Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


My no doubt eagerly awaited response to Heather Mac Donald is here, though it pales before Michael Novak’s gentle but firm chiding.

Andrew Sullivan, predictably, applauds her contribution. Hat tip: Rob Vischer.

Update: More Sullivan, albeit nothing new, here.

Discussions - 9 Comments

Joe, great concluding paragraph (since, among other things, it practices what it preaches, but also pointing out the beam in her own eye). Yea, it was a very strange piece. She, however, performed a service, probably, though, with unintended consequences. Her ignorance of "religious epistemology" is shocking (but not surprising), and the hubris cloaked as "rational" and "skeptical" is visible to many, except for those who profess it.

That is what really bothers me about this whole discussion--the skeptics never really seem to have a grasp of the philosophical questions to begin with. They just dismiss the notion of belief at the outset. She didn’t even understand natural law, yet she tosses the term out there fecklessly.

Why do they resist learning so much? Why such a hurry to rush past it? What is she afraid of, that she might be drawn in to something?

Sullivan is a fool, but there’s no need to drag MacDonald into that.
She is challenging the religious right, not smearing it.

So, if "natural rights" are not predicated on metaphysical assumptions, what ARE they predicated on? And please, don’t say "reason." This is basically an epistemological debate, and if you say "natural rights" are deduced from empiricism then you have reduced "natural rights" to science and sociobiology (which is ok with me, but it doesn’t leave any need for theology).

Good questions Dain...perhaps Cassandra would answer them...of course perhaps those are not "the" philosophical questions. Perhaps "the" philosophical questions are something quite different. Which leads me to ask... is there such a thing as "the" philosophical questions... or are all questions philosophical?

Cassandra, Dr. K, great points. As intriguing and as important as the status of natural rights is, I think it would be helpful if the non-religious conservatives among us NLTers would address the points they made directly.

For one, there is just something really weird about critique after critique after critique of religious conservatives as basing all on irrational faith without hardly ever any investigation of the manner in which religious conservatives tie secular reasoing with reasoning from religious premises, and in which at least four-fifths of their political argument is made in the latter mode.

Oops, MAJOR error above. Last sentence should read "FORMER mode." My apologies.

When you begin with the condescending remark that you’re responding to "a strange little essay," don’t expect serious readers to follow you much further. This one didn’t.

"She might have acknowledged, for example, that religious people bring a great deal of moral energy to the conservative movement." Yes, and you might acknowledge the same of non-religious conservatives. Fat chance of that, I’d say.


You clearly read further than you admitted, though I clearly put you off, for which I apologize. On the other hand, I stand by my characterization of Mac Donald’s essay as "strange," since she end’s with a plea about everyone essentially getting along (in practical politics), but spends most of the time criticizing and condescending to religious conservatives. If she actually gave evidence of understanding them, I’d be more impressed, but I don’t think she does.

For what it’s worth, most of my response is a plea for finding a non-dogmatic, humble common ground among conservatives of all stripes. I recognize, but do not share, the triumphalism of some folks on the religious right. I think the genuine theocrats (of whom there are very few) have to be kept at the margins (they are). And I think everyone should be informed by sound commonsense and sound social science. (By sound, in both cases, I mean non-ideological and cognizant of the limits of what human beings can know.) In this case, Mac Donald overreaches, and goes beyond the things she does so well.

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