Scruton & Manent on Politics & Religion

I’m now reading Daniel J. Mahoney’s short book on the political thought of the late Sir Roger Scruton (whom Mark and I had the honor of hosting for the second leg of the Tradition Project–see below for his talk) and Pierre Manent. Dan argues that these philosophers share a common project to “recover the meaning of politics, civilization, and the soul” from the depredations of various “late modern dogmas.” He is aware of their differences but he focuses in these essays on their many affinities, including their similar views of secularism and the modern state (in my office, I have a signed copy of Scruton’s The Soul of the World, where he takes on some of these matters with great sensitivity and depth). Dan’s book is Recovering Politics, Civilization, and the Soul: Essays on Pierre Manent and Roger Scruton (St. Augustine Press).

The Western inheritance is under sustained theoretical and practical assault. Legitimate self-criticism has given way to nihilistic self-loathing and cultural, moral, and political repudiation is the order of the day. Yet, as Daniel J. Mahoney shows in this learned, eloquent, and provocative set of essays, two contemporary philosophic thinkers, Roger Scruton and Pierre Manent, have––separately and together––traced a path for the renewal of politics and practical reason, our civilized inheritance, the natural moral law, and the soul as the enduring site of self-conscious reflection, moral and civic agency, and mutual accountability.

Both Scruton and Manent have repudiated the fashionable nihilism associated with the “thought of 1968” and the “Parisian nonsense machine,” and have shown that gratitude is the proper response of the human person to the “givenness of things.” Both defend the self-governing nation against reckless nationalism and the even more reckless temptation of supranational governance and post-political  democracy, what Manent suggestively calls a “kratos” without a “demos.” Both defend the secular state while taking aim at a radical secularism that rejects “the Christian mark” that is at the heart of our inheritance and that sustains the rich and necessary interpenetration of truth and liberty. Scruton’s more “cultural” perspective is indebted to Burke and Kant; Manent’s more political perspective draws on Aristotle, St. Thomas, Tocqueville, and Raymond Aron, among others. By highlighting their affinities, and reflecting on their instructive differences, Mahoney shows how, together, the English man of letters Scruton, and the French political philosopher Manent, guide us to the recovery of a horizon of thought and action animated by practical reason and the wellsprings of the human soul. They show us the humanizing path forward, but first we must make the necessary spiritual decision to repudiate repudiation once and for all.

Around the Web

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

  • In White v. Goforth, the Sixth Circuit ruled that Sheriff’s Deputy Jacob Goforth had qualified immunity in a suit accusing him of failing to intervene in a coerced baptism by Officer Daniel Wilkey. The court explained that while Wilkey’s actions might have violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, there was no evidence that Goforth knew of the improper quid pro quo. The court further clarified that even if there had been perceived government endorsement of religion, it would not have been clearly established that Goforth had a duty to intervene.
  • In Sangervasi v. City of San Jose, a California federal court dismissed police officer William Sangervasi’s lawsuit challenging the San Jose Police Department’s refusal to adopt his proposed patch and flag designs, some featuring religious themes. The court rejected Sangervasi’s claims of free exercise, free speech, and equal protection, stating, “the City has not created a public forum in which Mr. Sangervasi has a right to express any views” and “the SJPD’s patch designs amount to government speech and do not burden Mr. Sangervasi’s religious practice.”
  • In Caekaert v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, a Montana federal district court addressed the clergy-penitent privilege regarding documents withheld by the Jehovah’s Witnesses parent body concerning reports of known child molesters. The court stated that while it recognizes deference to religious groups in organizing their internal affairs, this doesn’t grant the religious organization the right to define what is privileged solely based on its doctrine. The court also noted that the privilege extends to non-penitential statements made during the church’s disciplinary process.
  • Muslim and Christian parents filed suit against the Montgomery County School Board in Maryland, objecting to the introduction of “Pride Storybooks” in pre-K and elementary school education. They allege the policy violates their rights to free exercise and free speech, and their right to control their children’s education, claiming that it “discourages a biological understanding of human sexuality” and “precludes religious viewpoints on the topics of sexual orientation and gender identity,” which they argue is unconstitutional.
  • The Texas legislature passed SB763, permitting public schools to employ or accept volunteer chaplains to support students, without needing teacher certification. Proposed amendments requiring chaplain accreditation similar to prison or military standards, parent consent for chaplain interaction, and requirements to provide chaplains from any faith requested, were all defeated. The bill stipulates that chaplains undergo a criminal history review and not have been convicted of specific sex-related offenses.
  • The White House has released “The U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism,” a 60-page strategy with four pillars aimed at addressing antisemitism in America. The document provides over 100 planned actions to increase awareness of antisemitism and improve safety for Jewish communities. The strategy also defines antisemitism as “a pernicious conspiracy theory that often features myths about Jewish power and control” and endorses the 2016 International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism.