On American Universalism

At the First Things site today, I have a review of a current exhibit, “Canova’s George Washington,” at the Frick Collection in New York. I argue that Canova’s famous statue of our first President is not a celebration of Enlightenment universalism, but an admonition against the course of empire:

In fact, the Farewell Address, which Canova depicts Washington writing, famously warned Americans against involvement in world revolution. Not only should America “steer clear of permanent alliances” with foreign countries, Washington wrote, she should have “with them as little political connection as possible.” Neutrality with respect to foreign quarrels was the best policy for America.  Why risk the new nation’s peace and prosperity by entangling it in the intrigues of the old?

The context for this warning was, of course, the French Revolution, and the campaign by Jeffersonians to commit the United States to Republican France’s war against Great Britain. Jeffersonians thought the French Revolution, with its universal Declaration of the Rights of Man—all men, everywhere, not just the French—its rationalism, and its destruction of the old regime, was a natural continuation of our own, and thus worthy of American support. But Washington had proclaimed American neutrality in the conflict. The Farewell Address was a rejection of the Jeffersonian, universalist interpretation of our Revolution, and everyone would have seen it that way at the time.

To my mind, then, Canova’s statue doesn’t suggest a celebration of universalism and progress. It suggests, instead, that Americans, like the Romans before us, are apt to stray from republican virtues in a quest for empire, and warns us against such a path.

You can read the whole review at the First Things site, here.

CLR at George Mason Next Month

 

csas-logoNext month, Marc and I will among the speakers at “Religion and the Administrative State,” a conference sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Administrative State at George Mason’s Antonin Scalia Law School. The Center’s Director, Adam White, has put together a very interesting set of panels, including the one on which Marc and I will speak, “The Future of the First Amendment.” The conference, scheduled for September 14, will appeal to anyone with an interest in church-state relations. For details, please check the conference announcement, here.

Kavanaugh (and Kennedy) on Church and State

Judge_Brett_KavanaughAt the Law and Liberty Blog today, I have an essay on how a Justice Kavanaugh would likely rule in church-state cases. I argue he is likely to look a lot like Justice Kennedy, the person he would replace:

It’s always difficult to predict how a nominee would rule in cases once on the Court. The best evidence is the way he has ruled as a lower court judge—and even that evidence is imperfect, since lower court judges have a greater duty than Supreme Court Justices to follow the Court’s precedents. Although he has been on the DC Circuit for a dozen years, Kavanaugh has written only two opinions on the merits in church-state cases, one on establishment and the other on free exercise. (He has written one opinion dismissing an Establishment Clause challenge on standing grounds and joined a few church-state opinions other judges have written, but those opinions are less probative). On the basis of those two opinions, I think Justice Kavanaugh would likely be a centrist conservative in the middle of the Court—a Justice remarkably like the one he would replace.

You can read the whole essay here.

Podcast: “Who Is Brett Kavanaugh?”

gs-FdUf9_400x400Last week, I sat down with First Things‘s senior editor Mark Bauerlein to discuss Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s record on church-state issues and what it might suggest about his future as a Justice. (Bottom line: he’s likely to look a lot like the person he’s replacing). You can listen to the podcast on the First Things site, here.

New Video: The Future of Religious Freedom

The folks at Princeton’s James Madison Program have uploaded the video of my talk there last May on on the future of religious freedom in America. I discuss the rise of the Nones; the growth of the administrative state; our expanding notions of equality; even Tocqueville and pantheism. Oh, I also make some predictions about the then-undecided Masterpiece Cakeshop case, which were not too far off, actually. (That happens now and then). People who are interested can access the video on the Madison Program’s site, or here on our Videos page. Other panelists include John J. DiIulio, Jr. (Penn), Michael Stokes Paulsen (St. Thomas), and Katrina Lantos Swett (Lantos Foundation). Thanks again to the Madison Program for inviting me!

Some Thoughts on Our New Religious Politics

At the First Things site, I have an essay on the religious divide opening up in American politics, between Democrats and Republicans. Based on the increasing number of Nones among party members, Democrats are becoming the non-religious party, and Republicans the religious party. This divide would have been unknown at earlier periods of our history; Tocqueville, for example, famously commented on the absence of religious division in American politics. I predict what our new religious politics may mean for religious liberty. Here’s a snippet:

In short, a new sort of divide appears to be opening up in American politics: Republicans are the religious party, and Democrats are the non-religious party. This new divide may not be stable, of course. The racial and ethnic divisions among Democrats, which closely track the divide between the religious and the non-religious, may cause fissures within the party. African-Americans and Hispanics may press white progressives to make more room for traditional believers. And over time, Nones may make headway in the Republican Party. If current trends continue, though, religion will become a marker of political difference in a way it never has been before.

The new religious divide seems likely to make American politics even more bitter than it already is, particularly with respect to religious liberty. People’s commitment to religious liberty depends on whether they think religion is, on balance, a good thing for individuals and society. If people come to see religion as an obstacle rather than an aid to human flourishing, they are unlikely to sympathize with calls for the free exercise of religion. By definition, Nones reject traditional, organized religion as harmful or, at least, unnecessary. Their growing dominance in the party suggests that arguments in favor of religious freedom will have less and less appeal for Democrats. The divide is likely to be self-reinforcing, as Democrats come to see religious freedom as something only the other party cares about—and therefore something to be resisted. If Tocqueville came back to visit America today, he might not be so surprised.

You can read the whole essay here.

 

 

Movsesian at Princeton This Weekend

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Just an FYI that I’ll be appearing at Princeton this weekend at the annual Madison Program conference, the theme of which this year is, “Taking the Measure of Where We Are Today.” I’ll be speaking on the panel, “Religious Freedom at Home and Abroad,” on Friday afternoon at 1:30, along with John DiIulio, Jr., Michael Stokes Paulsen, and Katrina Lantos Swett. Readers of the blog, stop by and say hello!

CLR at Princeton, First Things

The semester’s winding down, but both Marc and I have been busy this week. This afternoon, I’ll be commenting on Brian Hutler’s paper, “Conscientious Objection or Political Protest, But Not Both,” at a conference on law and complicity at Princeton’s University Center for Human Values. I’m grateful to the conference organizer, Amy Sepinwall, for inviting me. L&R Forum readers, stop by and say hello! And yesterday, Marc and I participated in a worthwhile Dulles Memorial colloquium at First Things Magazine. The subject of the colloquium was Rick Garnett’s new paper on establishments. It was a great opportunity to think again about the compatibility of liberalism and state religions, and to catch up with old friends and make new ones. Thanks to Rusty Reno and the First Things team for inviting us!

On the Future of Religious Freedom

For those who are interested, yesterday the Liberty Law site posted an essay I wrote on the possible future of religious freedom in the United States (“The Powerful Headwinds Confronting Religious Freedom“). In the essay, I describe the powerful cultural and political trends, especially religious polarization and an ever-expanding notion of equality, that make religious freedom increasingly problematic, especially for members of traditional religious groups. Here’s an excerpt:

The increasing religious polarization suggests that, unlike in the past, traditional believers cannot count on a widespread, if thin, cultural sympathy for their commitments. A large and growing percentage of Americans has no experience of traditional religion—and, to the extent it has had such experience, rejects it. Disagreements and misunderstandings are likely to be amplified by the fact that Nones overwhelmingly reject traditional teachings about sexuality, which they see as psychologically damaging and essentially unjust, an affront to the dignity of persons. It’s not coincidental that so many of our current disputes about religious liberty, like Masterpiece Cakeshop and Hobby Lobby, involve sexuality in some way.

Another cultural trend that should worry traditional believers is Americans’ expanding concept of equality. For many Americans, equality no longer means simply equality before the law. Rather, it means a rejection generally of distinctions among groups and individuals, including religious distinctions—a rejection of “difference per se.” Beliefs and practices that exclude outsiders from a religious community are presumptively suspect, because of the implicit judgments they suggest: some groups, apparently, think their beliefs and ways of life superior to others’. Such judgments seem impolite, ungenerous, and inconsistent with the spirit of true equality, which requires that each religion acknowledge the basic correctness of all the others.

The expansive notion of equality—equality as sameness—poses challenges for traditional religious groups, most of which continue to insist, as a matter of religious conviction, on maintaining boundaries with the followers of other religions. This doesn’t mean hostile relations, necessarily, only boundaries. For example, some evangelical student groups, while encouraging charity toward everyone, limit their membership to persons who share their faith commitments. Such limitations are apt to seem arbitrary and illegitimate to many Americans. In fact, a number of religious-liberty cases involve universities’ decisions to deny religiously “exclusive” student organizations access to campus.

You can read the whole essay here.

Thanks to the Madison Program

Just a note to thank Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions for hosting a faculty workshop yesterday on my current draft, “The Future of Religious Freedom.” I gained a lot from the discussion. Looking forward to dinner with the undergraduate fellows this evening!

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