McLendon, “The Psychology of Inequality”

I am not a scholar of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but what little I know and have read by Rousseau persuades me that he is a very helpful philosopher for understanding our own time and place in 21st century America. His account in the Discourse on the Origins and Basis of Inequality (as well as Emile) of amour-propre–or love of self, sometimes rendered loosely as the need for recognition or validation–is one feature of his thought that offers great insight for our own controversies about identity politics, tribalism, and many other political problems of contemporary political life in liberal democracies.

Here is a new book that focuses on some of these features of Rousseau’s thought and is 15896well worth checking out for the Rousseau novice: The Psychology of Inequality: Rousseau’s “Amour-Propre” (U Penn Press), by Michael Locke McLendon.

In The Psychology of Inequality, Michael Locke McLendon looks to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s thought for insight into the personal and social pathologies that plague commercial and democratic societies. He emphasizes the way Rousseau appropriated and modified the notion of self-love, or amour-propre, found in Augustine and various early modern thinkers. McLendon traces the concept in Rousseau’s work and reveals it to be a form of selfish vanity that mimics aspects of Homeric honor culture and, in the modern world, shapes the outlook of the wealthy and powerful as well as the underlying assumptions of meritocratic ideals.

According to McLendon, Rousseau’s elucidation of amour-propre describes a desire for glory and preeminence that can be dangerously antisocial, as those who believe themselves superior derive pleasure from dominating and even harming those they consider beneath them. Drawing on Rousseau’s insights, McLendon asserts that certain forms of inequality, especially those associated with classical aristocracy and modern-day meritocracy, can corrupt the mindsets and personalities of people in socially disruptive ways.

The Psychology of Inequality shows how amour-propre can be transformed into the demand for praise, whether or not one displays praiseworthy qualities, and demonstrates the ways in which this pathology continues to play a leading role in the psychology and politics of modern liberal democracies.

“America and the Just War Tradition” (Hall & Charles, eds.)

The Just War tradition–an umbrella term for a set of ideas and customs concerning the9780268105266 circumstances in which nations may take military action in their own defense or on behalf of others–draws on a rich history of religious justifications for, objections to, and arguments about war. Here is a new collection of essays concerning its application in American law and politics: America and the Just War Tradition: A History of U.S. Conflicts (Notre Dame Press), edited by Mark David Hall and J. Daryl Charles.

America and the Just War Tradition examines and evaluates each of America’s major wars from a just war perspective. Using moral analysis that is anchored in the just war tradition, the contributors provide careful historical analysis evaluating individual conflicts.

Each chapter explores the causes of a particular war, the degree to which the justice of the conflict was a subject of debate at the time, and the extent to which the war measured up to traditional ad bellum and in bello criteria. Where appropriate, contributors offer post bellum considerations, insofar as justice is concerned with helping to offer a better peace and end result than what had existed prior to the conflict.

This fascinating exploration offers policy guidance for the use of force in the world today, and will be of keen interest to historians, political scientists, philosophers, and theologians, as well as policy makers and the general reading public.

Notre Dame CEC Conference Panel on “Shield or Spear: The Power of Speech”

Here is the video of my panel with Michael Moreland and Rick Garnett at a recent conference at Notre Dame, discussing the current condition of free speech. For those disinclined to read the paper below, you can get a rough sense of some of the points in it in the video. I appreciated the chance to chat with Mike and Rick to get a sense of where we agree (on many issues) and perhaps see things a little differently (a smaller, but interesting and important, set of issues) as to the First Amendment.

New paper: “The Sickness Unto Death of the First Amendment”

I’ve posted a new draft, forthcoming in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy: The Sickness Unto Death of the First Amendment. Here is the abstract.

The sickness unto death, in Søren Kierkegaard’s work of the same name, is the anxiety and despair an individual experiences in recognizing that the self is separated from what is collective, extrinsic, or transcendent. Something like this condition now afflicts the First Amendment. The sickness unto death of the First Amendment is that the spectacular success of free speech and religious freedom as American constitutional rights on premises of liberal, individual autonomy has been the very cause of mounting and powerful collective anxiety. The impressive growth of these rights has rendered them fragile, if not actually unsustainable, in their current form. Their unprecedented expansion has brought on an awareness of their emptiness in serving the larger, common political good. The yearning for political community and shared purpose transcending individual interest has in turn generated vigorous calls for First Amendment constriction to promote what are claimed to be higher ends — in some cases ends that were promoted by the hypertrophy of the First Amendment itself.

What binds these claims is the view that expansive First Amendment rights harm others or are more generally socially or politically harmful. In some cases, the same people who argued for the disconnection of free speech rights from common civic ends are now advocating free speech constriction to reconnect free speech to new ends said to be constitutive of the American polity. The same is true for religious freedom. But in a society that is deeply fractured about where the common good lies, imposing new limits on First Amendment rights in the name of dignity, democracy, equality, sexual freedom, third party harm, or any of the other purposes championed by the new constrictors is at least as likely to exacerbate social and civic fragmentation as to reconstitute it.

This paper describes the development of the First Amendment — and in particular of its ends and limits — through three historical periods. Part I concerns early American understandings, which conceived rights of free speech and religious freedom within an overarching framework of natural rights delimited by legislative judgments about the common political good. Part II traces the replacement of that framework with a very different one in the twentieth century, describing the judicial turn toward self-regarding justifications of speech that prioritize individual autonomy, self-actualization, and absolute anti-orthodoxy. The paper describes the crisis or despair of free speech and the coming of the First Amendment constrictors in Part III. It concludes briefly in Part IV by recapitulating the parallel paths of the rights of free speech and religious freedom. It is, in fact, remarkable that over the centuries, some of the most prominent justifications for and objections to the scope of these rights have proceeded pari passu and assumed nearly identical shape.

Around the Web

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Courtenay, “Rituals for the Dead”

Yesterday’s book note concerned the place, if any remains, of religion in the modern 9780268104948university–religious or otherwise. Here is a related entry about the rather more integrated role of religion in the medieval university, in which religious ritual played an important part and in which prayer for deceased colleagues helped to preserve the connection between the living and the dead. But perhaps it isn’t so much that religion as such has left the modern university, as that the nature of university rituals has simply changed to reflect very different religious commitments.

The book is Rituals for the Dead: Religion and Community in the Medieval University of Paris (Notre Dame Press) by William J. Courtenay.

In his fascinating new book, based on the Conway Lectures he delivered at Notre Dame in 2016, William Courtenay examines aspects of the religious life of one medieval institution, the University of Paris, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In place of the traditional account of teaching programs and curriculum, however, the focus here is on religious observances and the important role that prayers for the dead played in the daily life of masters and students.

Courtenay examines the university as a consortium of sub-units in which the academic and religious life of its members took place, and in which prayers for the dead were a major element. Throughout the book, Courtenay highlights reverence for the dead, which preserved their memory and was believed to reduce the time in purgatory for deceased colleagues and for founders of and donors to colleges. The book also explores the advantages for poor scholars of belonging to a confraternal institution that provided benefits to all members regardless of social background, the areas in which women contributed to the university community, including the founding of colleges, and the growth of Marian piety, seeking her blessing as patron of scholarship and as protector of scholars. Courtenay looks at attempts to offset the inequality between the status of masters and students, rich and poor, and college founders and fellows, in observances concerned with death as well as rewards and punishments in the afterlife.

Rituals for the Dead is the first book-length study of religious life and remembrances for the dead at the medieval University of Paris. Scholars of medieval history will be an eager audience for this title.

Judge Diane Sykes at the Colloquium in Law and Religion Today

We are delighted to welcome the Honorable Diane S. Sykes to the Colloquium in Law andDiane Sykes.jpeg Religion today!

Judge Sykes will be discussing a number of her opinions involving law and religion, including Korte v. Sebelius (a contraception mandate for-profit RFRA case before Burwell v. Hobby Lobby); CLS v. Walker (an equal access/speech case before CLS v. Martinez); Books v. Elkhart County (involving state-sponsored religious displays); and Tagami v. City of Chicago (concerning the role of a moral tradition in satisfying intermediate scrutiny for both expressive conduct and Equal Protection Clause purposes).

Welcome, Judge Sykes!

Wolterstorff, “Religion in the University”

The work of Nicholas Wolterstorff, whether it concerns religious arguments in public discussion, political theology, aesthetics and religion, justice, liberal democracy, or many others, is always worth reading. A few years ago, I participated in a very worthwhile conference concerning Professor Wolterstorff’s short book, The Mighty and the Almighty: An Essay in Political Theology (here’s my little reaction)–an important meditation on the continuing relevance of political theology today written from a distinctively liberal Christian perspective.

And now comes Wolterstorff’s newest book, Religion in the University (Yale University 9780300243703.jpgPress). It’s a timely and rather fraught subject, and I’m sure that whatever Wolterstorff says will be enlightening.

What is religion’s place within the academy today? Are the perspectives of religious believers acceptable in an academic setting? In this lucid and penetrating essay, Nicholas Wolterstorff ranges from Max Weber and John Locke to Ludwig Wittgenstein and Charles Taylor to argue that religious orientations and voices do have a home in the modern university, and he offers a sketch of what that home should be like. He documents how, over the past ve decades, remarkable changes have occurred within the academy with regard to how knowledge is understood. During the same period, profound philosophical advancements have also been made in our understanding of religious belief. These shifting ideals, taken together, have created an environment that is more pluralistic than secular. Tapping into larger debates on freedom of expression and intellectual diversity, Wolterstorff believes a scholarly ethic should guard us against becoming, in Weber’s words, “specialists without spirit and sensualists without heart.”

Brodd et al., “Invitation to World Religions”

9780190690816We close this week’s book posts with a comparative religion textbook that Oxford released earlier this year. The book is Invitation to World Religions, by John Brodd (CSU-Sacramento) and others, now in its third edition. Here’s the description from the Oxford website:

Featuring a unique, consistent, and modular chapter structure–“Teachings,” “History,” and “Way of Life”–and numerous pedagogical features, Invitation to World Religions, Third Edition, invites students to explore the world’s great religions with respect and a sense of wonder. This chapter structure enables students to navigate each religion in a consistent and systematic way and to make comparisons between religions. The book describes the essential features of each religion and shows how they have responded to basic human needs and to the cultural contexts in which they developed. The authors also encourage students to develop an appreciation for what religious beliefs and practices actually mean to their adherents.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

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