Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

From White to Ginsburg

Bill Richardson claims to like ’em both, and Matt Franck tries to figure out how that could be. His guess is as good as--actually better than--mine.

Choice Informed by Ultrasound

I think the article by Saletan linked by Joe below is actually quite good. Although basically a pro-choice guy, he sees no problem with women being presented with all the information available before making the grave choice concerning abortion. Darwinian conservative Larry Arnhart adds that evolution intends that we use both reason and emotion to decide what to do with embryos and fetuses. It’s impossible for us, Larry contends, to connect emotionally with an embryo that looks nothing like us, and it’s natural that the more the fetus resembles us the more we want to protect him or her. Larry agrees with his fellow sociobiologist James Q. Wilson that it’s proper that we endow a fetus with more and more humanity or moral worth over the course of a pregnancy. But is humanity really ours to endow, and are our emotions really reliable? Joe also gives us the link to the speech by Nick Eberstadt about the global effect of sonograms: It seems that many parents throughout the world can’t identity with images of females fetuses, and the result has been lots of abortions that have disturbed significantly the natural ratio between boys and girls. Killing that privileges testosterone is dangerous in all sorts of ways.

Lind on Starr on liberalism

Michael Lind praises Paul Starr’s new book, whose principal arguments are summarized here. My sense is that Starr overemphasizes the continuity between what he calls "constitutional liberalism" and "modern democratic liberalism." The latter is much less focused on individual rights and responsibilities and much more willing to use the power of the state on behalf of equality. If in America there is inevitably a tension between equality and liberty, Starr seems unaware of it or blithely willing to resolve the tension on behalf of equality.

Stated another way, like the liberalism of many of his colleagues, Starr’s liberalism is pragmatic and unwilling squarely to confront the "unnatural" expansion of state power required to accomplish the aims he holds dear.

Saletan on ultrasounds

William Saletan gives some thought to the craze for bills requiring women considering abortions to view an ultrasound of their children in utero. They are part of a legislative tidal wave provoked by the Gonzales v. Carhart tsunami (O.K., I know that’s rhetorical excess).

Saletan notes that some ultrasound advocates are concerned whether this appeal to our natural emotions will work. If this is any indication, there’s some reason for concern. This is certainly a test of the strength of natural compassion, as opposed to interest or culture.

America at 400

Richard Brookhiser reminds us that this month is the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown. Of course, people lived here before then--Native Americans and even a great number of Europeans who were trappers, etc.--but this was a real venture; a venture that Brookhiser argues fittingly prefigured our character as a people.

A few good lines:

"It was a project of the London Co., a group of merchants with a royal patent: Imagine that Congress gave Wal-Mart and General Electric permission to colonize Mars."

The general assembly first met for five days in the summer of 1619. It discussed Indian relations, church attendance, gambling, drunkenness and the price of tobacco. It sounds like the Iowa caucuses: war and peace, social issues, bread and butter. From this seed would grow the House of Burgesses, the elective house of Virginia’s colonial legislature and the political academy of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In their rough-and-ready way, the Jamestown settlers had planted the seeds of a dynamic system, democratic capitalism, along with an institution that would pervert it, chattel slavery, and a force that would supply the cure, the goal of liberty.

The settlers came with ideas they had to junk. Some of their brightest hopes were false. They worked hard and got other people to do their work for them. They were foolish, fierce and surprisingly stubborn. When one thing failed, they tried another. We are their descendants.

But read the whole thing.

Is Obama a neocon?

Robert Kagan wonders. Of course, talk is cheap, and in South Carolina, Obama showed a different side. As Kagan reflects,

So maybe his speech only reflects what he and his advisers think Americans want to hear. But that is revealing, too. When it comes to America’s role in the world, apparently they don’t think there’s much of an argument.

I know that our paleo readers will say that this says more about the neocons than about Obama and the Democrats, but Kagan may be right that Festung Amerika isn’t either realistic or principled.

How big the Democratic tent?

Dan Gilgoff raises that question about the conservative evangelical populist Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Mississippi. John Arthur Eaves might give Haley Barbour a run for his money in Mississippi, but, even in the apparently unlikely event that he wins, I can’t imagine him having any real influence in the national Democratic party.

Evangelicals in 2008

The WSJ’s Naomi Schaefer Riley interviews Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He can’t support Giuliani, could support Romney, and rather likes Fred Thompson.

"Evangelicals would be very happy if Mike Huckabee or Sam Brownback or Duncan Hunter were the nominee, but the problem with those three guys is they don’t give any indication they can win." And he adds, "With Hillary Clinton looming on the horizon, electability is a very important issue."


If Mr. Giuliani does somehow win the nomination, Mr. Land predicts that "you will see a drop in evangelical participation in the presidential election and in races below that." Sounding more like a preacher warning of a coming plague, Mr. Land says, "even if the alternative is Hillary," a lot of evangelicals will stay home.

Returning to his political wonk persona, Mr. Land notes that in 2006, about a quarter of voters identified as white evangelicals, and 70% of them voted for Republicans. The three quarters who didn’t identify as white evangelicals voted 61-37 for Democrats. Which means, according to Mr. Land, "that Republicans can’t win elections just with evangelicals, but without them, Republicans face a loss of apocalyptic proportions."

I’m not certain that I agree with the last point, as it assumes that no Republican could do better than GWB did with non-evangelical voters. Wouldn’t Giuliani do better than GWB with non-evangelicals, especially since evangelicals seem to be allergic to him? And doesn’t HRC have her own problems with folks other than evangelicals?

In its Next Issue, The New Republic Urges Bill Clinton to Overcome His Shyness Around Girls

This week’s Coals to Newcastle award for headline writing goes to the New Republic editor who came up with, “Democrats: Don’t Be Afraid to Spend Money.” The (subscription only) article by Bradford Plumer deserved better wrapping paper. It describes how the Democratic party “has backed itself into a corner by carping so loudly about the Bush administration’s prodigal ways.”

After six years of denouncing deficit spending, and a mid-term election that empowered them to do something about it, some Democrats are suddenly wondering if massive borrowing is really so bad after all. The Economic Policy Institute recently hosted a forum, “Beyond Balanced Budget Mania.” According to Plumer, “The purpose was to persuade Democrats that they could spend responsibly without sacrificing liberalism at the altar of fiscal rectitude.”

Plumer assured us that no one at the EPI event urged “the Democrats should just go wild and spend, spend, spend.” In fact, none of them really outlined “a detailed vision of what tax and spending levels they’d like to see.” But the general idea was that some combination of tax increases, health care cost controls, and lightening up about deficits would leave “ample room for growth in discretionary spending and public investment,” amounting to “tens of billions of dollars per year” for expanding child care and health insurance coverage, or developing new energy sources.

If Democrats are going to embark on these missions then, clearly, something’s got to give. Deficit reduction is one likely suspect. Increasing taxes is the other obvious one. But here, too, they’re backed into a corner by six years of their own rhetoric denouncing “massive giveaways to the rich.”

The Democratic presidential candidates favor John Kerry’s approach, promising to raise taxes only on households with annual incomes in excess of $200,000. That means the most prosperous 3% of the population will face higher taxes, according to the New York Times. Leaving the Bush tax cuts in place for families making under $200,000, however, will yield the Treasury $900 billion less than it would receive over the coming decade if all the tax cuts are repealed. As the Times says, “leaving even a portion of the Bush tax cuts in place means that the next president and the next Congress would have less money to allocate to spending programs than they would if they allowed all the tax cuts to expire, leaving them with a choice between further increasing the budget deficit or limiting their plans for addressing health care, education, energy and other needs.”

The $200,000 boundary better serves Democrats’ political needs than their policy ambitions. They’ll make 32 times as many friends as enemies by confining tax increases to the wealthiest 3% of the population. They just won’t get the money required to do the things they’re really enthused about – health care, education, alternative energy, midnight basketball, indigent wildlife, blah, blah, blah – and the things they’re not enthused about but are afraid to oppose, military spending and deficit reduction. They could get hold of more money if they lowered the $200,000 threshold for tax increases, but that moves the friends/enemies ratio in a politically dangerous direction.

The world has changed a lot since Bertrand de Jouvenel wrote The Ethics of Redistribution in 1952. Its central contention remains valid, however: the prosperity of modern societies is widely dispersed rather than narrowly concentrated. Soaking the rich doesn’t work because there aren’t enough really rich people to soak. Something must be curtailed – either the agenda of the left or the after-tax incomes of the middle class.

Mexifornia now

Victor Davis Hanson, writing for the City Journal considers his thesis five years later. He was too optimistic, things are worse than he thought, the data now proves it.  

Riots in Estonia

Because riots in Estonia are unusual, this is worth a note. Estnians removed Soviet war memorial and Russians have rioted (circa 20% of Estonia’s population is Russian). Russia has called for sanctions against the country of 1.3 million.

Abdul Hadi al Iraqi

A high level alQueda bad guy has been captured and is now in Guantanamo.


Here is the video General Petreaus� news conference of yesterday. About an hour long. Worth some of your time. Smart guy. Michael O�Hanlon (of Brookings) did an interview with Hugh Hewitt about Iraq that is (unsurprisingly) thoughtful. I have noticed a more serious conversation over the last few days even by the ordinary media (CNN, et al) about Iraq and the consequences of a quick retreat. Even some opponents of Bush�s policy are starting to publicly admit that it would be a horror. This is related to the Democrats� success in attempting to force a withdrawl via the spending bill, which more fully reveals their arrogance (never mind Harry Reid�s audiable stupidity and Pelosi�s decision not to meet with Petreaus). Everyone�s mind may be starting to focus now on the future, rather than taking revenge on Bush for the past (i.e., for going into Iraq in the first place). The other good effect of all this is that the Iraqis� minds should become even more focused: they are one out away from the ninth inning. Show us what stuff you are made of, before the Dems fully take over. Don�t wait. And whatever good you do will have consequences for both American and Iraqi politics. Also read this op-ed by O�Hanlon.

Another thought on the politics of Gonzales v. Carhart

All the leading Democratic candidates, two of whom serve in the Senate, have condemned the Court’s decision. They’re in a position to do something about it, as Congress did in the aftermath of Wards Cove (the Civil Rights Act of 1991), Stenberg (the PBA Act of 2003), Employment Division v. Smith (RFRA), and Boerne (RLUIPA).

Couldn’t Senator Clinton or Senator Obama propose a "new and improved" PBA Act, including the health exception, for example? That would be "real leadership" in the face of a decision that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called "alarming." Could it be that the good Senators actually fear that such a law wouldn’t pass, even in a Congress controlled by Democrats--ackonowledging, in other words, that the only way they can accomplish their aims is judicially, not "democratically"? Or that proposing such a measure--which would at least concede the horrific wrongness of PBA in some instances, even if the health exemption opens a loophole big enough to drive a tank though--would displease the hard pro-choice Left in the Democratic Party? Or is it that they really don’t want abortion to be an issue in 2008?

Ducking this opportunity to set right something that they call a grievous wrong doesn’t speak well of their leadership, does it?

Update: In the comments, Brett Marston notes that Senator Clinton has in fact stepped up to the plate as a co-sponsor of the Freedom of Choice Act. So we’ve got the "legal" covered, and probably the "safe," but what about the "rare" (assuming that the safety exemption effectively swallows any effort actually to regulate or prohibit abortion or any technique of abortion)?

Update #2: Here’s the Senate roll call on the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003; note that very few "red state" Democrats voted against the bill; the picture is a little more complicated in the House, where it also passed handily. Is there anyone willing to say that the politics of this measure has changed in the ensuing four years?

Catch Them and Try Them as Terrorists

That’s what I say about this awful story. Abortion clinic bombings are just as detestable as any other kind of terrorism. Such people do no one--least of all the cause of pro-life--any good. Indeed, I have less mercy for them than I do for straight-forward anti-American terrorists. They have hurt the cause of justice not only with their actions, but also in what their actions reflect upon the good people and the good cause they pretend to support.

The Achievement of Tolkien

Well, he was THE anti-Wagner, easily outdid C.S. Lewis in portraying Christian experience, and unlike T.S. Eliot actually understood and rewrote for the better his people’s pagan myth. It really is too bad that’s there’s no real audience for this kind of thing today, and that we have to go to the ASIA TIMES to find out what’s really going on with probably the most profound Christian writer of the 20th century. Lots of people like Tolkien, but almost nobody is up to the task of appreciating what he’s really up to. (Thanks to Mark Henrie.)

Post-Secular European Studies

This cool, new interdisciplinarly program is sweeping this blog, due to the efforts of Paul Seaton and Rob Jeffrey. The core authors for this program are, of course, Pierre Manent and Ratzinger/Benedict. I tried hard to post Paul’s great review in SOCIETY of Manent’s A WORLD BEYOND POLITICS?, but I can’t get it done. But I can post mine.

Shamless Self-Promotion Alert

This Saturday, from 1015 to 1145 am, they’ll be a panel honoring the work of Delba Winthrop at the Marriott in Newton, Mass. It’ll be part of the New England Political Science Assoc. meeting. Speakers will include Dan Mahoney, Ralph Hanock, Norma Thompson, and me. The theme will be political responsibility. I’ve just started to find a few moments to work on this today, and my tentative title is something like "Winthrop on Tocqueville on the Political Responsibility of American Women." At no extra charge, I’m giving you a "taste," although keep in mind the following is a stream-of-consciousness rough draft:

Now Delba did, I think, miss one level of Tocquevillian and feminine irony about the American bragging displayed in their moral doctrine of self-interest rightly understood. Tocqueville observes that the Americans are better than they say. They sometimes do give way to their natural, social, heart-enlarging instincts and really do serve one another out of love. And when they explain away their moments of genuine, loving dependence and responsibility with their cold doctrine, with the explanation that what appears to be love is nothing but a calculated alliance, they hide from others and even themselves the natural offenses against their individualistic freedom that really do make life worth living. The American women allow American men to exaggerate their emotional self-sufficiency to humor their democratic or individualistic pride and so to protect the natural reality of their love. American deeds more than American talk provide evidence that the American men have souls or social and personal longings that must be and sometimes are satisfied.

But one problem with that sanguine conclusion is that talk—even misleading talk—about moral opinion really does influence what we do and even who we are. The American men, Tocqueville reports, are chaste not because of their own virtue or the discipline of women or even the law. They tend not to be erotic enough to be tempted seriously by or even imagine illicit, dangerous liaisons. And the imaginative impoverishment or hyper-decency of the American that Tocqueville reproaches—the inability to be attracted to forbidden delights—even constrains what goes on in American bedrooms. So, in Delba’s words, American marriages are “strikingly, appallingly unerotic.” Delba even notes carefully in a note that Tocqueville emphatically doesn’t understand American commercial or displaced ambition as a form of frustrated or sublimated sexual desire. The truth is that the American man’s preoccupation with business actually truncates his eros by stifling romantic idealism. It leaves American men with less and less intense passion that might need sublimating. Their busyness keeps them from the leisure in which longings might be cultivated and deepened; the American man is even convinced that leisure, for that reason, is bad for business. So, as Delba shows, the war against love engaged in by the moral doctrine of self-interest rightly understood actually achieves significant success. From a woman’s view, the strength and weakness of the American man is that he’s all about safe sex; he’s not that dangerous but that’s because he’s that boring. His one sexual vice is his weakness for prostitutes, who efficiently takes care of his needs without emotional attachment and whom he pays, as the old joke goes, not to spend the night.

But, thanks to the work of American women, that conclusion is too extreme. It is more about the challenges American women proudly face than how American families actually are. American women understand, as Delba explains, that precisely because they don’t compete with men that the relationship between the sexes is relatively undistorted by status envy and opens the way “for sexual attraction to engender admiration.” And admiration certainly can refine and enlarge eros in a way that might convince some American men, at least, that all their public endeavors are for their private lives, to show them the real point of all their prosperity. Democratic political life will only rarely be worthy of those with the noblest ambition and profound idealism, but surely it’s true that the single-minded pursuit of political liberty—of the greatness that Tocqueville himself prefers to justice--would be worse for women and their particular concerns than the American inclination in the other direction. The truncation of the American imagination by commerce, combined with the salutary influence of the religion encouraged especially by women, keep American men from being tempted to sacrifice the family and private life in general for some general or indefinite cause. The Americans, to their credit, can’t imagine pursuing political reform or wealth by all means necessary.

American women know, like American priests, that the moderation of democratic excesses is unlikely to come through direct intervention into political life. It comes through the “countercultural” impulses that come from the church and the family, from the refusal of priests and wives to allow their domains to be politicized, to be subordinated to the democratic individualism or egalitarian public opinion or the single-minded insistence on one’s own rights or “justice.” The ability of priests to influence American mores, Tocqueville adds, depends upon the more fundamental efforts of women.

The American theory—the relentless conquest of nature in the pursuit of happiness—presupposes, in truth, that human freedom and security are for a life worthy of living, for human dignity and human happiness. That life, in fact, will and should never be, in our country, primarily that of the citizen. The political responsibility of the American woman turns out to be showing the American man how stange, wonderful, and lovable people he can really know are, countering the unerotic and undignified impersonality of both his egalitarianism and his commercialism. American men--and the political life they favor--could easily be worse and are far from hopeless. It’s the always the job of women, Delba shows us, to counter the partisanship and exaggeration of the manly pretenses that always characeristic the reigning political order, and women, as Harvey Mansfield shows us, are even better than philosophers in moderating manliness while preserving personal significance.

More Gonzales v. Carhart

Robert T. Miller reflects on the infamous Auth cartoon. A snippet:

I can accept that arguments I think are right fail to carry the day in the public square. What I cannot accept—and what no one ought to accept—is that people with genuine arguments to make in the public square are dismissed as if they had none. This is just what Mr. Auth is doing: He is cutting off argument in order to advance his own view. He gets away with it, of course, because he also appeals to anti-Catholic prejudice, but once this sort of thing becomes socially acceptable in respected venues like national newspapers, the whole social function of the public square is imperiled. Militant know-nothingism, which is the psychological prerequisite to Mr. Auth’s style of argument, is an erratic force, and there is no telling where it might turn next.

If you want to read more, here are Rick Santorum, Ed Whelan, and Hadley Arkes. Here’s a bit from Arkes:

In the most curious way, then, a decision so narrow, so begrudging and limited, may invite a series of measures simple and unthreatening, but the kinds of measures that gather force with each move. We need to remind ourselves that we have seen such things before. We may recall, in that vein, the Emancipation Proclamation. It was limited, as a war measure. For Lincoln did not have the authority to strip people of what was then their lawful property in slaves. The Proclamation freed only those slaves held in areas that were in rebellion against the government. It did not cover the slaves held in Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri. And yet ... it was understood instantly and widely in the country that this measure had an "anti-slavery impulse."

The decision on Wednesday, in Gonzales v. Carhart, was severely limited and diminished in its practical effects. But rightly or wrongly, there may be a sense that the decision opens the doors now; that it invites legislators and political men and women to deliver themselves from the reign of judges, and set their hands to this task once again.

Update: Rick Garnett has more.

Update #2: The Federalist Society is offering an on-line debate, which, in typical Federalist fashion, features prominent advocates on both sides of the issue (how novel!). If you want to read what Douglas Kmiec, Erwin Chemerinsky, Randy Barnett, and Wendy Long have to say, visit the site.

French elections

John Zvesper explains some recent electoral history and constitutional changes in French politics, by way of saying that the current election is a healthy revival of good politics, and will likely make for a better government. He’ll be writing more on the Sarkozy-Royal battle.

Grade inflation as civil rights issue?

University of Alabama historian David Beito is in the news again. Last we heard of him he was fighting a lonely, valiant battle to get the American Historical Association to denounce campus speech codes. His latest target is the epidemic of grade inflation, but he’s using a novel approach. From his position as Chair of Alabama’s Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, he’s making an argument that the Left will find difficult to challenge--that grade inflation hurts African-Americans disproportionately.

"Especially on a campus with relatively few black students, when you’re handing out A’s like candy, grades are devalued and we have no way to measure merit. Minorities are hardest hit when they can’t be rewarded on merit."

He is joined in his effort by Charles Nuckolls, Alabama professor of anthropology, who calls grade inflation "a form of theft," since it undermines the value of a grade earned by hard work. Their proposed solution--not particularly original, but praiseworthy nonetheless--is for college transcripts to include, along with the grade for each class, the grade distribution in that class.

That Beito and Nuckolls are to be applauded for this goes without saying. However, I’m skeptical about their prospects for success, up against a student body and a university administration that both benefit from high student grades. What would really help is if employers would come forward and demand an end to grade inflation. If they would point out that transcripts today are virtually useless in identifying talented job candidates, this might have some effect. Educators might sober up by being reminded that the more that grades become unreliable indicators of student performance, the more graduate schools and employers will fall back on standardized test scores in making hiring decisions.

Giuliani vs. the Democrats

I haven’t been able to find the entire text of Rudy Giuliani’s speech (his site is less helpful in that regard than most), but this article probably contains the passages that led Barack Obama to pull out a shrill and hackneyed talking point:

Rudy Giuliani today has taken the politics of fear to a new low and I believe Americans are ready to reject those kind of politics. America’s mayor should know that when it comes to 9/11 and fighting terrorists, America is united. We know we can win this war based on shared purpose, not the same divisive politics that question your patriotism if you dare to question failed policies that have made us less secure.

I can’t find anything Giuliani says that questions anyone’s patriotism. Judgment, yes. Patriotism, no. So much for the new tone that Obama is supposed to bring. Needless to say, also, he doesn’t join the debate with Giuliani on matters of substance.

Actually, I take that back. Here’s the "substance" of Obama’s response:

I think we should focus on strengthening our intelligence, working with local authorities and doing all the things we haven’t yet done to keep Americans safe.

Sounds an awful lot like playing defense to me.

He Whose Name Must Not Be Uttered

McCain announced his official entry into the ’08 race today (yawn) as I heard while driving the kids to school this morning. But before I could fall asleep at the wheel while hearing this unprecedented and totally unexpected news, I was delighted to see this bumper sticker. Of course, the bumper sticker was competing for attention with a WWF sticker and the usual unimaginative "Impeach Bush" sticker. But Republicans for Voldemort is a new one . . . and I have to say there’s something that I like about it. You’ve got to hold a special place in your heart for opposition with that much moxy. I think I might just put one on my car for ironic effect.

Elshtain on Tocqueville and American religion

MOJ’s Rick Garnett calls our attention to a relatively short piece by Jean Bethke Elshtain. Here’s a taste:

[Tocqueville] had in mind not only the subjective freedoms of believing citizens but also the mutual interaction of religious institutions and associations. That is what appears to have withered. And it is through religious institutions and communal bodies that the "politics" of religion comes through. It isn’t a politics that dictates a particular policy outcome in any simple sense but that instead presents to a highly subjectivist culture an alternative understanding of persons and the common good. That may be the most important "political" contribution of all.

Read the whole thing.  

Archbishop Chaput’s response to Fukuyama and his ilk

Well, not explicitly....

In any event, our friend Gary Seaton sent along the text of this speech by Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver. There’s so much I’d love to quote, but I’ll restrict myself to a few snippets:

I think the current American debate over religion and the public square has much deeper roots than the 2006 and 2004 elections, or John Kennedy’s 1960 election—or the Second Vatican Council, for that matter. A crisis of faith and action for Christians has been growing for many years in Western society. It’s taken longer to have an impact here in the United States because we’re younger as a nation than the countries in Europe, and we’ve escaped some of Europe’s wars and worst social and religious struggles.

But Americans now face the same growing spiritual illness that J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, Christopher Dawson, Romano Guardini, and C.S. Lewis all wrote about in the last century. It’s a loss of hope and purpose that comes from the loss of an interior life and a living faith. It’s a loss that we can only make bearable by creating a culture of material comfort that feeds—and feeds off of—personal selfishness.

After an extensive discussion of Georges Bernanos, he offers this updated reflection on a passage from Frank Sheed:

The tidal wave of our toys, from iPods to the Internet, is equally effective in getting us to ignore history and ignore our own emptiness. The struggle for real human freedom depends upon the struggle for human history. Unlike the ideologies that deny the importance of the past and the present and focus on the illusions of a perfect future, Christianity sees the most important moments of the human story to be the past event of the Incarnation and the present moment of my individual opportunity to love.

The Christian faith is grounded in what God has done. Our love is what we choose to do now, and our hope is founded in God’s past acts of love and our present ones. Without history, there is no Christianity. So the fundamental question, for Bernanos, is “whether history is the story of mankind or merely of technology.” Modern man must be convinced again that he is free, that he can really choose in this moment of time between very different paths to very different futures. In the act of choosing, we regain history as our own.

Finally, there’s this:

The “common good” is more than a political slogan. It’s more than what most people think they want right now. It’s not a matter of popular consensus or majority opinion. It can’t be reduced to economic justice or social equality or better laws or civil rights, although all these things are vitally important to a healthy society.

The common good is what best serves human happiness in the light of what is real and true. That’s the heart of the matter: What is real and true? If God exists, then the more man flees from God, the less true and real man becomes. If God exists, then a society that refuses to acknowledge or publicly talk about God is suffering from a peculiar kind of insanity.

I actually addressed these issues much more lamely in a much narrower context in a class today. We/ve been reading Kent Greenawalt’s Religion and the Constitution: Free Exercise and Fairness, and I’ve been trying to find some big theoretical issues in a very nuanced and lawyerly book. The issue I was trying to flog today was the way in which the law tries to treat churches as just another species of voluntary associations, which obviously distorts the phenomenon somewhat. An example upon which I seized was Greenawalt’s discussion of the issue of clergy malpractice, where he, so to speak, privileges the "secular" view of a person’s crisis as psychological or physiological, as opposed to spiritual. Here’s a very small chunk of Greenawalt:

Unless the [religious] counselor says, "Well, perhaps you should see a secular professional as well as me," or "You need to understand that I do not have all the training of a licensed psychotherapist," the client may be encouraged to put his problems into the counselor’s hands, unaware of the limits of the counselor’s competence....

Perhaps someone representing herself as available for formal counseling relationships has a responsibility either to state very clearly the limits of her competence or to possess a minimal acquaintance with highly dangerous conditions and who should treat them.

For Greenawalt, the authoritative position seems to be that of therapy and drugs, not prayer and religious discipline. We should be able to require pastoral counselors to be congnizant of their limits, but shouldn’t or couldn’t expect parallel admissions of spiritual humility from secular psychologists and psychotherapists: "Perhaps your problem is a spiritual one, for which my therapies and chemicals will not avail."

I may in some respects be unfair to Greenawalt here, since he’s writing for people who wish to advise and guide judges and policymakers, but a law or policy that requires religion to acknowledge its inadequacy in the face of materialism but can’t compel materialism to acknowledge its inadequacy in the face of religion is not, in Chaput’s terms, realistic.

Update: Over at Wheat & Weeds, RC2 has some very smart thoughts on the archbishop she is wont to call Chaput the Great.

Charming to the last

Apparently Rosie O’Donnell is leaving The View. I’ve never watched that program, but I can only assume that her absence will improve it.

America, Imre, and Martin Waldseemueller

This story from today’s USA Today reminded me of something semi-interesting:

"Centuries before it became a continent or country synonymous with wealth, power or democracy, ’America’ was coined by a Renaissance cartographer as the catchall designation for a world that Europeans had yet to name or explore.
The name stuck despite its humble history and unsure start at a backwater French court. It celebrates the 500th anniversary of its baptism in the remote town of St. Die today, exactly a half-millennium after its first use on a world map."

The cartrographer was Martin Waldseemueller and his map and accompanying 103-page book "Cosmographiae Introductio" caused the hemisphere to be named for explorer Amerigo Vespucci instead of Christopher Columbus (since Columbus thgought he was in Asia). He noted in his book (published in April 25, 1507) that Europe and Asia are named after women (I’m not sure about Asia, but Herodotus thought so), so he couldn’t understand why this new continent couldn’t be named after a man. That’s fine, but for my late father it got even better: Dad loved saying that America was named after a Hungarian. Here is how he reasoned: Amorigo is Italian for Emmerich in German, and Emmerich is the German form of Imre, a name otherwise not used but in Hungary. Therefore, America is a Hungarian name (if not actually Hungary itself!). O.K. you’re right, I have entirely too much time on my hands. I’ll try to get something done, like reading a thesis on Vaclac Havel, whose name, by the way, really means...oh, never mind.

Obama’s foreign policy

Sen. Barack Obama gave a speech on foreign policy to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Just file it for now, but note the important fact that there is nothing ground-breaking in it, no "come home" America, and such. Nice touch about hbis father at the end.

Fukuyama Continues to Explain It All

Now he says the end of history is still to come, and the nearest thing to it around today is the transnational or apolitical European Union. The America that still believes in God, national sovereignty, and the military is way too historical to have a real future. But according to Nick Eberstadt, if we’re vulgar enough to look to demographic trends alone, ours is the only "advanced" country that seems to have much of a future. According to Alexandre Kojeve, the guy who understood that the end of history would have be the end of "man" properly so-called, the posthistorical world would be a wholly natural one. And how natural is it to have one species only unable to reproduce itself in a favorable environment? Surely Ratzinger/B16 is right that we have to stop thinking in terms of the nature-history dualism and achieve a genuinely "post-secular" understanding of the predicament of the contemporary European.

The American Prospect Goes Bats

Paul Beston has an article (not yet available online) in the latest City Journal criticizing the New York City Council for a new law that bans the use of metal bats in public high school baseball games. The logic of the ban is that metal bats cause more injuries to fielders, especially pitchers, because baseballs fly off metal bats harder and faster than off wooden ones, giving players in the field less time to react. Although a 12-year-old boy in New Jersey went into cardiac arrest after being struck in the chest by a ball hit by a metal bat, the case against forged bats is not open-and-shut. Little League baseball is opposed to the ban, and a study by American Legion Baseball found no proof that wooden bats are safer. John Franco, who was the Mets closer for many years, testified to the Council in support of the ban, while Mike Mussina of the Yankees testified against it.

(If you haven’t spent much time at nonprofessional baseball games, you might not be aware that aluminum bats have almost completely driven wooden bats out of use. The change has come about because of economics, not sadism: metal bats almost never break, while wooden ones often do, so the savings for a college or high school program over the course of a few seasons are significant. Metal bats have their critics, apart from safety issues. Baseball purists like to hear the crack of the bat, not the ping. Pitching coaches worry that the greater bat speed of the aluminum bats prevents young pitchers from ever learning how to pitch inside, because every pitch there winds up an extra-base hit.)

Beston’s article makes a more general, and more political point: this ordinance, like the city’s restrictions on smoking in bars and fatty foods, is another example of the metropolitan nanny-state. They are all expressions of the “underlying belief” that “too much liberty is hazardous to your health.”

Ben Adler, who blogs for The American Prospect slid into Beston, spikes first: “This clearly expresses a fundamental tenet of conservative/libertarian thinking: that engaging in risky behavior with serious social costs is an entitlement. People who are injured by metal bats, or fall ill from smoking or fatty food, cost the rest of us money. We pay their emergency room bill, their Medicare bills or their Social Security disability insurance. Only someone willing to forgo those benefits should have the right to also opt out of public health laws like those passed by the New York City Council, or pre-existing ones requiring that motorcyclists wear helmets and drivers wear seat belts.”

Adler clearly expresses a fundamental tenet of liberal thinking: the more the welfare and regulatory state grows, the more it needs to grow. Every step making social insurance more comprehensive provides a new justification for regulating what primitive peoples call “private” behavior. The elaboration of the welfare state means that there is no such thing. Because we all indemnify one another through the state, we all have the right to protect our investment in one another through state regulations. Given the financial burden imposed on our Spartan citizens by our Falstaffian ones, Adler’s argument can be put to all sorts of uplifting purposes. Nothing in his logic rules out governmentally mandated diets and exercise regimens.

Adler mocks the hypocrisy of conservatives who deplore public health regulations but are unwilling to forgo public insurance protections. That’s strictly minor-league, however, compared to the Hall of Fame hypocrisy of liberals who insist that social insurance programs must be universal, then berate conservatives for never availing themselves of our welfare state’s non-existent opt-out provisions. The American Propsect furiously denounced Pres. Bush’s proposal to let people keep a portion of their Social Security taxes in private accounts, if and only if they chose to, as a barbaric move that would shred the social contract. Adler wants to have it both ways, to lock conservatives in the house and then criticize them for not leaving.

Conservatives do not, in fact, think that engaging in risky behavior with serious social costs is an entitlement. They do, however, think that liberty is an inalienable right that government exists to secure, not a threat it exists to secure us from. In Adler’s formulation, there are no behaviors that are not risky, no costs that are not social, and no personal choices that cannot be regulated by a government that’s always there when you need it, and always there when you don’t.


Skepticseye is back, in case you haven’t noticed. Allison Hayward, a law prof at George Mason, is responsible. Her irresponsible half is Stephen. Nothing more needs to be said! Have alook at the site.

Higher ed assessment yet again

Richard H. Hersh, who is nothing if not a member of the higher education establishment, offers his version of its response to the the Bush Administration’s push for learning outcomes (or "value added") assessment in higher education. While he rightly refers to "a dangerous hollowing of an increasingly precarious ivory tower," I’m a little leery of the buzzwords he invokes to describe what higher education should be doing: "we need to significantly improve our undergraduate colleges — not only to compete globally, but equally importantly, to enrich an active democracy here at home, a public life marked by liberty, dissent, and robust civic engagement."

On the surface, it’s hard to quarrel with the goals, but there’s nothing there about cultural depth, the transmission of a heritage, the good, the true, and the beautiful, or "the best that has been thought and said." Applying my hermeneutic of suspicion, I wonder if he’s in effect proposing an alliance of business and academic liberals, offering ways for each to use higher education to accomplish its agenda.

Dr. Pat’s Intervention

Deneen provides realistic therapy to a woman close to succumbing to the libertarian temptation.

While we’re on birthdays

Yesterday was Immanuel Kant’s birthday. He presided over nothing and wrote a (very) few passages that approached poetry, but apparently was quite charming in person. His fellow Koenigsbergers called him "der schoene Magister."

San Francisco as a "sanctuary"

Even though I can’t resist this from Mark Krikorian about

San Francisco offering sanctuary for immigrants and thereby blocking enforcement of federal laws, I am not bringing it up because I want to debate John C. Calhoun and nullification. Still, interesting.

Boris Yeltsin Dead at 76

Yeltsin was a very flawed leader and, when it counted, a very heroic man.

Happy Birthday President James Buchanan

...according to tradition and probably fact the worst president of the United States.

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

...or at least it’s probably the birthday of the best poet of the English language.

The Newest Thing in Literary Theory: LITERARY DARWINISM

Well, I’m sort of rooting for it. It takes nature and especially manliness or the naturalness of status competition seriously. It’s not entirely untrue to say that Homer portrays naked apes competing over the scarce resource of women. And it’s pretty darn true that an author with a good knowledge of the natures of members of our species can manipulate with great success the responses of readers. Literary Darwinists, with or without their scientific content analysis, will score great victories against the unrealistic excesses of social constructionism. But they still need to explain why the non-human apes don’t write a lot of poetry.

John Adams Miniseries

We don’t have cable but now I’m glad my mom has it--as well as TIVO! I’ll have her save this HBO miniseries based on David McCullough’s biography of Adams for me so I can watch it on my upcoming visit this summer. I just finished listening to the McCullough biography last night and it was tremendous. I especially loved the quote with which McCullough chose to end the book--(and the disadvantage of listening as opposed to reading books is that I have to rely on memory here). But it had to do with Adams’ love of life--even with all the tragedy and the infirmities that old age had brought him. In all of that, he still thought it his greatest treasure that he could laugh--and at himself above all.

Inconvenient Truth

I did a podcast with Steve Hayward on his new movie, worth listening to, of course (about 12 minutes). I think he really wants to Hollywood! It is called "An Inconvenient Truth, or Convenient Fiction" and you can see it (about 50 minutes) by clicking on the title.

Nostalgia vs. Reality

Dean Barnett over at Hugh Hewitt’s blog, has some very thoughtful reflections on Peggy Noonan’s column from last week on the Virginia Tech shooting. He did not like it because he thinks that it demonstrates a kind of reflexive "things used to be better" sentiment that he finds distasteful. At the time that I saw Noonan’s column, I thought that it was very good--though I liked different things in it than the things Barnett emphasizes. (For example, I especially liked her description--and subsequent retraction of the adjective--of the campus mental health officials as "endearing losers.")

I think Barnett raises a good point worthy of serious consideration, however. There is a tendency (and Barnett rightly points out that it is common on both the right and the left) for people to look at the past with a kind of nostalgia that is not productive. I do not deny that it can be helpful, by way of contrast, to examine the present in light of the past. But getting the past right requires more than nostalgia. When the past is considered with nostalgia only, it very often leads to hysteria in the present. Beyond that, heavy doses of nostalgia tend to have the effect of making one humorless and ungrateful and unmindful of the tragic/comic nature of our existence.

Hillary’s Housekeeping

"When I walk into the oval office in January, 2009, I’m afraid I’m gonna lift up the rug and I’m gonna see so much stuff under there!"-- Hillary Clinton.

Uh . . . (awkward moment) no comment. Supply your own punchline.

Hat tip: Laura Ingraham.

Zebulon Vance on the demoralization of the Confederacy

I have no wish to refight the Civil War for the umpteenth time, but in the course of working on a lesson plan for the NEH I encountered this fascinating document, a letter from Zebulon Vance, governor of North Carolina, which is relevant to some of our recent discussions. Writing to a friend in September 1864, as Sherman was smashing his way through Georgia, Vance drew the following conclusion:

The signs which discourage me more than aught else are the utter demoralization of the people. With a base of communication five hundred miles in Sherman’s rear, through our own country, not a bridge has been burned, not a car thrown from its track, nor a man shot by the people whose country he has desolated. They seem everywhere to submit when our armies are withdrawn. What does this show, my dear sir? It shows what I have always believed, that the great popular heart is not now, and never has been in this war. It was a revolution of the Politicians, not the People; and was fought at first by the natural enthusiasm of our young men, and has been kept going by State and sectional pride, assisted by that bitterness of feeling produced by the cruelties and brutalities of the enemy.

Reflections on my hometown, immigration, and assimilation

I had the great pleasure this past weekend of taking a group of Ashland University students--all members of our chapter of Phi Alpha Theta--to my hometown of Pittsburgh for a tour of some of the city’s historic sites. Not only did we have a first-class walking tour of the downtown area, and a not-quite-gourmet-but-still-tasty meal at the original Primanti Bros. restaurant, but we spent Saturday afternoon at the Senator John Heinz History Center, a tremendous museum dedicatd to Pittsburgh’s past. The Heinz Center is quite simply the best history museum that I’ve ever visited--although that might be nothing more than my hometown pride talking. The exhibit on sports history, complete with film of such legendary episodes as Bill Mazeroski’s amazing home run in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series, and Franco Harris’s "Immaculate Reception" in the 1972 division championship against Oakland, chokes me up every time I see it (and I’m not even that huge of a sports fan).

But one can’t visit the Heinz Center without being reminded of the critical importance of immigration to the city’s development. Whether it be Russian Jews, Poles, Germans, Irish, Slovakians, Africans, or what have you, each group has left its indelible mark on Pittsburgh. What struck me most, however, was reading about the efforts made by Settlement Houses--most notably the Irene S. Kaufman House in the Hill District--to help immigrants to assimilate. Sure, these were run by liberals (progressives, to be more precise), who often advocated wrongheaded social policies, but the progressives of the early 20th century still believed in the basic goodness of America. They believed that in teaching recent immigrants English, and love for the flag and other American institutions, they were doing more than helping them to fit into a new society--they knew that they were making them into better people.

Why, then, aren’t there similar efforts being made today? Where are the Settlement Houses of 2007? We can all come up with reasons why, I suppose. Today’s liberals are far less convinced of America’s basic goodness, and therefore seem uncomfortable suggesting that it might be the duty of new immigrants to learn English and to respect American ideals. On the other hand, too many of those who oppose immigration do so on the demonstrably false grounds that people from Latin America and East Asia are incapable of being assimilated; why, then, launch a project that is doomed to failure? Of course, there is also the fact that so many Latin American immigrants are here illegally, and would therefore be hesitant to participate in a program that might reveal their status. Nevertheless I find it a sad state of affairs, and hope that any legislative effort to deal with the country’s immigration problems will take into consideration the vital task of assimilation.

Jesse Owens

Pat Garrity reflects on the relationship between politics and sports by considering the phenomenon of Jesse Owens (via Jeremy Schaap’s Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and the Hitler Olympics). While everything Pat writes is sensible, I am struck, once again, by the story of Owens in Berlin, in front of Hitler. Real drama, the sort that only Shakespeare could devise. Real tragedy, even a wheel of fire back home, that only flawed human beings forgetting the things for which they stand, could devise. And Jesse Owens is the memory and the cause.   

WHCD Gossip

I was sick in bed most of yesterday with some kind of stomach bug that I picked up from bad food at a reception before the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday (I blame the CBS spread, because, why not?). But this is perhaps a coincidence. Yesterday was Earth Day, after all, so I usually feel like throwing up when I see all the nonsense put forth each year on this secular holiday.

A few gossipy notes from the WHCD: Richard Darman, the Rasputin of the Reagan Administration, his hair still long down the back of his neck and just as greasy as 25 years ago, was pawing all over Leslie Stahl, who looks a lot older in person without her 60 Minutes makeup and soft-focus camera lenses. It was a PDA (public display of affection) worthy of a hormone-drenched teenager, and completely creepy, as well as embarrassing, to watch. One of Reagan’s close advisers once told me: "Why do people take an instant dislike to Darman? Saves time." Or, as Shakespeare would put it, “Such a man, so faint, so spiritless, So dull, so dead in look, so woebegone.” (Henry IV, Part 2, li. 70.)

MItt Romney walked up to Bob Tyrrell (of American Spectator fame) and thanked him for hosting him at the dinner. Bob found this confusing, and figured Romney must be confusing him (Tyrrell) with Bill Buckley or something. Another sign, perhaps, of the unbearable lightness of being Mitt Romney.

The National Review reception room was packed, while CBS, right next door, was half-empty the whole time. Which may say something about something.

But the question on everyone’s mind was: Where is Jonah??

Let Me Say Something Good About Justice Kennedy

This article by Steve Chapman gives the clearest case for the conceptual change occasioned by Kennedy’s opinion I’ve seen. It’s caused me to think I was a little harsh below. Steve shows that the animosity of Ginsburg and her many "pro-choice" supporters has nothing to do with health, and Kennedy’s tweaking of the PLANNED PARENTHOOD health concern in the direction of "rational basis" or legislative deference isn’t the big deal. (It really isn’t a big deal!) This case does establish the principle that the fetus itself need not be treated as just disposable material, or no differently from some cancerous tumor to be excised by any means necessary. It’s a real breakthrough in how the law is permitted to understand what a fetus is. There is a subtle change from upholding policies that show respect, in princple, for potential life toward ones that show respect for the reality--the stuff, the animated body--that is fetal life, but that change is not self-evidently or blatanly incompatible with the doctrine of PLANNED PARENTHOOD. This breakthrough is not one that allows the government to prevent a single abortion, but maybe the "pro-choice" people are right to worry that it is genuine progress in our country’s thinking. The Court has always resisted calling the fetus the woman’s property to be disposed of as she pleases, but the "pro-choice" or Lockean principle has always implied that in its proponents’ eyes. And now the Court has clearly--with teeth--contradicted them. But it’s still the case, I think, that no further progress can be made within the confines of PLANNED PARENTHOOD.

Inauthenticity Is the Defining Characteristic of Popular Music

That’s what the latest study shows. A critic objects, though, that it might be inauthentic to regard inauthenticity as the essence of anything. It’s disconcerting to consider that whole categories like COUNTRY and BLUES originated as marketing ploys, or that Henry Ford promoted Square Dancing for its blatant racism. But we can’t ignore the wise observation that we don’t have to believe that the Monkees actually believed "I’m a Believer" to know it’s actually a good song.

The end of children on the border of Hell

Before Vicki and I were married in 1976, we had some conversations with the smart Irish priest we asked to do the deed. Because Vicki wasn’t a Catholic, the conversations sometimes were very intresting. At one point the priest was explaining the importance of baptizing our children as soon as possible after birth. Vicki asked for clarification and he gave it, talked about how they ended up in limbo. Vicki then said: "I do not believe God would do that to an innocent baby." I thought that this may be the end it, we might have to have a Unitarian wedding or something like it since we were already near the edge anyway, as far as I could tell. I stayed quiet as the good old priest just bowed his head and mumbled something about sin and grace. I couldn’t make it out, and didn’t ask for clarity. So we moved on to another topic. It now turns out that the Catholic Church

agrees with Vicki about the children. I guess Socrates and Plato and "the master of all those who know" are a different problem. Father Francis Canavan baptized three of the four, by the way.

Progress in Iraq?

The WaPo with General Petraeus in the air over Baghdad, and Max Boot on the ground all over Iraq. As Petraeus apparently constantly observes, the Baghdad clock ticks too slowly and the Washington clock too quickly (my paraphrase).

Update: Reuel Marc Gerecht discusses the mechanism of the Iraqi clock.