Justice Scalia “On Faith”

Seven years ago, we were deeply honored to host Justice Antonin Scalia at our inaugural Colloquium in Law and Religion. We prepared all of the Justice’s cases in the field and then listened, in a small setting, as the Justice discussed them and answered our questions. I had the chance to co-teach a constitutional law class with the Justice. I won’t ever forget it.

It therefore brings me special pleasure to note this new book, published posthumously, collecting Justice Scalia’s occasional essays, lectures, and reflections on religious faith. The book is On Faith: Lessons from an American Believer (Penguin Random House) (with a foreword by Justice Clarence Thomas).

“Antonin Scalia reflected deeply on matters of religion and shared his insights with many audiences over the course of his remarkable career. As a Supreme Court justice for three decades, he vigorously defended the American constitutional tradition of allowing religion a prominent place in the public square. As a man of faith, he recognized the special challenges of living a distinctively religious life in modern America, and he inspired other believers to meet those challenges.

This volume contains Justice Scalia’s incisive thoughts on these matters, laced with his characteristic wit. It includes outstanding speeches featured in Scalia Speaks and also draws from his Supreme Court opinions and his articles. In addition to the introduction by Fr. Scalia, other highlights include Fr. Scalia’s beautiful homily at his father’s funeral Mass and reminiscences from various friends and law clerks whose lives were influenced by Antonin Scalia’s faith.”

The Conformity of Diversity

Very few ideas have come to dominate higher education more completely in the past decade or so than “diversity and inclusion.” No university I know of doubts the value of “diversity and inclusion” in any of its several meanings, and all have undertaken extensive administrative, personnel-oriented, and programmatic initiatives on its behalf. It is widely thought to be one of the unquestioned, and unquestionable, intrinsic goods of higher education–perhaps even one of its preeminent goods to rival the pursuit of knowledge itself. Conformity with the orthodoxy of “diversity and inclusion” is today expected and, in many cases, enforced through various accrediting and other administrative mechanisms.

A new book of essays puts the intrinsic worth of “diversity” into question and debate: Diversity, Conformity, and Conscience in Contemporary America (Rowman & Littlefield), edited by Bradley C.S. Watson, and with contributions by some of our Center friends including Matt Franck and Phillip Muñoz.

“America is a nation that celebrates diversity and freedom of conscience. Yet, as Alexis de Tocqueville observed, democratic times often demand conformity. Nowadays, conformity might be enforced in the name of diversity itself, and go so far as to infringe on the rights of conscience, expression, association, and religious freedom. Americans have recently been confronted by this paradox in various ways, from federal health care mandates, to campus speech codes, to consumer boycotts, to public intimidation, to vexatious litigation, to private corporations dismissing employees for expressing certain political views. In this book, Bradley C. S. Watson brings together leading thinkers from a variety of disciplines to examine the manner and extent to which conformity is demanded by contemporary American law and social practice. Contributors also consider the long-term results of such demands for conformity for the health—and even survival—of a constitutional republic.”

The Central Symbol of American Conflict?

In recently thinking about the disagreements–many of them extremely acrimonious and deeply felt–about the presence of the large cross in Maryland to honor fallen soldiers in World War I (which the Supreme Court will pronounce on, but not resolve, shortly), I’ve wondered whether those disagreements reflect a deeper set of conflicts, or whether they instead sit on the surface of relative concord and agreement about American political and social life.

A new book seems to suggest something like the former possibility, that religion very often has been the key or central symbol of our deepest national political conflicts (though I would think race has at least an equal claim). The book is America’s Religious Wars: The Embattled Heart of Our Public Life (Yale University Press), by Kathleen M. Sands. Indeed, even the way that the blurb puts the constitutional status of the wall-of-separation metaphor is a hotly contested matter in American public life.

“When Americans fight about “religion,” we are also fighting about our conflicting identities, interests, and commitments. Religion-talk has been a ready vehicle for these conflicts because it is built on enduring contradictions within our core political values. The Constitution treats religion as something to be confined behind a wall, but in public communications, the Framers treated religion as the foundation of the American republic. Ever since, Americans have translated disagreements on many other issues into an endless debate about the role of religion in our public life.

Built around a set of compelling narratives—George Washington’s battle with Quaker pacifists; the fight of Mormons and Catholics for equality with Protestants; Teddy Roosevelt’s concept of land versus the Lakota’s concept; the creation-evolution controversy; and the struggle over sexuality—this book shows how religion, throughout American history, has symbolized, but never resolved, our deepest political questions.”

Another One for #SpeechConstriction

I’ve got a running list of new books by academics arguing for theories of speech constriction, in public and private contexts, on the basis of some competing value or set of values. A very popular value in these sorts of proposals is “equality,” but there are many others, as I discuss here.

These typical (indeed, altogether conventional at this point) characteristics of the new speech constriction come together nicely in this new book, What Snowflakes Get Right: Free Speech, Truth, and Equality on Campus (Oxford University Press), by NYU literature and new media professor Ulrich Baer. It is telling that the author “pits” “students’ welfare” as an educational interest opposed to “free inquiry and open debate.” That suggests that free inquiry and open debate in the ongoing pursuit of knowledge, one of the features of the university believed, as a historical matter, to be absolutely fundamental, has new and incompatible rivals in the minds of at least some prominent academicians.

Incidentally, the ancient university such as Paris and Bologna, and even the early American Christian college (see e.g., George Marsden’s The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief), had a much more communitarian orientation–one very much attuned to questions of “truth,” as Baer has it. In the case of the American colleges, this was all before the German research model of the university was imported to the US and radically transformed colleges like Harvard and Yale. Of course, the substantive communal commitments of these earlier models were distinctive and bear little resemblance to the equality-dominant approach being pressed in books like Baer’s, whose description is below.

“Angry debates about polarizing speakers have roiled college campuses. Conservatives accuse universities of muzzling unpopular opinions, betraying their values of open inquiry; students sympathetic to the left openly advocate against completely unregulated speech, asking for “safe spaces” and protection against visiting speakers and even curricula they feel disrespects them. Some even call these students “snowflakes”-too fragile to be exposed to opinions and ideas that challenge their worldviews. How might universities resolve these debates about free speech, which pit their students’ welfare against the university’s commitment to free inquiry and open debate?

Ulrich Baer here provides a new way of looking at this dilemma. He explains how the current dichotomy is false and is not really about the feelings of offended students, or protecting an open marketplace of ideas. Rather, what is really at stake is our democracy’s commitment to equality, and the university’s critical role as an arbiter of truth. He shows how and why free speech has become the rallying cry that forges an otherwise uneasy alliance of liberals and ultra-conservatives, and why this First Amendment absolutism is untenable in law and society in general. He draws on law, philosophy, and his extensive experience as a university administrator to show that the lens of equality can resolve this impasse, and can allow the university to serve as a model for democracy that upholds both truth and equality as its founding principles.”

On Institutional Collapse and Social Alienation

Only a generation ago, theorists like Christopher Lasch were talking about two American cultural groups–a lower-middle-class culture that valued continuity, place, and institutional loyalty, and an upper-class, elite culture that valued mobility, rootlessness, and individuality. But since the time that Lasch and others like him wrote, the first group has been decimated, and one of the primary reasons for its fall has been the destruction of its communal institutions, including its religious ones.

A new and interesting book by Timothy P. Carney discusses and elaborates on this view–and in particular the effect that the collapse of churches as social institutions has had on the lower-middle class: Alienated America: While Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse (HarperCollins).

“Respected conservative journalist and commentator Timothy P. Carney continues the conversation begun with Hillbilly Elegyand the classic Bowling Alone in this hard-hitting analysis that identifies the true factor behind the decline of the American dream: it is not purely the result of economics as the left claims, but the collapse of the institutions that made us successful, including marriage, church, and civic life.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump proclaimed, “the American dream is dead,” and this message resonated across the country.

Why do so many people believe that the American dream is no longer within reach? Growing inequality, stubborn pockets of immobility, rising rates of deadly addiction, the increasing and troubling fact that where you start determines where you end up, heightening political strife—these are the disturbing realities threatening ordinary American lives today.

The standard accounts pointed to economic problems among the working class, but the root was a cultural collapse: While the educated and wealthy elites still enjoy strong communities, most blue-collar Americans lack strong communities and institutions that bind them to their neighbors. And outside of the elites, the central American institution has been religion

That is, it’s not the factory closings that have torn us apart; it’s the church closings. The dissolution of our most cherished institutions—nuclear families, places of worship, civic organizations—has not only divided us, but eroded our sense of worth, belief in opportunity, and connection to one another.

In Alienated America, Carney visits all corners of America, from the dim country bars of Southwestern Pennsylvania., to the bustling Mormon wards of Salt Lake City, and explains the most important data and research to demonstrate how the social connection is the great divide in America. He shows that Trump’s surprising victory was the most visible symptom of this deep-seated problem. In addition to his detailed exploration of how a range of societal changes have, in tandem, damaged us, Carney provides a framework that will lead us back out of a lonely, modern wilderness.”

“Religion in the Modern World”

Here is a new book by the noted religious studies scholar Keith Ward that seems to fall under our general remit here at the center, and that argues for religious tolerance and co-existence (both surely good things): Religion in the Modern World: Celebrating Pluralism and Diversity (Cambridge University Press).

“The subject of religious diversity is of growing significance, with its associated problems of religious pluralism and inter-faith dialogue. Moreover, since the European Enlightenment, religions have had to face new, existential challenges. Is there a future for religions? How will they have to change? Can they co-exist peacefully? In this book, Keith Ward brings new insights to these questions. Applying historical and philosophical approaches, he explores how we can establish truth among so many diverse religions. He explains how religions have evolved over time and how they are reacting to the challenges posed by new scientific and moral beliefs. A celebration of the diversity in the world’s religions, Ward’s timely book also deals with the possibility and necessity of religious tolerance and co-existence.”

An Intellectual History of “The Pursuit of Happiness”

Everyone knows the famous lines of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” “Happiness” is actually mentioned again later as one of the objects for which government is instituted in the first place. But what exactly is “happiness” (and where in this formulation did “property” go?).

Here is a new book that explores the intellectual history of the subject: The Pursuit of Happiness: An Intellectual History (University of Missouri Press), by Carli N. Conklin.

“Scholars have long debated the meaning of the pursuit of happiness, yet have tended to define it narrowly, focusing on a single intellectual tradition, and on the use of the term within a single text, the Declaration of Independence. In this insightful volume, Carli Conklin considers the pursuit of happiness across a variety of intellectual traditions, and explores its usage in two key legal texts of the Founding Era, the Declaration and William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England.

For Blackstone, the pursuit of happiness was a science of jurisprudence, by which his students could know, and then rightly apply, the first principles of the Common Law. For the founders, the pursuit of happiness was the individual right to pursue a life lived in harmony with the law of nature and a public duty to govern in accordance with that law. Both applications suggest we consider anew how the phrase, and its underlying legal philosophies, were understood in the founding era. With this work, Conklin makes important contributions to the fields of early American intellectual and legal history.”

“Democratizing” Europe (other than in the way that it is presently democratizing)

From Harvard University Press, a book of essays examining how to “democratize” Europe, How to Democratize Europe. Yet the book seems to take the point of view of democratizing it through the mechanisms and implementation of international bodies like the European Union, rather than through the populist and nationalist movements and ideas that are actually on the rise in Europe. A very prominent list of contributors (“all star,” as HUP has it), including the celebrated author Thomas Piketty and others.

“The European Union is struggling. The rise of Euroskeptic parties in member states, economic distress in the south, the migrant crisis, and Brexit top the news. But deeper structural problems may be a greater long-term peril. Not least is the economic management of the Eurozone, the nineteen countries that use the Euro. How can this be accomplished in a way generally acceptable to members, given a political system whose structures are routinely decried for a lack of democratic accountability? How can the EU promote fiscal and social justice while initiating the long-term public investments that Europe needs to overcome stagnation? These are the problems a distinguished group of European and American scholars set out to solve in this short but valuable book.

Among many longstanding grievances is the charge that Eurozone policies serve large and wealthy countries at the expense of poorer nations. It is also unclear who decides economic policy, how the interests of diverse member states are balanced, and to whom the decision-makers are accountable. The four lead authors—Stéphanie Hennette, Thomas Piketty, Guillaume Sacriste, and Antoine Vauchez—describe these and other problems, and respond with a draft treaty establishing a parliament for economic policy, its members drawn from national parliaments. We then hear from invited critics, who express support, objections, or alternative ideas.”

But Who Exactly Is For Hate?

In our latest Legal Spirits podcast, Mark and I tackled the public side of regulating so-called “hate speech.” Our next podcast will deal with the private side–private pressure to conform to a standard of speech considered non-hateful.

It may suggest something about how fragmented public debate has become that one of the only subjects one can come to consensus about is that one should not be “hateful.” The “bare desire to harm,” as the Supreme Court has put it, is one of the last remaining non-controversial moral propositions.

Here is a new book that argues against “hate” and for lots of the notions that people seem to champion today (diversity, inclusivity, liberalism, and so on), but it makes me wonder whether there is really anybody out there who would disagree, at least with the proposition about hatred. Who, exactly, is for hate? The book is Against Hate (Polity Press) by the German author Carolin Emcke.

“Racism, extremism, anti-democratic sentiment – our increasingly polarized world is dominated by a type of thinking that doubts others’ positions but never its own.

In a powerful challenge to fundamentalism in all its forms, Carolin Emcke, one of Germany’s leading intellectuals, argues that we can only preserve individual freedom and protect people’s rights by cherishing and celebrating diversity. If we want to safeguard democracy, we must have the courage to challenge hatred and the will to fight for and defend plurality in our societies. Emcke rises to the challenge that identitarian dogmas and populist narratives pose, exposing the way in which they simplify and distort our perception of the world.

Against Hate  is an impassioned call to fight intolerance and defend liberal ideals. It will be of great interest to anyone concerned about the darkening politics of our time and searching for ways forward.”

On the tradition of Catholicism

Here is an interesting book of essays that explores and reflects on the concept of tradition within and from the perspective of Catholicism: Living the Catholic Tradition: Philosophical and Theological Considerations (Catholic University Press), edited by Renée Köhler-Ryan.

“Every aspect of human life is influenced by traditions. Whether at home, at work, or at leisure, what we do and say has developed out of inherited beliefs, ideas, and practices. But how often do we stop to reflect on the importance of traditions? Understanding tradition means coming to know ourselves better, and so considering tradition from different perspectives is a worthwhile pursuit.

Traditionally, Catholic thought has relied on philosophers and theologians to reflect on, develop, and pass along what really matters to the next generation. This book brings together the work of an international team of such scholars, who gathered for a conference at the Catholic University of Notre Dame Australia (Sydney) to reflect together on the perennial significance of traditions. Living the Catholic Tradition examines, philosophically and theologically, how traditions are not a thing from the past. It engages with biblical scholarship, systematic theology, moral philosophy and theology, political philosophy, and the arts. Readers will come away from reading this book ready to continue the tradition of thinking deeply about what matters to vibrant communities of belief and practice.”

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