It’s Columbus Day and Justice Antonin Scalia is the grand marshall of the parade down Fifth Avenue. He takes great satisfaction in being an Italian-American, and he knows how to strut with all the fun and none of the arrogance that goes into fine strutting. I confess he is among my favorite people. Not only because he is so smart but because he is unpretentious and unintimidated by those who are not. As noted in a recent book review in FIRST THINGS, his dissents on the Court are often deliciously wicked debunkings of the ponderous opinions of his colleagues who, with furrowed brow and much chin-pulling, manufacture from imagined constitutional emanations and penumbra laws to their liberal liking.
You don’t want to miss Justice Scalia’s essay in the November issue occasioned by Steven Smith’s new book Law’s Quandary . I have great respect for Prof. Smith. He has written for FIRST THINGS and has the courage and intelligence to address the big questions, such as the moral legitimacy that gives laws the status of being “the law.” At the same time, Scalia makes a persuasive case that the answer to such big questions is not so elusive as Smith seems to think. But you’ll want to read the Scalia essay for yourself.
Re the Columbus Day Parade, the Times reports a controversy (which means the Times is trying to generate a controversy) over its organizers honoring a 78 year-old Italian politician who supported Mussolini. An awful lot of Italians did. I don’t know the man in question, but the other day the Times had a long and laudatory story about a Soviet apparatchik who for decades faithfully served the evil empire until it was forced out of business in 1991. I would suppose the ratio of political murders between fascist Italy and the Soviet Union is somewhere in the vicinity of 1 to 1000. As George Orwell noted many years ago, and as the Times over as many years has demonstrated, some murders are more politically interesting than others. Please don’t hit that “send” key: I’m not saying that Mussolini wasn’t a very bad man. But let’s have a little perspective, please. If we’re going to boycott every Italian who once thought Mussolini a great leader, it would mean, among other things, skipping Armando’s tortellini di zucca the next time I’m in Rome. That is reason enough for a statute of limitations on political vendettas.
Having mentioned the Supreme Court, almost inevitable is a word about the nomination of Harriet Miers. I have no novel insights or inside information. I do share the widespread disappointment. It is not sufficient for the president to ask us to trust him. An appointment to the Supreme Court, and especially this appointment, is a matter of paramount concern to a political community of which the president is not the sole proprietor. But I expect the president will not change his mind and therefore Ms. Miers will not step aside. That being the case, she will, barring some big surprise, be confirmed and we are all left hoping for the best. It is not an unfamiliar position to be in.
I was watching in a Washington hotel room when the president announced the nomination. He listed the organizations for which she had done pro bono work, including “Exodus Ministry.” Hoo boy, I said to myself — on infrequent occasions I do say Hoo boy — this is going to set off the fireworks. Exodus Ministry is an organization that helps ex-gays to put their lives in moral order. I’m told that Andrew Sullivan immediately sounded the alarm on his blogsite that this means all-out war on his controlling cause. He later removed the screed since, as it turns out, the Exodus Ministry that Ms. Miers helped concerns itself with getting jobs and other assistance for released prisoners. Sir John Gielguld said while watching the gala celebrations for the opening of a new theater, “I do love fireworks. They’re so unnecessary.”
One more thing: Some readers have expressed concern that our publishing Stephen Barr’s “The Design of Evolution” (the October issue) means that FIRST THINGS is turning against the intelligent design movement. Not at all. The movement’s call for “teaching the controversy” is exactly right and has rendered a great service. We have published Michael Behe and William Dembski, its foremost champions, and I expect we’ll do so in the future. Intelligent Design or ID, as it is called, is important in deflating the philosophical, and often atheistic, claims that pass as evolutionary “science” in the classroom. Barr’s argument is important in defending scientists who stick to their last, and in clarifying terms such as “random selection” when used with scientific precision. It is of utmost importance that Christian thinkers affirm the unity of all truth and expose those who would pit science against religion — whether they are scientists pretending to be philosophers or Bible studentss pretending to be scientists. There will be more on these and related questions in the November and subsequent issues of FIRST THINGS.