Richard John Neuhaus says that my assertion in the (London) Sunday Times
regarding Pope John Paul’s disability and early retirement
to bed, etc., was a lie (While
We’re At It, June/July 2000). I was given the information
about the Pope on what seemed to be good authority at the
time, and so it was a mistake rather than a lie. I have
now double–checked the facts about the Pope’s day, and I
have also checked Father Neuhaus’ extraordinary claim to
have spent many hours and meal times with the Pope, and
I find that he is telling the truth. In consequence I acknowledge
that mistake publicly through your periodical and I shall
seek to correct the error also at an appropriate point in
the Sunday Times.
While I am on the subject of mistakes, your periodical has perpetuated a serious
mistake about me. In your correspondence section in April 2000, William A. Donahue
cited Ronald Rychlak’s accusation in Hitler, the War, and the Pope that
I wrote in 1991 that nothing short of a miracle would have prompted me to believe
in God. That statement was taken from a book I wrote (published in the U.S.
as Hiding Places of God) which was precisely about the miracle that did
take place in my life in the late 1980s, and that resulted in my return to the
Catholic Church. My book tells at great length the story of a remarkable religious
experience and a long journey back to faith. Whoever originally dug up the quotation
cynically omitted the context of my confession of apostasy and the full story
of my reconversion. Hence it is not true, as has been reported by First Things
and others, including Rychlak (who, incidentally, was well aware of it since
we crossed swords over it in Brill’s Content in 1999), that I am an apostate
only pretending to be a Catholic in order to create a dramatic and untrue effect
in my book Hitler’s Pope. My book on Pius XII may have errors and omissions,
but I wrote it in good conscience. I am happy to debate what people consider
to be errors of fact and interpretation and to publicly correct them as they
come to light. But those errors do not include telling lies about the status
of my faith. The false comments about my faith have been used to discount the
thesis of Hitler’s Pope.
I will not whine to you about defamation; how could I when so many people are
convinced that I have defamed a saintly pope: “He who lives by the sword . .
.” But I am sure that First Things would stop short of repeating such a serious
allegation—lying about being a Catholic—knowing it not to be the case. In fact,
you might wish to put that right.
I feel bound to add that my jaundiced perception of Pius XII has not budged
my faith in the Catholic Church one iota.
Jesus College, Cambridge
It is, of course, good to be reassured of the state of Professor Cornwell’s
faith. In Hitler’s Pope, however, he made his credibility part of the
argument by asserting that, when he began his writing, he was an active Catholic
disposed to a favorable view of Pius XII and was subsequently shocked by what
he allegedly discovered. Among the reviewers of the book, Prof. Rychlak is by
no means alone in challenging that assertion. Reviews of Hiding Places of
God described Prof. Cornwell, with good reason, as an agnostic and former
Catholic. Other publications by Prof. Cornwell in the 1990s reinforce that assessment.
The complete Brill’s Content exchange between Rychlak and Cornwell is
at <www.brillscontent.com/2000apr/columns/hitler.shtml> and readers may
wish to consult that website. On the basis of the evidence, the account offered
in Hitler’s Pope of Prof. Cornwell’s status as a Catholic and attitude
toward Pius XII when he began writing the book appears to be disingenuous.
In “Conservatives, Darwin
& Design: An Exchange” (November 2000), Larry Arnhart
restricts the universality of William A. Dembski’s specified
design criterion and then criticizes it.
As I understand Professor Demb ski’s concept of specified complexity,
the right combination of specificity and complexity simply ensures that chance
alone cannot account for certain phenomena. The detection of intelligent design
that cannot be explained by human intelligence requires that other intelligence
be responsible. Barring fantasies such as the intervention of space aliens,
a supernatural agent must by default be responsible for the creation of humanity.
As a Christian, Prof. Dembski can hardly be blamed for discussing the implications.
However, Prof. Arnhart states that “we cannot infer a divinely intelligent
designer from our human experience” and would essentially reduce Prof. Dembski’s
intelligent design criterion to a method of detecting intelligence that gives
false signals (false “positives”) when human (or animal) agents are not responsible.
However, there is nothing in the underlying logic of Prof. Dembski’s intelligent
design criterion that limits the detection of intelligent design to human or
animal intelligence. One assumes that logic is logic, human or divine.
Prof. Arnhart does make an excellent point, however, regarding the timidity
of intelligent design proponents. They are quite adept at pointing out the inadequacy
of Darwinian evolution to account for the creation of mankind, but offer no
positive explanation of how God accomplished this miracle. This is a very difficult
area to tread in since it requires reconciling the Bible with biology and is
undoubtedly even more hazardous to one’s professional well–being than intelligent
design. But sound work in this area is long overdue.
John F. Lang
Florence, South Carolina
Although he does not state it explicitly, Larry Arnhart gives away the presupposition
on which the rest of his argument is based in the last paragraph of his reply
to Michael J. Behe and William A. Dembski. “By what observable causal mechanism,”
he asks, “does the ‘intelligent designer’ execute these miraculous acts?” He
shows his true colors as a believer in materialism, for a miracle, by definition,
is supernatural and outside the laws of nature. So he keeps looking for physical
explanations that at the end of the day are not there.
Science is a great tool, but it is not the only or even the best source for
knowledge. Nor is it only a tool for the defense of materialism. It is in fact
dependent upon philosophy, for without certain philosophical assumptions being
true (e.g., the orderly nature of the physical world, our ability to trust our
senses to acquire data, etc.), science cannot even get started.
Prof. Arnhart’s differentiation between “humanly intelligent design” and “divinely
intelligent design” is merely a distraction. For what we do know is that the
types of “specified complexity” we see in nature are not created by randomness.
Further, appealing to “intelligent design” is not an explanation to fill in
the gaps of our knowledge, but is based upon what we do know. There is no reason
to expect that the apparent design will necessarily be explained in physical
As a Coast Guard officer, I hope that Professor Larry Arnhart would think differently
in real maritime distress than he does aboard the good ship Darwin. A clear
demonstration that the ship of natural selection is sinking will not coax him
overboard; he will remain at his post until another vessel proven to be seaworthy
This line of reasoning is problematic, for both the mariner and the scientist.
At sea, many heavy weather rescues are now performed by helicopter. When no
direct hoist can be made, the pilot’s instruction, heard through howling wind,
may be to don lifejacket and leap into the water. Only then can recovery be
effected, safely away from the wreck’s debris. People who insist on a small
boat recovery in such circumstances are the frustration of every lifesaving
Prof. Arnhart seems to be in similar straits with Darwinian theory. He apparently
refuses to take seriously any evidence against Darwin unless it comes with a
valid alternative “positive theory” of origins. For a social scientist to take
this position puzzles me. Doesn’t the scientific method function by proposing
a hypothesis and trying to prove it wrong, with negative evidence? Where
the hypothesis is not strictly testable, doesn’t the same basic approach still
apply? In any case, why must negative evidence against one theory depend on
positive evidence for another?
Perhaps being a scientist without a theory is as alarming as being a mariner
without a ship. Waiting for a “positive theory” may be the respectable and rhetorically
advantageous thing to do, but is it scientific, and does it grasp the truth?
Jumping into the cold sea of not being “taken seriously by the scientific community”
would surely be a shock, but the courageous heart will never look back.
Dean C. Bruckner
In reading the exchange between them, I kept waiting for Larry Arnhart to score
some real points against Michael J. Behe, William A. Dembski, and the other
intelligent design theorists, but all I saw was the standard Darwinian same–old
same–old. This is a pity, because it seems to me that intelligent design is
looking for a meaty argument to cut its teeth on. What we have seen so far,
though, has been thin gruel indeed.
Professor Arnhart’s argument against Behe just plain missed the point. If Prof.
Behe were arguing from ignorance (i.e., that no Darwinian mechanism is yet known
for the development of, for instance, the biochemistry of vision), then it would
be reasonable to answer, as Prof. Arnhart does, that it’s just a matter of time
until we do know such a mechanism. Behe’s actual point, though (at least as
I read him), is simply a matter of logic—the Darwinian mechanism, taken on its
own terms, cannot account for vision (or the immune system, etc.). There is
no way to “get there from here” with random mutations as the only vehicle. One
or two steps of the process confer no selective advantage, so there would be
no reason for them to be retained. Natural selection can only operate on the
raw material present to it at a given moment; “promising innovations” will not
pass the filter unless they confer an advantage as they are, not as they
might someday become. Prof. Behe’s argument requires an answer to the effect
of, “Here are examples of mutations that have been retained, even though they
confer no selective advantage, and this is why they are consistent with Darwin’s
Prof. Arnhart’s take on William Dembski with regard to “recourse to the supernatural”
simply seems disingenuous. Prof. Dembski’s theory of specified complexity, in
and of itself, requires no theistic conclusions, but as a Christian Dembski
explores the implications of the theory from a Christian perspective. A Jewish
writer (such as Gerald Schroeder) might have drawn Jewish conclusions (and wouldn’t
likely have invoked “the Logos theology of John’s Gospel”). (There is an ironic
symmetry here with the oft–repeated claim that Darwinism doesn’t compel atheism;
and yet plenty of Darwinists think that it does.) At root, Prof. Dembski simply
formulates criteria by which an inference of design can reasonably be made—if
a thing looks designed, how do we decide if it makes sense to think that
it was designed? The question of the designer’s identity need only be
addressed, if at all, much later. (It should be noted, however, that having
identified a thing as “designed,” the list of possible designers has been shortened
by one—“Nobody” would no longer be one of the options; therein, perhaps, lies
When Prof. Arnhart gets around to the point he really wants to make—that we
should embrace Darwinism because it supports the idea of a fixed human nature—it
strikes me as something of a non sequitur. If a fixed human nature is the requisite
concept, I don’t think we need the Darwinian hypothesis to get there. There
must be dozens of other (and better) candidates, including intelligent design.
The only way that Darwinism distinguishes itself from the crowd is if we stipulate
in advance that all candidates will be required to pass a filter for scientific
materialism, and, in fact, that is Prof. Arnhart’s criterion. Why scientific
materialism? He doesn’t really say; it’s something like a bedrock principle
for him. It’s just how things are, not subject to question.
Craig K. Galer
Several obstacles stand in the way of Larry Arnhart’s assertion (borrowed from
Francis Fukuyama) “that Darwinian biology rightly understood confirms our commonsense
view of human beings as naturally social animals whose social life depends on
a natural moral sense, which thus supports the conservative view of human nature.”
First and foremost, Darwin’s materialist underpinnings are part of a far more
comprehensive account of nature, Epicurean materialism, stretching all the way
back to ancient Greece. He did not invent the theory of evolution. It was already
spelled out very clearly by the great Roman Epicurean Lucretius in his De
Rerum Natura. Anyone reading this account can only be struck by how little
Why point this out? Because both for Lucretius and for Darwin, nature is essentially
amoral. Morality arises only as an accident of natural selection, and it does
not arise in just one form; like finch beaks, it has many variations, none of
them better than any other.
A sign of this is the strange plea with which Darwin ends his Descent of
Man. Man spends much time worrying about the breeding of his animals, Darwin
says, taking “scrupulous care” of the “character and pedigree of his horses,
cattle, and dogs before he matches them; but when he comes to his own marriage
he rarely, or never, takes any such care.” The “social instincts” that form
“the basis for the development of the moral sense” are a result of natural selection;
therefore, we do not find them in all human beings. In fact, the problem is
that “the inferior members” of society, who lack not only intelligence but moral
sense, are breeding at such an alarming rate as “to supplant the better members
The cure? “There should be open competition for all men; and the most able
should not be prevented by laws or customs from succeeding best and rearing
the largest number of offspring.”
The obstacle that Darwin so delicately wishes to lay aside is that most cherished
of conservative institutions, monogamous permanent marriage. After all, you
don’t breed your best racehorse with only one mare.
A second point. The materialism that undergirds Darwin’s account is today coupled
with the Baconian view of nature as malleable to technological force. Any moral
limits based on natural limits are only as permanent as the limits of our current
technology. If the natural limits that supposedly form the basis of our “moral
instincts” are ultimately the result of the chance variations of matter and
energy under the pressures of the struggle for preservation, why shouldn’t we
take evolution into our own hands? There is no reason for prohibiting the manipulation
of nature. Thus, the seemingly natural limit which evolutionary nature has handed
us (say, that a baby comes from sexual intercourse between a male and female)
can be overridden by in vitro fertilization so as to make the time–honored conservative
institution of marriage unnecessary. Darwin’s goal of the propagation of the
right sort of human being would be greatly aided by sperm banks, genetic screening,
and artificial insemination.
I’m sorry, but Mr. Arnhart seems not to have read Darwin, nor our present situation,
Department of Classics and Honors
Franciscan University of Steubenville
Because Larry Arnhart criticizes opponents of Darwinian theory for neglecting
the truth and falsity of intellectual arguments in favor of defending the foundations
of traditional morality, I was surprised to find him defending Darwinism in
much the same manner that he criticizes.
Professor Arnhart emphasizes biological evidence for social traits in humans
and animals (possessiveness, territoriality, and cooperation) as support for
a notion that these traits are evidence of Darwinian biology. From here, he
argues that socialist theories which violate these “instincts” are doomed to
fail, and concludes that “a Darwinian understanding of human nature confirms
conservative social thought.”
I ask, by what rationale am I compelled to believe that such “biological instincts”
are the expression of traits that have been reproductively rewarded? The mere
existence of biological evidence for these traits no more proves evolution than
the existence of my eye proves it. If we agree that man is biologically equipped
for possessiveness or vision, then we can expect to agree that he will demonstrate
those whether or not we understand why. How, then, does Darwinism confirm conservatism?
Prof. Arnhart argues that Darwinism denies the Marxist notion of the radical
malleabililty of human nature. But if, as he seems to assert, human nature is
the product of Darwinian evolution, it is inherently malleable, though perhaps
gradually so. His argument that we must embrace Darwinism for its ability to
sustain conservative reasoning is unpersuasive.
Mary Ann Field
Larry Arnhart replies:
Phillip E. Johnson, Michael J. Behe, and William A. Dembski have been trying
to persuade conservatives to reject Darwinian biology and to adopt “intelligent
design theory” as an alternative. They assert that the case for Darwinism is
both intellectually weak and morally subversive. In my article I disputed these
claims by arguing that Darwinism is intellectually and morally defensible and
that a Darwinian naturalism provides scientific support for the conservative
view of human nature.
Professor Dembski insists that intelligent design theory is “entirely separable
from creationism,” because intelligent design can be detected through scientific
methods of natural observation with “no recourse to the supernatural.” Thus,
proponents of intelligent design theory are not just criticizing Darwinian theory;
they also claim to offer an alternative scientific theory of their own. Like
Mr. Lang, I am disappointed by the failure of the intelligent design theorists
to fulfill this promise by developing a positive theory of the observable causal
mechanisms by which the intelligent designer creates every species of life and
every “irreducibly complex” mechanism that is beyond human or animal design.
I cannot understand how such a theory could be set forth with “no recourse to
the supernatural.” Mr. Wilson insists that the intelligent designer of the universe
would have to work by miracles that are outside the observable laws of nature.
But wouldn’t explaining such miracles require the “recourse to the supernatural”
that Prof. Dembski denies? Believing in miracles is an exercise in religious
faith, not in scientific explanation. Natural science can lead us up to ultimate
questions about the First Cause of the laws of nature. But answering those ultimate
questions is a matter of faith.
I agree with Mr. Bruckner that there are difficulties with Darwinian theory—difficulties
that Darwin himself confronted. But I cannot see how emphasizing those difficulties
confirms intelligent design theory as an alternative scientific theory.
Mr. Galer claims that Prof. Behe has shown through a purely logical argument
that complex mechanisms such as the visual system cannot be explained by Darwinism.
Actually, Prof. Behe seems to concede that Darwin offered a plausible account
of how complex visual systems could have evolved from simpler systems. As Prof.
Behe indicates, however, explaining how a nerve becomes sensitive to light was
beyond Darwin, because this would have required a knowledge of biochemistry
that was beyond nineteenth–century science.
Mr. Lang says that “there is nothing in the underlying logic of Prof. Dembski’s
intelligent design criterion that limits the detection of intelligent design
to human or animal intelligence.” But if Prof. Dembski is going to appeal only
to natural human experience with “no recourse to the supernatural,” then his
“underlying logic” does indeed prevent him from moving to supernatural causes
that would be beyond natural experience. As I argued in my article, Messrs.
Dembski and Behe fallaciously employ equivocation in the use of the term “intelligent
design” so that they can move from “humanly intelligent design” to “divinely
intelligent design” without acknowledging that this transcends the world of
natural experience and enters the realm of faith.
Ms. Field suggests that conservatives can accept the “biological instincts”
of human nature without any need to accept Darwinian explanations for the origin
of those instincts. Moreover, she worries that viewing human nature as a product
of Darwinian evolution would make human nature “inherently malleable, though
perhaps gradually so,” which might sustain the Marxist notion of the radical
malleability of human nature.
Although Darwinian biology denies the eternity of species, it affirms the reality
of species over long periods of evolutionary time. Even if species are not eternally
fixed but have evolved from ancestral species, this does not make them any less
real for as long as they endure.
Part of that reality is that the human species is endowed with instinctive
propensities to natural desires such as parental care, sexual mating, familial
bonding, social ranking, and justice as reciprocity. (These are five of the
twenty natural desires that I explain in my book Darwinian Natural Right
as rooted in human biology.) If the good is the desirable, then human ethics
is natural insofar as it satisfies those natural human desires.
Unlike Mr. Wiker, I see no evidence that Darwin denied the natural basis of
the desire for conjugal bonding in marriage. On the contrary, Darwin’s biological
theory of marriage as an expression of human nature was elaborated in Edward
Westermarck’s The History of Human Marriage, which is still the best
defense of the conservative view of marriage as a natural institution.
Against Marxists and other utopian reformers who strive to transform human
nature through social experimentation, conservatives look to the natural norms
set by human nature. Darwinism sustains that conservative view of social life
as rooted in natural law by explaining the biological basis of the natural human
inclinations. A Darwinian conservatism could revive the natural law tradition
by reaffirming Thomas Aquinas’ insight that “natural right is that which nature
has taught all animals.”
When James Nuechterlein (“Goo–Goo
Time,” November 2000) suggests that the thoughtful and
informed independent voter is a treasured myth, he is certainly
being cynical. That’s okay; cynicism is often justified
by facts. But when he says that the beliefs of most American
voters “can be defined . . . as either liberal or conservative,
which means they fit more comfortably within” one or the
other of our two major parties, he is both cynical and mistaken.
In fact, most Americans of my acquaintance (and generation) hold an eclectic
pattern of beliefs, and are not easily labeled. It is perhaps facile to observe,
by way of example, that one of the major parties is consistent in its support
of abortion rights, and another is consistent in its support of capital punishment,
while a significant portion of the electorate is appalled by both.
Because of our two–party arrangement, citizens are called, in election after
election, to choose people and parties for whom they feel little passion (and
that little is often manufactured by advertising and ratings–hungry television
programs). At best, they may choose to vote on a single issue, be it the environment
or the military or some other specificity on which they can agree with their
chosen candidate. Never mind the deep and, yes, philosophical disagreements
on a host of lesser subjects, all of which the voter has resignedly squelched
in order to fulfill his or her civic duty.
To dismiss as “radicals of right or left” those whose political convictions
are fully and effectively represented by neither the Democrats nor the Republicans
is unfairly reductive. It presumes that liberalism and conservatism in their
present forms are the only viable philosophies of government; worse, it presumes
that two mammoth organizations, answerable both to corporate donors and to their
own radical fringes, are the natural and inevitable vehicles of American democracy.
The problem with those “good–government” types whom Mr. Nuechterlein disdains
is not that they want politics without partisanship. It is merely that they
need more parties to choose from.
(The Rev.) Michael Church
St. Luke’s Lutheran Church
Farmingdale, New York
James Nuechterlein replies:
Three quick points: 1) I do not see why it is “cynical” to point out the fact,
known to all careful students of American politics, that, as Pastor Church puts
it, “the thoughtful and informed independent voter is a treasured myth.” There’s
a difference between skepticism and cynicism. 2) I did not say that “the beliefs
of most American voters ‘can be defined . . . as either liberal or conservative.’”
I said that only of “strong partisans.” 3) I also did not “dismiss as ‘radicals
of right or left’” all those who think their political views are adequately
represented by neither Republicans nor Democrats. I made the quite different
point that “it is only radicals of right or left who consider Republicans and
Democrats as Tweedledum and Tweedledee.”
Pastor Church’s argument, in short, is not with what I wrote, but with what
his misreading made of what I wrote.
How meaningfully can Steven D. Smith (“Legal
Theories Nobody Believes,” November 2000) analyze studies
of the Supreme Court when he apparently does not fully comprehend
the nature of the judicial process, the separation of powers,
and the rule of law?
He says that “judicial invalidation of laws enacted by elected legislators
(or, in the case of ballot initiatives, by the citizens themselves) appears
to transgress the premises of democracy. Why, in a nation committed to ‘government
of the people, by the people, for the people,’ should five robed appointees—or,
often, just one—be permitted to overrule the decisions of the people or their
According to Professor Smith, the courts should never reverse an act of Congress
or of a state legislature, or invalidate a referendum, no matter what they provide.
But in that situation the political majority always has uncontrolled power,
and minorities, including holders of property, have no rights.
In that case, why have a Supreme Court at all?
West New York, New Jersey
Steven D. Smith replies:
Though I would plead guilty to “not fully comprehend[ing] the nature of the
judicial process, the separation of powers, and the rule of law,” I protest
that I should not be convicted of this deficiency on the evidence of the essay
that Mr. Tomasin criticizes (but seems not to have read with any care). The
problem of the legitimacy of judicial review in a regime that counts itself
democratic (or the “countermajoritarian difficulty,” as it’s often called) is
a familiar one—and the subject of virtual libraries of analysis by political
theorists and legal scholars. In my essay (which was after all a review of several
books), I simply note that problem, as countless others have done, and I describe
and comment on the responses of the authors whose books I reviewed. The review
offers no affirmative prescriptions or prohibitions—and certainly does not advocate
the positions Mr. Tomasin ascribes to me—concerning the proper judicial role.
In “Populism and Parental Choice”
(November 2000), Professor John E. Coons considers in
passing the dangers of a loss of religious identity for
religious schools; although he does not say so explicitly,
he appears to think that they can be avoided by carefully
crafted legislation. He should, in my opinion, be far less
optimistic. The relatively minimal regulations of today
can easily be expanded later, and schools will then be deeply
dependent upon public funds.
But I wish to concentrate on an issue that is often overlooked in these debates—the
issue of distinctive educational identity. It has happened before that when
something desirable (say, a college education) is declared a right for all,
quality is lost in the attempt to provide it. This danger is more imminent for
voucher schools than is the loss of religious identity, for even the “minimal”
requirements already proposed raise it to a serious likelihood. It is hard to
believe, for example, that college–prep private high schools with stiff academic
admissions tests would be able to use these unmodified amidst regulations for
“racial neutrality,” which always end up requiring particular numerical outcomes.
As a plausible precedent, charter schools in Michigan are required to admit
students without regard to academic ability. There is also the matter of standards
for graduation. In the Michigan proposal, eligibility for vouchers is tied to
whether particular public schools have an excessive proportion of student failures.
This would provide voucher schools with a powerful incentive not to fail “too
many” students themselves.
Finally, would voucher schools retain undiminished their power to expel students?
It is an unpopular fact that private schools are safer and academically better
than their public counterparts in part because permanent expulsion is a real
possibility for incorrigibly disruptive, profane, or dangerous students. I am
highly dubious about whether this freedom would continue once vouchers were
Many private schools have viewed themselves as providing a highly specific
type of education to those who value it. Public schools, on the other hand,
must regard themselves as providing general educational (and other) services
to any who need them. Between these two visions there is a great gulf fixed.
When private schools become quasi–public by accepting vouchers, they will sooner
or later exchange one self–image for the other. Thus, in all probability, the
very educational superiority for which private schools are valued will be eroded
as a direct consequence of universalizing “private” education.
John E. Coons replies:
I take Lydia McGrew’s point seriously and have done so since the 1960s. Stephen
Sugarman and I have consistently promoted strong private school identity both
in theory and in the details of model legislation.
The answer to the legislative threat to school identity differs from state
to state depending upon the availability of the popular initiative to reform
the relevant constitution. Ms. McGrew’s Michigan (along with roughly twenty
other states) allows such amendment by the people without legislative involvement.
In such states proponents of school choice can and should draft their proposals
so as to disable future legislators from increasing regulation affecting school
identity. One such model reform would simply cap all controls on private school
curriculum and hiring practices at their present (or some historic) level. This
form of amendment would also continue the school’s control over its own discipline
(academic and behavioral) so long as it disclosed its rules to parents at the
time of application.
Thus, the school could require its students to take and pass those ethics and
religion courses that it prefers. It would also control the bulk of its admissions,
exactly as it does today, but now without fear of legislative manipulation.
However, one–fifth or so of its new admissions each year would go to low–income
children of the school’s selection—in accord with the settled practice (or expressed
aspiration) of most private schools.
New regulation of facilities and of health and safety would in theory remain
possible—but only by a substantial super–majority of both houses of the state
legislature, with corresponding protections against local government bodies.
Schools would not be regulated fiscally beyond requiring general disclosures
indicating solvency. The initiative would guarantee a voucher large enough to
encourage new schools, and extra tuition would be allowed, so long as it was
means–tested (a practice familiar in the private sector).
Obviously legislatures historically have had the capacity (and often the inclination)
to overregulate schools. In states like Michigan, voucher initiatives, when
properly drafted, thus represent the instrument not to diminish but to enhance
both the security of the school’s identity and the diversity of choices for
the family. In non–initiative states, by contrast, the legislature will remain
a threat to private schools until the general culture of schooling is altered.
Such a fundamental shift is predictable as choice demonstrates its benign effects
in those states that successfully reform by initiative. In fact, the change
may already be occurring at some deep level of civic consciousness. This is
suggested by the popularity of the Milwaukee program, a reform legislated in
a state that lacks the popular initiative. State regulators in Wisconsin have
tried and (so far) failed to strangle this promising use of private enterprise.
The Wisconsin experience holds a political lesson for other states—both those
with and those without the initiative. As of last November, citizens in six
states have sent eight voucher initiatives to the polls. Unlike the progressive
Wisconsin program, none of these propositions was written to include the necessary
minimum protections for those non–rich families who most need choice; and all
eight were crushed by huge majorities of the voters. Meanwhile, national opinion
surveys and electoral results show parental choice to be a very popular idea—but
only when vulnerable families are given a modest preference. Paradoxically,
it appears that the best opportunity to protect the identity of private schools
will come as society helps them to reach out to the poor through subsidized
choice provided by well–drafted initiatives. Ms. McGrew’s saving remnant may
find its own identity rescued by the democratic instincts of ordinary people.
In his review of Jacques Barzun’s From
Dawn to Decadence
(November 2000), John J. Reilly overlooks Barzun’s refusal
to face the dark side of the Enlightenment. Barzun praises
the admittedly subversive agenda of L’Encyclopedie,
thus embracing the atheism, materialism, and cynicism of
the philosophes. Edmund Burke was right on point when, in
his Reflections on the Revolution in France, he stated,
“We cannot be ignorant of the spirit of atheistical fanaticism
that is inspired by a multitude of writings dispersed with
incredible assiduity and expense and by sermons delivered
in all the streets and places of public resort in Paris.
These writings and sermons have filled the populace with
a black and savage atrocity of mind, which supersedes in
them the common feelings of Nature, as well as all sentiments
of morality and religion.” In my view, From Dawn to Decadence
carries on in that same “spirit of atheistical fanaticism.”
As for Barzun’s defense of Rousseau, if people can’t yet
make the connection between Rousseau’s puerile utopian socialism
and the bestiality and madness of the Terror, the Holocaust,
the Soviet Gulags, and Mao’s Cultural Revolution, it only
tends to prove that many of us are as self–deceiving and
blind to human nature as Messrs. Rousseau and Barzun.
For Barzun to rail, as he does at the end of his book, at the incivility of
the current “postmodern” generation is both disingenous and ludicrous. Our current
crop of deconstructionist fanatics are the Frankenstein’s monsters, i.e., the
unnatural children, of modernism. Mr. Reilly has, like most reviewers, chosen
to genuflect to Barzun, presumably due to Barzun’s great age and eminence in
academia. May I be permitted to raise a voice in dissent? Napolean Bonaparte
is said to have referred to Talleyrand as “excrement in a silk stocking.” While
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that about Jacques Barzun, it seems an apposite
description of his book.
Woodland Hills, California
John J. Reilly replies:
The Enlightenment is one of those things that it does little good to condemn.
Since everyone, left and right, pious and atheist, has been about equally influenced
by it, any critique is part of the phenomenon. Regarding Rousseau, I believe
that Barzun’s point is that, while there have indeed been many puerile utopians,
a fair reading of Rousseau’s works shows that he did not happen to have been
one of them.
There is a commendable lack of fanaticism, atheistical or otherwise, in From
Dawn to Decadence. We would do well to imitate it.
Putting words into a writer’s mouth and then pillorying him for them is hardly
a characteristic either of responsible journalism or serious debate.
There is nothing in my New England Journal of Medicine editorial—so
unfairly criticized by Richard John Neuhaus (While
We’re At It, November 2000)—that would lead any objective
reader to the erroneous conclusion that I would recommend
basing a decision about physician–assisted suicide on such
a shallow notion as “whatever the patient wants” or “whatever
the doctor deems to be ‘the unique needs’ of the patient.”
Neither in the article nor elsewhere have I ever written
or said such a thing, nor do I subscribe to it.
Not only that, but I have been an outspoken critic of the Oregon legislation
that allows physician–assisted suicide without weighing the entire range of
complexity of an individual’s request. I am anything but the “strong proponent
of physician–assisted suicide” that Father Neuhaus calls me. The fact is that
situations do arise—no more commonly, perhaps, than one or two times in any
physician’s career—in which even the finest efforts at palliation cannot relieve
suffering. It is then, I believe, that a physician, a patient, a family, and
the wise counsel of consultants may come together in agreement that such a course
Sherwin B. Nuland, M.D.
New Haven, Connecticut
Dr. Nuland was quoted verbatim and in context. His editorial in the New
England Journal of Medicine concludes: “Physicians who believe that it is
a person’s right to choose death when suffering cannot otherwise be relieved
must turn to their consciences in deciding whether to provide help in such a
situation. Once the decision to intervene has been made, the goal should be
to ensure that death is as merciful and serene as possible.” It is true that
in the New Republic (November 2, 1998) he criticized what he sees as
several deficiencies in the Oregon law, but in the same article he writes, “This
is not to say that it will ever be possible to relieve every patient’s suffering
so thoroughly that there will no longer be any occasion to consider assisted
suicide or active forms of euthanasia, such as lethal injections.” He further
states, “If the fully informed person whose suffering I cannot relieve repeatedly
asks that I aid him in his determination to end his life, whether by pill or
injection, I am obliged to do so. A tolerant society should allow it.” Assuming
that Dr. Nuland believes strongly what he says he believes, it is accurate to
describe him as a “strong proponent of physician–assisted suicide.”
A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity” (November
2000) is both heartening and a call to something more
than passive gratitude. At a recent reconciliation service
cosponsored by the Christian congregation I attend and our
local synagogue, I was very deeply moved and, at the same
time, fearful that the fraternal and spiritual intensity
of that moment would dissipate in the light of our usual
preoccupations. It is true that our congregations already
share ventures in public service. But the uniquely sacred
nature of reconciliation, if it is to be effectively sustained,
calls for a correspondingly sacred expression.
With this end in mind, I suggest that we need, more than anything else, to
pray together—to establish some calendar and ritual, grounded in our common
scriptures, that will place us, as one, in the presence of God. Nothing will
so sustain our good intentions, prevent our slipping back into indifference
and suspicion, or render us ready for new revelations as will our common prostration
before the mystery of divine purpose.
Until we pray together with some regularity, I fear that good will and good
deeds alone will not achieve that familial harmony we are meant to enjoy as
children of a common Father.
John J. Savant
Dominican University of California
San Rafael, California
Thank you for printing “Dabru
A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity.”
I found the document heartening and moving. But its billing
on your front cover, “What Jews Believe About Christianity,”
is at least preposterous and probably irresponsible. As
the document itself puts it, the authors and signatories
are “speaking only for ourselves—an interdenominational
group of Jewish scholars.” The statement is the product
of a group of more or less liberal–leaning, or at least
ecumenically inclined, academics and rabbis. A statement
by a similarly composed group of liberal–leaning, ecumenically
inclined Christian academics and clerics on some major topic
of Christian faith would hardly be billed in First Things
as “What Christians believe about . . .” I have not yet
seen Jewish response to the statement, but it’s fair to
predict it will cause some controversy in some influential
corners of the Jewish world. It will no doubt be provocative,
lauded by many, suspected by some, and rejected by others.
In any case it will provide occasion for substantial conversation
and debate among Jews, academic, rabbinic, lay, and secular.
Wonderful though the document is to my eyes, touting it
as “What Jews Believe About Christianity” is just plain
P. J. Nugent
The editors reply:
To Mr. Nugent: We thought of making it “What Somewhat More Than One Hundred
and Seventy Distinguished Jewish Professors and Rabbis Think About Christianity,”
but it just wouldn’t fit on the cover.