recent California decision), or else the court decides that the state constitution does not require same-sex marriage (as happened in New York). In the former case, the proponents of same-sex marriage win outright and opponents of same-sex marriage lose outright. In the latter, the issue remains in the normal political process, and both sides can continue to advocate for their views in the state legislature (even though the opponents of same-sex marriage will be somewhat helped, and the proponents of same-sex marriage somewhat harmed, because the non-discrimination argument made by the latter will have been authoritatively rejected in the courts).
From the point of view of opponents of same-sex marriage, therefore, allowing the judiciary a crack at the same-sex marriage issue has great down-side risk and little upside potential. From the point of view of proponents of same-sex marriage, however, the situation is exactly reversed: allowing the judiciary a crack at the issue has great upside potential and only limited downside risk. For this reason, opponents of same-sex marriage are likely to favor, and proponents of same-sex marriage are likely to oppose, even a constitutional amendment that merely strips the judiciary of authority to settle the issue.
Given these facts, if (as I think right) constitutional principle requires a democratic resolution of the same-sex marriage issue, the burden of generating a democratic debate on the issue by bringing a constitutional amendment before the people will tend to fall largely on the opponents of same-sex marriage. Even if democratic principles we all tend to agree on favor a democratic rather than a judicial resolution of the issue, it is unreasonable to expect proponents of same-sex marriage to assist in bringing before the people an amendment that is adverse to their immediate interests. But, if proponents of same-sex marriage cannot reasonably be expected to assist in generating a democratic debate about the issue (and may even work against bringing the matter in whatever form before the people), then by the same token opponents of same-sex marriage cannot reasonably be expected to bear the burden of generating the needed debate without framing the amendment in a way that, if enacted, settles the issue in a way favorable to them. In other words, if we cannot reasonably expect proponents of same-sex marriage to assist in generating a political debate largely contrary to their immediate interests, we similarly cannot reasonably expect opponents of same-sex marriage to generate the political debate otherwise than on terms largely favorable to their immediate interests.
It follows that, as a matter of constitutional principle and given political realities and what we can reasonably expect from people in the public square, bringing S.B. 1250 before the people is probably the best available solution of the same-sex marriage issue in Pennsylvania.
Monday, May 19, 2008, 9:38 AM
Monday, May 19, 2008, 9:38 AM
Last week Ryan Anderson wrote about a symposium at Princeton devoted to the question of whether ending early human life is wrong. He rightly called attention to the position of Princeton’s Elizabeth Harman, who argued that, “Things have moral status throughout their existence, just in case there’s any time in their existence at which they are conscious.” That is, a fetus has moral status even before it reaches consciousness if, and only if, it lives long enough to reach consciousness sometime later. Hence, if a fetus is aborted before it reaches consciousness, then it in fact never will reach consciousness and so never has moral status. Killing such a fetus is thus morally permissible. As Anderson puts it, Harman’s position occasioned much head scratching at the symposium.
I think I see, however, why this putative principle seems so puzzling. We need moral principles, first and foremost, to guide conduct. They tell us what we may do and what we may not do in certain cases. If the question is whether we may kill a certain human fetus, we want moral principles that will help us answer that question. Harman’s principle, however, comes to this: We may kill the fetus if, and only if, we actually do kill the fetus (thus ensuring that it is never conscious). If we were to try to use this principle to determine whether we should kill some particular fetus, we would thus first have to know whether, in fact, we actually will kill it. But we will kill it only if we first decide we may kill. Hence, to use Harman’s principle to decide whether we may kill a certain fetus, we would first have to know whether we may kill that fetus. This makes the principle useless for guiding conduct and thus no genuine moral principle at all.
Sunday, May 18, 2008, 7:11 PM
Sunday, May 18, 2008, 7:11 PM
Re your blogs on agenbites and anti-agenbites, Jody, I appreciate all the fun that can be had with such words, and I have much enjoyed many of the examples, but there’s another aspect to such words that—to me, at least—is even more fascinating. If we get strict with agenbites and require that they be literally true of themselves, then we straightaway run into the most profound logical difficulties. Consider, if you will, the following sentence:
1. “Anti-agenbite” is an anti-agenbite.
If this sentence (1) is true, then “anti-agenbite” is an anti-agenbite, and so not true of itself, which means that (1) is false. But if (1) is false, then “anti-agenbite” is not an anti-agenbite, which means that “anti-agenbite” is true of itself, and so (1) is true. In other words, sentence (1) is true if and only if it is false. This means that introducing a word like agenbite creates logical paradoxes in a language. That’s why such words are blocked by grammatical rules in the formalized languages of mathematics and theoretical physics.
I wish I had been smart enough to think this up on my own, but in fact the problem with (1) was first noted by German logician Kurt Grelling in 1910 and is known to logicians as the Grelling’s Paradox or the Heterological Paradox, heterological being the word Grelling used for “anti-agenbite.”
Grelling’s Paradox is a particular case of a more general logical principle: Nothing can bear a relation to all and only those things that do not bear that relation to themselves. Thus, we have Bertrand Russell’s example of the barber who shaves all and only the men who do not shave themselves. Does this barber shave himself or not? If he does, then he doesn’t, but if doesn’t, then he does. Hence, there is no such barber, his existence being logically impossible.
More seriously, Russell applied the principle to disprove the existence of a set of all sets not members of themselves. That observation, known today as Russell’s Paradox, refuted the supposed Axiom of Comprehension on which Frege had hoped to base his version of what we today would call set theory. The modern versions of set theory differ one from another by the expedients they adopt to avoid Russell’s Paradox.
Going back to agenbites and anti-agenbites, Grelling’s Paradox doesn’t mean that some words aren’t true of themselves, just as the barber paradox doesn’t mean that some men don’t shave themselves. Nor does Grelling’s Paradox threaten the fun we might have thinking up clever examples of agenbites or anti-agenbites. The paradox does mean, however, that words like agenbite and anti-agenbite cannot play a role in a fully vigorous theory of the world.
For an accessible account of such things, see W.V. Quine’s “The Ways of Paradox” in his The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays.
Sunday, March 30, 2008, 12:32 PM
Sunday, March 30, 2008, 12:32 PM
Some readers have objected to my blog about Pope Benedict’s baptizing at the Easter Vigil a Muslim man who is a famous public critic of Islam. In particular, these readers think that it was vulgar of me to suggest that, in so doing, the pope was “flipping the bird” to Osama bin Laden, who had lately accused the pope of being a crusader.
Now, this is just a category mistake. Flipping the bird may be vulgar, but talking about someone flipping the bird is not, just as discussing pornography is not pornographic and talking about injustice is not unjust. The expression flipping the bird is slang, to be sure, just as the synonymous expression digitus impudicus is pedantic, but neither expression is vulgar, even if the gesture iteslf is.
More interestingly, my friend Stephen Barr thinks that I missed an important distinction between intentionally insulting someone and doing something inoffensive in itself that will foreseeably annoy someone because of that person’s unreasonable beliefs. He suggests that Benedict was doing the latter but not the former, and since flipping someone the bird implies intentionally annoying someone, Benedict did not really flip anyone the bird at the Easter Vigil.
The distinction Steve makes is perfectly correct, but I’m not sure how it applies in this case. If someone’s beliefs are unreasonable in a way that causes him to become deeply agitated when someone else does something perfectly inoffensive, might we not, in some cases, do such things with the intention of upsetting such a person? If we are already involved in a desperate struggle with a man, and upsetting him would cause him to appear to disadvantage in the public eye or to overplay his hand or would otherwise lead to some good result, then intentionally annoying such a man could well be the right thing to do. If Benedict saw the situation in these terms, then maybe he was intentionally annoying bin Laden. Compare some of the things our blessed Lord said to the Pharisees.
More to the point, however, I never said that the pope intended to insult bin Laden or anyone else. In saying Benedict was flipping bin Laden the bird, I meant—as I thought I had made clear—that he was sending a public message to Muslim fanatics that he would not be intimidated by threats, that he would preach the Gospel in season and out, even to Muslims, etc. Sending such a message is clearly not to insult anyone.
If so, can what the pope did reasonably be described as flipping bin Laden the bird? Well, it’s obvious that the pope did not literally flip bin Ladin the bird during the Easter Vigil. Although the image of Benedict XVI, in full papal regalia exclaiming, “Osama, azenda me!” and then making the requisite gesture diverts me exceedingly, we all know that didn’t happen. Hence, it’s clear that in suggesting that Benedict flipped bin Laden the bird, I was speaking metaphorically, not literally. I was thus saying only that Benedict did something that in certain respects, but not all was like flipping bin Laden the bird. Here, those respects were that Benedict boldly indicated in a public manner that he would not accede to bin Laden’s wishes.
At the risk of restarting this dispute, I think Benedict was, as my grandmother might have said, telling bin Laden to go soak his head.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008, 9:13 AM
Wednesday, March 26, 2008, 9:13 AM
Spengler wrote in this space on Monday about how, at the Easter Vigil at St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Benedict XVI baptized and received into the Catholic Church Magdi Allam, an Egyptian-born author and critic of Islamic fundamentalism. Just last week, Osama bin Laden had rather absurdly accused Benedict XVI of participating in a “crusade” against Islam, a charge that the Vatican of course denies. In these circumstances, when the pope personally baptizes a Muslim man who is a famous public critic of Islam and does so on international television, well, it seems pretty obvious that the Holy Father is giving radical Islam one in the eye.
But then Reuters reports that Cardinal Re tells an Italian newspaper, “Conversion is a private matter, a personal thing, and we hope that the baptism will not be interpreted negatively by Islam.” A private matter? When it takes place at the Easter Vigil at St. Peter’s Basilica and on international television? Good luck with that one, Eminence. Not surprisingly, the conversion of Mr. Allam was big news in the Italian press, and the Vatican certainly foresaw this result. That, presumably, is why the pope’s staff did not disclose to the media that Benedict would baptize Mr. Allam at the vigil until less than an hour before the ceremony began.
What about Cardinal Re’s hope that “the baptism will not be interpreted negatively” by Muslims? Well, Yaha Sergio Yahe Pallavinci, the vice-president of the Italian Islamic Religious Community seems to be interpreting it negatively. “What amazed me is the high profile the Vatican has given this conversion. Why could he have not done this in his local parish?” No word from bin Laden yet, but I venture to say that his interpretation will be even more negative than that of Mr. Pallavinci.
Now, if the pope wants to send a message to bin Laden and his ilk that he will not be intimidated by their threats and that he will preach the Gospel in season and out, including to Muslims, then well and good. That’s a message of which I heartily approve. But the Vatican should be straightforward about it. It shouldn’t try to say that when the pope baptizes a famous public critic of Islam on international television it’s “a private matter” or that it thinks that Muslims will not interpret the event negatively. Both ideas are ridiculous, and saying such things makes the Vatican look either foolish or disingenuous. Winston Churchill once said that if you have to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite. There’s a converse to this maxim: if you intentionally flip someone the bird, don’t pretend afterwards you did it by accident.
This sort of thing has happened before in Benedict’s pontificate. At Regensburg, Benedict wanted to take Islam to task for being insufficiently amendable to reason, and so he made a very strong speech, needlessly quoting, albeit without endorsing, a Byzantine emperor who said that everything new in Islam was “evil and inhuman.” This was a shot across the bow of Islam. But then, when the Muslim reaction—which anyone in public life should have foreseen—was extremely angry and in some cases even violent, Benedict issued a series of increasingly sweeping apologies. With the Regensburg speech and now again with the conversion of Mr. Allam, it seems that Benedict wants to speak and act boldly, but when the inevitable reactions come, he wants to avoid responsibility by saying he was misunderstood. He can’t have it both ways.
It would be better to take one position and stick to it, to say in effect, “Here are our real beliefs and our real values. If you don’t like them, that’s too bad. You have some beliefs and values we don’t like much either.” Don’t say one thing one minute and another the next.
I have Scripture on my side here. Do I make plans like a worldly man, ready to say Yes and No at once? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, whom we preached among you, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes (2 Cor. 1:17-19).
Thursday, March 20, 2008, 9:31 AM
Thursday, March 20, 2008, 9:31 AM
In his major speech about race earlier this week, Senator Obama talked about more than race. He also complained about the supposedly distressed circumstances of middle-class Americans by referring to “stagnant wages” and a “middle-class squeeze.”
The idea that middle-class people are not much better off now than they were in the past is a piece of leftwing mythology. Economist Brad Schiller does a nice job of exploding it in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed. I’m more concerned, however, with the causes to which Senator Obama cites the nonexistent problem. According to Senator Obama, “the real culprits of the middle-class squeeze” include “a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices and short-term greed.”
Now, I’m not quite sure what “inside dealing” is, but senator may have been referring to insider trading, which is the buying or selling of publicly-traded securities by corporate insiders when they are in possession of material nonpublic information about the value of such securities. Insider trading is illegal under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and although a certain amount of such wrongdoing goes on (the murder statute isn’t completely effective in stopping homicides, either), the idea that middle class people are being impoverished because corporate insiders are rooking them on securities transactions approaches the delusional. Only about half of all Americans are even invested in the securities markets, and of these the great majority have seen the value of their investments increase over time, not decrease. They are certainly not being impoverished by insider trading schemes.
As to “questionable accounting practices,” here Senator Obama seems to be referring to the kinds of accounting scandals we saw back in 2002 with Enron and Worldcom. People lost money in those scandals to be sure, but only people who were invested in the securities of the affected companies, not the middle class generally. In any event, the amount of money involved was trivial in comparison to the aggregate wealth of middle-class Americans. For example, suppose whatever problems there are with corporate accounting were much worse than whatever they really are so that a company with the market capitalization of Enron (about $65 billion at its high water mark) failed every year and the total cost fell on the bottom two-thirds of Americans. The bill would be about $32.50 per person, or less than a dime a day. That doesn’t quite make for middle-class stagnation.
How about “short-term greed”? I’m not even sure what this is. As any financial economist can tell you, a rational profit-maximizer will choose the investment that has the greatest present value, which obliterates any distinction between long-term and short-term investments. Yes, sometimes special circumstances exist that lead people to prefer smaller short-term gains to greater long-term ones (Professor Stephen Bainbridge jokes that his 78 year-old mother, who is an avid investor, says that she doesn’t even buy green bananas any more), but these are the exception, not the rule. Moreover, even if a certain investor prefers short-terms gains to long-term ones, in most cases he’ll still take the long-term deal because financial tools exist to allow him to realize immediately the value of the long-term investment. To take a simple example, if you’re entitled to payments of $1,000 per year for twenty years, you’ll have little trouble finding someone in the financial markets who will pay you today the present value of that stream of payments. That, for example, is how the bond market works. In any event, the senator’s reference to “short-term greed” is particularly ironic because some of the companies that are most in trouble today—companies like Countrywide and Sallie Mae—have a business model in which they borrow short-term in order to invest long-term (think of how a bank borrows by taking deposits, which have to be returned relatively quickly, in order to lend for home mortgages, which are repaid over a very long period).
I could go on like this, but it’s apparent that Senator Obama’s identification of the “real culprits” of a nonexistent middle-class squeeze is simply a bit of tired class-warfare rhetoric: Wall Street versus Main Street, the rich versus the poor, the big corporations versus the little guy. What a yawn. A guy with Barack Obama’s oratorical gifts ought to be able to do better.
Monday, March 17, 2008, 4:34 PM
Monday, March 17, 2008, 4:34 PM
Some people will politicize anything. Take the acquisition, under pressure from the Federal Reserve and other government agencies, of investment bank Bear Stearns by JP Morgan. The argument is going about that Bear Stearns is full of people who have consistently decried government intervention in the market, but now that they’re the ones in trouble, they want a government bailout. Oh, those hypocritical capitalist pigs! At least based on what we currently know, however, this argument is pretty clearly wrong.
To begin with, no one thinks that every problem should be solved by the free market, just as no one thinks that every problem should be solved by the government. Free marketers will tell you that government should intervene in the market for all kinds of reasons—e.g., to overcome collective action problems, to prevent free-riding, to provide public goods, etc. Traffic lights are a good example of this last. The freest of free marketers agree that the government should supply the traffic lights because the market can’t do so at a reasonable cost. For, if private parties built the traffic lights, charging for their use would be prohibitively costly (think toll booths at very corner), and so the cheapest solution is for the government to tax everyone, use the tax dollars to put up traffic lights, and let us all use them without paying an additional fee. So the issue in the Bear Stearns bailout is not whether the government is intervening in the market but whether the intervention is one that can be justified on classical economic grounds.
Pretty clearly, it can. The problem at Bear was that, by late last Thursday afternoon, many market participants had concluded that there was a chance—how big a one, no one really knew—that Bear would soon be unable to pay its debts. Hence, anyone to whom Bear owed money wanted it back right away, and no one was willing to do any further business with the firm, especially by lending it money. There was, in effect, a run on the bank.
Now, this is a classic collective action problem. If all of Bear’s creditors could sit down together and decide as a group what to do, they would likely agree that none of them would seek immediate repayment, for, if they did seek repayment, the firm would collapse for sure and they would lose money. On the other hand, if they agreed among themselves to forestall, Bear could likely work out its problems and all the creditors would get paid in full. It would thus be in their collective interest to forestall. This is what George Bailey is explaining to the depositors of the Bailey Building & Loan Association in the bank-run scene of It’s a Wonderful Life. But, because there are so many creditors of Bear and because they cannot in any practical way meet and agree together what to do (they face, as economists say, high transaction costs), each creditor is left to act on his own. Each creditor, moreover, will have an individual incentive to demand immediate repayment: for, either Bear fails or doesn’t, and if it fails, better for the individual creditor to have been repaid first, and it doesn’t fail, the individual creditor is no worse off for having been repaid early. Hence, although it would be best for the Bear creditors as a group to forestall, nevertheless they will all rush to demand repayment, thus causing Bear to fail and themselves to suffer needless losses. InIt’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey manages to save the Bailey Building & Loan Association because the number of depositors is small enough to gather in one room and hear reason (having low transaction costs, they were able to overcome the collective action problem.)
When the Federal Reserve stepped in, therefore, and first advanced credit to Bear and then brokered the acquisition of Bear by JP Morgan, it was doing on behalf the creditors what they themselves would likely have done had they been able to overcome the high transaction costs that generated their collective action problem. This is exactly the kind of thing that government is supposed to do in a free market system.
Oh, and there was no bailout for the bankers at Bear. In the deal with JP Morgan, Bear shareholders will get $2 per share. That’s less than ten-percent of the value the shares had on Friday, and it’s down from $171 per share a year ago. In fact, the Bear shareholders are getting so little that some people are starting to worry that they’ll refuse to approve the deal with JP Morgan (a shareholder vote is legally required to close the merger). Furthermore, of Bear’s 14,000 employees, you can be pretty sure lots of them are going to be laid off after the deal closes. What the Federal Reserve did over the weekend was for the benefit of the creditors of Bear Stearns—the people who did business with it—not the people who owned or operated it.
This is not to say that there were not other failures, by both government and private parties, that have led to the crisis in the credit markets. To be sure, consumers borrowed money they had little ability to repay, loan originators obliged them by letting their lending standards become far too lax, and rating agencies that rated the securities into which such loans were packaged did a poor job of assessing their risk. Here’s prediction, however: when the dust settles on the credit crisis, the ultimate culprit will be—the Federal Reserve itself, which for years pursued an easy-money policy that eventually created the bubble we’re now watching pop.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008, 9:22 AM
Wednesday, March 12, 2008, 9:22 AM
According to this story in the U.K. Telegraph, Gordon Brown’s Labour government is set to push through Parliament a bill that would, among other things, “allow the creation of animal-human embryos—created by injecting animal cells or DNA into human embryos or human cells into animal eggs—to be used in medical research and then discarded.” There is, however, a problem: Three of Brown’s cabinet ministers—Des Browne, the Defence Secretary; Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary; and Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary—are refusing to vote for the bill because they consider the practices it permits to be immoral. All three ministers are Roman Catholics.
As the Telegraph story makes clear, however, there is no question of the bill’s not passing; there are, apparently, quite enough votes to ensure its passage, even without the votes of the Catholic ministers. The issue is whether the government can tolerate some of its ministers voting in accordance with their consciences but against government policy.
Now, I agree with Browne, Kelly and Murphy that the bill in question is morally unacceptable, and I admire them for opposing it. But I understand too that people who accept positions of trust in a government have a duty to support the policies of that government. Government would quickly cease to function if inferior officials were permitted to disregard the policy decisions of their superiors. That’s one reason why in the United States Cabinet secretaries serve at the pleasure of the president. The government’s bill in this case is unreasonable and immoral; but, given that it is the government’s bill, the government’s demand that the ministers support it is not at all unreasonable.
The Telegraph story says that the government is seeking some kind of compromise solution, and we should all hope that this effort succeeds. If it fails, however, there may be nothing for it but for Browne, Kelly and Murphy to resign as ministers of the Labour government, though they could remain as members of Parliament and vote against the bill. This, I say, would be very regrettable. But there is, after all, ample precedent in England for high officials resigning from office when the chief executive of the realm embarked on policies that were inimical to morality and true religion.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008, 2:56 AM
Tuesday, March 11, 2008, 2:56 AM
It’s hard to bring sex and mathematics together, but I like a challenge, and so I direct your attention to this story in the UK Telegraph about the changing sexual habits of the French.
Yes, I know, other than for the math, who cares?—but stick with me for a moment. The story describes a recent study that reaches the following conclusion: “A woman’s average number of [sexual] partners has risen from under two in 1970 to over five today, while a man’s has remained the same for four decades, almost 13.”
What’s interesting about this claim is that it’s mathematically impossible. That is, if we leave aside cases of homosexuality and assume that the number of men is equal to the number of women, then the average number of sexual partners for men must exactly equal that for women. It’s mathematically impossible that the men have on average more partners than the women.
This isn’t hard to see. Define a coupling as an ordered pair—x,y—where x is a woman, y is a man, and x has had sexual intercourse with y. Then the average number of sexual partners for women is the total number of couplings divided by the number of women, and the average number of sexual partners for men is the total number of couplings divided by the number of men. Since the numerators here are the same—the total number of couplings—and since the denominators are the same too (we assumed there are as many men as women), it follows that the quotients are the same as well. The average number of sexual partners for men and for women are therefore the same.
To illustrate, imagine that there are 100 men and 100 women, and 90 of the women are celibate, but the other 10 each copulate with all 100 of the men. If you think this means that the men have on average more sexual partners than the women, you haven’t been paying attention. Among the men, since each man has 10 partners, the men average 10 partners. Among the women, since 90 women each have zero partners and 10 women each have 100, the average is the sum of zero plus 1,000, all divided by 100, which is again an average of 10 partners. Or, to use the terminology from above, we have 1,000 couplings, and whether we divide that 1,000 by 100 men or by 100 women, we get an average of 10 sexual partners. (For those really interested in mathematics, the modes for the men and women do differ here: 10 for men, but zero for women.)
So what follows from this? Well, the authors of the study seem to think that it’s a great thing for sexual equality if French women are becoming as promiscuous as French men, so perhaps they’ll be happy to learn that, assuming promiscuity is properly measured by the average number of sexual partners, it’s bang-on certain that the women of France are as promiscuous as the men.
Of course, this has also been true in every other society that has ever existed, and a failure to excel at sexual promiscuity might be hard on the French ego. Not only do the Americans keep winning the Tour de France, but now it turns out that the French are no better sexually than, say, the Irish. Even worse, with French women reporting many fewer sexual partners than French men, it seems clear that the women are putting up a pretense of chastity while the men are bragging about non-existent sexual conquests.
The study thus seems to show that the French still harbor what may be thought traditional—even chauvinistic—attitudes about sexual promiscuity, i.e., that it’s good for him but not for her. That would be a bad job indeed and a grievous blow to France’s profound national commitment to libertÃ© et Ã©galitÃ© de sexualitÃ©, but, then again, if French women want to tell one set of lies about sex while French men want to tell another, perhaps the French would put the best face on it and say, vive la diffÃ©rence!
Saturday, March 8, 2008, 10:53 AM
Saturday, March 8, 2008, 10:53 AM
A while back I had a—let us say, spirited—exchange with Alexia Kelley, the Executive Director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. Ms. Kelley’s organization had published a statement calling for civility when Catholics disagree with each other about public policy, and I argued that the statement was in fact being used to deter pro-life Catholics from criticizing pro-choice Catholic politicians.
Now, over at Catholic World News, Diogenes offers reflections, generally consistent with my own:
I’m struck by how often Catholic controversialists admonish each other with some variation on the dictum, “in all things, charity.” I think what they are really calling for is not charity, but magnanimity and graciousness. Attractive as these qualities are, they are symptoms of charity rather than its criteria, and the confusion can work unintended mischief.
In all things, charity. No argument. Charity is not proposed to us as an invitation or an ideal but given as a command—a divine command—and we’ll all have to answer to God for our failures therein. When charity becomes a weapon in polemics, however, our theology has jumped the rails. Sometimes controversialists lob the charity grenade at their opponents in order to preempt a hostile come-back; this is what I call the “olive branch in the eye” maneuver. But even apart from cynical and manipulative intentions, the appeal to charity is inapt when made by someone with no true stake in the dispute, and it sometimes calls to mind the sanctimonious indifference mentioned in St. James (2:15f) “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day, and you say, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well’ . . . what good is it?” . . .
The gauge of authentic benevolence is not courtesy in the face of hostility, where the issue at stake is peripheral. We need to examine the case where the whole purpose and meaning of a man’s life is overthrown by the position espoused by his opponents, and especially where his opponents are on the brink of success. In such circumstances 16th century Christians took up pikes and battle-axes against their Christian adversaries—all sides with the enthusiastic blessing of their clergy. If today’s blogger forbears to take an axe to his opponent but indulges in unlovely sarcasm at his expense, we can admit that he fails in graciousness, but are we certain that he fails in charity?
I admit that, over the years, I have had a few interlocutors who, I thought, deserved a poke with a pike, but thus far I’ve always managed to settle for a poke with joke.
Friday, March 7, 2008, 4:44 PM
Friday, March 7, 2008, 4:44 PM
I agree with Jody’s comments on the California homeschooling decision, especially about the plaintiffs perhaps not being the ideal plaintiffs for a test case. Now that the case is on the books, however, it would seem to me that any homeschooling parent in California could sue the state in federal district court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the California statute at issue, as interpreted by the California court, violates the federal Constitution. This would have two advantages: For one, the homeschoolers could choose a more sympathetic lead-plaintiff, and, for another, the action would proceed in the federal courts rather than the California state courts.
Oddly enough for us conservatives, however, since the federal Constitution is entirely silent on the matter of homeschooling, if you argue that there is a constitutional right to homeschool your children, you’re in fact arguing for a substantive due-process right. It’s substantive due process that gave us the right to abortion in Roe and the right to homosexual conduct in Lawrence, and it’s the Court’s substantive due-process jurisprudence that has occasioned the (in my view, fully justified) charge that the Court has sometimes judicially usurped politics.
To be clear, I think there is moral and natural right to homeschool one’s children, but there is no question that arguing that there is constitutional right to do so puts people who are otherwise judicial conservatives in a somewhat awkward position.
Thursday, March 6, 2008, 4:37 PM
Thursday, March 6, 2008, 4:37 PM
Marion Cotillard is a French actress who won some kind of award recently. I mention this because back in 2006 she gave an interview on French television (see the U.K. Telegraph story here) in which she said about the September 11 terrorist attacks, “I think we’re lied to about a number of thing. We see other towers of the same kind being hit by planes, are they burned? There was a tower, I believe it was in Spain, which burned for 24 hours. It never collapsed. None of these towers collapsed. And there [in New York], in a few minutes, the whole thing collapsed.” According to Ms. Cotillard, the Twin Towers were losing money, and it was cheaper to blow them up in a phony terrorist attack than to modernize them.
In one of those little gifts that life sometimes gives us, Ms. Cotillard went on to deliver her views on the United States space program. “Did a man really walk on the moon?” Ms. Cotillard asked. “I saw plenty of documentaries on it, and I really wondered. And in any case I don’t believe all they tell me, that’s for sure.”
It’s fun, of course, to laugh at people like Ms. Cotillard (who has, in any case, recently has recanted her remarks), but it’s not charitable, and so I do in fact have a serious point here, which is this: although it’s obvious that Ms. Cotillard’s views are crazy, it’s far from obvious just why they’re crazy. That is, almost none of us have any direct, personal knowledge about the terrorist attacks of September 11. Even people like me, who watched the towers burn with my own eyes, have no personal knowledge of how the attacks were carried out and by whom. For almost all of us, what we know about the events of that day we learned from the news media, from the report of the September 11 Commission, from books we subsequently read, and so on. Why do we trust these sources? It’s clear that we don’t trust them absolutely; just like Ms. Cotillard, I “don’t believe all they tell me.” I do, however, believe them when they tell me that Twin Towers fell because Islamic fanatics crashed commercial airliners into them. When is it rational to believe the social sources of knowledge, and when is it rational to doubt them?
This, it turns out, is very far from a simple question. One thing is certain: you have to believe most (in some unquantifiable sense) of what the sources tell you—indeed, almost all of it—or else you’ll know virtually nothing. The question, then, is what special circumstances justify departing from the rule that you should believe what you’re told? Here’s a first cut at an answer: holding everything else you know constant, you should believe what the sources tell you unless what they are telling you is less plausible than the proposition that everyone who would have to be involved in a conspiracy to deceive you is in fact deceiving you.
In evaluating the plausibility of a conspiracy to deceive, it’s critical to understand just how many persons would have to be involved. With September 11, for example, the deception that Ms. Cotillard posits would involve thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of individuals, most of whom would have no motive at all to participate in the conspiracy. That’s why her views are so obviously crazy. That’s one reason, too, why a free press is so important: a large number of independent decisionmakers able to publish their views to the public makes perpetrating and maintaining a large deception extremely difficult. If the September 11 attacks had been faked, for example, just think of the opportunities for a cub reporter to become the next Woodward or Bernstein by breaking the story of the century. A free press thus provides a kind of guarantee of the veracity of the social sources of knowledge.
But even people smarter than Ms. Cotillard fall into similar mistakes often enough. I teach corporate law, and I always have a student or two who thinks that the “big corporations” are routinely engaging in serious wrongdoing. To be sure, this does happen sometimes, but it’s not common. Not only are most people (even those who work in corporate America) pretty honest, but those who think the big corporations are out to get the little guy fail to understand how many individuals would have to be involved in order to perpetrate such wrongdoing. We’re talking not just about corporate officers and directors but also scores or even hundreds of junior employees, as well as outside lawyers, accountants, and other professionals—maybe even government regulators, stock exchange officials, and others. Most of these people have very strong incentives not to participate in wrongdoing. For example, would outside counsel, who provides legal services to dozens of other clients, risk a criminal conviction and disbarment for the fees from one client? Not likely. Or would a low level corporate employee risk criminal conviction for the sake of a job? Many people choose to find alternative employment for much lesser reasons. Even CEOs, who are usually already very wealthy, would not find it worthwhile to boost the value of their stock options at the risk of imprisonment. Yes, in the right circumstances, the set of incentives necessary for such spectacular wrongdoing can be generated (when this happens, often it’s late in a market bubble, as happened with Enron and Worldcom), but this is the exception, not the rule.
As a matter of psychology, it’s worth noting that, even among those people who fall victim to conspiracy theories, just which theories they accept will depend on their other irrational prejudices. The people who think that the Clintons murdered Vince Forster, for example, are not usually the same people who think that President Bush was behind the September 11 attacks. As Madison says in The Federalist No. 50, “When men exercise their reason coolly and freely on a variety of distinct questions, they inevitably fall into different opinions on some of them. When they are governed by a common passion, their opinions, if they are so to be called, will be the same.”
Monday, March 3, 2008, 11:53 AM
Monday, March 3, 2008, 11:53 AM
As someone who teaches in a university, I occasionally worry that my school might someday be the subject of the kind of attack we saw last year at Virginia Tech or last month at Northern Illinois University. As I have pondered that dreadful possibility, it has crossed my mind more than once that, if there were a crazed gunman roaming the halls of the Villanova Law School and shooting my colleagues and students, the man I’d want on the scene is my current student Jeremy Clark. A former captain in the 82nd Airborne who served three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, Jeremy is a formidable fellow. He’s even more formidable, however, when armed with his 9mm semi-automatic Glock handgun. Since he has a permit to carry the Glock in Pennsylvania, being in the near vicinity of Jeremy Clark is usually a pretty safe place to be.
But although Jeremy carries his Glock everywhere else he goes (you may have stood next to him in the mall and not realized he was packing), he is not permitted to carry the gun on campus. Villanova, like Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois, is a “gun-free zone,” and so the university’s policies prevent even individuals licensed by the state to carry firearms from carrying them on campus. Impressed by the fact that gun-free policies did not deter the shooters at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois, Jeremy has become a leader in Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. See the news story about him in the Philadelphia Inquirer here. (Jeremy is also a contributor to First Things—see his Daily Article on Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Michael Murphy here.)
Most of the arguments against allowing faculty and students to carry concealed weapons on campus strike me as quite weak. We are not talking about passing out guns to drunken frat boys. The only persons who would have guns on campus are the few individuals who are already licensed by the state to carry guns everywhere else. Such people already carry their guns to shopping malls and supermarkets and Little League games, and none of these places have turned into the OK Corral. There is no basis for thinking that people with concealed carry permits, who are law-abiding and sensible everywhere else, will suddenly become trigger-happy lunatics when they walk onto a college campus.
Indeed, if it makes sense for a university campus to be a gun-free zone—that is, if it makes sense for the university to forbid on campus what the state permits everywhere else—then this can only be because there is something peculiar about a university that makes normal, law-abiding people with carry permits considerably more dangerous on campus than they are everywhere else. Some places really are like this—bars, for example, where people tend to become intoxicated—and so concealed carry permits generally do not extend to such establishments. But there is nothing about a university classroom or cafeteria that would make it especially likely to be become the locus of gunplay.
Put another way, the state has made the judgment that allowing certain individuals to carry concealed weapons in public is consistent with public safety, but the university is saying that this judgment is wrong as applied to the hallowed precincts of academia. Unless the university can articulate a convincing explanation as to why a college campus is significantly different from other places when it comes to firearms policy, however, I don’t see why the university should substitute its judgment for that of the state government concerning what conduces to public safety.
In fact, I think what we really have here is a case of the university disagreeing with the public policy of the state. The university is by and large run by people who, if they had their druthers, would not allow anyone to carry a concealed weapon anywhere. But, having lost that argument in the public square, university administrators have been reduced to imposing their views where they can—on campus. The difference in view between the people of the state generally, who have acted through their elected representatives to allow certain individuals to carry concealed weapons, and the university administrators, who think that that decision is profoundly foolish, is really a philosophical or ideological difference of opinion.
For my part, I think university administrators would do better if they left public safety concerns to the state and its law enforcement agencies and stuck to academics. They have no real business second-guessing the state’s laws on gun policy. And if the state of Pennsylvania thinks Jeremy Clark should be able to carry his Glock wherever he wants, that should be good enough for the university.
Monday, February 11, 2008, 2:57 AM
Monday, February 11, 2008, 2:57 AM
In response to my posting about civility, Alexia Kelley, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, has sent this response:
In a diatribe riddled with false claims and smug mischaracterizations, Robert T. Miller’s recent blog post attacking Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good exemplifies an ugly style of argument at odds with a journal that prides itself on intellectual fairness.
A professor of law, Mr. Miller sets aside judicious analysis to show his outright contempt for Catholics who insist—as our own Church does—that unjust war, torture and poverty are moral scandals. Challenging our president on these issues apparently shows our “ideological drift” and “far-left” agenda. By these measures, the positions of Catholic bishops and centuries of Catholic social teaching are also suspect.
The priests, religious sisters, theologians and lay Catholics from around the country that comprise Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good work to build a culture where immigrants are treated with justice, the voices of the poor are not forgotten in Washington, and peacemakers are heard in a world shattered by war. These men and women deserve our respect, not mockery or trite labels.
Mr. Miller takes particular delight in maligning a statement released last fall by prominent lay Catholics —including eleven former ambassadors and former chairmen of the Republican and Democratic National Committees—that called for greater civility in public life. Thomas P. Melady, a former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, and Timothy J. May, a trustee emeritus with the Catholic University of America, worked together as Catholics from different political persuasions to launch this effort. Like most Americans, those of us who signed their statement are tired of a toxic political environment that the U.S. Catholic bishops recently described as “a contest of powerful interests, partisan attacks, sound bites and media hype.” After decades of mean-spirited quagmire in Washington, the signers believe that open and civil discourse desperately needs to be restored for government to function and for fundamental policy needs to be addressed.
To read this civility statement as an effort to get Catholics to “shut up” about abortion is absurd. As Catholics, we believe in the sanctity of human life. The inviolable dignity of the human person is the foundation for justice. Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good takes a back seat to no one in our opposition to abortion and in our support for building a culture that values life in all stages. The U.S bishops have now twice explained—in Catholics in Political Life (2004) and most recently in Faithful Citizenship (2007)—that our sacraments are blessed signs of God’s life among us to be canonically administered (including 915) with pastoral care and love. To involve the sacraments in electoral politics is shameful.
Mr. Miller mocks Catholics who call for civility as sensitive types not tough enough to take an intellectual punch. This is condescending. We welcome the challenge from those who are eager for a robust debate about the common good. These are serious matters that deserve thoughtful and mature reflection. How we as Catholics should conduct ourselves in the public square during these times of grave moral and political challenge is a profound question. Our bishops, in Faithful Citizenship, have responded with welcome courage. So, too, have the signers of the Call for Civility. Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good endorse both. We encourage the editors of First Things to a take up these questions with respect, seriousness, and—yes—civility.
Reading Ms. Kelley’s letter, you may have forgotten what this dispute is actually about, so I’ll remind you. Last year CACG issued a statement that said in effect that pro-life Catholics are engaged in uncivil discourse when they question whether pro-choice Catholic politicians should be denied communion. In responding to this statement, I first pointed out that CACG is a leftwing organization that generally agrees with pro-choice Catholics like John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi, including with respect to their opposition to outlawing abortion, and I then argued that, although CACG’s statement purports to be about civility, its true purpose is to disable some very effective criticism of politicians friendly to its cause by branding such criticism “uncivil.”
I was thus making a kind of argument we often hear in the public square: I was showing that someone had an ulterior motive for taking a certain position. Such arguments are clearly legitimate, for information about the possible ulterior motives of a speaker in the public square is obviously relevant to people who are listening to the speaker’s arguments and trying to evaluate them.
This was the context in which Ms. Kelley responded to my blog. If she was to say anything responsive to my argument, she would have to argue either that, in fact, CACG does not have the ulterior motive I attributed to it, or else that, even if it does have such a motive, its position is nonetheless correct on the merits. In fact, she does neither.
As to the first, Ms. Kelley does not dispute the key point that CACG does not seek to outlaw abortion. Its position is thus almost certainly inconsistent with Catholic doctrine as set forth in no. 2273 of the Catechism and is largely indistinguishable from the position set forth in the Democratic Party’s platform that abortion be safe, legal, and rare.
Such a coincidence of views between CACG and the Democratic Party is not surprising given that, before she founded the CACG, Ms. Kelley was the Director of Religious Outreach for the Democratic National Committee—a fact she omits to state in her biography on the CACG site. Ms. Kelley says that CACG “takes a backseat to no one in [its] opposition to abortion,” but the reality is that CACG is sitting in the back of the pro-life bus, right next to Hillary Clinton.
As to showing that questioning a politician’s fitness to receive communion is indeed a breach of civility, Ms. Kelley says nothing at all except that “to involve the sacraments in electoral politics is shameful.” This, however, is not always true. For, suppose a Catholic like John Kerry is running for president, and it turns out that because of his public views or actions related to abortion, he ought to be denied communion under Canon 915. Then, as Cardinal Ratzinger explained to Cardinal McCarrick, this is a matter not of the individual’s subjective guilt but of his public unworthiness to receive communion. The matter is thus one of public concern within the Church, and Canon 211 provides that Catholics have a right, and sometimes even a duty, to manifest to their pastors their views on matters that concern the good of the Church. Exercising this right is not a breach of civility, and it is certainly not shameful.
So, apparently because she has no genuinely responsive answer to make, Ms. Kelley provides us instead with an excellent example of how not to argue in the public square. For, most of what she says has two salient characteristics: It is irrelevant to the point under discussion, and it sentimentalizes issues of policy.
Usually, these two characteristics work in conjunction. For instance, we’re told that members of CACG are noble sorts, that they’re priests and religious and lay people from around the country, and that they care about immigrants and the poor. All of this may well be true, but it’s not remotely relevant to the issue at hand. It does, however, form the basis for a sentimental appeal—We’re nice people. Agree with us, not that nasty old law professor! Or again, we’re told that the organizers of the statement on civility care about the quality of our public discourse, that they have the finest intentions, and that they have spent their lives in public service. Again, this is not remotely relevant, but it does form the basis of another sentimental appeal—We’re good people trying to do good. Disagreeing with us is just plain MEAN!
I could go on like this, but you get the idea. I have just one final thought. Ms. Kelley says that I’m condescending towards CACG because I said that it can’t take an intellectual punch. I’m sorry, Ms. Kelley, but with a response like this, you’ve proved my point better than I could ever have done on my own. Rather than answering my arguments, you just complain that I’m a mean guy—a sure sign that you have nothing of substance to say on the issue. Thanks for the assist.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008, 1:26 PM
Wednesday, February 6, 2008, 1:26 PM
Suppose you’re having an intellectual discussion with someone, and just when you have completely demolished his position, he says something like, “You know, civility should be a guiding principle here. It’s apparent that this discussion is becoming very divisive. We must learn to disagree respectfully and without judgment.” What would you think? I’d think the fellow knows he has lost the argument on the merits and is trying to avoid admitting it by changing the topic and raising a bunch of silly accusations about civility.
There’s a certain organization in Washington—it styles itself Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good—that tried this tactic recently. You can determine the ideological drift of the organization from its press releases: President Bush should reverse his positions on war, “torture,” climate and poverty; Bill O’Reilly should stop complaining about department stores that forbid employees to say “Merry Christmas”; the United States should withdraw its troops from Iraq; Congress should override President Bush’s veto of the SCHIP legislation, etc. As for abortion, CACG suggests Catholics send this letter to their local newspapers:
As a Catholic, I consider abortion a grave affront to the sanctity of human life. The polarized abortion debate in this country, however, has often been reduced to slogans and rancorous political rhetoric that has done little to reduce the number of abortions. If we are serious about making abortion a relic of the past, we must address the economic and social factors that are often at the heart of the painful decision to end a pregnancy. Research shows that women are less likely to have abortions when they have access to quality pre-natal care, children’s health insurance, jobs that pay living wages, and a strong safety net of social services.
In other words, we shouldn’t outlaw abortion; we should reduce the number of abortions by increasing government spending. It’s thus pretty clear what CACG is: a reliably far-left organization that is about as Catholic as Nancy Pelosi and that aims at influencing people too dim-witted to write their own letters-to-the-editor.
Now, when an organization like this issues a statement saying that Catholics need to start speaking more civilly in the public square, which issue do you think it has in mind? Does it want Catholics to stop saying that the war in Iraq “is an immoral and unjust war … [and] has been a moral and humanitarian disaster”? No, that’s not it. Should Catholics stop saying that people favoring stricter enforcement of immigration laws “demonize immigrants” and want “a punitive approach to detentions and deportations”? No, certainly not. Does CACG want Catholics to stop saying that “the gap between rich and poor has reached Depression-era standards” so that people who don’t favor minimum wage legislation must be motivated by “private interest and partisan gain”? No, that’s not it either. For, as you may have guessed, CACG says all these things itself. But I’ll stop wasting your time, because we both know which issue it is that CACG wants Catholics to shut up about: it’s abortion.
This becomes clear reading CACG’s statement, for besides platitudes about treating respectfully those with whom we disagree, there is no point to this statement except the following:
As lay Catholics we should not exhort the Church to condemn our political opponents by publicly denying them Holy Communion based on public dissent from Church teachings. An individual’s fitness to receive communion is his or her personal responsibility. And it is a bishop’s responsibility to set for his diocese the guidelines for administering communion.
So CACG wants pro-life Catholics (organizations like CACG make such pleonastic expressions necessary) to lay off pro-choice Catholic politicians. In particular, those uncouth pro-lifers shouldn’t embarrass the politicians by saying that they are denying dogmas of the Catholic faith, might be “obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin,” and so ought to be denied communion under canon law (CIC 915-916).
On his canon-law blog, Professor Edward Peters made very short work of CACG’s position from a canonical point of view in ways that I couldn’t possibly improve upon, and last week a group of Catholic public intellectuals—including John Baker, Robert Bork, James Hitchcock, Fr. Joseph Koterski, Peter Kreeft, William May, Michael Novak, Robert Royale, Austin Ruse, and Fr. Robert Siroco—responded to CACG’s statement pointing out its hypocrisy and general fatuity.
Given the low style of argumentation that CACG seems to favor, you can look for CACG to say that the authors of this response are against civility. That, of course, would not be true, but in an effort to make the crime fit the punishment, I’d like to go on record as saying that civility is overrated.
When you’re having dinner with your in-laws, graciously downplaying disagreements about politics and religion is the thing to do, for such discussions usually lead nowhere and often engender bad feelings. It should be different, however, among people who make their living by speaking and writing about issues of public concern, among professors and pundits and politicians. These people voluntarily enter the public square in order to contribute to the common good by persuading their fellow citizens about what that good really is. There are important things at stake here—with abortion, for example, the issue really is one of life and death—and so it’s absurd to say that we should minimize our differences or agree to disagree or fail to bring forward our best and toughest arguments against our opponents lest we hurt their feelings. Quite the contrary, we should state as clearly as possible what we think and why we think it—including why we think our opponents are wrong. We owe this to the public we are seeking to persuade and even to our opponents themselves, for, as Aristotle says, in philosophy we must love the truth more than our friends.
W.V. Quine, arguably the most important philosopher of the twentieth century, once said that philosophers want to be right, but ordinary people want to have been right. Just so, or, at least, this is how philosophers—and public intellectuals generally—ought to behave. Once a person chooses to speak in the public square, he should welcome criticism of his views, even the sharpest criticism. If the criticisms are unjustified, he will in no way be harmed by them, and at least he’ll learn why certain arguments against his views fail. If, on the other hand, the criticisms are justified, then he will have been saved from error and learned something important. The wise man never takes offense when people tell me him what he has said is wrong, even when they do so quite bluntly. When people tell him that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, he recognizes that they might be right, for, on a wide range of things, he really might be ignorant and uninformed. In most cases, critics will find that he has already considered and rejected the arguments people bring against his views, but every once in a while he hears a new argument and will have to change his mind. His feelings aren’t hurt when this happens. On the contrary, he is grateful to such people and considers himself in their debt. Reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be wiser still (Prov. 9:8-9). This, I think, should be the attitude of everyone involved in public life.
So here’s my answer to CACG or anyone else who thinks that, when we are discussing issues of public concern in the public square, the disinterested pursuit of the truth should be sacrificed for the protection of anyone’s feelings: if you can’t take an intellectual punch, don’t play in the public square. You’re only getting in the way of the adults.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008, 9:27 AM
Wednesday, February 6, 2008, 9:27 AM
Over at the New Liturgical Movement blog, Gregor Kollmorgen notes that the Vatican Secretariart of State will issue a note today regarding the prayer Pro Judeis to be used in the Good Friday liturgy in the rite of Bl. John XXII, i.e., the 1962 Missale Romanum. Kollmorgen writes:
The following from tomorrow’s edition of the Osservatore Romano (first the original, then my [i.e., Kollmorgen's] translation):
Nota della Segreteria di Stato
Con riferimento alle disposizioni contenute nel Motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum”, del 7 luglio 2007, circa la possibilitÃ di usare l’ultima stesura del Missale Romanum, anteriore al Concilio Vaticano II, pubblicata nel 1962 con l’autoritÃ del beato Giovanni XXIII, il Santo Padre Benedetto XVI ha disposto che l’Oremus et pro Iudaeis della Liturgia del VenerdÃ¬ Santo contenuto in detto Missale Romanum sia sostituito con il seguente testo: Oremus et pro Iudaeis Ut Deus et Dominus noster illuminet corda eorum, ut agnoscant Iesum Christum salvatorem omnium hominum. Oremus. Flectamus genua. Levate. Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui vis ut omnes homines salvi fiant et ad agnitionem veritatis veniant, concede propitius, ut plenitudine gentium in Ecclesiam Tuam intrante omnis Israel salvus fiat. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen. Tale testo dovrÃ essere utilizzato, a partire dal corrente anno, in tutte le Celebrazioni della Liturgia del VenerdÃ¬ Santo con il citato Missale Romanum. Dal Vaticano, 4 febbraio 2008.
Note by the Secretariat of State:
With reference to the dispositions contained in the Motu Proprio “Summorum Pontificum” of 7 July 2007, regarding the possibility to use the last version of the Missale Romanum prior to the II Vatican Council, published in 1962 by authority of Blessed John XXIII, the Holy Father Benedict XVI has decided that the Oremus et pro JudÃ¦is of the liturgy of Good Friday contained in said Missale Romanum be substituted by the following text:
Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may enlighten their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Saviour of all men. Let us pray. Let us bend our knees. Rise. Almighty and eternal God, who want that all men be saved and attain the knowledge of the truth, propitiously grant that as the fulness of the Gentiles enters Thy Church, all Israel be saved. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
This text must be used, beginning in the current year, in all celebrations of the Liturgy of Good Friday according to the said Missale Romanum.
From the Vatican, 4 February 2008
Wednesday, January 30, 2008, 8:49 PM
Wednesday, January 30, 2008, 8:49 PM
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I don’t usually write about partisan politics (I find the whole thing rather depressing), but reading the news coverage today about Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards dropping out of the presidential race, I had the following thought. Suppose that the Republicans ultimately nominate John McCain and the Democrats nominate Hilary Clinton. Who should be McCain’s vice-presidential running mate? I have a suggestion, assuming that winning the election is the sole criterion in making the choice: McCain should choose Barack Obama.
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