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.)
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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.
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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."
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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 new 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.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Power of Truth

3/3/2019—Why is it the Democrats cannot quite clear themselves of the charge of infanticide? The real reason is that human life begins at conception. There is no line after that one that makes any sense.

An abortion decision that centered on the life, health and safety of the pregnant woman would still be possible. But not abortion on demand, which is the problem. The issue is terminating a pregnancy that is just not in the person’s plans, but is otherwise no threat.

A lot of the issue here is sexism. The father’s life will continue more or less unaffected. Her life will radically change. If this were different, there would be much more support for abortion. But less demand for it, too.

Matters are quite otherwise with same sex marriage. Here the religious teachings are arbitrary and everyone can see it, which is why there is no longer any support at all for criminalizing this “sin”. Try that experiment with adultery and you will see that people will say it would be a bad idea to criminalize it, but there is still some support for some kind of legal sanction—a penalty in the divorce, for example.

I hope gay Methodist believers will stay and make the denomination throw them out. It may not happen. But even if it does, it will be homicide and not suicide.

Conservatives are always going on about traditional morality. But gay relationships are not actually immoral. Those other teachings are about practices that actually are, even though the teachings are rigid—-most sex outside marriage is exploitive and that which is not is often on the way to marriage and always went on.

So, life and love are the truth. When we go against them, we always run into difficulties. That is the power of truth.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Communitarian Collapse in America

2/28/2019—Ross Douthat wrote a column yesterday in which he discussed the changing view of the State on the Right. Conservatives traditionally defended limited government in order to allow civil society to flourish, including corporate life.

But now with all civil life in decline and corporations unmasked as bad citizens, some on the Right want to turn to government, to some extent at least.

A good column, but, as I wrote in a letter to the New York Times you won’t see, basically beside the point. You can’t adopt policies to address social decline when you have no idea why they happened in the first place.

The renewal, when it does come, will come by way of a secular acknowledgment of the crisis of meaning. With the death of God, the story of human life that was told in the West ended. Nietzsche knew what a momentous event that was. Secularists today are blasé.

The neo-pagans, like Anthony Kronman (Confessions of a Born Again Pagan) and John Gray (Seven Types of Atheism) tell us to cultivate our own gardens and to seek equanimity. No thanks. This is not good advice for this culture.

More helpful, maybe, is a work from 1981 by the German social observer Peter Sloterdijk, Critique of Cynical Reason. Sloterdijk also says that “the critical addiction to making things better has to be given up” but, he adds, “for the sake of the good, from which one so easily distances oneself on long marches.”

The long march is Communism. That may also stand for any other project of making things better. They threaten “the good.” But because Sloterdijk can still write of the good, he is still one of us wanting a better world. He is just saying with the doctors, first, do no harm.

Americans are stuck right now not daring to believe in a good that has power, in a truth that will be accepted. It is not all on us. There is a hidden order that all humans are bound to follow—are meant to follow. If you follow it, you have lived a good life and can die with the equanimity that the neo-pagans promise. But it is not just about you. It is about loving your neighbor.

There is a lot here. And not much has to do directly with politics.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Opening of the Memphis talk on Court-Packing

2/23/2019--Here is the opening of the talk I will be giving at Memphis Law School in two weeks. I mentioned the themes back on January 29 below.
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To Save American Democracy, Prevent Court-Packing
Bruce Ledewitz
The University of Memphis 2019 Law Review Symposium: Barriers at the Ballot Box


I never expected to have to ask for help in saving American democracy. And when I say saving democracy, I don’t mean something abstract, like curbing the power of courts or limiting the influence of big money. No, I mean help in preventing a military takeover.

For this can happen here. It might be closer than we think.

It is not news that American democracy is in trouble. Republicans and Democrats do not trust each other. Americans inhabit different narrative universes. We are bitterly divided even though the issues over which we differ appear to be quite ordinary.

The reason the threat to democracy is so clear to me is a 2018 book, entitled How Democracies Die, that compares the current American situation with historical examples of how democracies have actually ended. The authors, Harvard University political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, show that democracies end when the norms of tolerance and forbearance are violated.

Tolerance means the acceptance that “the other side” will attain power from time to time. Forbearance is the related norm that when this situation occurs, the minority will not do everything within its legal powers to prevent the enactment of the policies of the other side.

Clearly American politicians are not practicing tolerance and forbearance today. In terms of tolerance, the 2016 election was regarded by some Republicans as the “the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die.” And most Democrats regarded the possibility that Donald Trump might be elected President as loathsome and unthinkable.

In terms of forbearance, the Republican majority in the Senate refused to even hold a hearing on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. More recently, the Democrats filibustered the nomination of Neil Gorsuch without much justification.

In a healthy democracy, you let the other Party enact its policies and then reverse them when your side is returned to power. You can always tear down a border wall, for example. A border wall not an existential threat.

The norms of tolerance and forbearance have been slowly weakening for a long time. Bill Clinton’s first budget, in 1993, for example, passed without a single Republican vote in Congress, for example. In 2013, Democrats ended the Senate tradition of the filibuster for many judicial and executive nominations.

Levitsky and Ziblatt place the major blame on the Republican Party. That may be part of the reason that their book has not had the same effect across the political aisle.

That limited appeal is unfortunate because “who started it” is quite irrelevant. Once tolerance and forbearance begin to slip, partisans on both sides are justified in claiming that every new outrage is just a response to a previous outrage by the other side. When you fight fire with fire, the whole world burns. When you fight the absence of tolerance with intolerance of your own, democracy is destroyed.

It takes real statesmanship to break this cycle. It is not clear that such statesmanship is available in America today.

We cannot expect help from the Supreme Court. In the first place, the Justices do not yet appreciate the danger to American democracy. That is obvious from their unwillingness to address gerrymandering on the merits.

But even if the Justices were cognizant of the danger, there is not much they can do. The decline of forbearance does not require illegality. It was not illegal to refuse Judge Garland a hearing. It was not illegal to limit the filibuster. It would be helpful if the Justices proclaimed the fragility of democracy. But in the end, the responsibility to sustain democracy lies with us.

How will American democracy end? In my paper, I describe two nightmare scenarios that could so undermine the legitimacy of the American governing structure that some kind of takeover would be inevitable. These two scenarios are the partisan manipulation of the Electoral College and the packing of the U.S. Supreme Court by increasing the number of Justices.

These two scenarios pose very different threats today. For the moment, the Electoral College looks safe. The current threat is much more likely to come from the Democratic Party packing the Supreme Court.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

John Yoo, War Criminal

2/16/2009—I just had a series of exchanges on Twitter concerning John Yoo, author of the 2002 Torture Memos that gave as a legal opinion the view that coercive techniques could lawfully be employed in the War on Terror. Yoo was Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the time.

There was a series of memoranda, but the fundamental ideas were three—a strained interpretation of illegality that defined waterboarding, for example, as not prohibited by statute or treaty, an understanding of executive power that concluded that any congressional limits would be an unconstitutional infringement of the President’s war powers and an interpretation of the necessity defense that would allow almost any actions to be justified by the threat of terrorism.

This period was a stain on the honor of the United States. And the author should be regarded as a war criminal.

Yet, somehow, Yoo has escaped all blame. He is the Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law at Berkeley. In a world in which blackface disqualifies someone from public office and even the allegation of sexual assault is taken as condemnation, the justification of torture does not affect the public life of John Yoo.

I once tried to get the authors of my casebook at least to take any opinion of Yoo out of the book. You would think that the AALS would pass a resolution condemning him. That he would be shunned. But none of this has happened.

Nor has he ever apologized.

My Twitter exchange had to do with abortion. I will say here what I said there. A nation that tortures its enemies will never embrace the sanctity of life. It has already decided that the ends justify the means.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Ishmael

2/12/2019--My class in Philosophy of Law finishes Ishmael by Daniel Quinn this week. I've mentioned the book from time to time on this blog. I always try to assign it in some class or other.

The premise of the book is that the civilization that has its roots in the neolithic agricultural revolution--meaning the civilization of the whole world bar none--believes that the world belongs to man and man has to make it a suitable home. By following this bad belief, this worldwide civilization is destroying the world. Quinn calls this people the Takers.

The Takers think of ourselves as humans, but we broke off from a much longer human tradition, which Quinn calls the Leavers. These are all the indigenous cultures and peoples who ever lived. These cultures are now mostly destroyed by the Takers. In fact, the descendants of these indigenous peoples now are mostly embedded in Taker culture, often against their will or even knowledge.

The Leaver premise was that man belongs to the world and that the world was a garden for all. Following this belief, Leavers lived in harmony with the rest of the life community. Not because Leavers were any less violent, cruel and mean than Takers, but because they were living out a healthy story. Leavers were also happier and healthier.

Quinn believes Leavers were experimenting with civilization in the Americas when Takers arrived and killed and enslaved them. But these experiments are available for Takers to consider and change our way to be in this civilization.

But Quinn makes another point, you might say one about Taker politics. All of Taker civilization is a prison. The only liberation is liberation from that prison. Nevertheless, within the Taker prison, some people have more privileges than other inmates--like in any prison. The ones who have more privileges are wealthy white males. The teacher, Ishmael, a gorilla, warns the student not to become fixated on power within the prison. The point is liberation for the whole world from Taker destruction.

The symbol the author chooses for wealthy, white male privilege is Donald Trump. On page 252. In 1992. You could look it up.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

This Political Moment

2/10/2019—Bret Stephens wrote a good column urging Virginia Governor Northam not to step down. He wrote that at least in the case of non-criminal acts long ago, we should not judge people by their worst moments. You have to judge a whole life.

David Brooks wrote something similar about call-out culture that banishes people over lapses of judgment, like sending an unwelcome photo.

This is something to think about and I admit to mixed feelings. There is a phrase—to be like Caesar’s wife. Politicians should understand that standards for them will be higher. It’s too bad that President Trump got elected despite his horrible behavior—too bad he got nominated.

And Northam was not young—he was a medical school graduate. Plus, racism by doctors is especially heinous. Zero tolerance is sometimes a good thing. But the Germans decided that not all members of the Nazi Party were to be banned from public life. (Heidegger was a notable member).

Then there is the question of crime. Virginia Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax has been accused of conduct that was criminal. Sexual contact without consent is assault or rape—both serious crimes. But despite the unfairness of past standards, I don’t believe that you just say, always believe the woman. It is reasonable to look at the context and try to decide who is telling the truth.

If even they know. In the case of Dr. Tyson, engaged as they were in kissing in a hotel room, I suppose Fairfax might not have even known she did not want to go further. I can understand why she never said anything.

The case of Meredith Watson seems much worse in terms of potential crime. Her attorney called it rape; there was no consensual romantic activity; she immediately told her friends and posted that there had been date rape. If these things are all true, this was no misunderstanding by Fairfax. And it would have been rape pure and simple. He would still be in jail.

Fairfax has asked for an investigation and he deserves one—so do the people of Virginia. But unlike non-criminal conduct that is shameful, there should be no political statute of limitations on serious crimes. Serious criminal conduct should disqualify someone forever from public life.

So, yes, it’s a good moment to confront our own casual wrongs—racism and sexism and other wrongs. But the overwhelming majority of men have not committed rape or other serious crimes. It is not too much to say that conduct like that is a lot worse than a social error.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Leaver Agriculture

2/2/2019--In the marvelous book Ishmael, which my students in Law and Philosophy read, Daniel Quinn points out that settlement and agriculture was known by indigenous peoples who lived sustainably within their areas. (Weren't the Iroquois an example of that?) People calls these people Leavers.

But the question has always been whether this model is of any use to us--Quinn's Takers.

There is now a model of the kind of agriculture that a Leaver might practice in our society. You can see it in the writing of California farmer Mike Madison that I ran across in a review by Verlyn Klinkenborg in the New York Review in the September 27 issue--Green and Pleasant Land (locked on the New York Review webpage).

The normal farmer mantra is kill everything but the crops, says Klinkenborg. And the average farmer is a complete slave to the likes of Monsanto--seeds are leased. But there are other ways to farm.

Here is a flavor of Madison's farming, with some quotes from Madison.
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The point of all these lists and calculations is to help measure Madison’s efforts to keep his farm in balance with the world. “It is instructive,” he writes, “to draw a line around the perimeter of a farm and then to measure the movement of materials (or energy) across that line, onto and off the farm.” By this standard, conventional farms—heavily reliant on petroleum-based chemicals, fossil fuels, and leased seeds—are sinkholes of consumption. Madison’s goal is to make the farm operation as self-provisioning as possible, so that the farm supplies as many of its own requirements—energy and fertility, for example—as it can. This, of course, is one of the basic measures of sustainability. So is the “psychological well-being of the farm family,” a standard you’ll want to keep in mind while reading This Blessed Earth.

In America—thanks to its abundance of land—there have always been two kinds of farmers: movers and improvers. Movers were the ones who farmed out the fertility in a patch of ground and then moved along to the next patch. This is more or less how America was settled. Improvers were the ones who did everything they could to preserve and increase the fertility of their soil. The intensity of the debate over these methods reached its peak in the early nineteenth century.* In the long run, the improvers faded from the discussion, especially after World War II and the introduction of chemical fertilizers. The movers continue to move, but in a different manner these days. When farmers ran out of new land, they simply mined their way downward through the fertility of eroding layers of farmland until they reached the place we are now.

Farmland, instead of being a carbon sink, has been forced to surrender its carbon. Iowa’s once-black soils are now “a washed-out tan color from loss of organic matter.” All that lost fertility is replaced annually by injections of anhydrous ammonia, which is toxic to soil organisms and slowly acidifies the soil. You could argue that modern agriculture has brought about the most wholesale ecocide on the planet by killing the astonishingly rich microbial life of the soil. It’s worth drawing up another analytical model of the kind Mike Madison employs. Ask, simply, where soil is being replenished with organic matter—cover crops and manure, for instance—and where it is not. What you end up with is a perfect map of the division between conventional, large-scale, industrial agriculture and small-market farms. A map like that would also provide a stark reminder of how colossal the scale of conventional farming really is when compared to small, artisanal farming, something that’s easily forgotten when you’re shopping at the farmers’ market.

Madison believes that “farming is not a perversion of nature, but a natural development in our planet’s evolution.” There is a lot of optimism lurking in that thought. Anyone who can write “I expect to still be farming at age 80” is an optimist at heart, no matter how cautionary or skeptical he often sounds. In fact, I would say that Fruitful Labor may be the most optimistic book it is possible to write that also contains this sentence: “We are a flawed species unable to make good use of the wisdom available to us, and we have earned our unhappy destiny by our foolishness.”
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It turns out that James Madison had a Leaver perspective. Read this last paragraph.

Madison’s fundamental argument about the deep ecology of farming is one that another Madison—James Madison—would have agreed with. In May 1818, while Cobbett was still living on Long Island, the former president—an improving farmer—gave a speech to the Agricultural Society in Albemarle, Virginia. He said something that has become almost unsayable in the world we inhabit now—unsayable at least by the sitting president and his environmental and agricultural appointees. “We can scarcely be warranted,” Madison said, “in supposing that all the productive powers of [Earth’s] surface can be made subservient to the use of man, in exclusion of all the plants and animals not entering into his stock of subsistence.” It is truly painful to leap ahead two hundred years and realize that one of Mike Madison’s reasons for continuing to farm is this: “In an increasingly unstable world it is important to keep the farm as a refuge for family and friends in times of economic collapse and social disarray.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

How to Save American Democracy

1/29/2019--Although we may think that this is the question everyone is asking, it isn't.

The question we are actually asking is how I can win.

The answer to that question will not save American democracy. Democrats today just want to win Congress and the Presidency. They have no intention of healing the wounds that brought Donald Trump the Presidency. Defeating Trump will not save American democracy. To do that, Americans must learn to trust each other again.

Saving democracy requires work on two-levels: philosophical and practical.

On the practical level, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt explain in How Democracies Die that you have to restore tolerance and forbearance to save democracy. Tolerance means accepting that the other guy sometimes wins gets to govern. Forbearance means you do not do everything in your power legally to frustrate that.

Republicans long ago gave up tolerance and forbearance. They all voted against Clinton's first budget in 1993. Democrats were slower to give these norms up, but they are gone now.

The two worst examples of the lack of tolerance and forbearance are manipulating the Electoral College and packing the US Supreme Court. The Electoral College manipulation was tried and fortunately it failed. The idea was to have Republican States keep winner take all Presidential election but have States like Pennsylvania move to congressional district election. If this had succeeded, Republican minority Presidential rule would be made permanent.

This was a real conspiracy and I don't understand why all Republicans did not oppose it. Some did, which is why it failed.

Court packing is the next threat and I judge its chances to be 50/50. We have to take a stand against it now. It would end all semblance of the rule of law.

But that is why Court-packing is not unthinkable. We don't believe there is a rule of law. We believe with President Trump that there are Obama judges and Trump judges.

So we have to proceed to restore the rule of law as well as oppose Court packing. I will speak in a few weeks in Memphis on these points.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Why There is No Left Federalist Society

1/26/2019—This question was put on Politico by Evan Mandery and then responded to on the Mother Jones blog by Kevin Drum. Mandery correctly points out that the lack of a large idea is a problem. Drum disputes this.

The direct reason for no liberal Federalist Society is that there is no such thing as liberal constitutional theory. But why is that? Why is there no organized alternative to originalism?

Liberal, or Left, constitutional theory is not hard to imagine. You just merge the pragmatism of the framers about the size of government—big enough to counter private power—with an intention to protect human rights, written and unwritten.

So, why is this simple formulation never, never communicated? Because it would require the Left to come clean about rights. The framers thought rights were real—that is, independent of human formulations about them. (think the arc of the moral universe and justice).

But the Left today is anti-essentialism. You cannot say what human nature is or what the universe is. Rights are just made up.

No one wants to admit that the approach of the Left to rights is the same pragmatism as the approach to government power. So, no discussion of Left constitutional theory.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Why Wasn't Fukuyama Right?

1/21/2019--Why didn't 1989 turn out to be the end of history? In retrospect, we think Francis Fukuyama was silly. But the consensus in 1989 was that the combination of government humanity had hit upon--representative democracy, judicial review (the rule of law) and market capitalism with a safety net--was about the best you could do and was not likely to be improved very much and did pretty well for people.

That conclusion did not turn out to be wrong. Although the political world is cracking up, no one has come up with a better ideology. I for one still believe in the system Fukuyama described. Is China a better system?

Fukuyama was destined to be wrong about history because of the rise of new powers--China, for example--the decline of old ones--America--and new threats--like climate change. But why did he turn out to be wrong about politics? Why didn't that three part consensus system prove stable?

The Left says economic inequality and the loss of jobs. But people did not actually get poorer. But yes, life did seem hopeless to many people and that is why Trump and Brexit won. But why did life seem hopeless? Economically things were not that bad for most people anywhere in the West.

Was it the dislocations of 2008?

The Right says two things. Too much government proved intolerable. That's what the rich say. The populist Right says what the Left says, plus nationalism and racism. "We" are disappearing. Here is the crisis of immigration.

I believe that the breakdown occurred because of what I have called The Crisis of Secularism--See my book, Church, State and the Crisis in American Secularism. The crisis is the failure to create what this blog calls Hallowed Secularism. In other words, life has no intrinsic meaning. Traditional religion--Christianity and Judaism--fail to remain vibrant and believable and no other account of meaning arises. So, Trump. Brexit. Nationalism. Populism. The dark forces that are always potentially present are no longer held in check by a myth of intrinsic meaning--a way to fit into the universe.

The way Michael Ignatieff puts this is to say that secular society inevitably disappoints. But that is because he cannot imagine an account of intrinsic meaning arising from naturalism. Alfred North Whitehead would disagree about that.