New Article: Masterpiece Cakeshop and the Future of Religious Freedom

I’ve posted a new article on SSRN, “Masterpiece Cakeshop and the Future of Religious Freedom.” The article, which will appear in the current volume of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, uses last term’s decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop as a vehicle for exploring deep trends in American culture, politics, and religion. Here’s the abstract:

Last term, the Supreme Court decided Masterpiece Cakeshop, one of several recent cases in which religious believers have sought to avoid the application of public accommodations laws that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Court’s decision was a narrow one that turned on unique facts and did relatively little to resolve the conflict between anti-discrimination laws and religious freedom. Yet Masterpiece Cakeshop is significant, because it reflects broad cultural and political trends that drive that conflict and shape its resolution: a deepening religious polarization between the Nones and the Traditionally Religious; an expanding conception of equality that treats social distinctions—especially religious distinctions—as illegitimate; and a growing administrative state that enforces that conception of equality in all aspects of our common life. This article explores those trends and offers three predictions for the future: conflicts like Masterpiece Cakeshop will grow more frequent and harder to resolve; the law of religious freedom will remain unsettled and deeply contested; and the judicial confirmation wars will grow even more bitter and partisan than they already have.

You can download the paper here.

Happy Thanksgiving

315px-LINCOLN,_Abraham-President_(BEP_engraved_portrait)“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

— Abraham Lincoln, Thanksgiving Day Proclamation (1863)

Notre Dame Releases Solzhenitsyn’s American Memoir

9780268105013Earlier this month, I had the honor to participate in the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture’s annual conference. A highlight was the release of the English translation of the first part of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s memoir of his years in America, Between Two Millstones: Sketches of Exile, 1974-1978. Among other things, the book extensively covers Solzhenitsyn’s famous (or infamous) commencement address at Harvard in 1978, in which he excoriated America for forsaking its traditions, including its religious traditions. Reading the address again, I was struck, not only by Solzhenitsyn’s insight in diagnosing the consumerism and nihilism sapping American moral strength, but also with how much he anticipated Samuel Huntington’s clash-of-civilizations thesis.

The publisher of this volume is the University of Notre Dame Press. Here’s the description from the press’s website:

Russian Nobel prize–winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008) is widely acknowledged as one of the most important figures—and perhaps the most important writer—of the last century. To celebrate the centenary of his birth, the first English translation of his memoir of the West, Between Two Millstones, Book 1, is being published. Fast-paced, absorbing, and as compelling as the earlier installments of his memoir The Oak and the Calf (1975), Between Two Millstones begins on February 12, 1974, when Solzhenitsyn found himself forcibly expelled to Frankfurt, West Germany, as a result of the publication in the West of The Gulag Archipelago. Solzhenitsyn moved to Zurich, Switzerland, for a time and was considered the most famous man in the world, hounded by journalists and reporters. During this period, he found himself untethered and unable to work while he tried to acclimate to his new surroundings.

Between Two Millstones contains vivid descriptions of Solzhenitsyn’s journeys to various European countries and North American locales, where he and his wife Natalia (“Alya”) searched for a location to settle their young family. There are fascinating descriptions of one-on-one meetings with prominent individuals, detailed accounts of public speeches such as the 1978 Harvard University commencement, comments on his television appearances, accounts of his struggles with unscrupulous publishers and agents who mishandled the Western editions of his books, and the KGB disinformation efforts to besmirch his name. There are also passages on Solzhenitsyn’s family and their property in Cavendish, Vermont, whose forested hillsides and harsh winters evoked his Russian homeland, and where he could finally work undisturbed on his ten-volume history of the Russian Revolution, The Red Wheel. Stories include the efforts made to assure a proper education for the writer’s three sons, their desire to return one day to their home in Russia, and descriptions of his extraordinary wife, editor, literary advisor, and director of the Russian Social Fund, Alya, who successfully arranged, at great peril to herself and to her family, to smuggle Solzhenitsyn’s invaluable archive out of the Soviet Union.

Between Two Millstones is a literary event of the first magnitude. The book dramatically reflects the pain of Solzhenitsyn’s separation from his Russian homeland and the chasm of miscomprehension between him and Western society.

A New Treatment of Samuel Pepys

bab84c903c52ff8df197a2bb3a9e9b4bI’ll concede this book is a bit of a stretch for a law and religion site. But I’ve been intrigued by the 17th Century diarist, Samuel Pepys, ever since, as a high school student, I first read his description of the Great London Fire of 1666.  (I was too young to read some of the other entries). And there are law-and-religion associations, after all. Pepys lived through the Protectorate, the Restoration, and the Glorious Revolution, and seems to have survived by being a Vicar-of-Bray sort of character. He began as a supporter of Cromwell, then became an Anglican, and then, under the Stuarts, was suspected of being a Catholic. Well, there is a certain charm in that sort of pliability.

A new book about Pepys from Yale University Press looks like a lot of fun: The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, by author Margaret Willes. No doubt it touches on Pepys’s, and England’s, religious tergiversations. Here’s the description from the Yale website:

An intimate portrait of two pivotal Restoration figures during one of the most dramatic periods of English history.

Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn are two of the most celebrated English diarists. They were also extraordinary men and close friends. This first full portrait of that friendship transforms our understanding of their times.

Pepys was earthy and shrewd, while Evelyn was a genteel aesthete, but both were drawn to intellectual pursuits. Brought together by their work to alleviate the plight of sailors caught up in the Dutch wars, they shared an inexhaustible curiosity for life and for the exotic. Willes explores their mutual interests—diary-keeping, science, travel, and a love of books—and their divergent enthusiasms, Pepys for theater and music, Evelyn for horticulture and garden design. Through the richly documented lives of two remarkable men, Willes revisits the history of London and of England in an age of regicide, revolution, fire, and plague to reveal it also as a time of enthralling possibility.

Movsesian on Religious Polarization

To follow on Marc’s post yesterday, here is the video of my panel presentation earlier this month’s at the annual Notre Dame Ethics and Culture Center Conference. The title of the panel, chaired by Notre Dame Law Professor (and Tradition Project member) Marah Stith McLeod, was “A House Divided–Polarization in Our Common Life,” and the subject of my talk, beginning at the 35:45 mark, was “Church and State in a Time of Polarization.” Thanks to Marah and my co-panelist, John Carr (Georgetown), and to the Notre Dame Center Director, Carter Sneed, for inviting me!

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.

Guarino, “The Disputed Teachings of Vatican II”

9780802874382As an outsider, I find the debate among my Catholic friends and colleagues on the true interpretation of the Second Vatican Council extremely interesting. On the one hand, there are those who insist on following “the spirit of Vatican II,” which I understand as a call to go beyond the words of the Council documents themselves and continue to press in a progressive direction, notwithstanding the traditions of the Church. On the other, there are those who wish to adopt “a hermeneutic of continuity”–I believe the phrase is Pope Benedict XVI’s–and read the documents consistently with the tradition of the Church. I realize my description is a bit of a caricature and that each side’s position contains more nuance. But I think my description is correct, as a kind of thumbnail sketch.

A new book from Eerdman’s, The Disputed Teachings of Vatican II: Continuity and Reversal in Catholic Doctrine, by Seton Hall theologian Thomas G. Guarino, addresses this debate. Looks very interesting. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

The Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) radically shook up many centuries of tradition in the Roman Catholic Church. This book by Thomas Guarino, a noted expert on the sources and methods of Catholic doctrine, investigates whether Vatican II’s highly contested teachings on religious freedom, ecumenism, and the Virgin Mary represented a harmonious development of—or a rupture with—Catholic tradition.

Guarino’s careful explanations of such significant terms as continuity, discontinuity, analogy, reversal, reform, and development greatly enhance and clarify his discussion. No other book on Vatican II so clearly elucidates the essential theological principles for determining whether—and to what extent—a conciliar teaching is in continuity or discontinuity with antecedent tradition.

Readers from all faith traditions who care about the logic of continuity and change in Christian teaching will benefit from this masterful case study.

Pressman, “On Press”

9780674976658-lgWe Americans think of ourselves as living in a moment of deep polarization around issues of religion and politics, and we do. But the roots of the crisis go back decades. For decades, conservatives, including religious conservatives, have complained that the mainstream media, which has a huge influence in our culture, is biased against them, and so cannot be trusted. It’s not simply a matter of how the media reports stories; it’s how the media chooses which stories and people to cover, and which not to cover. Professional journalists have rejected the criticism and insisted that they have acted, to the extent possible, in a neutral way. Conservatives have never been convinced, which is why today’s progressive complaints about media bias seem to them a little hollow, and tardy.

This month, Harvard releases a history of media in the 1960s and 70s that seems, more or less, to support the conservative criticism: On Press: The Liberal Values That Shaped the News, by Seton Hall journalism professor Matthew Pressman. Pressman argues that the media very self-consciously adopted liberal positions during those years, with the best of motives. “Objectivity and impartiality, the cornerstones of journalistic principle, were not jettisoned,” the description reassures us, only “reimagined.” Which is just what conservatives always maintained–though they didn’t find the reimagination reassuring. Here’s the description of the book from the Harvard website:

In the 1960s and 1970s, the American press embraced a new way of reporting and selling the news. The causes were many: the proliferation of television, pressure to rectify the news media’s dismal treatment of minorities and women, accusations of bias from left and right, and the migration of affluent subscribers to suburbs. As Matthew Pressman’s timely history reveals, during these tumultuous decades the core values that held the profession together broke apart, and the distinctive characteristics of contemporary American journalism emerged.

Simply reporting the facts was no longer enough. In a country facing assassinations, a failing war in Vietnam, and presidential impeachment, reporters recognized a pressing need to interpret and analyze events for their readers. Objectivity and impartiality, the cornerstones of journalistic principle, were not jettisoned, but they were reimagined. Journalists’ adoption of an adversarial relationship with government and big business, along with sympathy for the dispossessed, gave their reporting a distinctly liberal drift. Yet at the same time, “soft news”—lifestyle, arts, entertainment—moved to the forefront of editors’ concerns, as profits took precedence over politics.

Today, the American press stands once again at a precipice. Accusations of political bias are more rampant than ever, and there are increasing calls from activists, customers, advertisers, and reporters themselves to rethink the values that drive the industry. As On Press suggests, today’s controversies—the latest iteration of debates that began a half-century ago—will likely take the press in unforeseen directions and challenge its survival.

 

 

 

A New Translation of Epictetus

9780691177717_0Here’s a good book for Election Day, however it turns out.

Recent years have seen a small revival of Stoicism, perhaps in response to the hypersensitivity that pervades our culture; witness the amazing popularity of Jordan Peterson, especially among young men. Christians often complain about today’s neo-paganism. If the paganism that revives is the Stoic variety, though, things might not be too bad. Conflicts would exist, surely. For example, Stoicism allows for suicide as a moral choice in some circumstances, and could support the movement to legalize euthanasia. Christianity could not. And the Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius didn’t prevent the Empire from persecuting Christians, though it’s not clear how much Marcus himself was involved. But, today, Christianity and Stoicism could get along reasonably well, it seems to me–better, anyway, than Christianity and the other forms of neo-paganism currently on offer.

Last month, Princeton released a new translation of Epictetus by classicist A.A. Long (Cal-Berkeley). Here’s the description of the book, How to Be Free: An Ancient Guide to the Stoic Life, from Princeton’s website:

A superb new edition of Epictetus’s famed handbook on Stoicism—translated by one of the world’s leading authorities on Stoic philosophy

Born a slave, the Roman Stoic philosopher Epictetus (c. 55–135 AD) taught that mental freedom is supreme, since it can liberate one anywhere, even in a prison. In How to Be Free, A. A. Long—one of the world’s leading authorities on Stoicism and a pioneer in its remarkable contemporary revival—provides a superb new edition of Epictetus’s celebrated guide to the Stoic philosophy of life (the Encheiridion) along with a selection of related reflections in his Discourses.

Freedom, for Epictetus, is not a human right or a political prerogative but a psychological and ethical achievement, a gift that we alone can bestow on ourselves. We can all be free, but only if we learn to assign paramount value to what we can control (our motivations and reactions), treat what we cannot control with equanimity, and view our circumstances as opportunities to do well and be well, no matter what happens to us through misfortune or the actions of other people.

How to Be Free features splendid new translations and the original Greek on facing pages, a compelling introduction that sets Epictetus in context and describes the importance of Stoic freedom today, and an invaluable glossary of key words and concepts. The result is an unmatched introduction to this powerful method of managing emotions and handling life’s situations, from the most ordinary to the most demanding.

 

Mitchell, “The Limits of Liberalism”

9780268104290Everywhere today, thinkers are evaluating the continued viability of the liberal project. Some argue that liberalism has run its course, the victim of its own success; others, that liberalism still has something great to offer, if we can salvage it; and others, that the crisis in liberalism is exaggerated and that liberalism is still the only political game in town. A new book from Notre Dame Press, The Limits of Liberalism: Tradition, Individualism, and the Crisis of Freedom, by government professor Mark T. Mitchell (Patrick Henry College), seems to fall in the first camp. Mitchell argues that liberalism’s rejection of tradition has created a false conception of the self, which has led to a false conception of liberty. He argues for a reconstruction of tradition as an antidote to liberalism’s failings. Looks very interesting, especially for those of us involved in the Tradition Project. Here’s the description from the Notre Dame website:

In The Limits of Liberalism, Mark T. Mitchell argues that a rejection of tradition is both philosophically incoherent and politically harmful. This false conception of tradition helps to facilitate both liberal cosmopolitanism and identity politics. The incoherencies are revealed through an investigation of the works of Michael Oakeshott, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Michael Polanyi.

Mitchell demonstrates that the rejection of tradition as an epistemic necessity has produced a false conception of the human person—the liberal self—which in turn has produced a false conception of freedom. This book identifies why most modern thinkers have denied the essential role of tradition and explains how tradition can be restored to its proper place.

Oakeshott, MacIntyre, and Polanyi all, in various ways, emphasize the necessity of tradition, and although these thinkers approach tradition in different ways, Mitchell finds useful elements within each to build an argument for a reconstructed view of tradition and, as a result, a reconstructed view of freedom. Mitchell argues that only by finding an alternative to the liberal self can we escape the incoherencies and pathologies inherent therein.

This book will appeal to undergraduates, graduate students, professional scholars, and educated laypersons in the history of ideas and late modern culture.

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