Video of Last Week’s Panel on Christian Persecution

For those who are interested, Fordham’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center has posted a video of last week’s panel on the the persecution of Mideast Christians, in which I participated, along with Sidney Griffith (Catholic University), James Skedros (Hellenic College/Holy Cross Seminary), and Samuel Tadros (Hudson Institute). Fordham’s George Demacopoulous served as moderator. Have a look:

Video of Sir Roger Scruton’s Tradition Project Lecture Now Available

Last month in New York, Sir Roger Scruton gave the keynote speech at our second Tradition Project conference, “Tradition, Culture, and Citizenship.” A video of Sir Roger’s speech is now available below:

Good and Evil at Notre Dame

I’m delighted to be participating in the annual conference of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, which begins tomorrow and runs through Saturday. This year’s theme is “Through Every Human Heart” and focuses on ideas of good and evil.

I’m on a criminal law panel moderated by Rick Garnett and together with Cecelia Klingele, John Stinneford, and Meghan Ryan. My remarks will consider the fate of evil as a concept in scholarship about criminal law and punishment. If I have some time left over, I’ll talk about good too. My general thesis is that both of these ideas are basically irrelevant in academic discussion of criminal law (I wrote something about this years ago in an old blog post…time flies).

New paper: “On the Uses of anti-Christian Identity Politics”

Here’s another new paper of mine: On the Uses of anti-Christian Identity Politics. The abstract is below.

This short essay, written for a conference on “Faith, Sexuality, and the Meaning of Freedom” held at Yale Law School in January 2017, briefly explores the emerging phenomenon of anti-Christian identity politics. The essay focuses on one particular legal source of it: a recondite provision of the so-called Treaty of Tripoli of 1796, which states that “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” The uses to which the phrase has been put, it turns out, are more important than its confused and obscure historical meaning. In evaluating anti-Christian identity politics in only some of these uses, the essay considers the recent claim by Professor Mark Lilla that contemporary Americans — and American liberals in particular — ought to abandon “the politics of identity” in favor of a politics of shared citizenship.

Lilla is right that identity politics as practiced today have further corroded the commonalities that remain among Americans. Identity politics also render compromise on various culture-war issues more difficult: any policy or legal victory for the opposition, however small, assumes additional symbolic power and must therefore be resisted all the more fiercely. Yet the pathologies of identity politics are only symptoms of a more potent sickness in American political and cultural life. Americans, as citizens, share less and less. They disagree in deepening ways about the nature of the political and moral good, about justice, and about what sort of people they are and aspire to be. In short, identity politics are not the cause of, but a response to, political and cultural fragmentation. And anti-Christian identity politics, like Christian identity politics, represent one strain of that response — one ostensible point of rendezvous for a nation whose people are increasingly disaffected with and alienated from one another.

New paper: “The Two Separations”

Here’s a new paper of mine, The Two Separations. Here’s the abstract:

There is nothing self-evidently attractive about separation — whether of church and state or anything else — as a model for individual or collective life. Pursuing separation is not like pursuing knowledge or friendship — ends that are intrinsically good. Separation must be justified by some contingent reason. Though the Constitution speaks of the free exercise of “religion” and “religion’s” non-establishment, much of the confusion about separation as an American civic ideal results from a failure to focus on the specifically historical and contingent justifications for it. These justifications concern not “religion” in general or in the abstract but Christianity in specific — Christianity being, as a historical and cultural matter, the central religious tradition of the United States.

These historical justifications have taken two cardinal forms. The first concerns the politico-theological benefits that are believed to devolve onto Christian churches, or onto Christian believers, from division from the state, and the general social and political advantages derived therefrom. The second involves the secular benefits to the liberal democratic state of unbreachable barriers against the civic and cultural influence of Christianity. The first justification is more ancient, but the second is more powerful today. The first is oriented positively, and the second negatively, toward the cultural and political value of Christianity in the United States. The first sees Christianity as precious. The second sees it as irrelevant or even obnoxious.

This chapter distinguishes and explores the two separations — separation as a specifically Christian piece of political theology, in large part for the benefit of a Christian civil society; and separation as a specifically secular position for the benefit of a liberal society that wishes to divest from and repudiate Christianity. It then describes the allure of equality and nondiscrimination as church-state ideals, their ascendancy in late twentieth century constitutional law, and the sense in which they are believed to have supplanted separation.

But neither equality nor nondiscrimination delivers what it promises: a valueless perspective on the social and political worth of Christianity. In fact, their perspective is decidedly negative. The chapter explains this claim by comparing the use of these principles in the contexts of race and sex discrimination, where the overriding assumption is that race and sex are fundamentally irrelevant considerations, and obnoxious and illegitimate bases on which to make laws and to order society. Transposed to the context of religion — and, as this chapter argues, the transposition in reality concerns Christianity specifically — a similar assumption holds: that Christianity is fundamentally an irrelevant, or even an obnoxious, and illegitimate, influence in the making of laws or the structuring of the cultural and political realms. Indeed, in a society in which Christianity has had such overwhelming predominance, insisting on equality is tantamount to squelching it. This view is not neutral as to the value of Christianity in contemporary American politics and society. It is nothing less than an expression of the second separation.

The Clash of Traditions

tradition_banner_1_navyAt the Liberty Law site this morning, I have an essay on our recent Tradition Project conference in Trento, and what it reveals about the different understandings of tradition in American and Russian thought. For me, the conference shows how Samuel Huntington was right 20 years ago, when he described how a clash of civilizations would characterize the post-war world:

I thought a great deal about Huntington at a conference I helped organize last month in Trento, Italy, on tradition in American and Russian thought. Cosponsored by the Tradition Project at the St. John’s Center for Law and Religion, the Postsecular Conflicts Project at the University of Innsbruck, and Center for Religious Studies at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler, the conference brought together American, European, and Russian commentators to discuss the use of tradition in law and politics in the two countries. Given the way that Russo-American relations have dominated world politics lately, it seemed an important topic.

Tradition is an exceptionally complicated concept and the participants in the conference expressed a variety of views. The Russian scholars, in particular, disagreed among themselves about precisely what is going on in their country right now (more on this in a bit). But, for me at least, the conference confirmed the basic correctness of Huntington’s insights. People disposed to favor tradition in Russia and America often understand the concept very differently.

Consider religious freedom. For the past several years, Russian church and government officials have argued strenuously that cultural traditions can legitimately limit the exercise of religion. Both Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church and President Putin have argued that cultural traditions deserve respect because they reflect eternal truths and embody a people’s morality. Because traditions have a moral character, states can legitimately act to protect them from outside forces. States can, for example, legitimately limit proselytism by new religious groups that threaten to undermine traditional religious communities and values. This attitude is behind a ban Russia recently imposed on the activities of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a ban the country’s Supreme Court sustained.

Some American traditionalists have a similar understanding of the moral value of tradition. But most, it’s fair to say, do not. As a rule, American conservatives do not defend tradition on the basis of unchanging moral verities or the right of nations to defend their cultures from foreign threats. American traditionalism is more pragmatic and empirical.

With all that’s going on now–and I mean right now, as the Trump-Putin meeting today and Trump’s speech in Warsaw yesterday–readers might find the essay interesting. You can find it here.

 

Writeup of Last Week’s Event in Trent

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Last week’s gathering at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler in Trent, Italy

 

The Fondazione Bruno Kessler has posted this report of our conference on tradition and traditionalism in American and Russian thought. The conference, at the Fondazione’s headquarters in Trent, Italy, was a very worthwhile event. The discussions revealed significant differences, and some similarities, in how American and Russian scholars perceive tradition and tradition’s proper role in law and politics.

For me, the most interesting discussions were those that revealed the differences among us. From the American side, some of us were concerned with carving out space for traditional communities in the larger society; others were more interested in placing tradition at the center of legal debate. Some argued that tradition is already more central to that debate than it sometimes seems.

On the Russian side, some participants took the Russian Church’s recent advocacy of traditional values as a serious critique of liberalism, one that resonates with consistent themes in Orthodox thought. Others, by contrast, argued that “traditional values” are a recent, post-Soviet construct, even a pretext.

The Postsecular Conflicts Project will publish an online collection of participants’ essays later this year. Meanwhile, let me say thanks again, on behalf of the Center, to Kristina Stoeckl, Pasquale Annicchino, Marco Ventura, and their very capable staffs, for being such good hosts. Let’s do it again soon!

Center Co-Sponsoring Conference on Tradition in America and Russia Next Week in Trent

tradition_banner_1_navyNext week, Marc and I will travel to the Italian city of Trent for an important conference, “Tradition and Traditionalisms Compared,” at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler. The conference, which our Center’s Tradition Project is co-sponsoring with the Postsecular Conflicts Project at the University of Innsbruck, will gather scholars and commentators from the US and Europe to consider the competing understandings of tradition in American and Russian law and politics. It’s a great lineup of participants, and with all that’s going on in the world today, a very timely topic.

From the Tradition Project, aside from Marc and me, the participants include Patrick Deneen (Notre Dame), Rod Dreher (The American Conservative), Michael Moreland (Villanova), and Adrian Vermeule (Harvard). The other participants are listed in the conference program, which you can find here. From the papers people have submitted, it looks like we will have a candid and productive discussion on deep issues–exactly what one hopes for in a scholarly community.

We’ll have a report on the conference after the event. Meanwhile, let me say that we’ve been delighted to plan this program with Kristina Stoeckl (Innsbruck) and Pasquale Annicchino (EUI), and that we look forward to seeing everyone in Trento next week!

Tradition and Traditionalisms Compared: A Joint Program of the Tradition Project and the Post-Secular Conflicts Project

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I’m very pleased to announce this conference, to be held in Trento, Italy, on June 12-13, which my colleague, Mark Movsesian, and I are putting on jointly with Professor Kristina Stoeckl of the University of Innsbruck, Professor Pasquale Annicchino of the European University Institute, and Professor Marco Ventura, the Head of the Religious Studies Program at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler.

The conference will compare tradition and traditionalism in the Anglo-American and Russian historical experience (for those who do not know Professor Stoeckl’s very fine book on Russian Orthodoxy and human rights, allow me to recommend it). Mark and I will have more by and by with the meeting’s proceedings.

There is something fitting about American and Russian scholars descending on the Dolomites and the locus of the Concilium Tridentinum to discuss and reflect on the respective traditions that they study.

Fake Law

Though that could well describe President Trump’s “Executive Order on Religious Liberty” issued yesterday, I have something different in mind in this article. A bit:

Welcome to the rise of fake law. Just as fake news spreads ideologically motivated misinformation with a newsy veneer, fake law brings us judicial posturing, virtue signaling, and opinionating masquerading as jurisprudence. And just as fake news augurs the end of authoritative reporting, fake law portends the diminution of law’s legitimacy and the warping of judges’ self-understanding of their constitutional role.

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