The Georgetown Tocqueville Forum conference (hosted by the dyanmic Pat Deneen) was very classy in every way. A sell-out crowd of about 1000 heard Scalia. Here was asked plenty of moderately hostile (bu always polite) questions, and Scalia handled them all with killer expertise, wit, and spirit. It’s hard to figure out why people that good at explaining what our Constitution means in a partisan setting aren’t recruited to run for high office.
A good reporter would go over some of the other many conference highlights, but I’m going to limit myself to one. Jim Ceaser seems to have at least tweaked his view of the basic American political division today. It’s still the foundationalists vs. the non-foundationalists. Both factions are all for civic education, but of different kinds.
The non-foundationalists claim they want to purge our political life of foundational concerns (everything from the Bible to Marxism to natural right) in the name of peace and freedom. But their true goal is utterly secularize or trivialize all of American life.
The truth is, Jim explained, that liberal democracy is the incomplete regime. Our written Constitution that protects our natural rights points beyond itself to an "unwritten constitution" that is essentially religious in some sense or another. And the nonfoundationalists’ main concern is to transform our unwritten constitution to conform with their view that human life would be better off if deep thoughts about common responsibilities were replaced by Rortian private fantasies.
Reflections on the incompleteness of liberal democracy and the unwritten constitution are characteristic of a neoconservatism that eludes the criticism I gave below. They may reflect Jims study of either Pierre Manent or Orestes Brownson or both, although I’m not sure.