O hAnnrachain, “Catholic Europe, 1592-1648”

In December, Oxford University Press released “Catholic Europe, 1592-1648” by Tadhg O hAnnrachain (University College Dublin). The publisher’s description follows:

Catholic Europe, 1592-1648 examines the processes of Catholic renewal from a unique perspective; rather than concentrating on the much studied heartlands of Catholic Europe, it focuses primarily on a series of societies on the European periphery and examines how Catholicism adapted to very different conditions in areas such as Ireland, Britain, the Netherlands, East-Central Europe, and the Balkans. In certain of these societies, such as Austria and Bohemia, the Catholic Reformation advanced alongside very rigorous processes of state coercion. In other Habsburg territories, most notably Royal Hungary, and in Poland, Catholic monarchs were forced to deploy less confrontational methods, which nevertheless enjoyed significant measures of success. On the Western fringe of the continent, Catholic renewal recorded its greatest advances in Ireland but even in the Netherlands it maintained a significant body of adherents, despite considerable state hostility. In the Balkans, O hAnnrachain examines the manner in which the papacy invested substantially more resources and diplomatic efforts in pursuing military strategies against the Ottoman Empire than in supporting missionary and educational activity.

The chronological focus of the book is also unusual because on the peripheries of Europe the timing of Catholic reform occurred differently. Catholic Europe, 1592-1648 begins with the pontificate of Clement VIII and, rather than treating religious renewal in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as essentially a continuation of established patterns of reform, it argues for the need to understand the contingency of this process and its constant adaptation to contemporary events and preoccupations.

Shaw, “The Lost Mandate of Heaven”

In November, Ignatius Press released “The Lost Mandate of Heaven: The American Betrayal of Ngo Dinh Diem, President of Vietnam” by Dr. Geoffrey Shaw (Alexandrian Defense Group). The publisher’s description follows:

Ngo Dinh Diem, the first president of the Republic of Vietnam, possessed the Confucian “Mandate of Heaven”, a moral and political authority that was widely recognized by all Vietnamese. This devout Roman Catholic leader never lost this mandate in the eyes of his people; rather, he was taken down by a military coup sponsored by the U.S. government, which resulted in his brutal murder.

The commonly held view runs contrary to the above assertion by military historian Geoffrey Shaw. According to many American historians, President Diem was a corrupt leader whose tyrannical actions lost him the loyalty of his people and the possibility of a military victory over the North Vietnamese. The Kennedy Administration, they argue, had to withdraw its support of Diem.

Based on his research of original sources, including declassified documents of the U.S. government, Shaw chronicles the Kennedy administration’s betrayal of this ally, which proved to be not only a moral failure but also a political disaster that led America into a protracted and costly war. Along the way, Shaw reveals a President Diem very different from the despot portrayed by the press during its coverage of Vietnam. From eyewitness accounts of military, intelligence, and diplomatic sources, Shaw draws the portrait of a man with rare integrity, a patriot who strove to free his country from Western colonialism while protecting it from Communism.

Comparing Traditionalism and Originalism

I have the first of two posts up at the Liberty Law blog comparing originalism and traditionalism in constitutional TP Bannerinterpretation. The first post uses Town of Greece v. Galloway while in the second I’ll talk about the NLRB v. Noel Canning. The point of the posts is not to defend these decisions, but merely to distinguish them as traditionalist in interpretive method. Here’s a bit from the end:

How is [traditionalism] different from originalism? Here things quickly become complicated because of the broad variety of originalist interpretive approaches. Shortly after the decision [in Town of Greece] was issued, Professor Michael Ramsey had an excellent and useful post on the degree to which Kennedy’s opinion was originalist, in which Ramsey concluded that it reflected a species of original expected applications originalism:

It’s not (typically for Kennedy) an exclusively originalist opinion, but there is a strong originalist element….Kennedy’s principal contention (following Marsh) is that the people who proposed the First Amendment also authorized sectarian legislative prayer, so the Amendment must permit it.

In academic terms, this is a version of “original expected application” – that is, how did the framers of a provision anticipate it affecting existing practices? It is fashionable in academic circles to look down on original expected applications. Under original meaning originalism, the question is: what did the text mean? It’s not, what did some people at the time think it would mean (or, worse, how did some people at the time apply it in practice once it was enacted)? If that’s right, Kennedy is looking in the wrong place – it shouldn’t matter what people thought would happen to legislative prayer, but rather what the text actually meant for legislative prayer.

And yet for the traditionalist it should and does matter that many people, including the drafters (but certainly not only they), did not believe there to be any inconsistency between the practice of legislative prayer and the meaning of disestablishment in the First Amendment. It furthermore matters for the traditionalist (as it does not for many originalists) that the practice was widely accepted in the colonial period as well as for long periods after the ratification of the Establishment Clause. That is because the traditionalist is more focused on practices than meanings when it comes to constitutional interpretation. Or perhaps it is better to say that the traditionalist believes that the meaning of text—particularly as to text that is itself abstract—is far better determined and understood by recourse to concrete practices than by recourse to still other abstract principles.

Here there may be some further overlap between traditionalism and those sub-varieties of public meaning originalism that are receptive to discerning meaning from practices and customs. Professors John McGinnis and Michael Rappaport have written favorably about this interpretive approach in this paper. Professor Ramsey puts the point well from the originalist perspective: “If a very broad consensus at the time of enactment (or shortly after) thought that provision X did not ban activity Y, that is surely strong evidence that the original public meaning of X did not ban activity Y.” For the traditionalist, practices (not principles) are not “merely evidence” or “some evidence” or even “strong evidence” of meaning. Meaning is constituted by practices. The endurance of those practices and the degree of their social acceptance—before, during, and after textual ratification—are also constituents of meaning. None of this implies that these are the only constituents. Neither does it imply that new practices cannot be enfolded into existing meanings. That the founders did not know about email or the Internet, for example, does not mean, on the traditionalist view, that the Fourth Amendment cannot apply to those new media today. But practices that were familiar; widespread; continuous before, during and after the founding; and constitutionally unobjectionable offer more than “evidence” of the meaning of the Establishment Clause. For the traditionalist, they are themselves part of that meaning.