Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

GOP is tense

The lead article in yeterday’s USA Today is called GOP lags in key races for Senate. It is full of all the ordinary gloom-and-doom: How the GOP will probably lose the House, but probably not the Senate, etc. And then there are a few nuggets. Nine out of ten black voters are backing Rendell in PA over Lynn Swann, but only six out ten are backing Strickland over Ken Blackwell. Note that Joe Hallett claims that Blackwell never got more than 24% of the black vote (the figure generally used has been 32%; while, according to Hallett, Blackwell claims he got 50% in the last election). Blacks make up about 8% of the voters in Ohio. Strickland is not known in the black community, but he is starting to advertise. You can do the math as well as I can. Strickland can’t win. Also note the follwoing line in another USA Today article in the same issue: "Party loyalty was stronger among Democrats than Republicans in every state but Ohio." I do not think that the Dems will take the House (or the Senate), for what it’s worth. But more on this later. I have to run to the grocery store.

Spain needs help

Spain is asking Europe for help to stop the surge in illegal immigrants from Africa. "In August alone more migrants have arrived than in all of 2005, the government said."

More geekfest scenes

A sighting of Hayward.... A sighting of Lawler.... A sighting of the Friar.... A sighting of von Heyking.... Snatches of conversation with various and sundry folks, including (gasp!) Damon Linker.

I had planned to attend the Claremont reception, but my kids insisted that I join them at a different kind of geekfest, a highly campy interactive viewing of 1776, the Musical (sort of like a Rocky Horror Picture Show for home-schoolers, at least those who can stand the PG-13 language and mild innuendo).

The family spent the day "in history," listening to thirteen different storytellers, encountering role-players and funny park rangers. They also crossed paths at least once with another political science widow and her orphans.

Podcast with Larry Obhof

As you know the Ohio Supreme Court decision in Norwood v. Horney was a very significant decision, indeed the first decision on a state level to confront the unfortunate Kelo decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. While the discussion gets technical, the crux of the matter is whether private property is a fundamental right or not. In my latest podcast, Larry Obhof discusses with lawyerly-like precision the ins and outs of the case.

Leonard Levy, RIP

On a more somber note, the New York Times obituary page brings the sad news that the great constitutional historian Leonard Levy has died at the age of 83. Levy was one of the towering figures at Claremont in the 1970s and 1980s when many us were doing our degrees there. As the Times explains him:

He was also an active participant in Reagan-era debates over a mode of constitutional interpretation known as originalism, popularized by Attorney General Edwin Meese III and Judge Robert H. Bork, whose nomination to the Supreme Court was defeated in 1987. Originalism looks to the text and original understanding of the Constitution as the only sure guide to its meaning.

Professor Levy called that approach a disservice to the grand, open-textured phrases in the Constitution, formulations that he said required fresh interpretation by each new generation. “The framers,” he wrote, “had a genius for studied imprecision.”

There was much more to the story than that. Although a New Deal liberal, he admitted to having voted for Reagan in 1980 (though not in 1984). He was also very friendly to conservatives at the graduate school, and took our side in academic battles against political correctness and academic trendiness, because he came to see that his very best students were the conservatives who came to Claremont to study political philosophy, but who saw that there was much from political philosophy to be applied and dilated in his rigorous courses on constitutional questions. A Levy seminar or one-on-one tutorial (I did both) was an experience that must be much like military boot camp--painful, demanding, terrifying, exhausting, and something that afterward you would never have wanted to miss. In a Levy course, you weren’t just questioned; you were cross-examined. It was often not a pretty sight. But it made everyone better thinkers, writers, and scholars.

In the aftermath of his book attacking the Bork view of "original intent,", Levy revised his views to some extent, becoming more friendly toward our view that constitutional originalism is not matter of textual exegesis (as it is for Scalia), but is a matter or absorbing, as Lincoln showed, the philosophical understanding of the principles of the Founding. He also developed some libertarian leanings on property rights, which led to A License to Steal, a ringing attack on the dubious and often corrupt practice of civil asset forfeiture.

There are only a few geuninely great teachers like Levy. Now there is sadly one fewer among us.

Scenes from the Geekfest

"Geekfest" is my term of endearment for the APSA, where several of your humble NLT bloggers are now camped out. True, political scientists not as geeky, as, say, a gathering of English professors or economists, but still rate a solid 8 on the 1 - 10 Geekiness Scale (with 10 being physicists).

We moved up a solid notch last night during dinner at the Capital Grille, where the Claremont Institute had graciously invited about 25 of us pasty-faced fellow travellers to overindulge red meat. (I thought you had a tan from the beach in California?--Ed. Yes, but it’s fading quickly, and the lighting was very dark.) About midway through the festivities, a totally hot babe from a nearby table wandered over to inquire who the heck we were.

Now here was an opportunity to deploy Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, and Nietzsche to their highest and best uses. But no. What does the fearless leader of our table do? He tells her the truth--that we’re all political scientists attending a convention. You could almost see her next thought--back away veeerrry slowly from this table. I wanted to intervene about us really being talent scouts for the next Bond girl, or investment bankers just closed on a billion dollar deal, or spies, or something, but it was too late.

Bypassing tests

Tamar Lewin reports to the New York Times that many small, selective, liberal arts colleges are no longer demanding SAT scores (yet most students applying, submit them). While interesting enough, there are some sillies in the article. Note this from the VP for enrollment at Mount Holyoke:

"We hope that now that there are more test-optional schools, students will think about not taking it, and putting their time and money into other activities, like music or writing or community service. We hope they will have more interesting lives."

Challenging black lawmakers from the left

Not content with hectoring Joe Lieberman, the netroots are now demanding purity from members of the Congressional Black Caucus. I sense Karl Rove behind this, because there’s no better way of creating more black Republicans.

More Georgetown

The good folks at The American Spectator were kind enough to post a more formal version of my thoughts on the situation at Georgetown, first adumbrated here.

Update: AmSpec readers respond to my piece here and here.


Well, since everyone’s getting in on the act I may as well, too. I’ll be in Philadelphia along with Peter and Joe ("But who will be blogging?"--Ed. Schramm can pick up the slack, if someone will siphon Isabella’s gas tank), doing this panel on Churchill, and also speaking at the Churchill Centre’s annual APSA dinner at the Union League Club, which is described here,, on the topic, "The Use and Abuse of Churchill in History."

I better think of something quick.

Shameless Self-Promotion, Part 2

The new issue of the journal I edit--PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICAL SCIENCE--is out!

It includes a symposium edited by the world famous DANIEL J. MAHONEY on the most prudent and still among the most profound of the French thinkers of the 20th century, RAYMOND ARON. The contributors to this symposium include Bryan-Paul Frost, Pierre Manent (!!!), and Miguel Morgado of Portugal.

As if that weren’t enough, there’s an article by me on "Tocqueville at 200" and a pathbreaking commentary on Locke, absolutism, and toleration by Christopher Nadon. There’s still more! Including review essays on Philippe Beneton’s EQUALITY BY DEFAULT by (distinguished NLT blogger) Carl Scott and on Mansfield’s MANLINESS by Ivan Kenneally. And a review of Mahoney’s book on Jouvenel by (NLT’s sagacious) Will Morrissey.

This wonderful journal is not available on-line, although all the articles will show up there in various places soon.

Meanwhile, you could subscribe or at least get your library to do so: HELDREF PUBLICATIONS, 1319 18th NW, Washington, DC 20036-1802. HELDREF does have a website that makes subscribing easier.

If you want a free, sample copy of this issue, email me at [email protected] and I’ll do my best to get one to you.


Let me piggyback on Peter L.’s post by saying that I, too, will be in Philadelphia, with the family in tow (a home school field trip to study American history). I’ll be on a panel with, among others, John von Heyking, discussing American civil theology; my focus will be on GWB’s religion. I’m also presenting a paper on Tolkien, using his reflections on human finitude to address one of the largest issues in the background of our current concerns with bioethics.

In general, I’ll be around in the afternoons on Friday and Saturday, and will make an effort to attend the Claremont reception.

Real Men Prove Darwin Wrong Again

If you’re in the Philadelphia area and are really bored, you might want to attend this
panel with the great title "The Power of Virtue" tomorrow at the American Political Science Association Meeting. My talk--now entitled "Real Men Prove Darwin Wrong Again"--will actually be on the manly dimension of virtue in the recent novels of Tom Wolfe and Harvey Mansfield’s MANLINESS, but it will also include a biotech conclusion. The actual manly Mansfield will be there, which could mean I’ll be in big trouble. Manly men, we learn from Wolfe, most of all fear HUMILIATION. This will be one of my least psychologically Christian talks in recent years, but I will balance it with a pretty darn Christian one the next day.

On Friday I will give some comments on a fascinating book by Thomas Pangle on the challenge revelation poses to the Socratic philosopher’s rational independence. These comments, which will explain why it’s reasonable to believe in a God who’s a "Who" or not merely a "what," are tentatively entitled "Against the Lobotomites." You can get the information about this roundtable by following the previous link to Friday at 10:45 a.m. and looking for Tom’s (and/or The Claremont Institute’s) name.

Godless Party

Ann Coulter caught hell for suggesting liberals and Democrats were "godless," and a few months ago Amy Sullivan wrote in The Washington Monthly that Democrats were poised to gain ground among religious voters. Today Sullivan admits in, that it isn’t working. Among the best lines in the story is "random-seeming insertions of Bible verses into floor speeches came off as Tourette’s syndrome for Democrats."

Kidney Markets

The just comment has been made that posting only Gil Meilaender’s article against selling kidneys was hardly fair and balanced.
So here’s the quite different view of Sally Satel. Sally is quite a brilliant, rather libertarian psychiatrist and public policy expert who is affiliated with AEI. She also received the life-saving gift of a kidney from the well-known libertarian author Virginia Postrel.

Don’t Go All Wobbly on Us George!

A few days back Peter related a private conversation that a skeptical liberal of some promience held with Bush recently at the White House. As I understand it, Bush told this person that one of the things he had changed his mind about was the environment, though no further details were forthcoming. Rumors are starting to swirl around Washington that Bush is soon going to do something large and dramatic "to take global warming off the table" as an issue in the 2008 presidential election, though why he would want to do this is beyond me, unless he supposes this will prevent Al Gore from running, and thereby deliver the nomination to Hillary, who will be easy to beat in November. (So goes the conventional wisdom on Hillary, even among many Democrats.) Is it all another Rove plot?

Comes now this report from Mike Allen in Time, with this tantalizing tidbit:

Previewing the final quarter of Bush’s presidency, officials disclosed to TIME that the Administration is formulating a huge energy initiative designed to "change the whole nature of the discussion" and challenge the G.O.P., Democrats, the oil and electricity industries, and environmentalists. An adviser said Bush’s views about global warming have evolved. "Only Nixon could go to China, and only Bush and Cheney--two oilmen--can bring all these parties kicking and screaming to the table," the adviser said.

A gentle response to the theocracy talk

John Wilson, hardly anyone’s idea of a foaming-at-the-mouth right-wing evangelical theocrat, upbraids Randall Balmer’s attempts at a caricature of his (Balmer’s, as well as Wilson’s) evangelical brethren. The concluding paragraph:

I hope that in time Balmer will write another book covering some of this territory, a book in which the moral passion that informs Thy Kingdom Come will not be dimmed but which will do greater justice to the moral complexity of the terrain, a book that will be likely to unsettle some of his university colleagues as much as it angers many on the Religious Right. That’s a book I’m eager to read.

I caught part of Balmer’s appearance on Michael Medved’s show. Balmer didn’t acquit himself well, constantly insisting against the evidence that theologically conservative evangelicals are incipient theocrats.

If you haven’t already read
Ross Douthat’s review essay, you should, posthaste.

Kidney Markets?

The issue before the President’s Bioethics Council next week is the case for and against developing a market in kidneys from the living as the only effective way to handle the growing waiting of list of people whose kidneys have failed and are stuck with dialysis and impending death. Gil Meilaender of the Council has written a moving and most intelligent essay on the violence to our self-undersanding that the acceptance of such a market (as opposed to organ donation) would require. But a student of John Locke might respond: Don’t we have property in our own bodies? And why shouldn’t I use that resource to both help myself and someone else? This may well be destined to become a tough and contentious issue, and its emergence is yet another sign of the creeping libertarianism of our time.

The "I Feel Old" Checklist

Courtesy of Beloit College, the annual "What Freshman Don’t Know" List.

It still has one Beatles reference, so There Is Hope.

Georgetown University and unofficial religious groups

Georgetown University is terminating its relationship with evangelical student groups (like IVCF). Your can read Georgetown’s letter here and other coverage here, here, and here. If you want to see what Georgetown says about itself, you can go here and here. Is it ironic or what that the link to a statement describing "Georgetown’s Catholic and Jesuit identity" is, at the moment, broken?

My own view is that if Georgetown wants to centralize control over the official expression and exercise of religion on campus, it’s certainly entitled to do so. After all, it is a religious institution (though the details are at the moment hazy because of the ironically broken link) and fidelity to its mission may require the sort of centralization and oversight it’s now proposing. But, still, I can’t halp thinking that the motives are a little less pure than that. Do they, for example, have a particular beef with evangelicals who want to evangelize, or with evangelicals whose theological outlook might be described as conservative? Inquiring minds want to know.

Update: Even though he didn’t know I was asking it, Joseph Bottum ventures an answer to my question:

The problem, of course, finally boils down to this: The evangelical groups represent only a few hundred students, but they are strongly pro-life and opposed to homosexual marriage. The mainline Protestant employees of Campus Ministry find such things embarrassing, and so they kick the evangelicals off campus, employing the power of the officially Catholic chaplain’s office and the rhetoric of the school’s Catholic identity.

There’s an obvious irony here—employed too often to be surprising—in which people begin by protesting in the name of diversity against centralized authority, and later discover, once they’re in charge, how useful those old forms of authority can be in controlling diversity.

But it also represents a tactic we’re likely to see more of: claims of old-fashioned Catholicism, used by people who are far from old-fashioned Catholics, to maintain control of officially Catholic institutions and to ban the people whose political opinions they don’t like. Watch for it at Boston College, and Marquette, and Notre Dame, and Loyola Marymount, and on and on.

Update #2:
This was in the Georgetown student newspaper, which I’m sure will cover the brouhaha, if any, in the coming weeks.

Last update: The link works again, so we learn this:

The vision of John Carroll continues to be realized today in a distinctive educational institution -- a national University rooted in the Catholic faith and Jesuit tradition, committed to spiritual inquiry, engaged in the public sphere, and invigorated by religious and cultural pluralism.


Assisted by Roman Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Orthodox Christian, and Muslim chaplains, Director of Campus Ministry Rev. Timothy S. Godfrey, S.J., oversees Campus Ministry programs. From its inception in 1789, Georgetown has welcomed students of -- in the words of founder Archbishop John Carroll -- "every religious profession."

In the late 18th century, approximately one-fifth of the university’s student body were Protestant. In Fall 2004, 52.6 percent of undergraduates self-reported that they were Roman Catholic, 5.3 percent Jewish, 2.1 percent Muslim, and 24.1 percent another Christian denomination.

You can also find something of a vision of faith and learning in the inaugural speech of Georgetown President John J. DeGioia:

Like all great American universities, we also live another set of tensions as we seek to fulfill our role. Enlightenment universities were established with the idea that there is a unity of knowledge, and truth is there for human discovery. The last 30 years of higher education has brought the development of multiple methodologies, schools of thought, and specialties, each with their own assumptions and inclinations. The university’s role is now to provide a home to a great multiplicity of what are sometimes called "interpretive communities." We are a community of communities.


I have talked about three organizing questions for Georgetown. Other universities have their own. I believe ours are uniquely rich, compelling, and difficult. The questions central to us carry powerful tensions and elude fixed, final, definitive answers. Our work is messy. Our business lies in disorder and conflict. But make no mistake, our responsibility is to preserve the tensions not to finesse them away.

Sounds to me like in this instance the University isn’t preserving tensions.

Thomistic Conservatives

If you’re not a Darwinian conservative or even a postmodern conservative, it may be because you really think that we must attend to both reason and revelation
to understand who whole human persons are. These Thomistic conservatives have mentioned us--and in a very classy and thoughtful way. So we’re happy to mention them back, although their real identity is very mysterious.

Update! Postmodern conservatives lighten up. It’s up to you to judge how light they’ve become.


Good News About Stem Cells

Here's an article by Bioethics Council member Robby George that explains both why the recent hype is bogus and why it's still the case that the good news is that current ethical dilemma involving the killing of embryos to acquire pluripotent stem cells probably is specific to a stage of scientific development about to be surpassed.
Categories > Bioethics

Forced stories about forced conversions about forced freedom

The release of Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig has some interesting and dark undertones to it, as

Scott Johnson notes. This is N.Y. Times story on it, and the Washington Post quotes Centanni: "We were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint. Don’t get me wrong here, I have the highest respect for Islam and learned a lot of very good things about it. It was something we felt we had to do because they had the guns and we didn’t know what the hell was going on." And now should I have the highest respect for Mr. Centanni?

The "Obama Democratic Movement"

Barak Obama in Kenya, supporting small-scale loans.

Knippenblog exclusives

A few posts over on my other site:

Compassionate conservatism doesn’t require government.

Reflections on efforts to charter new cities in the Atlanta metro area: rent-seeking, Tocqueville, or something else?

Thoughts about Walter Russell Mead’s essay on religion and foreign policy.

An updated lecture series schedule.

Plame leak solved?

Richard Armitage at the State Department was the person responsible for the Valerie Plame leak, according to a new book by Micahel Isikoff of Newsweek and David Corn of The Nation.

A distinction without a difference?

This WaPo article surveys the most competitive House and Senate races and finds that a number of the Democratic challengers aren’t willing to go out on a limb on Iraq. They’re happy enough to criticize the President, but hesitant to say what they’d do differently. That’s a clever enough political stance, but I can’t imagine that it satisfies the netroots. I also don’t think that it’s a particularly good indicator of whether or not they’d vote with their Democatic colleagues in ways that weakened our effort in Iraq.