Congratulations to Center Board Member Judge Richard Sullivan! Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Rich to a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. For people keeping track, Rich is the second participant in our Center’s Tradition Project to be named to the federal appeals court. The other is Stephanos Bibas, now on the Third Circuit. We like to think our record speaks for itself.
Forum readers in the New York area should try to attend a fantastic-looking event here next month. Our friend at the University Bookman, Gerald Russello, is co-sponsoring a discussion between Patrick Deneen and Phillip Muñoz (both Notre Dame) on “The Crisis of Liberalism.” Patrick, Gerald, and Philip are all participants in our Tradition Project, and Phillip, whose work was the subject of a symposium here on the Forum last year, will also present a paper in our law-and-religion colloquium later in November. But we like to spread the wealth around. Details about the event, to take place on November 6, can be found at the link.
From Routledge, here is a collection of essays on the work of Christos Yannaras, one of the most important Orthodox Christian theologians working today: Christos Yannaras: Philosophy, Theology, Culture. In the Orthodox world, Yannaras is known for his skepticism about much contemporary human-rights discourse, which, he believes, is too heavily influenced by Western individualism. His work is therefore a challenge to easy assumptions about the universality of international human rights–a topic we will address at our Tradition Project meeting later this year in Rome.
The Routledge collection is edited by Andreas Andreopoulous (University of Winchester, UK) and Demetrios Harper (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki). The publisher’s description follows:
Christos Yannaras is one of the most significant Orthodox theologians of recent times. The work of Yannaras is virtually synonymous with a turn or renaissance of Orthodox philosophy and theology, initially within Greece, but as the present volume confirms, well beyond it. His work engages not only with issues of philosophy and theology, but also takes in wider questions of culture and politics.
With contributions from established and new scholars, the book is divided into three sections, which correspond to the main directions that Christos Yannaras has followed – philosophy, theology, and culture – and reflects on the ways in which Yannaras has engaged and influenced thought across these fields, in addition to themes including ecclesiology, tradition, identity, and ethics.
This volume facilitates the dialogue between the thought of Yannaras, which is expressed locally yet is relevant globally, and Western Christian thinkers. It will be of great interest to scholars of Orthodox and Eastern Christian theology and philosophy, as well as theology more widely.
Sir Roger Scruton delivered the keynote address at our second Tradition Project meeting in New York, in 2017. You can see the video of his address over on the sidebar and on our Videos page. Princeton University Press has just released the paperback edition of Sir Roger’s latest work, On Human Nature, a naturalistic argument for the uniqueness of human nature. Humans are unique, on this view, not because we bear the image of God, but because we have the unique capacity for self-reflection. Whether Scruton avoids Christian metaphysics because he does not believe, or because he thinks his work will be more accessible to contemporary readers without them, I don’t know. Sir Roger’s work is always interesting and worthwhile, though, and this looks to be no exception. The publisher’s description follows:
In this short book, acclaimed writer and philosopher Roger Scruton presents an original and radical defense of human uniqueness. Confronting the views of evolutionary psychologists, utilitarian moralists, and philosophical materialists such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, Scruton argues that human beings cannot be understood simply as biological objects. We are not only human animals; we are also persons, in essential relation with other persons, and bound to them by obligations and rights. Our world is a shared world, exhibiting freedom, value, and accountability, and to understand it we must address other people face to face and I to I.
Scruton develops and defends his account of human nature by ranging widely across intellectual history, from Plato and Averroës to Darwin and Wittgenstein. The book begins with Kant’s suggestion that we are distinguished by our ability to say “I”—by our sense of ourselves as the centers of self-conscious reflection. This fact is manifested in our emotions, interests, and relations. It is the foundation of the moral sense, as well as of the aesthetic and religious conceptions through which we shape the human world and endow it with meaning. And it lies outside the scope of modern materialist philosophy, even though it is a natural and not a supernatural fact. Ultimately, Scruton offers a new way of understanding how self-consciousness affects the question of how we should live.
The result is a rich view of human nature that challenges some of today’s most fashionable ideas about our species.
To start off our book posts this week, here is a forthcoming volume from Edward Elgar that looks great, the Research Handbook on Law and Religion, edited by our friend, Rex Adhar (University of Otago, New Zealand). The list of contributors, including our sometime guest bloggers, Michael Helfand and Steve Smith, and Tradition Project participants Perry Dane and Hans-Martien ten Napel (also Steve, wearing a different hat!), is quite impressive, indeed. The volume addresses law and religion from a comparative perspective, which is always helpful. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
Offering an interdisciplinary, international and philosophical perspective, this comprehensive Research Handbook explores both perennial and recent legal issues that concern the modern state and its interaction with religious communities and individuals.
Providing in-depth, original analysis the book includes studies of a wide array of nation states, such as India and Turkey, which each have their own complex issues centered on law, religion and the interactions between the two. Longstanding issues of religious liberty are explored such as the right of conscientious objection, religious confession privilege and the wearing of religious apparel. The contested meanings of the secular state and religious neutrality are revisited from different perspectives and the reality of the international human rights protections for religious freedom are analysed.
Timely and astute, this discerning Research Handbook will be a valuable resource for both academics and researchers interested in the many topics surrounding law and religion. Lawyers and practitioners will also appreciate the clarity with which the rights of religious liberty, and the challenges in making these compatible with state law, are presented.
For this June Friday, a book right down the Tradition Project fairway, which may be useful reading for the upcoming gathering of the Project in Rome, Italy, in the winter of 2018 (more soon about this): The Limits of Liberalism: Tradition, Individualism, and the Crisis of Freedom (ND Press), by political scientist Mark T. Mitchell.
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.
I’m a little late posting this, but I’d like to thank Professor Philip Hamburger and the Morningside Institute’s Nathaniel Peters for inviting me to participate earlier this month in a session of Columbia Law School’s Reading Group in the American Constitutional Tradition. The Reading Group is a for-credit seminar for 2Ls, 3Ls, and LLM students at Columbia Law. For the session in which I participated, the students read excerpts from Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Among the issues we discussed in class were Tocqueville’s famous observation that lawyers form a sort of conservative aristocracy in America, a class of quasi-mystics with the ability to speak oracularly in the name of tradition. We still try around here. #TraditionProject
The more I think about it, the more I come to see that law is downstream of culture. Of course, law affects culture, too. The anti-discrimination laws have helped to shape our culture’s understanding of racial justice. The Court’s school-prayer decision shaped public education, which changed the way Americans understand the place of religion in our daily life. There are lots of examples. And yet, I think, culture influences law much more than the other way around. So many legal doctrines, especially in the church-and-state context, turn on cultural understandings. For example, what is a compelling interest that justifies restricting religious liberty? What would a reasonable observer infer from a public religious display? And so on.
The importance of culture was a theme of our center’s most recent Tradition Project meeting last November, which included a keynote by Sir Roger Scruton. But culture is not only an interest of conservatives. Last week, Yale University Press released a new book by the Marxist literary critic, Terry Eagleton, Culture, which addresses some of the same themes and authors as our November conference. Eagleton, a professor at the University of Lancaster in Britain, is famous, among other things, for his take-down of the new atheism about a decade ago. Here’s the description of his new book from the Yale website:
One of our most brilliant minds offers a sweeping intellectual history that argues for the reclamation of culture’s value
Culture is a defining aspect of what it means to be human. Defining culture and pinpointing its role in our lives is not, however, so straightforward. Terry Eagleton, one of our foremost literary and cultural critics, is uniquely poised to take on the challenge. In this keenly analytical and acerbically funny book, he explores how culture and our conceptualizations of it have evolved over the last two centuries—from rarified sphere to humble practices, and from a bulwark against industrialism’s encroaches to present-day capitalism’s most profitable export. Ranging over art and literature as well as philosophy and anthropology, and major but somewhat “unfashionable” thinkers like Johann Gottfried Herder and Edmund Burke as well as T. S. Eliot, Matthew Arnold, Raymond Williams, and Oscar Wilde, Eagleton provides a cogent overview of culture set firmly in its historical and theoretical contexts, illuminating its collusion with colonialism, nationalism, the decline of religion, and the rise of and rule over the “uncultured” masses. Eagleton also examines culture today, lambasting the commodification and co-option of a force that, properly understood, is a vital means for us to cultivate and enrich our social lives, and can even provide the impetus to transform civil society.
This is not a law-and-religion book, but it is co-written by one of the participants in our Center’s Tradition Project, Stephanos Bibas, who recently left his position at the University of Pennsylvania Law school for a seat on the Third Circuit, and it looks to be of interest to anyone concerned about our legal system and the potential for technology to improve it. Tradition doesn’t mean stagnation, and there’s no reason why traditionalists must in principle oppose new technologies. As long as those new technologies don’t displace law professors, that is. The book is Rebooting Justice: More Technology, Fewer Lawyers, and the Future of Law, co-written by Bibas and law professor Benjamin Barton (Tennessee). Here is the description from the publisher, Encounter Books:
America is a nation founded on justice and the rule of law. But our laws are too complex, and legal advice too expensive, for poor and even middle-class Americans to get help and vindicate their rights. Criminal defendants facing jail time may receive an appointed lawyer who is juggling hundreds of cases and immediately urges them to plead guilty. Civil litigants are even worse off; usually, they get no help at all navigating the maze of technical procedures and rules. The same is true of those seeking legal advice, like planning a will or negotiating an employment contract.
Rebooting Justice presents a novel response to longstanding problems. The answer is to use technology and procedural innovation to simplify and change the process itself. In the civil and criminal courts where ordinary Americans appear the most, we should streamline complex procedures and assume that parties will not have a lawyer, rather than the other way around. We need a cheaper, simpler, faster justice system to control costs. We cannot untie the Gordian knot by adding more strands of rope; we need to cut it, to simplify it.
Alexander Hamilton had a tempestuous inner life, including with respect to religion. Devout as a child, skeptical as an adult, towards then end of his life he seems to have become an orthodox Christian. Whatever his internal views, his position with respect to the public importance of religion was clear. He drafted Washington’s Farewell Address, one of the most important texts in American history on the place of religion in public life, and even proposed a Christian Constitutional Society, to counter Jacobinism in the United States.
The Christian Constitutional Society is one of the issues addressed in a new, two-volume collection from Cambridge University Press, The Political Writings of Alexander Hamilton. The editors are Carson Holloway (Nebraska) and our own Tradition Project participant Bradford Wilson (Princeton). Looks very interesting. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Few of America’s founders influenced its political system more than Alexander Hamilton. He played a leading role in writing and ratifying the Constitution, was de facto leader of one of America’s first two political parties, and was influential in interpreting the scope of the national government’s constitutional powers. This comprehensive collection provides Hamilton’s most enduringly important political writings, covering his entire public career, from 1775 to his death in 1804. Readers are introduced to Hamilton – in his own words – as defender of the American cause, as an early proponent of a stronger national government, as a founder and protector of the American Constitution, as the nation’s first secretary of the treasury, as President George Washington’s trusted foreign policy advisor, and as a leader of the Federalist Party. Presented in a convenient two volume set, this book provides a unique insight into the political ideas of one of America’s leading founders; a must-have reference source.