Monday, October 14, 2019

Why the Democrats Need to Tap the Brakes on Impeachment

10/14/2019--I forgot last week to post a reference to my column on impeachment in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. You can read it here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Yom Kippur and the Shootings

10/9/2019—The Jewish community in Pittsburgh continues to struggle to come to terms with the shootings a little more than a year ago that killed 11 persons and wounded others at a synagogue building housing three congregations. Because of the timing, the shootings have been on the minds of many during this High Holy Day season.

Actually, all of Pittsburgh is reminded of these events. That is obviously true of me, but I retain many ties to Judaism, including an awareness of the liturgical calendar.

Commemorations climax today, on the holiest day of the year—Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

On this day of fasting, Jews seek forgiveness of sins, both individually and collectively.

The Christian question after such a horrific act tends to be one of forgiveness of the perpetrator. This echoes Jesus’s call from the cross—Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

This is a theme that Dan Leger, who was badly wounded in the shootings, referred to in a story in the Jewish Chronicle. Dan, whom I have known for years, and who is a spiritual source for many at Dor Hadash and in the community generally, said that when he awoke after the shooting, the first thing he said was the Shema, the second was “I love you” to his family. The third thing was, “God forgive him,” very much like Jesus.

I am not aware that this fits exactly with the meaning of Yom Kippur, however. On the cross, Jesus is not concerned with his own sin and the point of Christian theology is that he was blameless—without sin.

Yom Kippur, on the other hand, is about one’s own sin. Obviously, there is no direct relationship to a terrible Anti-Semitic act of violence, for which the victims bear no blame.

On the other hand, Rabbi Friedman, an Orthodox rabbi in the Chasidic tradition, tells a story from the Baal Shem Tov, the founder, who told of a man who kept two ledgers—one of his sins and the other of God’s sins. He tossed both in the fire, saying, “if you forgive mine, I will forgive yours.” We could think of the shooting as an offense by God.

Then there is the communal theme. On Yom Kippur in the Torah, the sins considered are more national than personal. The sins of the Jewish people. After the Holocaust, this led Jewish thinkers like Emil Fackenheim to radically rethink the relationship of the Jewish people to God.

Here is what Fackenheim said: “we are, first, commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish. We are commanded, secondly, to remember in our very guts and bones the martyrs of the Holocaust, lest their memory perish. We are forbidden, thirdly, to deny or despair of God, however much we may have to contend with him or with belief in him, lest Judaism perish. We are forbidden, finally, to despair of the world as the place which is to become the kingdom of God, lest we help make it a meaningless place in which God is dead or irrelevant and everything is permitted. To abandon any of these imperatives, in response to Hitler's victory at Auschwitz, , would be to hand him yet other, posthumous victories.”

Fackenheim should be remembered today, but I actually cannot remember anyone talking about him. Of course, I have not been attending these remembrances, so maybe I just missed it. Fackenheim was not enough to keep me within Judaism. But I have been living with the world as a meaningless place, just as he feared.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

What are the High Holy Days About?

What are the High Holy Days About?

10/2/2019—I have been reading the essay, Language, in Heidegger’s book, Poetry, Language, Thought. In this essay, Heidegger asks what language calls? Language calls what is far. It calls us to the absence of what is far. Language does not round up what it calls.

The same is true of God. The High Holy Days are not about renewing a program of social justice. They are about the holy. They are about God and humans.

One does not pray to bring oneself closer to God. Closeness to God is not a human achievement.

Nor does one pray to bring closer. God is far away.

Rather, one prays to bring the absence of God closer. That is the penitent posture. One prays into that absence for forgiveness.

Out of that renewed spirit, it is possible to imagine a program of social justice. But it would only be one that arose out of human solidarity.

So, the point of the High Holy Days is longing for God. Unlike other holidays that some other theme—law for Shavuot, freedom for Passover, nature for Sukkot—the only theme of the High Holy Days is God and my inability, through sin or simple distance, to be in God’s presence.

Shabbat also has this theme, which is why Psalm 27:4 is said: “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.”

But, it may be asked, what has all this to do with the atheist, who does not believe in God? Someone like me.

But who longs for God more than the atheist, for whom the distance from God is truly infinite? The believer has God in his pocket. Not so the atheist. It is impossible to think of a character like Chris Hitchens as anything but a jilted lover. Hitchens had God and then he lost God.

That would be true of most atheists of a certain age. Most of us grew up believers and we know what we have lost. There is a different kind of atheism growing now—the young, who know nothing of the God experience.

So I said to my teacher, I miss Kol Nidre. Then for a moment I felt close to the divine. No, he said to me. Now you have Kol Nidre. If you had continued going to that service, you would eventually have lost it through repetition. It remains for you now holy for all time.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Taking Court-Packing Off the Table

9/28/2019—It would be nice to be able to take Court-packing off the table. On Friday, I gave a talk at the Elon Law Review Symposium on Court-packing—“Saving Judicial Independence From Court-Packing’s Nihilism.” I argued that Court-packing—the addition of the number of Justices beyond the nine set in 1869—bespoke a kind of jurisprudential nihilism. Marbury v. Madison pronounced America a government of laws and not of men. But the proponents of Court-packing did not believe that. They need bodies and votes.

And the Republicans are just the same. That is why they are busy packing the courts in their own way. Mitch McConnell says he wants to have a permanent impact. But how can you know how judges will rule in the years to come—unless this is all party and partisan and not reason.

Akhil Amar of Yale Law School delivered the keynote address of the symposium. And he also condemned Court-packing. He added an additional objection to partisan Court-packing—that the other side, the Republicans in this case, would regain power and add even more Justices to the Court. It would spin out of control, he warned.

I was impressed that there was a feeling of agreement in the room. The kind of agreement that goes beyond politics.

I also criticized the AALS for having “Pillars of Democracy” as the theme for the January 2020 annual meeting, while refusing to raise the issue of Court-packing. Presidential candidates discuss it, but not law professors? Are they afraid to confront the progressive wing of the Democratic Party?

Now that I have heard a national figure like Amar weigh in, I believe the academy will not much longer be able to avoid the issue.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Nihilism in the Heartland

9/22/2019--I don't think I have ever read a book review that depressed me so. This is what it looks like when the universe doesn't care about my purpose--nothing left but cut off individualism and conspiracy theories. This is why the Socialist Workers Party hates the identity politics of the progressive wing--it divides people. Rich Lord's review of We Are Still Here in the PG.
Jennifer M. Silva spent Nov. 8, 2016, in a coal town in Central Pennsylvania, and when she arrived for an interview wearing an “I voted” sticker, it didn’t go over well.

“I wouldn’t be proud of it, no offense,” her interviewee told her. “Are you paying attention to what’s going on around you?”

Yes, she was, and if you are too, you’ll find many chilling moments in Ms. Silva’s second book, “We’re Still Here: Pain and Politics in the Heart of America.” If you’re familiar with post-industrial towns and neighborhoods, you’ll recognize her interviewees, ache for them and likely quake for our future.

By Jennifer M. Silva
Oxford University Press ($24.53).

Ms. Silva, an assistant professor at the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington, spent months in midstate coal towns, conducting more than 100 interviews with a diverse selection of natives and newcomers. Her goal was to explore the ways the lives of working-class Americans inform their politics. She ended up scraping for something — even something painful — on which to pin some hope.

“They have all become acutely distrustful of the institutions that could connect their individual problems up to collective action,” she writes. Many of her interviewees were “struggling to convince themselves that ‘America’ stands for something larger than individual greed,” and diving deep into cynicism and conspiracy theories that only render them less politically relevant.

Studies from decades back found that most working people had some sense of allegiance — to their union, church, profession, political party or country, Ms. Silva writes. In 2016, she found allegiance “virtually nonexistent,” replaced by a fatalistic version of rugged individualism.

Ellen, for instance, “derives a sense of self-worth from rejecting dependence on others and sacrificing to make it on her own,” while maintaining a cold distance from a heroin-using sister and frowning on the family members and public servants that preserve her.

Jacob, a welder, “projects fearlessness, emphasizing his willingness to take risks and live with the consequences” and scorns fast-food workers who aspire to earn more, noting that he has “more chances of dying at my job than they do at theirs.”

The parade goes on, with interviewees reflecting that great American value of standing on your own two feet — and getting nowhere. Asked whether they’ll vote, nearly two-thirds say no.

“Whoever they want to win is gonna win, and it’s all a matter of who has more money,” Danielle tells Ms. Silva.

“Big money runs this country,” Austin adds, explaining his decision not to vote. “If you think they’ll take less so you can have more, you’re ignorant. They keep us bickering amongst ourselves while they live above the law.”

The decision not to vote, of course, does nothing to shake the grip “they” have on our nation’s resources. And yet, even those of Ms. Silva’s interviewees who have coherent hopes for government don’t vote on that basis.

Her subjects “express a great deal of support for policies that expand opportunity in terms of education, health care, fair pay and good jobs,” she writes. But if they vote at all, they’re likely to choose the candidate who is “in your face” and “don’t give a crap” what anybody else thinks, as one interviewee puts it, “because we don’t give a crap, and that’s what this country needs.”

One thread excited most younger interviewees: conspiracy theories. “Betrayed by institutions, detached from political or religious organizations, and distrustful of government,” Ms. Silva writes, “young working-class adults briefly lit up, their faces flushed, words flowing quickly, when they proved to me that they could not be fooled by the illusion of democracy.”

Ms. Silva notes that democracy historically serves working people only to the extent that they “form associations based on a larger sense of ‘we.’”

What unites many of her characters? The presence of trauma, often due to sexual abuse, abandonment, economic dislocation, injury or addiction in their lives or their families. Ms. Silva wonders “whether affinities built around pain could serve as a bridge between individuals and the larger society, perhaps replacing or supplementing older kinds of identity politics, like class or race.”

Certainly, the #MeToo movement has shown that alliances built on trauma can move the needle. It remains to be seen whether pain can be a long-term organizing principle and can overpower interviewee Daniela’s chosen philosophy: That as long as “nobody’s messing with us, and nobody comes to my door and nobody’s threatening me, putting a gun to my face, I don’t have to worry about nothing.”

Bends Toward Justice Podcast--Where You Can Hear It Now

9/22/2019--here is the announcement made at Duquesne this week by Jennifer Rignani, our communications director.


It is with great enthusiasm that I share with you the pilot podcast series “Bends Towards Justice”, an original podcast created and hosted by Duquesne University School of Law Professor Bruce Ledewitz and executive produced by the school of law communications office. We’d told you all previously that this was in production and we just wrapped it!

This thought-provoking show is produced in partnership with The August Wilson African American Cultural Center and funded by The Pittsburgh Foundation. The podcast asks a simple, but fundamental question—do we agree with Dr. King that arc of the moral universe bends toward justice? The guests in this series provide a variety of perspectives on that question. The goal of the podcast is for the listener to understand what is at stake in this question and to come to a decision.

We are working on a rollout of the series on social media and encourage you to please share on your feeds and please provide Bruce and I feedback or thoughts on the show.

Here it is: Soundcloud

Thanks all!

Warm regards,

Jennifer Rignani
Communications Director
Duquesne University School of Law
600 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15282
O 412.396.2462 C 412.977.5795

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Constitution Day 2019

Tuesday, September 17, is Constitution Day. It is a day that Americans celebrate the blessing of constitutional government. But, Constitution Day, 2019, comes at a time of unprecedented breakdown in American public life. Not since the Civil War have Americans been as divided and distrustful as we are today. And, unlike the period of the Civil War, there is no one great issue, the resolution of which might allow a return to normal rule. It is a symbol of our time that the book about politics most discussed today, is How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.

These authors remind us that the threat to democracy almost always comes from within. When we regard preventing political success by our opponents as the most important goal and are willing to sacrifice long-norms of restraint to frustrate that success, democracies die. Unfortunately, that describes the thinking of many Americans today.

Constitutional democracy relies on faith in one’s fellow citizens. The first amendment protection of free speech reflects the belief that truth has the power to persuade. Equal protection and due process reflect the belief that the majority will treat the minority fairly and with respect. Regular elections reflect the belief that we are capable of self-government. Religious liberty reflects the belief that there is an enduring meaning to human life in which we all share. That is the faith that must be renewed today if the Constitution is to endure.

Abraham Lincoln expressed that faith perfectly and simply, in his First Inaugural Address, in 1861, on the verge of civil war. He said, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” On Constitution Day, 2019, what must be renewed is not our faith in a system, but in each other. Lincoln failed to renew that faith, in his time. In our time, we must not fail, but succeed.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Bends Toward Justice Podcast Debuts This Week

9/12/2019—Recent related projects have limited my postings here. There will be announcements about all that in the coming weeks and months. Meanwhile, the podcast series Bends Toward Justice debuts this week, I hope, on Soundcloud. Here are the program notes:

“Bends Towards Justice” is an original podcast created and hosted by Duquesne University School of Law Professor Bruce Ledewitz. The five episode pilot series is available now at The podcast asks a simple, but fundamental question—do we agree with Dr. King that arc of the moral universe bends toward justice? The participants in this series provide a variety of perspectives on that question. The goal of the podcast is for the listener to understand what is at stake in this question and to come to a decision.

Episode 1: Introduction to themes in Martin Luther King’s concept that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.

Bruce Ledewitz is a professor of law at Duquesne University School of law. He specializes in constitutional law, law and religion and law and the secular. He is the author of American Religious Democracy: Coming to Terms with the End of Secular Politics (Praeger 2007), Hallowed Secularism: Theory, Belief, and Practice (Palgrave Macmillan 2009) and Church, State, and the Crisis in American Secularism (Indiana University Press 2011). Ledewitz received his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and his J.D. from Yale Law School

For Ledewitz, America is a society fallen into nihilism. For many Americans, there are no objective sources of meaning and history has no shape. But nihilism has arisen almost accidentally, out of a failure of the culture to defend truth. This podcast is a first step in challenging our nihilism.

Jesse Francis, who interviews Ledewitz in Episode 1, is a graduate of Duquesne Law School, where he and Ledewitz had an opportunity to explore the implications of nihilism. Francis is an associate in the Dickie McCamey law firm in Pittsburgh.

Episode 2: A conversation with Michael Shermer: Despite the discourse, at present, humanity is kinder and gentler.

Michael Shermer uses Dr. King's image of "the moral arc" to express his view that there is moral progress and that humanity has become better over time--kinder, gentler, more inclusive--and that this does express a truth of the universe. Recent trends that suggest decline are temporary and not an existential crisis in America and the West. The moral universe or right and wrong is real, but is not a metaphysical entity. It is an expression of enlightened humanity. Though not himself religious, Shermer has a great appreciation for what religion has done and does for moral progress. Like all things, religion is not all good or all bad. The issue for Shermer is what beliefs lead to actions that promote the flourishing of sentient beings. Those beliefs need to be encouraged. That overall movement is the moral arc for Shermer.

Episode 3: A conversation with Carter: If the universe doesn’t care about your purpose, does that mean life is meaningless?

In 2017, Joseph Carter wrote an op-ed for the New York Times as a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Georgia entitled, “The Universe Doesn’t Care About Your Purpose.” He wanted to explore the tension between the world of purpose that we see and the scientific reality of mechanistic forces that actually order things.

As a materialist, Carter argues that there are no intrinsic purposes in reality. But, on the other hand, humans need a sense of purpose and the world seems to hold together through the purposes of entities, including humans. Whether our purposes are real or illusory depends on who is asking the question and why. And in the struggle to achieve material fairness for people, it doesn’t really matter whether justice is inherent or not. Either way, justice is what we need to be working toward. The fact that purpose is not inherent does not mean the universe is meaningless.

Episode 4: A conversation with Christian Miller: Is character in decline in America?

Christian Miller’s work has been concerned for years with human moral character and specifically how we can improve our characters and why it is important for us to try to do so. He sees Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as also concerned with character and the way in which the character of Americans can be improved to be more in keeping with the ideals and promise of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The elements of character Dr. King particularly emphasized were faith, hope, compassion and courage.

The question for Christian Miller is whether and how these religiously infused characteristics can be transmuted in such a way that they are available to secular society. Without God, it is not necessarily the case that justice will triumph. We even see some evidence that character is in decline in America. But even if there is a God, there is a danger from a misunderstanding of Dr. King’s teaching—that we human beings can sit back and wait for the triumph of justice rather than actively pursuing it. Another problem is the moral relativism in the culture, which Miller rejects. Justice and character must be worked at and that will be difficult if we believe that all morality is equal.

Episode 5: A conversation with Tracey McCants Lewis: Will the moral universe bend toward justice?

Tracey McCants Lewis has made numerous contributions to Pittsburgh and the region. She has been a tenured professor of law at Duquesne University School of Law, she is Deputy General Counsel to the Pittsburgh Penguins and serves on the Board of Directors of the August Wilson African-American Cultural Center. McCants Lewis is a leader in the movement for social justice, in recognition of which the Urban League awarded her the Ron Brown Community Leadership Award in 2017. Part of that leadership is her current work at Duquesne Law School’s Civil Rights Clinic where, among other things, students provide advice and represent individuals pursuing expungements and pardons.

For Tracey McCants Lewis, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is not just a hero out of history, but a constant and contemporary source of inspiration. When Dr. King taught about the arc of the moral universe, it gave people at that time a sense of optimism and hope. Many of the things Dr. King looked for have come true, though much remains to be done. Some of those good things have even happened in hockey. In his plays, August Wilson exemplifies the seeking of justice that Dr. King was pointing to.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Is Hallowed Secularism Any Longer the Question?

8/31/2019—Since the publication of Hallowed Secularism in 2009, I have assumed that this formulation would be adequate to address the spiritual crisis of this culture. I have not reconsidered this question in light of the current crisis—politics in the age of Trump. I am now not so certain that this is the direction this culture needs to go.

What are we now seeing in regard to secularists in America? I don’t know where I read this, but some significant portion of the nones say they believe in God but are leaving religious/spiritual issues in abeyance until their lives are settled.

This, along with the asserted belief in God unsupported by any institutional, or for that matter, regular, expression, makes me wonder what this group is saying. It now seems to me that their purported belief is just another means of evasion in a culture that is filled with evasion. Hallowed is just not adequate.

Maybe what is needed is spiritually disciplined secularism. This would be a secularism especially for the mind. The participants would pledge to engage all of the traditional spiritual issues. In this way, secularism would not be just an avoidance of religion. It would be in fact be a higher level of engagement than most believers experience.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Would I Help Donald Trump?

8/24/2019—Anniversary Day—16 years.

Partisanship is an ugly thing. This came up this week with the question, would I help Donald Trump if it would help America?

During one of the more erratic week in his erratic Presidency, someone floated the idea of reducing payroll taxes to forestall the possibility of a recession. Now, there are many reasons to oppose doing this, including the fact that this recession threat is sort of self-induced by Trump’s ineffectual China tariffs. (Ineffectual in bring a deal).

But one normal reason for opposing the idea, that we can’t afford it, really doesn’t make sense. A recession would increase the deficit far more than a payroll cut would. And the cut would be temporary.

Trump quickly withdrew the idea for reasons known only to him. But, I asked myself, would I vote for this if I were in the House? The answer was, maybe not—not just because it would not work but because it might work. If it did, it would enhance Trump’s chance of reelection, which a recession would completely kill.

Trump is so horrible, that I found myself thinking, maybe the single most important thing is that Trump be a one-term President. So, even at the cost of Americans hurt by a recession, you don’t pass a bill to try to prevent it.

This is why I say that partisanship is an ugly thing. I used to think the worst thing about Mitch McConnell was his statement in 2010 that “[t]he single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” But, here I am saying the very same thing.

At the very least, it made me understand McConnell better.

Even so, it is still hard for me to change my mind, considering all the harm that Trump is doing. Yet, if McConnell was wrong, which he was, I must be too. Defeating Trump cannot be the most important thing.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Change Point in the Culture

8/20/2019—I have been writing about nihilism so long that I assume everyone knows that this is the fundamental problem facing our culture. But, of course, most people have no idea what nihilism is and why and how it might be a threat—-let alone how to combat it.

So, the juxtaposition of two op-eds on Monday—one from the right and one from the left—Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel, on the one hand, and Michelle Goldberg, on the other, may mark a cultural shift. We can call them twin diagnoses of nihilism.

Carlson and Patel are telling the story of a culture in which “nothing matters”—quoting James Kunstler. Such a culture breeds the despair of the mass killer or the suicide addict.

Goldberg is telling the story of a post-truth culture that lacks faith in a rational future, referring to the thought of Peter Pomerantsev. The need for facts is predicated on an evidence based future.

Each column exhibits the usual partisan myopia. Carlson and Patel ignore the role of capitalism, because that doesn’t fit their preconceived notions of the problem—the problem with “the jobs they hold” is not that they are controlled by “tech monopolists” but by their boses. Goldberg thinks the lack of faith in history came from philosophy and ignores the collapse of religion.

But they both see the same thing. There are no objective values—there is no source of meaning.

Ah, but what do we do about it? The problem has nothing to do with Washington, as such. And there is no way to “get history moving again” without talking about why it stopped moving in the first place.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

How Unfriendly Is the Internet?

8/18/2019—I don’t usually have the experience of getting real pushback on twitter—mainly because no one much reads what I say. But I responded to an anti-gun control tweet last week, mildly pointing out that the column in question had failed to address universal background checks and large capacity clips. The point of the column had been that most gun control proposals would not actually accomplish very much.

Well, you would have thought the roof had fallen in. I got so many responses that twitter asked me if I wanted to limit access to my responses to me—I have no idea what that would mean. And there were some angry people. And I did idly wonder if anyone would come by and shoot me.

But, mostly it was people vigorously, and none too politely, disagreeing with me and suggesting that I don’t know what I am talking about. This was fair game—if you’ll pardon the expression—although I had not actually made the arguments people were attributing to me.

Lots of people pointed out that “clips” is the wrong word—magazine is what we are talking about. And, indeed, I would not know one from the other. Other people pointed out that I had not read the original column closely enough to notice that the author was a woman and not a man, as my grammar suggested. They were right about that. I had paid no attention and my easy assumption that the author was a man was nothing but sexism.

My point in this one, small, example is that although the comments were unpleasant, they were not false and they were not dangerous. I’ve read much worse actually addressed to me in anonymous letters.

It’s not the same as what others have experienced, of course. No one harassed my family. No one threatened to kill or rape me, etc. But it is a reminder that some of the vitriol on the Internet really is free speech.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

What Would “Bends Toward Justice” Mean to Doris Lessing?

8/15/2019—I am the moderator of the Bends Toward Justice podcast series, in which I talk to people about the teaching of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

It is pretty clear what Dr. King meant by this, at least in a general way. He did not invoke God per se, but something good is in charge of history. Progress is slow and not linear, but it does happen. Usually, anyway.

The question for the podcast is what this means today to people without Dr. King’s strong religious faith?—which is most people.

So, enter Madelaine Schwartz, reviewing Lara Feigel’s book about Doris Lessing: Free Woman. (NY Review, 9/27/2018). Feigel uses Lessing’s work, The Golden Notebook, to introduce themes of life and liberation.

Here’s the relevant quote from the review: “Yet Anna believes that 'every so often, perhaps once in a century, there’s a sort of—act of faith. A well of faith fills up, and there’s an enormous heave forward in one country or another, and that’s a forward movement for the whole world. Because it’s an act of imagination—of what is possible for the whole world. In our century it was 1917 in Russia. And in China. Then the well runs dry, because, as you say, the cruelty and the ugliness are too strong. Then the well slowly fills again. And then there’s another painful lurch forward.’”

This is maybe more detailed than Dr. King had in mind. And Dr. King would have included particular nations—he certainly expected more justice in the US.

But Lessing’s observation is good, because it points out that progress in one place in the globe inevitably affects everyone else. There is something irresistible about justice.

Also, Lessing is helpfully pointing out that it may be more imagination than justice. First we have to imagine a future before a future can occur.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Here is the column on mass shootings and our spiritual crisis

8/11/2019--the column appeared today in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Putin on Western Values

8/10/2019—On Sunday, my column about mass shootings will appear in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, for which I write a biweekly column. So, I won’t scoop myself here. But the column ends with a quote from Vladimir Putin that has not received enough attention in America.

Putin said in June that the liberal idea has become “obsolete.” He was referring to specific matters that of course people differ about—gay rights, multiculturalism, etc. But on a deeper level, he was equating popular views with truth. So, he was claiming a great deal more. He was claiming that rights are not real. That truth has no power. That self-determination of a people can be manipulated.

Putin was not exactly greeted with outrage. And this is the issue. Would Americans die to save the Union, as thousands did in the Civil War? Would Americans die to save democracy and human rights, as thousands did in WWII? Maybe. Americans would fight to protect America from invasion or attack—in fact we do. But what about our ideas and ideals?

America has always been about an idea, not group and not place. This is why the notion of American nationalism is so repulsive. That idea has basically three manifestations—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address—you can add other pieces of Lincoln’s expression. Rights are primary. Governments must be limited by structure and law. Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

That’s really it. It’s also the liberal idea that Putin says is obsolete.

The validity of Putin’s claim rests with us and he knows it. He meant, even the West no longer believes in this. If we do, he is wrong. If we don’t, he is right.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

America Needs a Substitute for God

8/8/2019—The genre that is needed today is an answer to the question, What Has Gone Wrong and What Can We Do About It? This was the subtitle of the book, Democracy in America, by Benjamin Page and Martin Gilens. But it is the question lots of people have been asking since Donald Trump was elected President.

But it’s obvious that whatever went wrong predated Trump and in fact paved the way for such a person to be nominated in the first place. Furthermore, if we can imagine a world without Donald Trump, it is not clear that the hatred in American politics will be healed by voting him out of office.

So, if what went wrong was not Trump and if what we can do is not just get rid of him, what did go wrong and what can we do?

What went wrong is that God died. People, especially on the American Left, have a very hard time accepting that diagnosis. But if we think of the pathologies of American life, from baseless hatred, to the death of truth, to the deaths of despair in the opioid epidemic, to distrust of science—and on and on and on, we can see that they are mostly what you could call spiritual matters. If nihilism is the lack of a story that answers the question, what is this all about?, we have fallen into nihilism.

Anyway, grant me that for the moment. Grant me that there is no longer a culturally shared, beneficent and reliable universe that works for our good. When there was, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., could remind us that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, we could hope to one day to join with our opponents to jointly serve truth. As he did.

If this is the problem, what is the solution? You can’t go home again. The God who could deliver all that is gone for many people—too many for that story to serve as the foundation for our civilization. And many of the people for whom He is gone still go to church. That is why so many churchgoers are angry at the world, rather than grateful for Christ.

But just because God is dead, it does not follow that the beneficent universe of right and wrong died with Him. All we need are new sources for meaningful human life. Meaningful here means “meaning filled.” It used to be said, if you want peace, work for justice. Now we can say, if you want healthy politics, work to ground meaning. Those sources are available. More on that.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Roger Cohen on Truth

7/27/2019—The New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote a column about the inhumanity of Donald Trump today. It was pretty searing in its depiction of Trump’s reaction to Nadia Murad at a meeting on July 17.

But Trump was not the point, really. Cohen started out with the notion of truth as an absolute commitment. Cohen begins with a quote from Robert Musil: “No culture can rest on a crooked relationship to truth.”

But what Cohen doesn’t realize, or doesn’t want to realize, is that the attack on truth did not begin and does not rest on Trump or Boris Johnson. Nihilism began on the Left, with sophisticated opinion. And it is with us still.

When will the Left accept responsibility for paving the way for the death of truth and, more importantly, come to a decision about truth? (I’m talking to you, Mark Lilla) Are there universal truths about humans and the universe? Is nationalism false because of those universal truths? If so, identity politics and the anti-appropriation movement are also false.

Cohen is right on the disease but wrong on source and on the cure.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Strong Reactions to Column on the No-Prosecution Pledge

7/26/2019--It will be hard to face down the lock him up segment of the Democratic Party. My column in Politico set off a twitter storm, which of course was my purpose. I am trying to put out the case against this sort of thing.

The three things that the critics do not see. I am not proposing anything new. Americans just don't go after defeated candidates, especially for President, especially using the criminal law. Second, Democrats would and have used dirt on political opponents and Hillary would certainly have done so in 2016. Finally, President Trump may have wanted to go after Hillary, but he did not do it. You have to judge him on what he did, not on what he wanted to do.

I should also say that if you shut down an investigation out of honest belief that you are innocent and it is within your authority to shut it down, that probably is not obstruction of justice. So, how in the world could the President be prosecuted anyway.

And don't get me started on the pardon power.

So, a little real world publicity. But will it do any good?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Justice Stevens R.I.P.

7/19/2019—There are a lot of aspects to Justice Stevens legacy. Maybe most revealing of the rule of law is the Scalia/Stevens opinion in Hamdi. Nothing of Obama judges and Trump judges there.

That opinion is to me the high point of the career of Justice Stevens.

The doctrinal low point was this line from the opinion for a unanimous Court in Jones v. Clinton, the decision that allowed the Paula Jones litigation to go forward and led ultimately to Clinton’s impeachment: “The litigation of questions that relate entirely to the unofficial conduct of the individual who happens to be the President poses no perceptible risk of misallocation of either judicial power or executive power.”
That was stupid because cases like Paula Jones only go forward and are only financed because someone is President. They are brought by political enemies.

To me, the real low point, however, was Justice Stevens’ concurrence in Thornburgh in 1986, which struck down parts of Pennsylvania’s abortion regulations. There, Justice Stevens called the view that a fetus is a person “a religious view,” as if no one could think so except for religious reasons. He was probably the most anti-religious Justice in the history of the Supreme Court.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Adam Gopnik vs David Frum

7/14/2019—I haven’t read the book, A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventures of Liberalism, by Adam Gopnik, but if it is as tedious and superficial as David Frum’s review in the New York Times, the book won’t be helpful.

Anyone who praises “the liberal heritage of free speech, rule of law, scientific inquiry and individual conscience” is certainly on the right side of things. But Gopnik sounds incapable of fundamental analysis. I suspect this is because, as an atheist, he has no feel for religious experience and truth. See below.

Take this example from the book--“The basic American situation in which the right wing wants cultural victories and gets nothing but political ones; while the left wing wants political victories and gets only cultural ones. … The left manages to get sombreros banned from college parties while every federal court in the country is assigned a far-right-wing activist judge.”

Now this makes no sense. Much of what the Left wants from the courts is also cultural—not all but much. Is forcing the cake maker to make a cake for a same sex wedding political or cultural when cakes are freely available? How about contraception coverage by a religious employer when contraception is freely available elsewhere? Many of our political controversies are about cultural supremacy.

The right-wing judiciary is a threat to unions and that is not cultural. But do most progressives care all that much about that? Unfortunately, no.

Gopnik’s fear of truth is revealed in this comment about dogmatic religion—"If you think you have unique access to the truth, why wouldn’t you be intolerant of those who reject that truth?”

Revelation is not why people are intolerant. For that matter, truth is not why people are intolerant. Those religious traditions were the source of our respect for conscience—as well as the source of the Inquisition. It is a mixed bag. (To be fair, Frum sees that this applies as well to the secular Left.)

Intolerance arises from the content of the truth one believes she possesses. Dr. King taught that means are ends in the making. That is one basis of tolerance. I don't do everything I can to defeat error.

But no one is or should be tolerant of error as such. If I respect you as a person, I try to persuade you of the truth for your own sake. Out of love. I don’t persecute you. And I only act against you if you are harming others. Spreading your error is not harm because I believe your error will not stand up to shared investigation. In the end, truth will prevail. Thus, truth is the not a threat to tolerance, but its source. Think Gamaliel in the Book of Acts. There was no need to act against the new Jesus movement. If it was from God, it should not be opposed. If it was not, it would fail.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Happy Fourth

7/4/2019--No postings until next week. Have a happy holiday.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

All Our Problems are Related

26/29/2019—When you’re a hammer, everything is a nail. I’m that way about nihilism, which I blame for all our problems.

Nihilism is closely related to Hallowed Secularism, because nihilism is what happens to a believing culture when God dies and you don’t develop hallowed secularism.

So, today in the New York Times, Roger Cohen laments the decline of the liberal idea—basically, the American post-war consensus of democracy, market capitalism and the rule of law.

But Cohen does not understand what happened. It was not erosion, though there was some of that. Americans no longer believe in the universe. The liberal idea was founded on faith. Not just in God, but in the path of history, the reasonableness of people and a benevolent universe.

When, instead, history is contingency, people are flawed in their thinking, and the universe is just forces, all that is left is the will to power. Then power is serving only oneself. That is our decline. It would be stupid to be magnanimous in a reality like that.

Same issue with Bret Stephens’ column—nothing for him in the Democratic debates. Why? They are all narrow identity politics. But that is what happens when universal ideals decline. You are left with identity and tribe. Try truth and justice instead. That’s what we used to have. Dr. King even believed that the racist would be redeemed. Try telling that to Senator Harris.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Sohrab Ahmari Doesn’t Believe in God

6/27/2019—A lot has been written about an essay in First Things last May by Sohrab Ahmari. In the essay, Ahmari argues that the civility exhibited by National Review writer David French is inappropriate given the stakes in the culture war. Ahmari also says that cultural renewal is not enough to win back the culture war—"it doesn’t work that way.”

The reason I say that Ahmari does not believe in God, aside from one revealing aside when he accuses French of “an almost supernatural faith” in culture—as if supernatural faith were a bad thing—is that he does not take seriously the idea that God is the Lord of history.

In the context of losing the culture war—drag queen readings in the public library is the one that sets Ahmari off—there are two options for someone who believes that God is in charge. The first option is the route of Gamaliel in Acts—if this is from God, we must understand it and not oppose it. If it is not from God, it will pass away. Since abortion remains a moral concern for Americans while same sex marriage does not, maybe God has done a new thing. Maybe same sex marriage is God’s will. Many Jew hated what the new Jesus movement stood for (also a Jewish movement, of course)—they thought it violated traditional morality.

The second option is to assume that the people I am contending with are sinning and will be punished along with our whole society. This is Jesus addressing the women of Jerusalem—don’t weep for me, but for yourselves and your children. The days are coming when people will say it is better not to have been born. If Ahmari believed this, he would say to French, your mistake is that you do not love your enemies. If you did, you would do everything to save them from God’s wrath. You would not be held back by the secondary virtue of civility.

What Ahmari believes is that God is powerless and irrelevant. It is all up to Ahmari. He is Lord of history. So, he decides what must be done.

We are all atheists now. We are all nihilists now. This is the time of the will to power.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

All the Justices Get Religion Wrong Again

6/23/2019--One secular critic wrote that at least the Supreme Court in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association case did not accept the idea that a cross can stand as a symbol for all the dead, including Jews and other non-Christians and nonbelievers. That idea was the great threat.

The fight over the cross became a substitute for fights over the Pledge of Allegiance. It was as if the cross would be forcing a dead nonbeliever to endorse Christianity.

So, why not just put up symbols that everyone accepts? Because they don't have power.

The great thing about the endorsement test, now on its way out, is that it asked the right question. Is government endorsing religion? If government is endorsing something else, the Constitution is not violated. And the reasonable oberserver is the one to ask.

People don't realize that the reason we are filled with despair and anger is that we no longer have a story that promises peace. Religious stories promise peace. But many of us, and the culture as a whole, no longer accept them. And that is true of the religious people too. They no longer accept their own stories, which is why so many religious people are filled with anger and despair too.

When government uses religious symbols to tell stories of peace, the symbols should be constitutional. And if they are using religious symbols because they are familiar to everybody, that should not be a problem. The reasonable person has to see that the government is not endorsing the sectarian aspect of the religious symbol but its attempted universal message.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

What the Supreme Court Should Have Said, But Didn't, in the Maryland Cross Case

6/22/2019--This is the op-ed I wrote last March for the Washington Examiner in the Cross Case decided this week. The cross stayed, as predicted. There was no majority opinion on how to approach religious imagery in the public square. (This is a repeat of the March 21 blog entry since this is the time people are interested in the case.)
The World War I memorial cross in Bladensburg, Md., isn’t going anywhere. That was clear from the oral argument in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association. The Supreme Court may even be unanimous that the cross can stay on public land.

That is not surprising. The cross is an almost hundred years old WWI memorial without further religious reference. Crosses have symbolized the dead of the Great War since John McCrae’s epic 1915 poem, "Flanders Fields."

What matters is how the cross stays — do the justices add to American divisions, or do they begin the process of healing?

Thanks to President Trump, there is now a pro-religion majority on the court. That majority could abolish the requirement of a secular purpose in Establishment Clause cases — the Lemon test — and substitute a no-coercion test. This would be seen as a big win for one side in the culture wars.

The treatment of religion as an either-or proposition goes back a long way. The legal theorist Ronald Dworkin once asked whether America would be a religious country tolerating non-belief or a secular country accommodating believers. This is like asking who’s the real American.

These cases pit believers against nonbelievers because the Court has never asked seriously what secular meaning a religious symbol can have. Religious symbols don’t just endorse sectarian commitments, after all. They can just as clearly stand for a whole set of other commitments.

The national motto, "In God We Trust," for example, certainly refers to the God of the Bible for the monotheistic believer. But it also means that we live in a trustworthy universe and not in chaos. That is the reason why John Dewey, not himself a religious believer, never gave up using the word "God."

Those Ten Commandments displays that so often end up in court remind the religious believer that God is the foundation of human law. But they also proclaim that law must serve a higher truth. These monuments reinforce Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teaching that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. These displays are as much a rebuke to value-free originalism as they are to materialism.

To uphold religious imagery for its common, secular meaning is not to bring back the much-derided “ceremonial deism,” which claims that religious symbols no longer have religious meaning. Nor is it equivalent to the sanitized claim that religious imagery symbolizes a “religious heritage,” as if religion is now just a curiosity for museums.

It is rather that the real division in this country is not between religion and irreligion but between those who see meaning and purpose at the heart of the universe and those who do not. Religious symbols communicate very well on this level to believers and nonbelievers alike.

America is well on its way to becoming a secular society. The question is, what kind of secular society are we going to be? The opioid crisis, the spike in suicides, the general hopelessness and anger in American society, point toward a secularist nihilism. We will just have to get used to the idea that we are alone in an indifferent universe.

But there is another possibility. We can be secularists who still embrace transcendent norms.
Government should not be neutral with regard to the question of meaning. It should endorse cosmic purpose. It should proclaim hope. Religious symbols are not the only way to do that, but they do represent one way.

Any judicial decision in favor of religion versus non-religion will only be temporary. It will ensure that some future secular majority will insist on a naked public square. But a decision that fills that public square with common meaning for all of us can endure.

The justices have a choice. They can participate in, and further, our divisions or they can help us find common ground and healing. It depends on how they rule in favor of the cross.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Age of Pessimism

6/15/2019--As only he can, David Brooks gushes on twitter over a column today in the New York Times by Roger Cohen about Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke is the subject of George Packer's book, Our Man. Cohen celebrates Holbrooke as a man who believed in America and whose pushed intervention in the Balkans may have saved 100,000 lives.

Holbrooke dies sadly neglected by President Obama, whom he tried to serve. The episode does no credit to Obama.

But the real question is, who is Holbrooke? Cohen paints him as mean, vain and empty--almost a higher class version of Trump.

And Cohen fails to draw the obvious connection. The subhead is, This is an age of Pessimism. But America can still remake, redeem and rescue. But if America is led by mean, vain and empty leaders... .

Saturday, June 8, 2019

The No-Prosecution Pledge

6/8/2019--Last Wednesday, before Nancy Pelosi's reported statement that she wants to see President Trump in jail, I sent the following email to Susan Matthews at Slate in a pitch for a piece.

Dear Susan:

The best thing Donald Trump has done as President is something he consciously refrained from doing--he did not prosecute Hillary Clinton. Not putting your defeated opponent in jail is one of those norms that allow American democracy to work.

If you feel there was nothing to investigate, you have more confidence in the Clinton Foundation than I do.

Each Democratic Party Presidential candidate should take a pledge now not to prosecute Trump if elected. Democrats like to quote How Democracies Die about Republican norm violations undermining public life. So, it would be tragic if Democrats violate one fundamental norm that the Republicans did not trash.

Such a pledge would reassure moderate voters without surrendering any economic or environmental policies. So, not only is the pledge the right thing to do, the democratic thing to do, it is also the politically smart thing to do.

Nor would the pledge give up much. Donald is capable of pardoning himself his last day in office, which might work.

I propose 2000 words for Slate arguing for the No-Prosecution Pledge. I know it would get attention. I could have it to you in a day or two.
No response, which is how things generally go for me.

But the point remains and isn't going anywhere. The way you save democracy is by starting to save it. #noprosecutionpledge The alternative will poison American politics like nothing else.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Babbling Barr

6/5/2019--It needs more than I can write at the moment, but the extraordinary words of Attorney General William Barr must at least be noted.

Here is more or less the whole quote:

In an interview aired Friday on "CBS This Morning," Attorney General William Barr explains why he opened an investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation. He doesn't say what the evidence is, but Barr tells CBS News legal correspondent Jan Crawford that there is evidence that makes him believe senior government officials may have acted improperly to authorize surveillance of President Trump's 2016 campaign. He says that led to "spying" on the campaign.

He said the hyper-politicized nature of politics today is a danger to longstanding institutions and he took the job of attorney general because he is at the end of his career.

"Nowadays, people don't care about the merits or the substance. They only care about who it helps, whether my side benefits or the other side benefits. Everything is gauged by politics, and I say that is antithetical to the way the Department [of Justice] runs, and any attorney general in this period is going to end up losing a lot of political capital," Barr said. "And that's one of the reasons I decided I should take [the job] on. At my stage in my life, it wouldn't make any difference."

"I'm at the end of my career," he said. "Everyone dies. I don't believe in the Homeric idea that immortality comes by having odes sung about you over the centuries."

"In many ways, I'd rather be back at my old life, but I love the Department of Justice, I love the FBI, I think it is important that in this period of intense partisan feelings we do not destroy our institutions."
What does he believe immortality consists in? Clearly, he believes he is doing the right thing and that his critics are wrong. He does not expect reasoned discourse. So to do the right thing means to be criticized.

But this situation is not new. It is the sort of situation John F. Kennedy described in Profiles in Courage.

Except of course that Barr is not giving up anything. He is not being fired. He is remaining Attorney General. He is defending powerful people and making no sacrifice at all. He is just whining.

Barr doesn't have the faith to say, "I am doing the right thing and history will recognize the truth of that. So my conscience is clear." Instead, he invokes extraordinary nihilism--we all die and that is that and so what difference does it make what people think of me? What a juvenile thing from an AG.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

King Trump

6/1/2019--Now with the idiotic threats against Mexico, which, by the way, is not responsible for policing America's border. We are. This latest tariff threat roiled the markets again, which by the way, are about flat versus inflation since the tax cuts went into effect on January 1, 2018.

The frustrating thing about the latest tariffs is that they come on top of nonsense threats against Japan, Canada and Europe. There is no strategy here. Trump's quite legitimate effort to force the Chinese to play by the rules is undermined by all these trade distractions. Why not enlist everybody against China?

Basically, we are seeing the results of too much Presidential power. Why does Trump get to make economic policy at all? He is not Congress. He is abusing his statutory authority since he is often invoking non-existent threats to national security--Canadian products?--but obviously that authority was too broad to begin with.

Have Democrats learned anything? It's doubtful. Liberals are pretty bad about admitting mistakes. They could learn a lesson from Ross Douthat in that regard. We were fine with Obama making policy by himself when Republicans were obstructing and we agreed with the policies. Now nobody agrees with the policies, because there is no policy with Trump--just the latest rant and whim.

But if authority has not been ceded to the President, Trump could not be doing so much damage. Where is the Democratic Party candidate for President who runs pledging to return power to Congress? That is the candidate to support.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Bruno Latour, Science and the Post-Truth Moment

5/25/2019—Leafing through old issues of the New York Review, you get a sense of the speed of cultural dissemination these days. One such cultural moment occurred last fall, when Bruno Latour’s new book, Down to Earth appeared. Ava Kofman did a long review/essay in The New York Times.

Latour is the prophet of the philosophy of science. He and other critics challenged the authority of science back in the 1980’s. I taught his book, We Have Never Been Modern, for years.

So, isn’t Latour responsible in part for the post-truth age that he now bitterly regrets? Does he confess—the same kind of confession that Camus engaged in and which I wrote about last week here?

Not at all. Instead, Latour seems to feel that the unreasonable claims of objective authority—the facts speak for themselves and differ from values—finally came crashing down. Not because of him but because that image of science is not true.

That is not how Latour puts it, but it is the case. Latour would say it is not convincing. But it is not convincing because it is not true. Truth—or rather falsehood—has consequences.

This is what is missing in Latour—the acknowledgment that it is not all up to humans. It is up to us to a great extent. But as one scientist said, sometimes nature kicks you in the ass. We can amend that to say that sometimes reality kicks you in the ass. And here was one such instance—science as purely objective was not true and no amount of convincing would hold it up forever.

I am now beginning to see Dr. King’s teaching in a new light. If your society is built on injustice, it will to that extent be weaker and less resilient than social structures that people agree are just. And, again, this is not because of how convincing we are, but that some structures actually are unjust. Eventually their injustice is seen, though it may take a long time.

Robert Taylor used to call this minimal realism. I don’t know if he would still assent, but I believe this is a fair statement of how things are.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Universe Doesn’t Care About Your Purpose

5/19/2019—Tomorrow, I will be interviewing Joseph Carter for the Bends Toward Justice Podcast Series. He wrote the piece in the New York Times in 2017 entitled The Universe Doesn’t Care About Your Purpose.

Carter is not one of the hard-edged atheists types who disdains the human need for purpose. But he does describe the sense of significance that we have as an illusion.

Aside from the truth of his view of things, or even what truth here means, there is the question of the effect of such a belief on our culture. Is this view responsible for the way we are with each other right now? Does it lead to anger and despair?

Let me point to Camus, who came to believe that the answer to that question is yes. Here is a quote from Camus’ Notebooks, which I found in an 2013 essay by Claire Messud in the New York Review of Books. Camus is at a gathering with Koestler, Sartre, Malraux and Manes Sperber, when he said the following:

“Don’t you believe we are all responsible for the absence of values? And that if all of us who come from Nietzscheism, from nihilism, or from historical realism said in public that we were wrong and that there are moral values and that in the future we shall do the necessary to establish and illustrate them, don’t you believe that would be the beginning of a hope?”

Actually, I’m not sure it would matter what certain people say. That might be Camus’ view of the power of the intellectual elite in France. But if people again became convinced… .

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

What Impeachment and Court-packing Have in Common

5/15/2019--I find myself in conflict, or at least tension, with the progressive wing of my Party. There, the support for both impeachment of President Trump and adding to the number of Justices on the Supreme Court is pretty strong. I oppose both, as do most members of the Party, for now anyway.

For others in the Party, the lack of support for impeachment and Court-packing is probably pragmatic. The voters in general don't support either move and pursuing either allows the Republicans to frighten moderates with the prospect of radical policies if the Democrats win in 2020. Plus, the evidence of collusion was not there and the Court has not yet done anything dramatic--like overruling Roe. That is certainly subject to change.

For me, opposing both is more a matter of principle. Impeachment essentially for what the voters already knew strikes me as anti-democratic--an attempt to undo the choice the voters made. (yes, I know Trump lost the popular vote, but he ran to win States, not the popular vote, because that is our system. It is not fair to charge him with losing a race that was not run.)

Court-packing is an attack on the idea of a rule of law. If a particular Justice is doing something outrageous, the Justice can be impeached and removed. But adding numbers to change results treats the Supreme Court as just another political branch. (Yes, I am aware that that is how some Republicans are treating the Court--see Randy Barnett's tweet about Obama judges and Trump judges).

But there is even a deeper reason I oppose both and it is the reason that the progressives support both at base. Impeachment and Court-packing enable Democrats to rule without having to convince the country that the policies Trump is pursuing are bad. Both are anti-democratic in the sense of democracy as a rational contest of ideas.

People on the Left have become convinced that you can't change the minds of people. Lee McIntyre put his finger on the problem in his recent piece about the flat-earth position--pointing to headlines like, Why Facts Don't Change People's Minds. But McIntyre was promoting debate. He was suggesting a methodological turn in defending science. He was definitely not giving up on persuasion grounded in truth. McIntyre is arguing that claiming to have the truth in a skeptical age--about climate change or even the shape of the Earth--is subject to "arguments" about proof. Better to ask, honestly, what kind of evidence would persuade the person you are talking with--and talking with is a big part of this. What would convince you that vaccines don't cause autism? If the answer is that nothing would, then we can all see the absurdity of the position. Otherwise, maybe we, or some of us, can move to real exchange.

McIntyre is pointing to the kind of hard work that impeachment and Court-packing seek to avoid. His is the model to follow. McIntyre was not writing only about science, but about political life.

Friday, May 10, 2019

How Nihilism Cripples the Left

5/10/2019—Actually, nihilism does not cripple the Left, but it should. Often, when the Left or Left-leaning institutions want to criticize others, they do so in the name of universalist values, such as “the rule of law” or “truth.” But in other contexts, such claims would be taken to be totalizing fronts for rhetorics of domination. As in, there are many truths. Or, there is no rule of law, only political commitments.

I saw this tendency again recently in an article in the New York Times and an add for The New Republic—not that Left, I know.

The story was from May 7 and concerned the interference by the far right in Europe where the Right has attained actual government power or influence. Political agendas are now interfering with judicial and security functions that had long been thought to be outside politics.

So, for example, the agency that monitors security threats was asked to turn over the identities of informants who had infiltrated the far-right movement. The agency refused. Then the agency was raided by the police.

Yascha Mounk, the author of The People vs. Democracy, called this in the article “an assault on independent institutions, the separation of powers and the rule of law.”

But what is Court-packing but that exact same thing? An assault on the rule of law.

The far right just believes there are Trump judges and Obama judges—just like most people do here.

Now take The New Republic ad I got last week—headed “Trump’s War on Truth.” “Only fearless, fact-based journalism can stand up to him.”

Aside from the slippery fact/value distinction imposed here—do we really disagree about facts or do we use facts to support positions we would hold anyway? Even if we limit ourselves to facts, I thought there were no texts, only interpretations. And I thought all interpretations were equal.

The point is, a new kind of objective viewpoint is needed to combat the war on truth. And Trump is not the only, or main, or most important, combatant in the war. That war had been waged for many years, including in the pages of The New Republic. Until the Left takes some responsibility for where we are, we cannot move forward.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Why Study Talmud?

5/4/2019—I’m reading a book at the suggestion of a friend, if all the seas were ink, by Ilana Kurshan. I’m only on page 42, but it is a kind of life affirming memoir of recovering from a bad divorce through a spiritual practice. (Think Eat, Pray, Study Talmud).

The thing not addressed, at least not yet, is, why study Talmud? I mean, why Talmud—that great compendium of Jewish learning. Kurshan notes the practice of daf yomi—learning a page of Talmud a day—as a kind of communal discipline. Jews everywhere are doing the same thing.

But nothing she tells us about what she is learning seems intrinsically enlightening. So, of all things she could do, why study Talmud?

I believe there is an answer to that question. But let’s set a few things straight. One does not study Talmud to learn Jewish law, that is, to learn what to do in terms of keeping the law. First of all, the Talmud is not just about legal issues. (One debate that creates a set piece in the book is the dispute over whether the line in the Bible about the Israelites missing free fish in Egypt referred to food or sex). The Little Talmud was created hundreds of years later, when the authorities decided that the Talmud should have been about law. So, they took out everything else.

Second, even the disputes that are about law—that is, what to do to fulfill the commandments—are often not resolved. As any lawyer knows, you don’t leave legal disputes unresolved.

Nor is Talmud study about keeping the Jewish people together. That is not what the rabbis were doing.

So, what were they doing? They were drawing closer to God. So, you study Talmud in order to draw closer to God—at least if you are being faithful to the rabbis who wrote the Talmud.

What in the Talmud allows one to draw closer to God? Not the content of the rules, which are never clarified, but the disputes themselves. The Talmud is about disputation.

How could disputes draw people closer to God? Jesus would say the opposite would be the case.

The Talmud is a celebration of rationality itself. A celebration of giving reasons and making arguments. God delights in these arguments.

On one level, that sounds like a celebration of cleverness and Jesus would be right that this leads to conflict and anger. But now imagine that reality is rational—think Hegel. The effort to think clearly then mirrors reality—the Talmud is a human imitation of ontology. The rational is the real.

It is the lifestyle of the academies, not their “results” that form a holy life. This means, ironically, that study of Talmud is not the main thing. Study is the main thing. A rational life.

Law school itself could be Talmudic life. Should be Talmudic life. The difference is the lack of holiness in law school. It used to be thought that the common law reflected God’s blueprint for humanity. That is the Talmudic spirit. A law school could be a new academy.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Building Cosmopolis

4/29/2019—I will have a conversation today with Michael Shermer, the author of The Moral Arc, and other books, for the Bends Toward Justice Podcast Series. Michael is a ferocious critic of irrationalisms of all kinds, right and left, from climate change denial to anti-vaccine people.

But Michael does have a particular critique of religion, which he repeatedly emphasizes.

From the perspective of doing something about irrationalism, this inordinate concern about religion is really counter-productive. There is so much good work about the meaning of God that does not involve miracle or any other interference with the laws of nature discovered by science—I am thinking here of David Bentley Hart, for example—that you have to ask someone like Michael, why pick a fight?

This leads to a larger question—how does someone like Michael actually engage irrationalism?

I hope to ask Michael about Bernard Lonergan, the Canadian Jesuit who died in 1984. Lonergan was the author of, among other books, Insight and Method in Theology. Lonergan was very interested in the kind of decline that we are experiencing now. He suggested that part of the response has to be cosmopolis, which is discussed here. Mark Miller describes cosmopolis as “a redemptive community that would motivate people on a cultural level instead of attempting through economics or politics to impose new social structures.” This community is not one that occupies a particular geographic area or is composed of any one profession or discipline. It is a loose formation of people from different walks of life who all see and confront the decline that is all around them.

Cosmopolis differs from the current opposition movements against President Trump. It does not have a program in that sense. It does not look for redemption from any such quarter. Its main focus is on the clarity of thinking. Even that, however, is a misleading formulation because, for Lonergan, thinking includes a form of life in Wittgenstein’s sense. It is as much a matter of character as of cognition. One could say that only a certain kind of person in a certain social context is really adequate to the emergency in which we find ourselves.

My question to Michael is, how to build cosmopolis? I don’t believe that the current form of criticism that Michael practices helps us get there. Dr. King was a person who could build community. Even if the moral arc is entirely a human creation, it still requires community. Secularism is really bad at this. But religion is really good.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

More Religious Violence

4/21/2019--On this Easter Sunday, another reminder of violence perpetrated in the name of religion--this time in Sri Lanka. All religions perpetrate violence these days. I presume the bomber of a mosque in New Zealand on March 15, described as a white supremacist, was a Christian. Hindus oppress Muslims in India. Buddhists in South Asia do, too.

But violence perpetuated by Islamic radicals surpasses all the rest. One day Islam will suffer from this violence as Christianity did earlier in world history--by a wave of secularism. No one is going to put up with killing innocent people in the name of God forever. Eventually, whole societies revolt.

Chris Hitchens is smiling.

Friday, April 19, 2019

God: the Bait and Switch

4/19/2019—When I first voiced frustration over the conception of God prevalent in every synagogue I ever attended, my friend and teacher, Robert Taylor, told me to “translate” this kind of God language into something more believable. But over time I just could not do it. We find today in the Settler movement in Israel exactly the danger of a conception of a God who can do something like give somebody else’s land to me. Many settlers say that God gave Judea and Samaria to the Jewish people and so it is their land and Palestinians who live there have no rights.

But this is not just the view of theologically unsophisticated modern people. The great Rashi taught that the Torah begins with the creation of the world to show that God owns the world and can give the land of Israel to anyone he chooses.

As Martin Heidegger might say, this is to confuse Being with a Being.

This kind of God, who acts in human ways and does things a human being could do if powerful enough and for human sorts of reasons, is exactly the kind of God that Christopher Hitchens made fun of in his book, God is not Great. He thought a lot of the conflicts in the world arose from differing views of what that kind of God had actually done. And he was right.

But Hitchens was criticized because he was describing an infantile view of God. It was the view of God I was taught and the one that seems to be at work in the Church, he claimed. He called the movement from one kind of God concept to the other, a bait and switch.

I am reminded of this because of Easter. C.S. Lewis once said that Christianity was one big miracle. And I agree. The issue for me was always the resurrection, which is why I never became a Christian, though I love Jesus and consider the New Testament to represent the best truth ever written by humans.

Of course, Lewis was also not a theologian. And indeed Lewis really did have multiple conceptions of God—he always said that classical philosophy and Christianity were importantly similar.

But a real theologian like N.T. Wright makes the point very clearly. The claim of Christianity is that the resurrection actually happened. Not metaphorically. Jesus rose from the dead, his lifeless body reanimated in a new way—and thus physically not in the tomb—and confronted and engaged his followers.

But this I cannot accept. Only the kind of God I also cannot accept could so this kind of thing.

Even the Gospel of Mark, which is careful not to dwell on the resurrected Christ’s actions, makes absolutely clear that the tomb was empty and that this was the work of God.

This is in large part why I left Judaism. The monotheistic tradition insists that God can intervene in physical ways, setting aside the usual laws of the natural world. For many of us, something else, and new is needed.

But, to the many millions—billions—of believers, God bless you. And a blessing to you on Easter and Passover.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Two Cases of Independence--the Court and the Fed--and What They Tell Us About American Nihilism

4/14/2019--I will be speaking at Elon Law School in September--see events on the side. The occasion is a law review symposium on judicial independence at Elon on the anniversary of the Judiciary Act of 1869 that set the number of Justices on the Supreme Court at nine.

It is a well-timed event, since calls for Court-packing are only getting louder every day. As readers know, I am appalled by such calls. But they contrast strangely with what is going on with the Federal Reserve.

Donald Trump is packing the Fed with hacks--or trying to. But no one says, well, there are Trump Board Members and Obama Board members. There are, but people are willing to defend the idea of independent Fed decision-making.

Not so with the Supreme Court. Here, in principle there are only influences. There is nothing objective or scientific about the underlying matter--no need for actual expertise. For the Court, it's just, which side has a majority.

There is a lot one could say about this. Money is the most important thing. Capitalism is our main occupation. All of the nominees for the Court are competent, whereas, some of these Fed nominees or potential nominees are unqualified altogether.

But in terms of nihilism, the conclusion is that economic performance is not a value whereas justice is. And values are subjective.

Even people who would prefer a different tradeoff of unemployment and growth versus inflation don't want a President to have any say. They don't want to change the number of Board members to get their way. The reason is that they figure that any qualified member will have the same basic goals.

So, why is this not the case for the Court? Dr. King said the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. Brown was a unanimous opinion. The Court ended holding American citizens as enemy combatants without charge 8-1. Aren't there principles of justice as obvious and powerful as any theories of economics?

Thursday, April 11, 2019

More Universalism

4/11/2019--George Hutchinson is 89 years old and he has written an essential book for this culture: Facing the Abyss. Now I have only read this review by Edward Mendelson in the New York Review. But it will do for now. The point is universalism.

Hutchinson examines the literary culture of the 1940's and discovers that there were writers. Oh, they were black, white, gay straight, male, female. But they were writers about the human condition, despite their differing viewpoints. It was not unusual for Ann Perry, for example, to write about a white family. No concerns about cultural appropriation. Catetorization is the enemy.

Actually, that is not mostly what Hutchinson is getting at. There are cultures of virtue and cultures of penitence. The culture of virtue trumpets itself. That of penitence aims at self-reflection. The 1940's were one. We are the other. (Guess).

The Universal Declaration of Rights proclaimed by the United Nations in 1948 was not an instrument of Western imperialism celebrating personal autonomy. It was derived from Confucianism and Dewey's pragmatism and emphasized mutual relations. A collaboration between Eleanor Roosevelt and Zhang Pengchun.

The 1940's was a time of unspeakable horror. And of many American sins. Hutchinson does not gloss over that and neither did these figures. But it was also a time of some genuine introspection. We could use some of that. Cable news is self-righteousness. So is our politics.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Universal Christ

4/7/2019--I wonder sometimes why my Christian and Jewish friends don't live fuller, more meaning-filled lives. After all, they believe in a wonderful reality of hope and love that I don't inhabit. Or don't inhabit fully.

Richard Rohr's book, The Universal Christ, is an introduction into everyday mysticism that attempts to capture just such experiences. We can be on the bus and suddenly we become award of the presence of God--aware of a hidden depth of reality right there.

The process philosopher Alfred North Whitehead taught that we were always perceiving God but that religious experiences were just that constant awareness occasionally coming into conscious awareness.

The point of hallowed secularism--this blog, my book, my hope for the future--is that this consciousness of the depth dimension of life, as described by Rollo May, could be a common inheritance.

Secularists just don't tend to talk about these things. That is part of the reason that secular life is so flat and unsatisfying. You need mystery and depth to live.

Rohr is a panentheist. I am seeing myself more and more as that.

Here is a review of Rohr's book.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

When Cynicism Came to the West

3/31/2019—Peter Sloterdijk, the German philosopher, wrote in Critique of Cynical Reason in 1987—1987!—that cynicism came to the West through the Enlightenment’s critique of religion:

“I maintain that this enlightenment theory of religion represents the first logical construction of modern, self-reflective master cynicism.”

That critique had two parts. Ordinary people believed the myths and constructions of religion and tried to live by them. Political and religious leaders, and philosophers, on the other hand, did not, and used these religious teachings to keep themselves in power and enforce an oppressive status quo.

If you listen hard enough, you will hear in this critique the very way we today treat our opponents. Pro-life critics talk about Planned Parenthood being in it for the money. Representative Omar’s comment about the Benjamins can be put there, too.

Roberto Unger once criticized this kind of cynicism as failing to capture the consciousness of people we claim to be describing and understanding. We may think they are fooling themselves, but they undoubtedly believe much of the things they say. It may even be that they don’t act consistently with the beliefs they profess. But even that is a long way from the bitter cynicism of the critique.

And it suggests projection by the critic. After all, says Sloterdijk, the one who sees such cynicism is the master cynic. Does this mean that the critic does not believe in what he or she professes?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Two Party Lies that Fuel Political Alienation in America

3/24/2019—The title refers to the fundamental lie at the heart of each political Party coalition in America. These lies make it impossible for either Party to conduct open inquiry into our situation. Thus, politics becomes unreal.

If you live by a lie, you die by a lie.

My friends would recognize the Republican Party lie—human caused climate change is not happening. Thus we don’t need to take any radical action to forestall it.

A lot of Republican politicians know this is untrue. They know climate change is happening and is dangerous, but they pretend that there is time to do something about it. So they can live with themselves.

But some people I have met aggressively deny the facts. They have some theory about false data showing warming or about sources of the change other than human produced greenhouse gases. Or, they claim that the consequences will not be that bad.

They don’t trust the people bringing the news of climate change—the UN, environmentalists, scientists, etc.

As readers of this blog know, I am not one to pretend to know much about science. If a scientific consensus tells me there is liquid water under the surface of one of the moons of Saturn, I just accept it. How would I know?

Similarly, although I can see warming in my own lifetime—very significantly so (in Pittsburgh, below zero temperatures are now rare while they were more prevalent in the 1980s, when I arrived here)—if scientists told me this was just a temporary cycle, I would accept that. They tell me it is climate change and I can see that is dangerous if true.

There is a reason for this lie. The Republican coalition is strongly individualistic. Climate change is not. The Republicans honor private property. Climate change says no one is an island. Cutting down your tree affects me (so does the oxygen cycle).

But no thinking person can easily be a Republican given this lie. Worse, there is no real pushback. There is no institutional presence pushing for action on global warming in the Republican coalition.

The lie on the Democratic Party side is simpler. It is that human life does not begin at conception. At least here there is no serious scientific debate. When else could my life begin but at my conception?

The problem for the Democrats, of course, is abortion. Many women feel that they need abortion to be a legal option to live their lives with any kind of autonomy. Capitalism teaches that we are free to make money independent of others. Pregnancy puts the lie to that assertion. Liberal theory says that we are free to make our own decisions. Pregnancy ends that too. Pregnancy is dependency.

Plus, society is sexist. The consequences of pregnancy fall practically totally on the woman and hardly at all on the man.

So, abortion is felt to be an absolute necessity.

I get that since I am surrounded by it.

But you still cannot get to freedom by a lie. Human life begins at conception. So the only honest thing to say, as Catharine MacKinnon has said, is that despite the biology, the law has to be that protected life begins at birth. That is an honest statement. Brutal but honest.

I can never make up my mind on what the law of abortion ought to be. Certainly where the health of a mother is threatened by the pregnancy, abortion should be legal. And I would interpret that very broadly.

But that is not really the issue. A healthy young woman with bright life prospects is just not ready to have a child. She has no interest in the man with whom she had sex. And she is pregnant. The life she wants is over if she cannot get a legal abortion. More to the point, she will get an illegal one if she has to and that will threaten her life.

Life begins at conception is the truth. It doesn’t tell you that the morning after pill should be legal or not. As they say, biology is not destiny. These are social judgments.

Anyway, those conversations will never happen until that truth of human life’s beginning is squarely and honestly faced. But that is not going to happen anytime soon.

In defense of the Democratic Party, unlike the situation with climate change, there is something of a pro-life faction. My Senator, Bob Casey, is one of its leaders. But it is certainly not a nationally significant group.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

My op-ed on the Bladesnburg Cross

3/21/2019--My op-ed on the peace cross appeared in the Washington Examiner today. Here is the original version (some minor changes and omissions in the paper).
How the Court Should Rule in Favor of the Cross

The cross in Bladensburg isn’t going anywhere. That was clear from the oral argument in The American Legion v. American Humanist Assoc. The Court may even be unanimous that the cross can stay on public land.

That is not surprising. The cross is an almost hundred years old WWI memorial without further religious reference. Crosses have symbolized the dead of The Great War since John McCrae’s epic 1915 poem, Flanders Fields.

What matters is how the cross stays—do the Justices add to American divisions or begin the process of healing?

Thanks to President Donald Trump, there is a pro-religion majority on the Court. That majority could abolish the requirement of a secular purpose in Establishment Clause cases—the Lemon test—and substitute a no coercion test. That would allow the government to endorse religion, and even endorse Christianity. This would be seen as a big win for one side in the culture wars.

Treating religion as either/or goes back a long way. The legal theorist Ronald Dworkin once asked whether America would be a religious country tolerating non-belief or a secular country accommodating believers. This is like asking who’s the real American. You could hardly be more divisive.

Even Justice Antonin Scalia, much more sensitive to the clash of constitutional values, tended to see these matters as tragedy, in which some valid claims would have to be disregarded.

These cases pit believers against non-believers because the Court has never asked seriously what secular meaning a religious symbol can have. Religious symbols don’t just endorse sectarian commitments. Religious symbols also, and just as clearly, stand for a whole set of other commitments.

The national motto, In God We Trust, for example, means the God of the Bible for the monotheistic believer. But it also means that we live in a trustworthy universe and not in chaos. That is the reason why John Dewey, not himself a religious believer, never gave up the word, God.

Those Ten Commandments displays that so often end up in court remind the religious believer that God is the foundation of human law. But they also proclaim that law must serve Truth. They echo Dr. Martin Luther King Jr..’s teaching that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. These displays are as much a rebuke to value-free originalism as they are to materialism.

Upholding religious imagery for its common, secular meaning is not bringing back the much derided “ceremonial deism,” which claims that religious symbols no longer have religious meaning. Nor is it the sanitized claim that religious imagery symbolizes a “religious heritage,” as if religion is now just a museum trip.

It is the claim instead that the real division in this country is not between religion and non-religion, but between those who see meaning and purpose at the heart of the universe and those who do not. Religious symbols communicate very well on this level to both believers and non-believers.

America is well on its way to becoming a secular society. The question is, what kind of secular society are we going to be? The opioid crisis, the spike in suicides, the general hopelessness and anger in American society, strongly suggest that our secularism will be nihilism. We will just have to get used to the idea that we are alone in an indifferent universe.

But there is another possibility. We can be secularists who still embrace transcendent norms. Many naturalists are experimenting with that kind of secularism.

Government should not be neutral with regard to the question of meaning. It should endorse cosmic purpose. It should proclaim hope. Religious symbols are not the only way to do that, but they are one way.

Any judicial decision in favor of religion versus non-religion will only be temporary. It will ensure that some future secular majority will insist on a naked public square. But a decision that fills that public square with common meaning for all of us will endure.

The Justices have a choice. They can participate in, and further, our divisions or they can help us find common ground and healing. It depends on how they rule in favor of the cross.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Response to My anti-Court-Packing Message

3/17/2019—Just back from the well-organized and insightful symposium on voting rights at the Memphis Law School—maybe the most impressive law school building in the nation (the old customs house in downtown Memphis). Thanks to the marvelous law review staff.

I was the final speaker, late in the day. But energy did not flag when people realized what I was talking about. The responses depended on the orientation of the questioner.

Certainly, the major response was surprise. People had no idea that Court-packing was so likely to be attempted. It helped that Beto O’Rourke endorsed something like it when he announced.

The response by moderates was agreement—I did not hear from anyone really on the Right. I suppose they would have been even more grim. And the agreement was not just about Court-packing, but my more basic point about the destruction of democratic life itself.

There was also the fatalist response—this too shall pass. People are always doing terrible things and we don’t self-destruct—an absolutely true observation, until we do destruct.

Finally, there is the response from the Left—you are telling us to disarm while the Republicans win. This will be the response most difficulty to overcome. Steven Mulroy, a speaker and professor at Memphis, made a creative suggestion that the Democrats use Court-packing as a threat to force bipartisan agreement on an amendment to create term limits for Justices. Certainly that would be better than Court-packing and it would limit the control of the Court that Republican believe they will have for the next 25 or 30 years.

Hard to arrange though, unless you have already overcome the mutual anger of the moment.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Best Column Even by Thomas Friedman

3/10/2019--The column is Ilhan Omar, Aipac and Me. I especially like its reminder of the disgraceful Congressional invitation to Netanyahu over the objections of our President. The column appeared on Thursday, I believe.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Network Message Endorses Nihilism

3/7/2019—Despite impressive performances, especially by Bryan Cranston, and wonderfully effective staging, the fundamental problem with the play Network is the movie it is based on. At least as rendered, the message of the play is one of nihilism.

The news star, Howard Beale, goes through several attempts to figure out what the problem is—-he admits he does not know what should go in the telegrams that are going to the White House—-but ends the play with the peculiar idea that the problem is belief in absolutes.

No one in the play had believed in any absolutes. In fact, Beale had earlier said to the camera that we do what the tube tells us and believe nothing at all ourselves—-very much akin to the Das Man section in Heidegger’s Being and Time: we do what they tell us.

It is a cheap and unsatisfying ending. We have to disagree. Something like religion could not be the problem because no one we see in the play is religious.

The dramatic highpoint of the play is the remarkably staged “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore” sequence. But everyone in the theater is aware that just such a feeling of wanting to push over everything got Trump elected. The phrase now sounds like a real mistake. I believe somewhere someone connected with the play said he learned of the value of expressing anger. I doubt people in general agree with that given the way things are today.

It always was a mistake to just get mad. Beale says we’ll figure out later what to do. The main thing is to get mad. Well, now we’re mad all the time so that can no longer be said.

Beale experiments. It’s corporations. It’s individualism. It’s the nation-state.

What comes across is the exhaustion of our elites, specifically the writer, Paddy Chayefsky. Thankfully, Beale still believes in free speech, but not in any of our other values. He criticizes people for not reading books or newspapers, but does not try to educate anyone about anything—-until he has a personal interest in a Saudi takeover of the network. At that point, democracy proves very effective in stopping a merger.

Chayefsky predicted the rise of infotainment, but has no alternative to offer. It’s all a lot of magic thinking. There is some secret that will make the world better.

Network does not want to grapple with the hard work of self-government. It encourages us to demand answers from others—-our elected officials—-without any work on our part. Television makes us political consumers rather than participants.

It would be nice to think that this is what the play/movie is trying to show. That we need to be participants in working out the problems of our society. But that is not the play's point. Instead, fatalistically, we are told that there is nothing much to be done. Nothing beyond not believing in absolutes.