Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Brooks on McConnell

David Brooks urges the President to nominate Michael McConnell because "[i]deas drive history, so you want to pick the person with the biggest brain."

My biggest beef with his case for McConnell is that he mislabels him as a "neutralist" in religion matters, when I think he’s better characterized as a pluralist or accommodationist. A couple of passages for McConnell’s scholarship will help put some flesh on the bones on this technical seeming distinction:

Liberal political theory thus favored religion, but it did not favor any one religion. It guaranteed religious freedom in the hope and expectation that religious observance would flourish, and with it morality and self-restraint among the people.

"Accommodation of Religion" (1986)

The ideal of free exercise of religion...is that people are different and that those differences are precious and must not be disturbed.... The ideal of free exercise is counter-assimilationist: it strives to allow individuals of different religious faiths to maintain their differences in the face of powerful pressures to conform.

"Free Exercise Revisionism and the Smith Decision" (1990)

Obviously there can be disagreement regarding the degree of pluralism we can accommodate and the extent of civic education the state can undertake, not to mention regarding the degree to which liberal theory is "merely" procedural or substantive, dependent upon or hostile to revealed religion. But there is no doubt that McConnell is one of the most (if not the most) thoughtful, learned, and theoretically sophisticated defenders of and advocates for religious liberty working and writing in our time.

Discussions - 1 Comment

I guess calling him a "neutralist" makes him less "scary" for NYTimes readers. Perhaps not a bad choice of words, given the forum.

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