Sunday, October 31, 2004

Last Men or Spartans—more thoughts on war:

As long as I am on this war rant…Another thing that has struck me about the war is the way in which Americans, after the first Iraq war and Bosnia, expect a very limited casualty war, at least for our side. These seem to be the only types of wars that our masses are willing to gung ho, get behind…unless, of course, some imminent, direct and vital threat to American security is at stake. For instance, in going after the Taliban & Al Queda, I think we would be willing to bear many more casualties than we have lost so far in Iraq and Afghanistan. And certainly if a nation state directly attacked us on 9/11, we would be willing to sacrifice many lives in overthrowing such a government.

But fighting a war to aid another people, even if our security is not directly at issue? Fighting a war for abstract ideological reasons, even if the ideological reasons are ones in which we laud? To bring “democratic rights” to non-democratic nations, even when our lives aren’t directly threatened by the avoidance of such a war? Our people are indeed willing to support such noble endeavors. But only if we can pull it off with minimal casualties. I think the turning point was Vietnam. Before that war, we were willing to make huge sacrifices—even if what we were fighting for wasn’t to save the world from global fascism, or defend us from direct attackers. For instance, in World War I—a war that we certainly could have avoided—for the US total dead was 120,144, total wounded was 198,059. For World War II (probably an unavoidable war), 400,000 Americans were killed, with a whopping 22 million Allied Casualties. For Korea—a war that was identical to the Vietnam War in terms of what we were fighting for—the US sustained 34,000 casualties.

I think we must ask the question why is it that we as a nation were willing to lose 34,000 people for South Korea, but the idea of losing that many for Iraq positively horrifies us. In many ways, the social changes that we endured after Vietnam, “debunked” or “deconstructed” the notion of war. We simply view war differently after Vietnam.

While I certainly don’t agree with the thrust of this passage by Robert Bork, I think he accurately captures the sentiment:

Contrast the reaction of American youth to the wars in Korea and in Vietnam. Both were wars in Asia, both exacted high prices in Americans killed or disabled, both had only the rationale of constraining communism, both soon became unpopular. Yet American youth went willingly, if not gladly, to Korea, while they demonstrated against Vietnam, marched on the Pentagon, threw blood on draft records, fled to Canada, and Sweden, and denounced 'Amerika.' Something in our culture…had changed between the two wars.

Slouching Towards Gomorrah, p. 18.

If I may offer what I think to be a psychological insight of the Straussians—men like Paul Wolfowitz and Bill Kristol—who so eagerly encouraged us to go to war, and were influential in our doing so: I think that they desire for us, as a nation, to go back to a “pre-Vietnam” mindset regarding war and loss of life. I think that they desire American to be a “strong patriotic nation” and a “strong patriotic nation” is one that can go to war, fighting for what is “right,” lose tens, if not hundreds of thousands of soldiers and stick with it for years, till the end.

This quote from Walter Berns’s Making Patriots, is instructive:

A Spartan woman had five sons in the army and was awaiting news of the battle. A Helot arrives; trembling, she asks him for news. “Your five sons were killed.” “Base slave, did I ask you that?” “We won the victory.” The mother runs to the temple and gives thanks to the gods.

Rousseau, Emile, from Plutarch, Sayings of Spartan Women, quoted in Walter Berns, Making Patriots, p. 10.

I think that the Kristols, et al. are disappointed with the war. But they are probably disappointed primarily with the attitude of bourgeois America and our unwillingness to be like the Spartan woman, to make those necessary heroic sacrifices in pursuit of the greater good. No rather, we are behaving like Nietzsche’s Last Man.

If I understand the narrative correctly (and I understand the narrative thru the Straussians and their critics as intermediaries): The last man is to be the successor to the bourgeois. Eventually, advances in technology and the progress of the market economy would bring a good life to the masses, an easy life. A too easy life—one in which the masses would feel an entitlement to a long life of free of want. Something about a system which produces so much for so many has a way of “softening up” and emasculating the masses.

Bork—very much influenced by the Straussians—captures this very Nietzschean sentiment:

One must not, of course, discount the great reservoir of self-interest that underlay much of the rhetoric [of the Vietnam War protesting youth] of morality. The generation that fought in Korea had not grown up with affluence. Many had served in World War II or grew up during that war. The middle-class youths who were asked to fight in Vietnam were of a pampered generation, one that prized personal convenience above almost all else. The prospect that their comfortable lives might be disrupted, or even endangered, by having to serve their country in Vietnam was for many intolerable. Thus, the student protests wound down when the draft ended.

Slouching Towards Gomorrah, p. 18.

Nietzsche despised the Last Man, as, I think, perhaps do the Straussians. (In Ravelstein, Bellow reveals that Allan Bloom was absolutely contemptuous of the bourgeois.)

A nation willing to make the noble sacrifices for the greater good—one that would be willing to have say 40,000 or more American soldiers die over a mutli-year period—to see it through to the end—to bring the kind of system to Iraq that we brought to say South Korea (that we didn’t bring to Vietnam)…that would be a good start in demonstrating that we are NOT (at least not yet) “The Last Man”—rather that we are a strong patriotic people—closer to that Spartan ideal.

Me—I’m still thinking through these things. I certainly don’t deride the Vietnam War protestors whose “base self-interest” in doing so was to preserve their own lives. I thank God that I live a life of material comfort and would only voluntarily give up such comfort for something vital—like for instance, what went down in 1776, 1861, or 1941. Please forgive me if I don’t “willingly, if not gladly” volunteer to go to war in Iraq (even though I have the utmost amount of respect for those who do. I used to live in Lumberton, NJ which is really close to some military bases in NJ—and many young soldiers would go to the neighborhood bars on the weekend. I sometimes encountered such guys who were weeks if not days away from going to Iraq. Many of them had a hard Southern Twang–so you knew they weren’t natives of NJ. And whenever I encountered these guys, I insisted on paying for their drinks. I figured that was the least I could do).
Thoughts on the Iraq War:

So far, I’ve had very little to say about it. If you want war opining, there are thousands of other places you may go to. I have mixed feelings. I always was a cautious supporter of the War and looking back in hindsight, the administration obviously made some terrible mistakes.

But what strikes me profoundly is what we are fighting over—if we are fighting to bring a rights based liberal democratic system—I certainly am enthusiastic about this. I think Islam desperately needs this type of government, as do we all. I believe the rights of the Declaration of Independence are universally applicable everywhere, everytime.

But the problem is that, even if *in theory* liberal democracy is universally applicable, in practice a liberal democracy needs a liberal democratic people to support it. And, after seeing what has gone down, I’m not sure if the Iraqi people are such, or can be—at least in the immediate future.

The virulent strain of Islam typified by Bin Laden, or in Iraq, Zarqawi, represents the antithesis of liberal democracy and as such a freedom yearning people would react to him as if he were the devil. And if that were the case in Iraq, if those people understood what freedom means as our revolutionary founders did, I don’t think that Zarqawi—or whoever else is leading the insurgency—could have made the gains that he/they did.

When watching this war progress, sometimes I’m not sure whose side the Iraqi people are on. And if their hearts aren’t in it, I’m not sure if we can bring liberal democracy there.

Perhaps it’s time to just declare victory and get out. We did the right thing; we got rid of a despot and attempted to bring democracy to an illiberal order. But, if after a good faith attempt, we can’t implement the proper system there…if it can’t be done, then it can’t be done.

What might happen? Perhaps a civil war. Should we view this as our fault? No. Saddam Hussein was not a legitimate leader; getting rid of him and giving Iraq the chance for liberal democracy was the right thing to do. The ball is in their court. If they decline liberal democracy and instead opt for a tribalistic Shiite v. Sunni war, with the result either way being an illiberal system, I don’t see how we can take the blame for that. Nor do I think that leaving Hussein in charge would have been a better alternative for the Iraqi people. One way or the other—they would be living under an illiberal order.

Hussein killed hundreds of thousands if not millions of people within his own borders, launched a war with Iran that resulted in one million killed, “1-2 million wounded, and more than 80,000 prisoners. There were approximately 2.5 million refugees, and whole cities were destroyed. The financial cost [was] estimated at a minimum of $200 billion.”

I know it’s horrible to say this—but this nation—Iraq—is used to this kind of death. And unfortunately, much of the non-Western world is no more a pleasant place to live. We all need to thank our Creator, if He exists, that we were born here and not somewhere in one of the many despotic barbaric hellholes that passes for a “nation state” in this world.

If we leave, what if something bad emerges? Like an Islamic theocracy? Well as long as they don’t acquire weapons of mass destruction or provide a training ground for terrorists, then I suppose we will have to live with it. If they do either of the two, then we should send our bombs back in—and send them the message: There are certain things that we won’t tolerate governments doing here: If you do this, we will take you out. And that’s all we should do—just fight another air-war and that’s it—the kind of war that we fought in the first Gulf War, in Bosnia, and in this Gulf War up until the point where we got Hussein out of power.

We may not be good as “building” democratic nations in the highly illiberal Middle East (if such, at this time, can be done at all). But we are sure good at getting rid of rogue governments who happen to be in power, with minimal casualties on our side. And our people seem to support this kind of use of force.

Knowing that that is our strength, we need to rely on that as our position in global politics—we are the guys who can take you out, if you get out of line, if you produce weapons of mass destruction or support or tolerate terrorist training. The rules are few and they are simple—so don’t get out of line.
Last Minute Endorsement:

I am voting for Michael Badnarik for pretty much the exact same reason that Richard A. Epstein gives:

2004 vote: I don’t know who the Libertarian candidate is this time, but you can put me down as voting for him; anyone but the Big Two. As far as I can tell, the debate thus far has borne no relation to the important issues facing the nation...except Vietnam. It’s just two members of the same statist party fighting over whose friends will get favors.
A defense of Strauss’s method by a conservative writer:

I blogged a little while ago about Daniel Flynn’s new book, Intellectual Morons, that seeks to tear down the sacred cow sophists of PC-Academia (most are radical leftist thinkers, or thinkers who have influence today’s “tenured radicals,” to use Roger Kimball’s term). And I noted how Flynn lumps in Leo Strauss with the gang of "morons" -- Chomsky, Kinsey, Focault, Ehrlich, et al. Predictably, conservative thinkers who admire Strauss but share Flynn’s disdain for the others might have something to say about this.

And that is exactly what is interesting about Paul Cella’s review of the book for the American Spectator. Cella provides an eloquent defense of Strauss’s method and argues that conservatives ought not to waive away Strauss’s method so quickly:

MOST CONTROVERSIAL, PERHAPS, is Flynn's chapter on Leo Strauss. Alas, his treatment is generally superficial. It is very difficult to see how Strauss, whatever his peculiarity (occasionally bordering on outright weirdness), can be justly set beside eugenicists and Communists, reprobates and liars. Flynn lands a solid blow, I think, when he suggests that Straussian esotericism can quickly degenerate into a kind of right-wing deconstructionism; but his critique fails because he fails to really confront Straussian scholarship in its substance.

For example, Flynn scoffs at Strauss's argument that the force of John Locke's teaching was in fact a subtle and powerful attack on the doctrine of Natural Law -- that Locke was with Hobbes and Rousseau and the modern "contractarians," and against the Christian philosophers descending from Hooker and the Schoolmen. But Strauss was not alone in this judgment. Even as independent a thinker as Willmoore Kendall had argued thusly, and indeed, argued it in plainer language. Nor does the mere fact that Jefferson leaned heavily on Locke to compose the most famous passage of the Declaration of Independence mean that the Founding Fathers were indeed Lockeans, as Flynn implies. Kendall rejected this opinion as well -- even to the point of repudiating his own doctoral thesis on Locke. The question of Locke's posture vis-à-vis the Western tradition of political philosophy, and the question of the Founders posture vis-à-vis Locke -- these remain open questions; and, as Flynn has not set himself to heavy lifting of political philosophy, he sheds no light on them (or on any like them).

For Flynn, it is Strauss's method that is most dubious. "As with a lot of what Strauss says, the thing that jumps out at the reader is not necessarily his conclusion, but how he got from point A to point B." Flynn does not much care for Strauss's ideas about "secret writing," and he provides some vivid examples of the strange lengths to which Strauss and his students have pursued these ideas. But Flynn does not account for why these ideas have gained such purchase among scholars. To use the example of Locke again, it is a fact that we did not possess a satisfactory text of his Two Treatises of Government until the mid-twentieth century. It is also a fact that for hundreds of years the Second Treatise was thought to have been composed after the first, when, as we now know, the reverse is probably true. The "philosopher as detective" method of reading (in the Straussian formulation), though fraught with peril, is not without merit, for the profound reason that one of the largest problems in philosophy is discerning what a given philosopher actually meant to say. To admit this is not to descend into postmodern incoherence, of the kind Flynn ably describes in various chapters, but merely to confess the severe limitations of the human intellectual condition.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Substantive Due Process v. Privileges or Immunities:

Check out Sandefur’s response to my post where I question whether the “due process” clause, as opposed to the “privileges or immunities” clause really contains any substantive rights.

Note here when he says:

Incidentally, I’m quite attracted to the theory (advanced, if I recall correctly, by Akhil Reed Amar, but I’m not sure) that the three clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment are aimed at the different branches of government: the privileges or immunities clause regulates the legislature, the due process clause regulates the judiciary, and the equal protection clause regulates the executive.

Amar may very well have advanced this theory. However, I do know that Walter Berns advanced this theory in his book, Taking the Constitution Seriously. And I blogged about Berns and his theory of the 14th Amendment in a review of that book, here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Substantive Due Process?

I have to quibble with Sandefur’s explanation of substantive due process—and this quibble is purely a matter of semantics—but considering his level of expertise and the distinguished work that he has done in the past regarding this issue—the point needs to be made.

I agree with everything that his post says in terms of government actions needing to be justified by “right”—and that the substantive rights that have been recognized under the doctrine of substantive due process are properly recognized. I’m just not sure if the due process clause of the 14th Amendment properly has anything to do with these substantive rights. And before reading this post, I wasn’t sure if Sandefur did either.

After learning, from Sandefur (and others—Randy Barnett, Akhil Amar, Michael McConnell) about the history of the “privileges or immunities clause,” of the 14th, I assumed that critics like Robert Bork were correct in categorizing substantive due process as an oxymoron.

The text of the clause is confusing—on the one hand, a plain reading of the clause does seem to imply that it is a purely “procedural” clause. Government can’t take your life, liberty, or property, unless government gives you due process—which is a fair trial complete with notice and an opportunity to be hear. Yet, on the other hand, the words “life, liberty or property” are explicitly mentioned—and their explicit mention somehow implies that there is something very important about these rights—rights that are mentioned by name numerous times in the Amendments to the Constitution. Moreover, other important founding authority demonstrates that these specified rights are something vital: The Declaration of Independence refers to “life and liberty” as “unalienable rights.” And numerous writings of other heavyweights—Locke, Madison, et al.—likewise refer to “property” as an inalienable natural right.

Yet, according to Robert Bork, what we think of as vital substantive interests turned out to be not so important after all:

The “unalienable rights” of the Declaration turned out, of course, frequently to be alienable. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, for example, explicitly assumes that a criminal may be punished by depriving him of life or liberty, which certainly tends to interfere with his pursuit of happiness.

Slouching Towards Gomorrah, p. 57.

The due process clause of the 5th and the 14th do seem to say that government can’t deprive individuals of these vital rights, unless there is a fair and impartial process. But what those clauses don’t seem to say—on their face—is that we have any substantive right to life, liberty or property. But I would go so far as to say that the due process clause “hints” something in that direction by specifically naming “life, liberty, & property” as important enough to make it to a named list and that government’s actions will be constrained in some way when these rights are at issue.

Also the “equal protection” clause of the 14th—which today guarantees a substantive right of equality on issues of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, and others (with varying degrees of protection)—also, on its face, seems to be a purely procedural clause. If there are general laws on the books for things such as murder, assault, battery, rape, etc., government must apply those laws equally to all groups or all individuals; government may not selectively withdraw groups or individuals from the general protection of those laws, or provide a greater or lesser degree of protection to some over others. And this is what many governments—certainly in the south, but also in the north—did to blacks since before the civil war, after the civil war, and up until Jim Crow. If the Klan wanted to terrorize, beat up or even murder a black, or a white who did business with blacks, in order to “toe the color line,” the local Southern law enforcement officials wouldn’t equally apply the general laws of murder, assault, terroristic threats, tortious interference with contracts—against the offenders, or on behalf of the victims.

But the equal protection clause on its face provides no substantive guarantee of equality. Government may, seemingly consistent with that clause, draw legal distinctions between blacks & whites, men & women, so long as all other generally existing laws are applied in an equal manner.

Yet that clause does mention the word “equal” as deserving some important status. Could it be that we have a substantive right to equality, as well as a procedural one? Yes, I think we do. And I think the framers of the 14th Amendment thought so too.

So where do our substantive rights—rights to “life, liberty, and property” on the one hand, and “equality” on the other—properly derive in our constitutional order? Regarding states and their potential infractions, the “privileges or immunities clause of the 14th”; regarding the federal government, the 9th Amendment [as well as the "Takings" clause of the 5th]; and regarding any government—federal, state, local, or international—the Declaration of Independence.

Now, the privileges or immunities clause was gutted in the Slaughterhouse cases. So the Court had to find ways to properly channel these rights, in the absence of using that clause. I think they made good second choices: Given that “the P or I” clause was off limits, where would you “find” a substantive right to “life, liberty or property”? Why where the words “life, liberty, or property” appear in the text—the due process clause. And where would we find a substantive right to “equality”? Why where the word “equal” appears in the text—the “equal protection” clause.

Indeed, because the privileges or immunities clause doesn’t specifically reference words like life, liberty, property, equality, etc., I suppose one could argue that there is more textual support in those other clauses—since they do specifically reference those terms. But I think, a proper understanding of the privileges or immunities clause, as well as of the political philosophy that founds this nation, should lead us to conclude that those substantive rights do indeed exist, that government indeed must respect them, and that the proper places for incorporating those rights are as I have laid out.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Catholics, Natural Law, and Founding Principles:

The conference that I attended at Princeton brought an irony to mind—an irony that often impresses itself when I reflect on the work of the Claremont Institute: the way that orthodox Catholics, more effectively than Protestant fundamentalists, can make seemingly dogmatic religious arguments while still appealing to, and appearing to be consistent with, founding principles.

The conference was very much a “natural law” conference—literally the most distinguished (Thomistic) natural lawyers in the world were present there. And it was also heavily Catholic attended.

This nation was founded by, for the most part, Protestants. There were very few Catholics and our founders—wary of the horrible record possessed by the Roman Church on issues of religious persecution and deprivation of liberty—and if you’ve read some of the things they said about the Church—were practically anti-Catholic bigots.

For instance, this passage by John Adams:

I do not like the reappearance of the Jesuits….Shall we not have regular swarms of them here, in as many disguises as only a king of the gypsies can assume, dressed as printers, publishers, writers and school masters? If ever there was a body of men who merited damnation on earth and in Hell, it is this society of Loyola’s. Nevertheless, we are compelled by our system of religious toleration to offer them an asylum.

John Adams, Letter to Thomas Jefferson, May 5, 1816.

This nation was founded on “the laws of nature and nature’s God.” And these laws are ascertainable by man’s reason, wholly unassisted by faith or by Biblical Revelation, and these rules certainly didn’t need to be confirmed by any ecclesiastical authority. In other words, this nation was founded on reason, nature, or philosophy.

As Adams put it:

The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature.... [In] the formation of the American governments ... it will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of heaven.... These governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1788

Those who would derive political authority or political “truths” from Biblical Revelation alone—which seems to be the way in which many Protestant fundamentalists operate—are anathematized according to this nation’s founding principles, properly understood. Likewise, those who appeal to ecclesiastical authority alone (the Pope says it, therefore we have to make it into law), are equally anathematized. So, if Catholics want to write the Church’s official opinions into law, simply because they are the Church’s opinions—this no more comports with our founding principles than Protestants believing, “if it’s in the Bible, then it ought to be public law.”

Yet, Catholics, unlike most orthodox Protestants, have embraced philosophy—seeking Truth by observing nature using unassisted reason—which has its antecedents in Aristotle and, for Catholics, sees its fullest expression in Aquinas. And many official Catholic doctrines are derived not from the Bible alone, or ecclesiastical authority alone (or some combination thereof), but from (their understanding) of the natural law. In other words, the Papal authorities, when they issue their official doctrines, often make arguments, based on universal principles of nature and reason, to justify their case. And basing laws on universal rational principles is what our nation is founded on.

So for instance, when Catholic natural lawyers Robert P. George and Gerard V. Bradley, drafted a brief on behalf of the Family Research Council in defense of sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas, they did not appeal to literal passages in the Bible, or the Pope’s ecclesiastical authority in attempting to make a legal argument as to why such laws should remain on the books—to do so would be un-American. Rather they appealed to an Aristolean-Aquinas understanding of “nature” that is ascertainable by man’s reason alone.

In other words, they can reasonably argue that they appealed to “the laws of nature and nature’s God.” This morning, watching a show on America’s Founding Principles, put on by Rev. D. James Kennedy, Roy Moore was called upon to “inform” us what the “laws of nature and nature’s God” really mean. And he answered, predictably, “everything that’s written in the pages of the Bible.” In other words, Biblical Revelation, unaided by Man’s Reason. And in fact, he got it exactly wrong, exactly backwards, and in doing so demonstrates the abysmal ignorance of Protestant fundamentalists who argue that America is a “Christian Nation,” in a public, governmental sense.

Now that’s not to say that what is written in the Bible NEVER reflects the natural law—that the two are mutually exclusive phenomena. Indeed, what the Thomistic natural lawyers will tell you—what any natural lawyer will tell you—what’s written in the Bible often dovetails with natural law (Harry Jaffa and Claremont commonly stress that Reason & Revelation largely agree on most matters). But in order to be a valid basis for a public act, a particular move must have a “public reason” or must be vetted by natural reason, in addition to whatever support there is in the Bible for it.

William Galston, at the conference, gave a great anecdote illustrating this: In Genesis we see Abraham remonstrating with God about God’s plan to destroy Sodom & Gomorrah. Abraham is concerned that God would destroy the unjust along with the just. This implies that even God can be unjust—that there are certain objective standards of justice that men can know for themselves that are independent of the arbitrary actions of the Creator. And indeed God does obey the natural law by agreeing not to destroy those cities if indeed there are a certain number of righteous to be found there. And when the cities were destroyed, it was only the guilty who got it (Lot and his family were spared). That is a passage of the Bible that confirms natural law—that there are independent rational standards of justice that are known cross-culturally and exist outside of Biblical Revelation and that God Himself will not violate.

And even many socially liberal natural lawyers such as myself can find many parts of Biblical Revelation that serve as good grounds for public policy. For instance, “thou shall not kill; thou shall not steal….”

We can base public policy on the principles illustrated in those certain passages of the Bible. However, certain passages of the Bible give no public reasons needed to serve as legitimate bases for public policy.

For instance—again part of Galston’s analogy—when God asks Abraham to kill his son Isaac, there is no reason or rhyme to be found. The righteousness of that passage must be accepted by faith alone; it has no explanation or verification in nature or reason. As such, it would be wholly inappropriate for that passage of the Bible to have anything to do with public policy or our public laws. It would be perfectly fine for that Biblical passage to be part of the laws of the conscience of an individual, but no more.

But I digress.

On another note—I also find it a little odd that some prominent non-Catholics, for instance, Hadley Arkes (who was at the conference) and Harry Jaffa (who wasn’t), posit a very Thomistic, Catholic, understanding of nature…but without being Catholics themselves. And correspondingly, Jaffa and Arkes have a big following among doctrinaire Catholics. For instance, the Claremont Institute has a heck of a lot more conservative devout Catholic members and followers than they do of Protestant fundamentalists who care very little for “man’s reason unassisted by faith.” And Arkes commonly writes for Richard John Neuhaus Catholic Theocon Magazine, First Things.

And of course, there is the whole issue of whether when men like Jefferson, Madison, and Adams spoke of “the laws of nature and nature’s God” that they were referring to a Thomistic understanding of nature. Personally, I don’t think they were. But that’s a topic for another discussion.

Friday, October 22, 2004

James Madison Center Conference on Religion & Public Life:

Well, I have to hand it to Robbie George…even though I strongly disagree with some of his policy positions (for instance, he, along with Gerard V. Bradley, co-authored the FMA), he, as director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, is doing a stellar job of putting on outstanding conferences, that are open to the public. And as someone who lives about a half-hour outside of Princeton (in fact, I teach at the local community college in the county that encompasses Princeton), I will attend these as time allows me to.

I attended today’s program and saw more public intellectuals in one day than I ever have before in my life. I missed the morning's lecture when Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. spoke. I walked in when Joseph H.H. Weiler was giving his presentation and sat right next to Philip Hamburger. Among others whom I heard speak or otherwise rubbed elbows with were Hadley Arkes, Gerard V. Bradley, Christopher Wolfe, Christopher L. Eisgruber, William A. Galston, George McKenna, and I even saw Cornell West and Marvin Olasky make cameo appearances. And of course, Father Richard John Neuhaus, whose book, The Naked Public Square, is sort of the launching point for this discussion, was right there in the audience (and he will give the keynote address tomorrow). But he has been strangely silent in terms of asking questions during the Q&A sessions (I’m too intimidated to throw my 2 cents in -- although I've been tempted).

I’ll give more on the substance of the sessions when I have more time.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Thank God we got Kennedy instead of Bork:

I used to have a modicum of respect for Robert Bork—he’s very intelligent, and is quite civil when he debates. He writes well and his work is always interesting. Plus, I respect his honesty about the intellectual and philosophical foundations of America. He, contra the religious right revisionists, whom he supports and vice versa, recognizes that “Jefferson was a man of the Enlightenment and the Declaration of Independence is an Enlightenment document” (Slouching Towards Gomorrah, p. 59). And that the Declaration lends no support to religious conservatives who desire to use government to implement their worldview on society. Finally, I feel sorry for the way he was treated during his confirmation hearings.

Although Bork has been a social conservative for some time, up until fairly recently he was a lifelong non-religious person (that’s when I had a modicum of respect for him). He recently has converted to a very conservative strain of Catholicism. And that seems to have driven him off the deep end into crankhood.

Bork’s most recent work for First Things shows evidence of a sad decent into antigay bigotry (and I use the word “bigot” very judiciously). (This polemic in favor of the FMA recaps much of what he has written in the 2003 afterword to Slouching. As bad as the First Things piece is, the afterword is worse.)

Here is what I took to be the most insulting part of the piece:

Homosexual marriage would prove harmful to individuals in other ways as well. By equating heterosexuality and homosexuality, by removing the last vestiges of moral stigma from same-sex couplings, such marriages will lead to an increase in the number of homosexuals. Particularly vulnerable will be young men and women who, as yet uncertain of and confused by their sexuality, may more easily be led into a homosexual life. Despite their use of the word “gay,” for many homosexuals life is anything but gay. Both physical and psychological disorders are far more prevalent among homosexual men than among heterosexual men. Attempted suicide rates, even in countries that are homosexual-friendly, are three to four times as high for homosexuals. Though it is frequently asserted by activists that high levels of internal distress in homosexual populations are caused by social disapproval, psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover has shown that no studies support this theory. Compassion, if nothing else, should urge us to avoid the consequences of making homosexuality seem a normal and acceptable choice for the young.

An increase in the number of homosexuals? This completely contradicts everything we know about human nature, where the percentage of homosexuals in any given society is consistent regardless of the level of toleration.

More important is his despicable “blaming the victim”—blaming homosexuals for the unfortunate suffering that we have been dealt at the hands of a society that morally and socially stigmatizes “same-sex couplings.” I don’t think Bork can begin to imagine the psychological stress faced by a homosexual individual growing up in a society that loathes homosexuals. If he wants to know how it feels, then he should start by reading this story by Arthur Silber:

I am about to turn 55. I was a teenager in the 1960s. Let me tell you a bit about what that was like. The prevailing view in the '60s was that homosexuality was unutterably disgusting, and it was very rarely even discussed. It was officially regarded as a mental illness, and the culture in general viewed homosexuals as sometimes colorful and interesting (and sometimes unusually talented), but always as perverted, revolting -- and doomed, to one degree or another. I absorbed and internalized all of that. I first began to realize that I was "different" at the age of about eight or nine. My feelings weren't specifically sexual at that age, but I was aware that I related to other boys, and to girls, in some way that was...well, just different from almost all the other kids I knew. By the age of 12 or 13, I realized that I was sexually attracted to other boys, and to men -- and that's when the real trouble started.

I regarded this knowledge as the dirtiest secret it was possible for me to have -- and I felt that no one else must ever know. Since I was (all too stereotypically) primarily interested in the arts, I found my "role models," if you could possibly call them that, in the arts, especially in the theater, in the opera world, and in literature. I looked at Tennessee Williams, for example: a once brilliantly talented playwright (much more talented than his contemporary, Arthur Miller, in my view -- Williams at his best was stupendously theatrical, and heartbreakingly poetic; damn, that man could write, in a way that Miller never could). But by the 1960s, Williams was a husk of a man -- a broken-down alcoholic (and drug addict, if I am remembering correctly), whose latest plays were extremely undistinguished, and sometimes just simply bad. And when he appeared on television, he was a pathetic wreck, and it was painful to watch him.

Or I looked at Truman Capote -- also someone who had been brilliantly gifted, but who was by then a caricature of a human being. In fact, Capote appeared to barely even be human, with that artificial, squeaky voice and delivery, and his overly-stylized (and ridiculous) manner of self-presentation, which he appeared to be simultaneously aware of and even mocking himself, but trapped by, too, and not knowing how to abandon it and return to something more resembling normalcy. People like Williams and Capote were the only public faces of homosexuality that I was aware of -- and when I looked at them, I saw my own future, and my own fate. (If you're wondering about someone like Noel Coward: even though it was commonly known that Coward was gay, he never spoke about it publicly during that period. With very rare exceptions, people just didn't talk about it then at all. It was only when books began to be published about Coward later, after he died, that a full picture of his life and his relationships was available.)

I saw my future in other places, too: one of my most vivid memories of growing up during that period was seeing the film of Advise and Consent. In that story, I identified most with the young Senator played by Don Murray, who was apparently happily married, and had a young child. But he had a deep, dark, disgusting secret: when he had been in the military, he had had a brief homosexual affair. In the course of the political battles in the film, one of the Senator's enemies discovers this secret -- and blackmails the Senator with the threat to expose the affair, in an effort to get him to change his position on a key Presidential nomination. Tormented by the predicament he finds himself in, the Senator finally kills himself.

Those are the sorts of messages the culture gave me. And the culture did not give me any others at all -- and it certainly didn't provide me with any images of gay men living happily, having good jobs, or being in anything like fulfilling long-term relationships. So it is hardly surprising that when, at the age of about 15, I first went to a psychotherapist (the first of many to come), I told him during our initial session that I had these sexual desires, but that I hadn't yet acted on them. I also told him that I did not want to act on them, that I, too, thought they were revolting and disgusting -- and that I would do anything to change them. And he had a "solution": electroshock therapy. (I was later told, by another psychotherapist whom I believe on this matter, that even in the mid-1960s this was not a view commonly held by psychotherapists with regard to "curing" homosexuality -- but I also have to say that the therapist who suggested electroshock therapy to me was very well-known, the author of several books, and generally well-respected.) It is hardly surprising that, throughout my teenage years, I was deeply depressed -- and occasionally thought about suicide myself. It never got beyond the stage of "thinking," but such thoughts were never too far away.

There are countless other anecdotal stories I could point to, many of them involving people much younger than Silber, for instance, this by Jason Kuznicki.

You see, unlike the case with other hated groups—blacks, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses—gay people are often raised by families that hate gays. Or at the very least, even if the family is accepting, gays are still a minority within the family. Could you imagine what it must be like to be the lesbian daughter of Alan Keyes? Or even worse, listen to Maya’s (Keyes’s daughter) partner’s tale of her family life:

Any of you that have read my journal for more then one week probably know that my mother is virulently anti-gay. She is scarily fundamentalist Christian - supports Bush, the Federal Marriage Amendment and believes the Bible is the complete Word of God and that every single word should be taken in the utmost literal sense. She doesn't even believe in evolution, for chrissakes...However, she does believe that being gay is a sin and that all gays are going to hell. And, she reminds me of that every, single day. And this was before you all were so kind as to plaster my relationship with another woman all over the web. I don't even want to repeat what she calls me now. I've been kicked out of my house twice in the past week (thank God for safe houses and unlocked windows) and she is now refusing to help me with anything in my life - this includes taking me to see my psychiatrist and my psychologist and helping me pay for the psychiatric medication that keeps me alive. She is also insisting I pay her back for the three semesters I spent at my Christian college because I "obviously learned nothing". The jury is still out on whether or not she will help pay for my school (I was planning on taking some courses at a local community college this upcoming semester), although, the outcome does not look very positive.

But gay people’s higher rates of suicide attempts are their own fault, right?

And Bork gets no points for citing gay hating crank Jeffrey Satinover as authority. Satinover is a professional gay-bashing crackpot whose credits including writing a book about “the Bible Code,” endorsing the debunked fraudulent gay lifespan figures of “researcher” Paul Cameron, and noting

that the Renaissance "could have just as easily been called 'The Great Death,'" since it killed off the anti-pagan hegemony of "Judeo-Christianity" in favor of modern science.

Maybe Bork should just spend more time talking to gay people to get a better understanding of this issue. I think the gains that gays have made in recent times, not only politically, but also culturally, is a great achievement of this society. And many of those gains are very recent, and are only beginning to be felt by the youngest generation of gays, a generation that will come of age in a fairly tolerant atmosphere. For instance, I’m 31, and in growing up in the fairly socially liberal Northeast, there was no “gay-straight” alliance in my public school, or any of them in the area. Now practically all of the schools in the area have them. Here is Andrew Sullivan—who is about 40—discussing his interactions with the youngest of the gay generation, the generation that grew up post-Philadelphia, Ellen, Will & Grace, Pedro Zamora, etc….

They know who they are. They appear to have good relationships with their straight peers; and even in their occasional struggles, know they own the future. It's strange to be in the middle of such social change. I'll never know what it's like to grow up in a more accepting age, not to have the torments that so many in my generation went through (let alone the poor souls older than me), but the results in these youngsters' lives are truly inspiring. They lift me up and cheer me on. With each generation, the psychological damage and pain recedes a little. And the pursuit of happiness begins again. Some of these kids think of me as a mentor. How do I tell them that they are actually mentors to me?

The point is, Sullivan is 40, Arthur Silber is 55, I’m 31…and none of us grew up in the tolerant atmosphere that we see in today’s day and age of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” And even many a young folk growing up in today’s post Lawrence v. Texas society, don’t have the privilege of growing up in a social liberal climate with parents who will accept them when they come out, despite the positive messages that the culture gives them. How dare Robert Bork et al. try to blame gays for the suffering that society has inflicted on them. And how dare he attempt to preserve whatever is left of “good old days” that Arthur Silber referenced above.

Strauss & Deconstructionism:

Thanks to Ed Brayton for mentioning my most recent post on DiLorenzo and Flynn on Strauss. In the comment section, Sandefur offers some much needed perspective on lumping Strauss in with deconstructionists, Foucault and Derrida:

Rowe is awfully charitable to DiLorenzo. I think he's nothing more than a crackpot, so I refuse to discuss him.

However, I am really suspicious of the claim that Strauss has any connection whatsoever to the likes of Foucault or Derrida. Strauss, it is true, was heavily influenced by Nietzsche, and therefore perhaps resembles Foucault and Derrida in that Nietzsche's work is seminal to post-modernism generally. But this is rather like the similarity that, say, John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln have, because both were heavily influenced by Thomas Jefferson. Sure, Strauss "deconstructs," but his endeavor is otherwise completely different, and just about everyone "deconstructs" in some manner.

I think the esoteric/exoteric notion in Strauss--which reaches its nadir with numerology--is truly worthless. Perhaps in some cases there are writers who wrote in these secret ways, but even if so, a reader is as likely as not to read into something what he wants, as he is to find an author's secret meaning, so even if Strauss' interpretive method is right, it is useless.

But to say that "What matters [for Strauss] is not so much what the author says but what the reader wants the author to say" is at least uncharitable. The Straussians do not believe that objective meanings are nonexistent, or that a work means whatever a reader wants it to mean or whatever society declares it to mean. Quite the opposite--they believe there is an objective meaning to a text which may have been overlooked, and they try to find what that objective meaning is by cleaning off the patina, as it were. Although I think their methods is ultimately worthless, their goal is an objective one. That is competely different, I think, than Foucault or Derrida, arguing that a work has no inherent meaning, and that attaining an objective understanding freed from the infection of social "power" structures is ultimately impossible or unattainable. For them, there is no one right way to understand something--we're led to believe that as a tool of exploitation. I don't think Strauss would share that notion at all. But I admit I am quite an amateur when it comes to Strauss, and I might be completely wrong about this.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Happy Birthday Guys!

Two of my favorite bloggers, coincidentally, have their birthday on the same day.
Flynn on Strauss:

Thomas DiLorenzo is an accomplished anti-war, Lincoln hating paleo-libertarian scholar and academic who often writes for As such, his distaste for Straussians (pro-war, pro-Lincoln) should be obvious.

Interestingly in this column, DiLorenzo reviews a book, Intellectual Morons, by a fairly influential up-and-coming right-wing conservative scholar, Daniel Flynn, who, in this book takes pot-shots at the usual hard-left intellectuals that have so influenced the forces of PC-Academia: “Alfred Kinsey, Margaret Sanger, Michael Focault, Betty Friedan, Paul Ehrlich, W.E.B. Du Bois, Jacques Derrida, Herbert Marcuse….” But there is one other name that Flynn lumps in with this distinguished crop of sophists: Leo Strauss (and his followers):

Flynn also examines the ideas of the right-wing guru Leo Strauss, the "intellectual godfather" of America’s newly embarked-upon path of foreign policy interventionism and the quest for empire. After discussing how America was lied into going to war in Iraq, he pins the blame on Strauss’s students, or his students’ students, such as Paul Wolfowitz, Abram Shulsky, Stephen Cambone, and other "Straussians." He also notes how the "followers of the mysterious academic among the intellectual class" include, most prominently, Harry Jaffa, Harvey Mansfield, Irving Kristol, his son William, and Allan Bloom.

Carefully surveying many of Strauss’s writings, Flynn notes that although he was an atheist and "scoffed at the idea of God," he nevertheless thought that appeals to religion could be helpful in duping naïve Christians, especially, into going along with his interventionist foreign policy agenda. It seems to have worked, since "evangelical Christians" are among the most bloodthirsty warmongers in American society today.

The Straussians are portrayed by Flynn as a bizarre cult whose members believe they know a truth "that lesser mortals failed to grasp"; they talk "in a kind of code to one another"; and "genuflect to their great guru, but allow for intramural debate," i.e., between the followers of Jaffa and Mansfield.

It gets worse:

Other academics are also of the opinion that Straussians tend to be sickeningly hypocritical. The atheist Strauss preached about the importance of religion (in the service of pursuing empire), while "his popular evangelist Allan Bloom preached family values but practiced anonymous sex until stopped by AIDS."

The cornerstone of "the Straussian method" is creative lying or creating "the noble lie" in support of nationalism, authoritarianism, and world empire. This is all laid out in Strauss’s 1952 book, Persecution and the Art of Writing. According to Strauss, generations of scholars have totally misinterpreted the works of Plato, Spinoza, Machiavelli, Locke, Hobbes, and others, because they do not read between the lines, as Strauss does.

Most people recognize that what lies "between the lines" of any book is blank space. Not so with Strauss and the Straussians. They make things up. They fabricate. They lie. And they use the dark art of numerology (!) to create their fabrications. According to Strauss, a book’s first and last words have some sort of special meaning. "Some numbers, such as seven and thirteen, alert Strauss to a text’s hidden meaning." "The Prince consists of 26 chapters," writes Strauss about Machiavelli. "Twenty-six is the numerical value of the letters of the sacred name of God in Hebrew, of the Tetragrammaton. But did Machiavelli know this? I do not know. Twenty-six equals 2 times 13. Thirteen is now and for quite sometime has been considered an unlucky number, but in former times it was also and even primarily considered a lucky number. So ‘twice 13’ might mean both good luck and bad luck, and hence altogether; luck fortuna." Was this man insane?

Armed with this "tarot-card philosophy," Strauss ("a major-league screwball," writes Flynn) and the Strussians argue that John Locke covertly undermined Christianity, although Locke never indicated as such; that Plato’s Republic means exactly the opposite of what all other scholars take it to mean; that Locke was not really in favor of natural rights; and of course that the white supremacist Abraham Lincoln was a racial saint, that his suspension of habeas corpus, shutting down of the opposition press and the mass arrest of political dissenters was consistent with constitutionalism, and that waging war on innocent civilians made him a "great humanitarian." These of course are just a few of the absurdities perpetrated by Jaffa and his fellow tarot-card philosophers.

Straussianism is a form of what?

Straussianism is form of "deconstructionism," as practiced by such left-wing luminaries as Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, and Michael Focault. With these deconstructionists, as with the Straussians, "What maters is not so much what the author says but what the reader wants the author to say," notes Daniel Flynn. The left-wing deconstructionist "produce[s] his own meaning . . . by an activity of semantic ‘freeplay.’" As with the Straussians, deconstructionism "seeks to institutionalize dishonesty as a legitimate school of thought." They both "exalt dishonesty in the service of supposedly noble causes . . ."

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

McConnell at Princeton:

Last night my father and I attended an outstanding lecture given by 10th Circuit Judge Michael McConnell on religion and the founding, at Princeton University’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. Princeton is only about a half-hour drive from where I live and the lecture was open to the public. In fact, the institute is giving a whole slew of presentations open to the public, and I plan on attending them as time and my schedule allows.

A few words about the lecture: McConnell is known for being a strong advocate for free exercise of religion and seems to be a moderate on establishment. He challenged the conventional ACLU, “the Establishment Clause demands public secularism,” line of thought, yet to his credit (against the religious right revisionists), he recognizes that our founders favored disestablishment and enacted (some kind of, not necessarily the ACLU’s version of) a separation of Church and State.

And his lecture was to put all of this into perspective. At first the Bill of Rights only applied to the federal government, therefore, establishment was something that states had to decide on their own. And the states, in time, chose to disestablish…but not because they were hostile to religion. To the contrary, because disestablishment was GOOD for religion. And it was evangelical Christians (for instance, the Baptists) who led the way to disestablish in many if not most cases. Religion would be better served if the government, be it federal, state or local, just kept its damn hands out of it. But this in turn, did require separation of the two to avoid entanglements. Government aid will lead to an entanglement between the two that ultimately will end up hurting religion.

No doubt that evangelical Protestants played a key role in disestablishment in this nation. Still I thought that he downplayed the Enlightenment’s influenced and overstated the extent to which free exercise and disestablishment were authentic orthodox Christian doctrines.

Here is the moment of the lecture I found most interesting: Robert P. George, the head of the James Madison program, of course was there and tried to get the group to come to an “epiphany” regarding the Establishment Clause and challenged the room to find a flaw with his logic (this should be familiar to my readers):

The Establishment Clause was simply intended to restrain the federal government and allow states to handle the matter of religion their own way. Therefore, it was a states’ rights provision. How can we incorporate this clause? It’s like trying to incorporate the 10th Amendment.

(not verbatim, my summary)

The flaw in George’s reasoning was that the Establishment Clause was intended to be a “states’ rights” provision, like the 10th Amendment; it was not. It was a restraint on the federal government, and did preserve states’ freedom to set their own religious policy, but only as a matter of incidence, not because the founders thought it appropriate for states to establish religion any more than they thought it appropriate for states to violate free exercise or free speech.

Before the 14th Amendment, the balance of power between the states and the federal government was such that the federal constitution secured our rights against federal violations and state governments were supposed to secure them against state violations. So of course, the big question that is begged is, is incorporation of the Establishment Clause necessary to secure a right?

McConnell put it this way:

The 14th Amendment’s privileges or immunities clause was intended to incorporate the entire bill of rights (Amendments 1-8) against the states. During the ratification, when asked, “what are the ‘privileges or immunities’ which ‘no state shall abridge’” someone got up there and read off the entire bill of rights, Establishment Clause included. By 1833, Massachusetts was the last state to disestablish. So by the time that the 14th Amendment was ratified, the citizens of each state probably felt as though they had a right to live in a state without an established church.

(not verbatim, my summary)

And that was where McConnell left it. I would have gone a little further. According to the VA Statute on Religious Freedom, which is not just a state statute, but a document of “natural right,” some significant degree of separation of Church & State, beyond merely no officially established church is necessary to comport with natural right. This clearly seemed to be not only Jefferson’s views (who McConnell described as “outside of the mainstream” for his time), but also Madison’s, the primary architect of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. (Madison essentially secured the passage of the VA Statute that Jefferson authored). Of course, it could be argued that Jefferson’s AND Madison’s views as expressed in that statute simply weren’t dominant. But then again, we must also ask, where they, as a matter of natural right, correct? Natural right doesn’t care whose views were dominant. Even if the majority favored slavery, natural right still holds slavery to be wrong.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Update on S & G thread:

I pretty much stopped and let the thread’s host have the last word (I made the points that I needed to make and I think the thread’s host failed to refute them). But now the great Gabriel Rosenberg has joined the discussion and taken up from where I left off. And boy what a great job he does!

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Cramer on bukake:

Clayton Cramer has been having problems with porn-spammers and is writing about it. For some reason, this passage amuses me more than it should. Or maybe you too should try reading it without laughing out loud. I can't:

Much of the spam is porn, and while it annoys me, that's about all. (The category called "bukake," however, is so repulsive that it makes me slightly sympathetic to those feminists who assert that pornography is part of the mechanism for keeping women in subjagation.)

Could my vote (literally, personally) decide the next President?

As we know from the last election, not all votes are created equally (votes from “swing states" are obviously more valuable—that’s why Alaska [Republican] & Hawaii [Democrat] never get presidential candidate visits), and because of peculiarities of our electoral college system and the predilections of the “red” v. the “blue” states, it’s possible, as occurred last election, for a small minority of folks to hold the key to the President’s election. For instance, last election, the black gay Republicans in Florida were responsible for putting Bush into office.

So as it turns out, PA could be one of those states this election and the Philadelphia suburbs (where I live) could be the key. I am a political independent, and unlike all of those partisans with their minds already made up (such as my father who, the only time he has ever voted Republican was when he was younger and living in Maryland, against a conservative Dixiecrat), I am one of those “swing voters” from a “swing state”—a state that could be the next Florida. Man my vote must be worth $. To bad it’s illegal to sell it.

So as the key, I am announcing to the Bush and Kerry forces that I don’t plan on voting for either one of you. I can’t stand your statist politics. Until one of you convinces me that you will leave the office with the federal government smaller than it was when you first took office, you won’t get my vote. Of course I’d be willing to hear you—the Bush and Kerry campaigns—out and allow each of you to make your case, provided that it be over dinner at LeBec Fin on Walnut Street in Philadelphia and that you foot the entire bill. And should we go out, expect me to try their most exotic wines. (Remember Chevy Chase's line in Fletch regarding the Champaign on the Underhill's account? Oh at that price, I'll only have two bottles then).



Saturday, October 09, 2004

Great site on Watchmen’s Rorschach:

Hat tip to Julian Sanchez for linking to this site on Alan Moore’s Rorschach. “Poetically nihilistic, he was the most existential hero in WATCHMEN; he kept a journal which initiated and framed the comic book's storyline.” The only flaw to this site is that it doesn’t mention the “N” word (Nietzsche). Rorschach’s philosophy is more than just modern existentialism, it’s authentic Nietzsche, complete with the abyss. “This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not Fate that butchers them or Destiny that feeds them to dogs. It's us. Only us." And like Nietzsche, Rorschach is a hard-core right-winger. For my take on Rorschach’s Nietzschean philosophy and how it contrasts with modern-Left egalitarian nihilism, see this past post.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

How to properly understand the story of Sodom & Gomorrah:

I debated this issue on Jim Price's website. Note, I am not arguing that the Bible is neutral on the issue of homosexuality (I'm not trying to argue away Leviticus). Rather I am asking, if this story literally happened as the Bible says it did, what does it tell us about the issue of homosexuality. I argue it tells us nothing about homosexuality as we presently understand the phenomenon. Note: I didn't come forth with this line of reasoning. The late John Boswell is most famously known for it. But I do agree with it, as a matter of logic.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Alan Keyes’s lesbian daughter:

Yes, it’s true. Here is her webpage. She has very interesting politics. Like her dad, (who she is campaigning for), she is adamantly pro-life. But in most other aspects of her politics, she seems to be a Chomsky-like anarchist/Marxist/leftist (part of that annoying crowd who are constantly making trouble protesting the IMF, World Bank, WTO and Republican Party meetings). I think she supports Nader for President. She said that if she attended the Republican convention, she would do so openly protesting the war.

I am not outing her. I would never be part of an outing campaign. She is already out. Alan Keyes’s own website is talking about this on the discussion boards.

For me the interesting thing is, after Keyes made his now infamous remarks about Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter, I commented on this and referred to an earlier piece that I wrote about how Keyes’s mentor, Allan Bloom, was homosexual, noting the irony and hoping that when Keyes discusses homosexuality in such a stern and mean-spirited fashion, he would reflect on his relationship with Bloom, to make the issue sort of, “hit close to home.” But I had no freaking idea just how close to home Keyes’s comments about the VP’s daughter hit. He is in Cheney’s exact same position with a lesbian daughter of his own.

He knows about her sexual orientation, and doesn’t seem to be okay with it. She wrote:

"my parents and I were seriously not getting along and so we needed some time off from each other; the idea was that after a year of being a wonderful good helping-the-poor type person they would once again like me and therefore be willing to pay for my college I'm not so sure that part of it will work; despite the fact that I'm all about working for global justice THEY don't care about that, THEY only care that I am an evil dyke. And even if I am a charitable dyke I am still a dyke who KISSES GIRLS and especially with the gay marriage thing going on now that's at the front of their minds. "

Yet she still seems to have a close relationship with her parents (and honestly, I hope that family the best with this). She still has a home with them and is actively campaigning for her Dad. And irony of all ironies, in many of the campaign pictures that were featured on Keyes’s own website, she was wearing her gay-rainbow colored bracelet. But those pictures, alas, have been taken down.

Knowing this now really helps to put this remark by Keyes into perspective:

If my daughter were a lesbian, I'd look at her and say, 'That is a relationship that is based on selfish hedonism.' I would also tell my daughter that it's a sin, and she needs to pray to the Lord God to help her to deal with that sin.

When he said that, he knew that his daughter was a lesbian. That had to have been painful.

And finally, I must remark that Maya and her girlfriend make the cutest couple. They are just adorable, aren’t they?

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Two Founding era-treaties on religion & government:

World Nut Daily is up to it again, pushing a revisionist history of America's founding and religion. [See Ed Brayton's post here, as well]. The book they are pushing, among other lies and half-truths, "presents the 'militant Christian faith' of the Founding Fathers...." Militant Christian faith? Huh, is that why a majority (most likely 4 out of 5) of the drafters of the Declaration of Independence didn't believe in the Trinity (and the same can probably be said of the first half dozen or so Presidents of the US, certainly of Jefferson & Adams).

Speaking of being "founded on" Trinitarian Christianity, let me discuss two important founding era treaties that relate, in some way, to religion & government, and try to put them in context. One treaty that we secularists commonly cite to demonstrate that, in the words of the treaty, "the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion" is the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, that was negotiated by both the Washington and Adams administrations.

The words of the treaty seem pretty clear, eh? I have heard the religious right try to spin those words in many ways, and one common argument that I have seen is, "look who they were negotiating the treaty with." It was with non-Christian Muslims; our representatives were trying to be magnanimous, to convince them that this nation was by no means a threat to them, etc. etc. One fundamentalist even went so far as to tell me that the treaty represented a shameful capitulation to the then forces of Islamic terrorism.

Not let's turn to another important treaty of the time (one that I have seen folks at WND cite to prove just the opposite of what the words of the Tripoli treaty say) -- the United States signed a treaty with Great Britain in 1783, the Treaty of Paris, which codified the end to the revolutionary war, and which begins, "In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity."

But then, let us ask who it was exactly that we were negotiating this treaty with: Great Britain. Although Britain, at that time, had enacted some degree of religious tolerance that exceeded what most other Western nations were willing offer (thanks to Locke), it was by no means as far reaching and revolutionary as the degree of separation of Church & State that our founders were going to enact just a few years later at the Federal level with the enactment of our Godless Constitution. The Anglican Church was still the established Church of England. And more importantly (this is *the* point that needs to be driven home). IT WAS A CRIME TO PUBLICLY DENY THE TRINITY IN GREAT BRITAIN AT THE TIME THAT THIS TREATY WAS RATIFIED.

Two of the four men who were involved in negotiating the treaty, Ben Franklin and John Adams, disbelieved the Trinity. The other two, D. Hartley and John Jay, I am not aware of their stance on the issue. In fact, one of the ways in which we know that both Jefferson and John Adams explicitly denied the Trinity was because the issue came up in their letters of correspondence in the year 1813, as they were discussing a law, newly passed in England that year, which decriminalized publicly denying the Trinity!

So, according to the reasoning that would downplay the Treaty of Tripoli's proclaimed secularism of the US Government, that clause in the Treaty of Paris invoking the Trinity was obviously just a little rhetorical bone of magnanimity thrown Great Britain's way.
Orthodox Christianity can go both ways on Church & State. What about Islam?

Here is a thoughtful email I received reacting to an earlier post of mine:

I would agree with your assessment that Christian Reconstructionists and Libertarians make for strange bedfellows. What is most saddening, however, is that such persons label themselves as "Libertarian Christians", and others accept this labeling at face value.The Christian Reconstructionists are guided by a strict Calvinist (i.e. determinist) theology and a fundamentalist view on the authority of Scripture. Their ultimate goal is theocracy, and I believe that they are simply statists in religious garb.There are Christians, however, that subscribe to an Arminian (i.e incompatabilist) theology, or some variation thereof. Such Christians believe that because God granted humans with free will, God can only work with humans through persuasion, not coersion. Scripture, therefore, cannot be a set of hard and fast rules that must be obeyed, or else. It is "authoritative", but not "authoritarian".I consider myself to be one from this second group of Christians (I am a United Methodist). I also believe that I can truly call myself a Libertarian Christian for the reasons described above. Of course, this is a very sketchy outline of my position, but perhaps this will provide some food for thought. Let me know what you think.

This email reminds me of the political/theological problem that so plagued the West before it separated Church & State. Yes, it’s possible for orthodox/fundamentalist Christians to literally interpret the Bible as seeing virtually no distinction between Church & State and calling for the creation ideal “Christian Commonwealths.” Two prominent historical examples—Calvin in Geneva and the Puritans in Massachusetts…both were as fundamentalist as could be and both knew the Bible as well as anyone else. Calvin had one of his non-Trinitarian critics put to death for challenging his views on the Trinity. And the Puritans (and other Protestant denominations in the colonies as well) forced public officials to swear an oath of allegiance to “Trinitarian Christianity.”

Yet there is more than one way to skin a cat and to literally interpret the Bible. Roger Williams was also as much of a fundamentalist as the aforementioned two and did interpret the Bible as calling for a separation between Church & State. But interesting, Williams’s “understanding” of the Bible was novel for the time and novel for orthodox Christianity as well (even though he did rely on the scriptures). Perhaps Williams was inspired to “reconsider” the conventional understanding of Church & State in the West because of the seemingly intractable problem of religious persecution. But his understanding at that time was not only novel, but also highly dissident. The Puritans in Mass. banished Williams to Rhode Island (where he founded that state) for daring to challenge the notion of the “Christian Commonwealth.”

Now Islam clearly needs a Roger Williams and a John Locke, and a Jefferson and a Voltaire to separate Church & State there. The big question is: "Is orthodox Islam compatible with secular politics?" Answer: I don't know. Jesus was not a king and when they wanted to make him a king he replied that his kingdom is not of this Earth. Muhammad was not only head of the Church, but also head of state. He did not set a good example for secular politics. But I suppose it is the role of the natural rights statesmen to get the Mullahs to believe that Islam "properly understood" calls for liberal democracy, as was done with Christianity a few hundred years ago.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Is the Socratic Method Effective?

I’d say I agree with about 80% of what Brain Leiter writes when he argues that the Socratic method is not necessarily the best teaching method. Although it depends on what is meant by the “Socratic method.” I would agree that the “hard” Socratic method, ala Kingsfield in The Paper Chase is not a good idea. By this we mean the professor only asks questions and supplies no answers (the professor completely hides the ball). The students supply the answers which invariably lead to other questions by the professor and the students are supposed to be able to “figure out” the rules or the “black letter law” by the question and answer process. Only one professor at law school did this as strictly as Kingsfield (my Criminal law prof.) and another professor seemed to be this strict about one half of the time. Just about all of the other professors employed more of what I call the “soft” Socratic method style, which I do think is quite an effective way to teach. And that is when the professor attempts to first elicit the answers from the students but then ends up, either, if the student got it right, reiterating what the student said, (or at least that part of what the student said that the professor wants us to learn), or if the student didn’t exactly get it, clarifying or correcting the student’s answers. The students essentially need to wait for the professor, to “give them the goods.”

It’s true it takes a little more time to drive the point home. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For instance, Leiter reproduces a student email who complained, “it just takes forever to get to the point, wastes a lot of time on poorly thought out responses, and so on.” But as long as the professor eventually gets to the point and articulates it well, that’s all we need (but the “hard” Socratic professors never really let you know what the correct answer is—that’s not effective teaching in my opinion).

But what if the teacher just got up there and lectured—just rattled off a lot of black letter law without the interaction with the class? They might be able to compact three times as many legal rules into the same lecture, but this also runs the possibility that the students will be given too much, too fast, and much of it won’t sink in, (or without the interaction, the students will just zone off and not pay as hard attention).

With the Q & A interactiveness of a soft Socratic method, the students’ interests first gets piqued, they begin to wonder what the answer really is as the professor attempts to elicit the right answer from the class, and then the professor gives it to them, satisfying that interest. Yes, it takes longer, but it also will sink in better than if the professor just got up there and rattled a bunch of rules off without calling on students.

I myself use a very (very!) soft Socratic method when I teach my community college students (and believe me, if any students are susceptible to confusion, it’s them). If I just got up there and talked and gave them rules with out any interaction, they’d all zone out. So what I try to do is ask questions, elicit answers from the class, and if they don’t give me the right answers (or if they don’t participate at all) then I explain the rule as they need to learn it (the rule is usually written on a handout that I give to them anyway). Or even if they do give the right answer, I still end up reiterating the proper answer (I can usually explain it more articulately—plus, being pedantic, or redundant, i.e., reiterating what has already been said IS a very effective and needed teaching method for community college students. You really really need to drive the point home. Some people have said that my writing style is too redundant. It’s probably a force of habit from teaching at community colleges).

Employing a Q&A teaching method is a way of livening up the class. I could just get up there and rattle off the answers in 15 or 20 minutes for what would otherwise take 50 minutes—but as I said, it takes time for these rules to sink in and the “call and response/ question and answer” method gives that extra time that is needed to drive the point home .

Leiter offers evidence as to why “the Socratic method is a pedagogical disaster.”

1) law students have complained so often for so long about teaching in law schools, that there is now an official lore and vocabulary to describe their frustrations with the pedagogy: e.g., law professors "hide the ball," but then they want "black letter law" on the exams, and so on.

This is true. But I found by carefully listening to most professors’ lectures, they would eventually get around to giving the black letter law. When taking notes in class, I wouldn’t take down the answers that students gave. Rather I’d take down everything that the professor said. The professor asks a question—take it down. The student provides an answer—rest your hand. The professor reiterates or clarifies or corrects the students’ answer—take it down. And that’s where you get the black letter law or otherwise how the law is supposed to apply to the facts. By using this method I was able to construct whole outlines, without the use of commercial outlines, full of black letter law. Often I would need commercial outlines to “fill in the gaps” when I wasn’t paying close enough attention (in other words, the gaps were most often my fault, not the professors').

(2) there is an enormous and lucrative industry of "commercial outlines" which teach law students the material that is being covered in their "Socratically taught" classes. These commercial outlines give the students answers: the holdings of the cases, the reasoning, the standard criticisms of the reasoning, etc. If the Socratic method were really an effective way to teach students law, why would almost all law students (including the very best ones) turn to commercial outlines? The obvious answer is: they don't learn the material effectively from the Socratic method.

Again, this is true. Those outlines can be very helpful in explaining or clarifying the black letter law that we ultimately had to learn for the exam. I used to use them for preparing for class (instead of reading the cases) and for preparing for the exam. And of course, the professors thought they were “poisonous” because we don’t learn how to “think like lawyers” when we rely on commercial outlines. As Leiter notes, this sentiment, of course is bullshit. If you can rely on outlines and get a good grade (as many did and still do), then they are useful and effective, period. But as I said, I only needed to rely on them to “fill in the gaps” that were left in my notes (I often bought them for "insurance" purposes). And when I attended every class, and took down everything the prof. said, I could make an outline and pull an A- or so (with a 2.85 class curve) without preparing for the class, hardly at all.

That’s the big scandal of law school. The method that they tell you you need to follow—reading and rereading the cases before class so that the professors can grill you, and even going so far as taking notes on those cases or fully briefing them, again, before having even come to the class where the case is to be discussed and then taking copious notes in class—is what you need to do in order to “think like a lawyer” and get a good grade. Wrong. Lot's of needless work. Come to class without having read the case or after briefly looking at a commercial outline and then take notes, you can skip all of that preparing for class. Commercial outlines are an effective way to supplement your learning in lawschool—but usually what they have that you need to know is what the professor has already said in class, but didn’t make it into your notes.