Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Fred’s 1994 Positions

Back then, candidate Thompson wasn’t altogether pro-life, but he was for leaving decisions concerning abortion policy to the states. So it appears he didn’t think in terms of abortion rights. But in that same year, he did make a rather unambiguously "pro-choice" statement to a libertarian Republican newsletter. He now regards himself as solidly pro-life and anti-ROE, and he had pro-life voting record in the Senate. We can say that Fred’s own opinion on abortion policy has either evolved or is unclear, but he probably could be trusted on the appointment of judges. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Commencement season commences

While graduation went off with nary a hitch at my institution today (though I miss having a senior class president with the thoughtful eloquence of one I heard a couple of years ago), other institutions aren’t so fortunate.

Take St. Vincent College, for example. Having invited President Bush to speak, Jim Towey (now "Mr. President" to his former boss) received a public rebuke from one of his predecessors (who, as Towey pointed out in his response, hadn’t been so fastidious about inviting Herbert Aptheker, chairman of the CPUSA, to campus during his tenure). There was some consternation on campus, but it was mild in comparison to what might have occurred on a campus less informed by a tradition of hospitality.

The President’s speech--a model of commencement oratory, in my unfortunately all too well-informed opinion--showed great respect for the occasion and the audience, more than a good many of my colleagues across the country (and their students) would show for the office and the man.

Sam Brownback

(Cheese) toast in Wisconsin.


The turmoil in Pakistan is worth watching. Also see this.

The bridges of Peru

A New York Times article from a few days ago was brought to my attention over lunch by a couple of mathematicians (and engineers). It concerns the bridges made of fiber ropes that the Incas built. It led to a good (non-political) conversation about human inventiveness.

We had graduation ceremonies today; a perfect day for it. Had a nice meeting with the 32 graduating Ashbrooks and family and faculty last night. A great group. I will miss them. Had a nice surprise when former Ashbrook Dr. Kevin Portteus dropped by with a nice gift, a copy of his PhD thesis (Dallas) titled, "Administration and the Amnerican Regime". He now teaches at Belmont Abbey College, North Carolina. Am back in the office for an hour or so to honor James Kresge as he becomes an officer in the United States Marine Corps. Then I meet with Isabella. Not a bad day.

Giuliani’s Houston speech

You can watch the video here.

The Last Great Australian Band

Well, I’m sick of Rudy v. Wade, can’t jump on the Law-and-Order Fred bandwagon, think that McCain is both too self-induglently moralistic and too old, only have a glimmer of hope that Romney can establish authenticity and/or stature, and don’t heart Huckabee. So now it’s time to turn to the tough question of why BeeGees night on American Idol was a disaster. One explanation concerns the BeeGees’ singular pop greatness: Their beautifully melodic songs (which would have been at home in the tuneful 1930s) are deceptively hard for ordinary and unimaginative talents to sing.

More Giuliani

Concerning Rudy’s residual confusion discussed so eloquently in the thread below: He needs to be asked straight out how it’s possible to be pro-Scalia and pro-abortion rights. If abortion is a right, then states couldn’t possibly have the right to pass restrictive laws based, say, on Rudy’s personal opinion that abortion is morally wrong. Rudy’s new honesty has to culminate in a new coherence, one that will make clear that Krauthammer’s attempt to save him for the judicial restraint fans was misguided and futile.

The linked article also quotes from a speech by Romney where he acknowledges his past error and affirms his devotion to the sanctity of life. Is his confession just an exploitation of Rudy’s new honesty? Or have Rudy and Mitt both decided to stop waffling and stake their futures on the clear presentations of real convictions? We shall see.

Giuliani’s Speech at Houston Baptist

Here’s the NYT summary that Lucas Morel linked in the thread below. Although he apparently didn’t make the point unambiguously, Giuliani’s granting that a woman has a right to an abortion probably means he’s endorsing the essential holding of ROE v. WADE. How could a right not merit judicial protection? (He does add that he’s open to ways to limit abortion, and he doesn’t explore the problem that the Court still reallly isn’t, except for one rare procedure.) Rudy is to be admired for basing his campaign on what he really thinks; he’s apparently given up on the project of waffling to appease those who favor judicial restraint. I guess that means that the social conservatives who undertook the project of being encouraged by said waffling in order to be happy enough with perhaps the only guy who can win in November now have to move on. Rudy thinks his honesty is the best policy in pursuit of the nomination, and I’m not certain he’s wrong. But this strategy, I’m more sure, ensures that he won’t get the nomination in a way that will lead to his victory in the general election.

Studies Show That Being Thin Doesn’t Automatically Mean You’re Not Fat

Some people who look thin and even have low BMIs are actually fat inside. And some people, like Sumo wrestlers, have obesity that’s only skin-deep. It turns out that what you are inside is what counts, although not in the way previously supposed.

Krauthammer and York on Giuliani on abortion

Charles Krauthammer offers an attractive gloss on the position Rudy Giuliani inarticulated at the Reagan Library. Here’s a snippet:

Democrats are pro-choice and have an abortion litmus test for judges they would nominate to the Supreme Court. Giuliani is pro-choice but has no such litmus test. The key phrase in his answer is “strict constructionist judge.” On judicial issues in general he believes in “strict constructionism,” the common conservative view that we don’t want judges citing penumbral emanations and other constitutional vapors to justify inventing new rights they fancy the country needs.

However, one strict constructionist might look at Roe v. Wade as the constitutional travesty it is and decide to repeal it. Another strict constructionist judge could, with equal conviction, decide that after 35 years the habits and mores shaped by Roe v. Wade are so ingrained in society that it should not be overturned.

The question is whether, for Giuliani, strict constructionism is more or less important than the right to choose. Byron York is right: Giuliani has to level with the voters. Which comes first--choice or strict construction? If he can seriously and consistently give the latter answer, I might still be able to vote for him in the general election (which I’m sure matters to him immensely).

The Which Blair Project

I have to confess to having a soft spot for Tony Blair, if only out of admiration for a high level politician who can speak in complete sentences on his feet; one complete sentence after another, in fact. One of Letterman’s better gags in recent years is that watching George W. Bush and Tony Blair in one of those side-by-side press conferences is like watching a before and after commercial for Hooked on Phonics. Ouch! But too true.

But if I lived in the UK I am sure I would dislike Blair for all the right reasons on domestic policy grounds. Our pals at Conservative Home offer this music video about what can be expected under Blair’s likely successor Gordon Brown. Too bad the Tory Party is still, in the words of John O’Sullivan, suffering a nervous breakdown.

Got to catch a plane now to head back to DC from California.

American character transcript

The transcript I promised here is available here (with essays) and here (without essays).

There are many interesting thoughts here--Yuval Levin’s distinction between the conservatism of continuity and the conservatism of (loss and) despair; a discussion of what happened to the Spirit of ’01 (Ross Douthat suggests that Southern evangelicals weirded everyone out; David Blankenhorn thinks we’re weren’t asked to do enough--a version of ann argument I made here); and lots of other stuff you’ll have to read for yourselves.

Here’s a provocative (almost) closing thought from Ross Douthat:

I think that one
of the things that conservatives need to recognize about the post-9/11 era is that there was a moment when conservatism had a change to essentially become the governing elite of the United States. I think that we’ve failed that test, and I think one of the reasons we’ve failed that test is
because we exist still in parallel institutions that have failed to become plausible as the dominant institutions of American life. And while Harvard University is less important than it was perhaps
thirty years ago, and the major national networks are less important than they were thirty years ago, they are still important. They are still close to dominant. And insofar as philanthropic dollars can change them rather than creating alternative paths, I’d like to see that path explored.

Paul Wolfowitz’s travails

I have been remiss in not blogging about the European efforts to drive Paul Wolfowitz from his post at the World Bank. For links to the relevant articles and tart commentary, please visit Wheat and Weeds, and keep scrolling. RC2 has been all over the matter, and has guilted me into calling attention to her posts.

Update: Almost all the relevant posts, save for this one, have been gathered here. I can’t improve on RC2’s efforts.

World War II Victory Complicated in Eastern Europe

Andy Busch, who is currently teaching in Ukraine on a Fulbright grant, writes an interesting piece on the complicated nature of the victory over the Nazis in Eastern Europe. Unlike in the West where the victory is remembered as a simple example of good defeating tremendous evil, Eastern Europe remembers it as choosing the lesser of two evils, defeating Nazism by supporting Stalinism. His article is well written and thoughtful and the photo he includes at the end is priceless.    

What a Difference a Year Makes

Mac Owens is writing a series of essays about
the battles and campaigns of the Civil War for the Ashbrook site. The first of these essays looks at two battles that occurred in almost the same place exactly one year apart during the month of May: Chancellorsville in 1863 and The Wilderness in 1864. This is a great start to the series and I look forward to reading the rest.    

Website worth exploring

In preparing to lead a faculty seminar on liberal education the week after next, I came across this site, worth some exploration by those who care about liberal education and religion, as well as by those who care about liberal education simply. There’s even a whole collection of papers from a conference on assessment and the liberal arts (be still, my beating heart!).

IVCF at Georgetown

The Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, banished from Georgetown University last fall, is back. Hat tip: Rick Garnett.

Professionalism and statements of faith

A colleague sent along this post from Brian Leiter’s blog. It will be interesting to see how the American Philosophical Association deals with institutions whose statements of faith explicitly or implicitly include moral disapproval of homosexual conduct. It looks like the APA has been finessing the question in the past, but there are some, er, philosophers, who don’t regard this question as open to further debate.

Chimps Still Don’t Name Themselves

Our friend Darwinian conservative Larry has a reasonable response to Mansfield’s manly political philosophy. He’s right to call attention to certain continuities between Aristotelian and Darwinian science on status-seeking animals. And he explains that today’s leading scientists have no problem naming their chimps. But he still sidesteps the "chimps naming themselves" issue. In his books, Larry, following Darwin in some measure, does acknowledge that our species is the only religious one. But he doesn’t explain religion either in terms of establishing the importance of a particular man and men in general (Mansfield), or in terms of love of particular beings (Deneen, the doctor of love).

The Latest from the Religion of Peace

The AP is reporting that, according to the Palestinian information minister, "Hamas militants have suspended a TV program that featured a Mickey Mouse lookalike urging Palestinian children to fight Israel and work for global Islamic domination." Apparently Farfour the Mouse was beloved for his gentle manner toward children, particularly his prediction that "We will return the Islamic community to its former greatness, and liberate Jerusalem, God willing, liberate Iraq, God willing, and liberate all the countries of the Muslims invaded by the murderers."

No word yet on when a Farfour theme park might be built, presumably in "liberated" Jerusalem.

Rudy prepares to embrace his inner Sandra Day O’Connor

So says the NYT. Will there be a litmus test in the Giuliani Administration?

Deneen Asks Mansfield about the Love

Dr. Pat takes the philosopher of manliness to task for his pernicious exaggerations. It’s not enough for Harvey to say that he’s skipping love for now and just concentrating on pride or anger or self-importance. We, in truth, live in a time that’s short on both pride and love, and we don’t know how to talk about either of the two sources of our transcendence. Certainly Pat is right that the Christian view is that each particular person is both significant and lovable--but most of all lovable, and maybe even that Harvey’s abstraction from love distorts the human soul by making it seem too much about self-assertion. Most of all particular persons are significant because they’re capable of knowing and loving other particular persons, and their admirable confidence in getting things done should be guided by who and what they can really know and love. (Thanks to Ivan the K, who must be on a 24-hr. Deneen watch.)

NEWS UPDATE! Paul Seaton manfully defends Mansfield against Deneen.

Chimps Don’t Name Themsleves

From Mansfield’s Jefferson lecture:

Hardly a day passes without a breathless science article in the press delivering to our waiting ears a fresh resemblance of chimp to man. But the discovery of chimapanzee religion has not yet been reported. Chimps receive names from human beings with equanimity, but do not give themselves names....Their greatest triumph, however, will be the achievement of science. For science, according to science, ought to be the most important attribute of human beings...[C]ollectively, science is the assertion of man over non-man, surely an unembarassed claim to importance and rule. Yet as individuals, scientists are anonymous factors in the scientific enterprise, each one substitutable for another. For all science cares, scientists could as well be numbered as named. We in the humanities will summon up the generosity to give them names.

Love is a further complication

Here’s Harvey Mansfield’s thumotic Jefferson lecture.

Suing the president?

This is a generally fair news story about Democratic attempts to compel the President to accept their view of his responsibilities in Iraq. Let me emphasize that federal courts are unlikely to intervene unless and until Congress has exhausted all political means of resolving its dispute with the President. In this case, it likely means that Congress would have to cut off funding, and take the political heat that came with that measure.

Mansfield’s Jefferson Lecture

The WaPo’s Philip Kennicott writes with some appreciation about Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr.’s Jefferson Lecture (text available soon), but in the end he can’t help himself:

Mansfield’s speech might be seen as a quaint little academic exercise -- hark back to the Greeks, take a few gibes at complaining minorities, work in an obscure and cryptic reference to pop culture, and end with a suggestion of even bigger questions unanswered ("Have I left out love? The answer is yes, I have"). But there is something rumbling beneath it that needs to be taken desperately seriously.

Not quite a week ago, Mansfield wrote an astonishing defense of executive power for the Wall Street Journal, a defense that went way beyond the standard argument that sometimes, when in peril, a republic needs a strong leader who may suspend some traditional liberties.

"The case for a strong executive begins from urgent necessity," he wrote, "and extends to necessity in the sense of efficacy and even greatness." Unpack that and you have an argument for suspending civil liberties not just in the sense of martial law, but pretty much any time a strong, impetuous leader -- stoked to the gills with thumos -- deems it efficient and, more frightening, conducive to enlarging his historical reputation.

So thumos is no quaint philosophical idea borrowed from Plato and dusted off for the humanities crowd at the Jefferson Lecture. It is the underlying sense behind an almost nihilistic view of politics as the plaything of great men, a form of play that is more exhilarating and interesting and compelling to scholars such as Mansfield than the rusty old rule of law that might constrain greatness.


But even though his argument was made with his trademark unflappable intellectual calm, it also had a hint of desperation -- an argument showing signs of strain as the evidence arrayed against it mounts to crushing proportions. Plato once compared thumos to a dog that defends its master, a metaphor that suggests the passion of a cornered animal. Call it whatever you like, manliness, thumos, Straussianism, the worldview of boyish battle and braggadocio is looking awfully dangerous in light of recent events. It takes a lot of thumos to keep arguing for thumos these days.

He was set off by the WSJ’s version of the Claremont Review piece I cited yesterday. Read it, and decide whether you think that it’s nihilistic. Consider, for example, this paragraph:

Now the rule of law has two defects, each of which suggests the need for one-man rule. The first is that law is always imperfect by being universal, thus an average solution even in the best case, that is inferior to the living intelligence of a wise man on the spot, who can judge particular circumstances. This defect is discussed by Aristotle in the well-known passage in his Politics where he considers "whether it is more advantageous to be ruled by the best man or the best laws." The other defect is that the law does not know how to make itself obeyed. Law assumes obedience, and as such seems oblivious to resistance to the law by the "governed," as if it were enough to require criminals to turn themselves in. No, the law must be "enforced," as we say. There must be police, and the rulers over the police must use energy (Alexander Hamilton’s term) in addition to reason. It is a delusion to believe that governments can have energy without ever resorting to the use of force. The best source of energy turns out to be the same as the best source of reason—one man. One man, or to use Machiavelli’s expression, uno solo, will be the greatest source of energy if he regards it as necessary to maintaining his own rule. Such a person will have the greatest incentive to be watchful, and to be both cruel and merciful in correct contrast and proportion. We are talking about Machiavelli’s prince, the man whom in apparently unguarded moments he called a tyrant.

What sets Kennicott off is the same thing Abraham Lincoln recongized here. Are we to deny the existence of the spirited love of fame? Does recognizing that it is in tension with the rule of law mean that we can’t distinguish between good and evil? As Mansfield notes, even justice and mercy are in tension with the rule of law. Doesn’t Kennicott understand this?

Update: Inside Higher Ed offers a less polemical account of "Mr. Mansfield Goes to Washington," including a podcast interview.

Sarkozy as Chirac?

Our man in France, John Zvesper briefly reflects on the French man Sarkozy and John wonders if he will assert himself, as Chirac did not. John will keep his eye on French politics for us, including the upcoming legislative elections. I hope Sarkozy is no Chirac.  


Former faith-based czar John DiIulio offers us a taste of his forthcoming book, Godly Republic, blurbed by everyone and his brother from both sides of the spectrum. In this excerpt, he emphasizes the role religion can play in foreign affairs, especially in the provision of foreign aid (both governmental and non-governmental). He mentions the explosive growth of Christianity in the southern hemisphere, but could also have mentioned the increasingly signficant presence of Christians in China. On that subject, see this book and this interview.

Should Conservatives Support HIllary?

According to Bruce Bartlett, that’s simply the prudent thing to do. After all, the Republicans barely won the last two elections under much more favorable conditions, and the chnce of the GOP being anywhere near united in 2008 is less than zero. None of the leading Democratic candidates is anywhere near as lame as Kerry. So to have some influence on political life, some conservative big money is already headed in Senator Clinton’s direction. Bartlett’s compromises his appeal to conservatives, though, with his suggestion that she couldn’t do much worse than the incumbent anyway.

The Novelist of Manliness

This is a manly week. The philosopher of manliness, Harvey Mansfield, is about to use the Jefferson lecture to rehabilitate the manly part of the soul against all forms of reductionism (not only Darwin’s). And thanks to Ivan the K, we’re reminded of the excellent judgment of the novelist of manliness and last year’s Jefferson lecturer, Tom Wolfe. Wolfe gives us some astute historical perspective on the Iraq war, testimony that our president is more literate than many self-proclaimed experts on literature, and tells the truth about true joy of writing.

Mansfield chestnuts

No, I don’t mean this play featuring John Moser.

Rather, in honor of Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr.’s Jefferson Lecture, The Weekly Standard is featuring a number of his essays, thereby doing us a great public service.

For those who can’t get enough of HCM, here’s his latest from the Claremont Review of Books.

Looking for Something to do in Mansfield?

If so, you might check out Noel Coward’s classic farce Blithe Spirit, which is opening this Friday evening (May 11) at the Mansfield Playhouse.

Demography in America

Michael Barone does what he does best.

Don’t be too thankful

A professor is being fired for forwarding George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation to his colleagues on a faculty email list.

Well, it’s not quite that simple. His email provides a link to the source (Pat Buchanan’s website) and closes with this ironic statement: "I apologize if I preempted the Diversity Office in posting this." He knew he was tweaking someone’s nose, and the tweakees responded, with five colleagues filing complaints about harassment because of the link to Buchanan’s site (which, of course, presents his views about immigration, albeit not on the page to which the good professor linked). The letter he received indicating that the administration was recommending his firing cited his violation of harassment and email use policies. The former charge, as FIRE’s response argues, would withstand legal scrutiny, at least as related to this particular event. He is apparently not a first-time violator of the college’s email use policies and has been subjected to "intermediate sanctions" in the past.

A little googling gives us more background, including this, this, and this, as well as this and this. It’s pretty clear that FIRE doesn’t provide us with the context, which includes all sorts of previous legal action stemming from the professor’s strong opinions about immigration and his conflict with Hispanic activists. His adversaries were primed to find offense in something apparently innocent, and his supervisors were clearly fed up with defending him. That said, forwarding the Thanksgiving Proclamation can’t be a firing offense. It’s not harassment, and, even if it is a violation of email policy, it’s the kind of thing people do all the time and which administrators typically do not punish. My reading of the situation is that the professor found a way to needle his adversaries that should have been unassailable. His adversaries of course won’t be embarrassed by their overreaction to this. His employers ought to be pilloried for succumbing to their pressure. And they deserve to lose the inevitable lawsuit.

Medicare, the Environment, and Life Expectancy

Capital University economist (and vintage baseball aficionado) Robert Lawson recently had the misfortune of having to sit through a commencement speech by Ohio’s new junior senator. Lawson was particularly unhappy when Senator Brown claimed that the rapid increase in life expectancy that Americans have enjoyed since the start of the 20th century was the result of Medicare and Medicaid. Well, as it turns out, average life expectancy increased considerably faster during the forty years before the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid (it stood at roughly 58 in 1925, and had reached about 70 by 1965) than it has in the forty years since (it stands at around 77 today).

To this I’d add another observation. What has been the impact of environmental regulations, supposedly aimed at improving our health and well-being through cleaner air and water? If average life expectancy could increase more rapidly during a time when no such laws existed, but still during a period in which the country was heavily industrialized, shouldn’t we be curious as to why life expectancy has grown comparatively slowly during an age of environmental awareness and deindustrialization?

Update: Apparently Lawson has more clout than I realized, because his post merited a call from Senator Brown himself. Apparently he didn’t much like what Bob had to say about his speech.

Fund on France

John Fund argues that those opposed to the spirit of ’68 won in France. Might their kindred spirits win in the U.S. in 2008?

It’s more insidious than that

I’ve posted a couple of times in recent days on the debate over the efforts to preserve the religious freedom of groups that accept government money. If you’re one of the three people who read my posts, you know that on an essentially party-line vote, Democrats succeeded in keeping the co-religionist exemption out of the Head Start reauthorization bill.

That’s bad enough, but, as Gregory Baylor points out, the newest version of the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act is even worse, permitting mission-sensitive hiring (when it comes to the moral disapproval of homosexuality) only for "employers that ’ha[ve] as [their] primary purpose religious ritual or worship or the teaching or spreading of religious doctrine or belief.’" Let me translate: only churches and church-like organizations can act on their religious and moral principles in hiring. It’s plausible that religiously-affiliated colleges and universities won’t be able to, nor will faith-based social service organizations. Let me be clear: this has nothing to do with strings attached to government funding and everything to do with government coercion. If something like it passes (and survives a free exercise challenge, which unfortunately isn’t out of the question), morally and theologically conservative denominations will be able to care for the proverbial widows and orphans only at the price of acquiescing in the gay rights agenda.

Fukuyama on our options in Iraq

Francis Fukuyama thinks our options in Iraq are somewhat worse than in South Vietnam. The operative phrase, however, is this one: "politically meaningful future." There is no evidence, in his view, that anyone in the U.S. wants to do what it takes to succeed in Iraq, so that our options amount to finding the least problematical form of failure:

Do we have any other choice than to withdraw? We could stick it out, and I suspect that we could avoid losing in Iraq for another five, 10 or 15 years, as long as we’re willing to maintain high troop levels, continue to spend large amounts of money and suffer more casualties. But even the most conservative Republican candidates are unlikely to campaign on a platform of staying in Iraq indefinitely when the primary season starts next winter and the war enters its sixth year.

This means that we will have to engage in a very different debate from the one we have been having up to now, a debate not about surging and not about withdrawing with our goals accomplished but about how to draw down our forces in a way that minimizes the costs that will inevitably accompany our loss of control.

I can’t tell from this whether FF thinks that, absent our loss of heart, we could shore up an Iraqi government for long enough to have an acceptable outcome or (more likely) that our defeat is "inevitable."

I ask: in what sense inevitable? Is it inevitable because we simply can’t assure a decent outcome or because we won’t?

See the thread begun by Victor Davis Hanson
here for a "realistic" discussion of what FF’s realism really means.

Hillsdale in the news

I wonder what our friends at Hillsdale think of this article, which I’d bet has a more self-consciously political agenda (and, it goes without saying, much less nuance) than the college has.

Hat tip: Power Line.