Monday, December 10, 2018

The Democrats’ God Problem

12/102018—Michael Tomasky pointed out the problem in the New York Review in The Midterms: So Close, So Far Apart: Democrats cannot win back the Senate in 2020, and maybe cannot win the Presidency, unless they do better than 25% in rural counties. They have to come closer to 40%. (They aren’t going to win them.) Essentially, this is why Beto O’Rourke lost Texas and Sherrod Brown won Ohio.

Sure there are lots of differences between the two, but the math is hard to contest. It is hard to win a mildly red State unless you do OK at least in rural areas.

Tomasky calls for “a program for rural America.” But I’m not sure much is necessary. Democratic policies are not actually unpopular in rural America. The problem is twofold: cultural and legal.

The main thing the Republicans push in areas like these is the courts. And what is that supposed to do? Abortion and religious liberty.

There is no point in telling a political Party to reduce its support for its core constituency. Abortion is untouchable. The Party could be more open to pro-life Democrats, but the policy cannot change.

That leaves religious liberty. But there are actually two things going on here. One is a sense that Democrats hate religion, which is still very popular in rural areas—at least you can’t actually be against God and do well among voters. The other is the actual caselaw of religious exemptions.

I don’t know how far Democrats can go on religious exemptions. Same-sex marriage is another core Democratic Party position. I believe religious exemptions are no threat to same-sex marriage, but Democratic Party voters may disagree.

But how many votes do Democrats lose in rural areas because of the perception—increasingly a correct one—that the Party is hostile to religion itself?

There is no reason to lose those votes: “Paris vaut une messe,” as Henry IV said when he converted to Catholcism—Paris is worth a mass. You want to win 40% of the rural vote? Learn a religious language you can actually speak. There is natural religion. There are many meanings of God. Jesus is a great figure. Stop talking about reason and superstition. Cure the cultural problem and the political/legal one will follow.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Needed: A Party of Democracy

12/7/2018--The op-ed below was intended for a newspaper, but was never published. So, here it is.
Since the election of Donald Trump as President, Americans have worried about the end of democracy. Our main focus has been on the sins of “the other side.” Events since the Midterms, however, demonstrate that Americans as a whole have lost faith in democracy. We now need a political party dedicated to democracy itself.

Certainly, the Republican Party has shown contempt for democracy. From unnecessary Voter ID laws, to voting roll purges, to even outright threats and intimidation, Republicans have focused on suppressing opposing voters. Some Republicans even joke about making voting “a little harder.”

Unfortunately, in the 2018 election cycle, and its aftermath, the same willingness to violate democratic norms has been evident among Democrats. Three or four of the flipped seats that gave Democrats their majority in the House of Representatives came about because of a new Congressional map imposed by a four-vote Democratic-Justice majority on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. That decision violated legal regularity: settled law was overturned without argument; a grossly compressed trial schedule was imposed; the Governor was none-too-subtly encouraged to avoid compromise with Republican leadership over a new map. Republican Justices Tom Saylor and Sallie Mundy protested, but only Democratic Justice Max Baer voted both to condemn gerrymandering without endorsing these violations of judicial norms. His was a vote for democracy.

In close elections in Florida, the same lust for victory at all costs could be seen. Democrats showed no concern with seeming irregularities in the vote-counting process. Even if no violations took place, it was obvious Democrats just wanted to win.

Other fallout from the Midterm elections also showed a lack of concern by Democrats about principle. While Democratic candidates for Congress scrupulously avoided talking about impeachment of President Trump on the campaign trail, calls for impeachment emerged almost immediately after the polls closed.

Then there was the willingness of the Democratic Party leadership in Congress to ignore the Constitution in condemning President Trump’s naming of Matt Whitaker as Acting Attorney General. The Attorney General’s job is not to check the President, but to carry out the President’s policies. Sharing the President’s political agenda, therefore, is not only proper, but necessary. Whitaker’s view of the Russia investigation as interminable and unnecessary is not a conflict of interest, but a political judgment. If President Trump shuts down the Russia investigation, it is up to Congress to impeach and remove him, not the AG to stop him.

However, the clearest indication of the decline of democratic commitment was a widely circulated, post-election column by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, a mainstream Democratic Party voice, attributing recent failures in Senate races to the unrepresentativeness of the U.S. Senate.

It is true that the Senate over-represents white voters and rural interests. But, the Democrats in 2018 could not hold onto a Senate seat in Indiana—a State not entirely representative of the nation, but one won by President Obama in 2008. Similarly, Hillary Clinton lost the Presidency because she could not win Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania—not exactly foreign territory.

Yes, achieving a Senate majority for the Democratic Party will require convincing a genuinely national majority of the rightness of its policies and candidates. But, that kind of commitment is the heart of democracy.

Democracy is ultimately premised on a moral theory. It is not that the majority has the right to rule. Rather, Democracy is the belief that a majority is more likely to be right over time than is any collection of minority opinion. Democracy requires faith both in my fellow citizens to be reasonable, thoughtful and fair and faith that there are answers to political questions that are objectively right, or at least less wrong, than are other answers. Demographics is not destiny. The job of politics is to persuade people.

If Americans now believe that the universe is just a collection of forces and that political outcomes are just a matter of numbers and money, democracy cannot and will not endure. The Party of Democracy that we need is one dedicated to the kind of deep rationality and trust that truly made America great. That democratic faith has defined America historically. That democratic faith is what we are losing.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

"I Retired

12/1/2108—I don’t believe I’ve told this story on HallowedSecularism. A few years ago, I was visiting the Children’s Museum in Pittsburgh with our grandchildren, when I was approached by a man who was clearly a Lubavitch on one of their Mitzvah Missions. “Excuse me,” he said politely, but are you Jewish?” “I used to be,” I answered. “You know,” he mused, clearly intrigued, “I have asked that question thousands of times, but I have never before heard that answer.”

What followed was interesting in its own right, but it is not my point here. Rather, the point is the story itself. I assumed that I was the only one who might have such a tale to tell.

Imagine my surprise today, therefore, upon read what was essentially the same story in a review of a novel. Francine Prose quotes the vignette in a review of three novels by the Guatemalan writer, Eduardo Halfon. Here is the story—-Prose does not identify from which novel it originates:

"I really remembered only three or four words and a random prayer or two and maybe how to count to ten. Fifteen, if I really tried. I live in the capital, I told her in Spanish, to show that I wasn’t an American, and she admitted that she was confused because she hadn’t imagined there were any Jewish Guatemalans. I’m not Jewish any more, I said, smiling at her, I retired. What do you mean you’re not? That’s impossible, she yelled in that way Israelis have of yelling."

Talk about art imitating life—although, the same thing might have actually happened to Halfon—-it is apparently not easy to tell where the novels leave off and real life begins, with him.

This is going to be my way of telling my journey from now on—I’m not Jewish any more. I retired.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Letter about Kornacki's book

11/25/2018--Unfortunately, the New York Times chose not to print this letter, but I thought my readers should see it. We have to remember that the degradation we see begins with the baby boomer generation.
To the Editor:

Steven Kornacki is right to choose Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton as the symbols of the decline in American public life. (The Red and the Blue, Nov. 18). Their flaw, however, was not political, but spiritual. These two men, like most of their generation, lacked a demanding moral compass.

Bill Clinton ended welfare, had sex in the Oval Office and executed a mentally retarded man in a failed attempt to win the New Hampshire Primary. Newt Gingrich talked divorce with a hospitalized wife and broke every norm of decency in politics when it suited his ambition. Who is Donald Trump, another baby boomer, but a perfect amalgamation of these two?

When you answer to nothing outside yourself—even the baby boomer God indulged them—your politics will be whatever you need them to be. Thus, the baby boomers destroyed democracy and did nothing about global warming.

Too bad the Greatest Generation raised the Worst Generation. As a baby boomer myself, I feel like apologizing to every young and middle-aged person I meet for the mess we left.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Thanksgiving 2018

11/23/2018—Can we count regaining the House as something to be thankful for?

As we gather, our loved ones are all well and reasonably prosperous, as are we. The nation is mostly at peace. (when will all our soldiers come home from Afghanistan?). Many Americans who had not found work are working and though the tax cuts derailed the market rally and threaten recession, President Trump gets some credit for other polices that increased economic growth.

We can also be thankful that an unfit President like him has done as little harm as he has. We can survive more conservative courts, which might even be a good thing if that forces Democrats to seek policy change at the ballot box.

How much more damage might he do before he leaves office. I hope not too much. Trump is certainly tearing up international arrangements that brought peace and growth, but those arrangements found no defenders when he came. So we deserve the blame for that.

Maybe we will appreciate the world we had better when he is gone.

Trump’s hatefulness toward immigrants will be his least lasting legacy. Pittsburgh stands ready for immigrants from wherever. No demonization here.

All in all, much to be thankful for. And things could have been a lot worse.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Is the New York Times Right About China?

11/21/2018—The New York Times has run a series about China emphasizing how China confounded economic and political prevailing wisdom by accomplishing rapid economic growth and innovation without democracy, free speech, the rule of law, or a more or less free market. It did these things, in part, by improvisation—there actually is a free market and there is criticism of the government. And in part it was luck. But in part the conventional wisdom was just wrong.

Partly this is all correct and interesting. And the economic gains are undeniable. But I have not invested anything directly in China because I remain unconvinced. How many enterprises are one arbitrary arrest away from insolvency? How much of the Chinese economy teeters on the brink of contraction because of contradictions that no one can force the leadership to confront?

China has succeeded because it has one thing the US now lacks—a serious political leadership that is pursuing national policies that benefit the country. If you believe government is the problem, you cannot do this. If you believe government is the solution, you also cannot do this. We are irrational. China is not.

But I believe that the old critique is still valid and that China must change or suffer a real collapse. Prosperity is built on freedom and law. One quote from the China series haunts me. A businessman says, I make a profit and pay taxes, why would bureaucrats bother me? Because they can, as he will eventually find out.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Matthew Whitaker Appointment

11/17/2018--What is the Office of Attorney General? “The Attorney General is the head of the Department of Justice. Rev. Stat. § 346 (Comp. St. § 515). He is the hand of the president in taking care that the laws of the United States in protection of the interests of the United States in legal proceedings and in the prosecution of offenses be faithfully executed.” Ponzi v. Fessenden, 258 U.S. 254, 262 (1922).

I mention this because, while there is legitimate speculation about the authority of President Trump to appoint Matthew Whitaker interim Attorney General, the thumb on the scale should be that the Attorney General works for the President and carries out the President’s policies. The AG is not a check on the President, except of course the check that any lawyer should be, refusing to act outside the law.

The opposition to the appointment of Whitaker has to do with his past stated opposition to the Russia collusion investigation. Again, people are missing the point. Nobody doubted that President Nixon had to be the one deciding whether to fire the independent prosecutor in the Saturday Night Massacre. The resignations had to do with whether a particular person was willing to be the person to do it. That is why Robert Bork ultimately did fire Archibald Cox. The action was ultimately ruled illegal by a court, but it was the President’s call whether to fire Cox and then test the legality of the action.

This is what it means that the Attorney General is not a check on the President. Ending the Russia collusion investigation may be a bad policy. It may even be obstruction of justice. But the President has the authority to attempt to perform these acts. Courts and impeachment are the checks. Within the Executive Branch, argument and even resignation are all that someone below the President should be able to do.

I say all this as a critic of the Russia investigation. It never made sense to me to assume that the Russians needed any go ahead from Donald Trump. They accomplished most of what they did illegally before he was even a serious candidate.

Besides, I dislike the whole idea of a genuinely independent prosecutor. Justice Scalia was right about that in the Morrison case. The President has to control the investigation of his subordinates and himself. That is one of the President’s natural advantages in conflicts with Congress. The only way to get rid of a President is a 2/3 vote in the Senate or, much more likely, voting the President out of office. I greatly look forward to that.

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Electoral College

11/9/2018—Republicans are busy trying to justify what they call the Electoral College. But what they are defending is not the framers’ Electoral College.

In the first place, no voters were supposed to select the President. The President was supposed to be selected by the delegates—electors—who were themselves elected however the State legislatures decided. That method did not matter that much because the President was not elected by the people. The framers did not want an election of any kind directly for the President because they feared would elect a demagogue. So the decision as to who should be President was left to a group of presumably smart and geographically dispersed men. Needless to say, such a group would never have selected Donald Trump in a million years. So this idea that dispersed voters should elect the President has nothing to do with the Electoral College.

Second, “strip out California” in order to give some democratic legitimacy to President Trump is truly politically immoral. The President was not supposed to be a policy maker. But now, unfortunately he is. All Americans are stuck with President Trump’s bad policies. Take tariffs—all those Californians are just as stuck with them as is everyone else.

The framers never selected minority rule. If they used an election, the winner was the person with the most votes. Period. So, if we now are going to have an election for President, which we do, the framers would never have said the loser should govern.

By the way, a much better argument for President Trump is that he campaigned intelligently in the system we have. If he had had to have had more votes, he would have tried to get them. He needed States, so he got those.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The God Construct

11/4/2018—In 2007, as part of the New Atheist wave, Philip Kitcher wrote a book entitled Living with Darwin. Kitcher was making the point that the loving, all powerful God of the People of the Book, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, was not consistent with the awfulness of evolution. Evolution is violent and cruel, killing endlessly and in grotesque ways. A God worthy of worship would not work in this way.

I did not think about this too much. It was the sort of reason I did not believe in God, but it was hard for me to think that people of faith would be much troubled.

Now, 11 years later, I see that people do take Kitcher's challenge seriously indeed. The recent issue of Zygon magazine is devoted to the thinking of Christopher Southgate’s Evolutionary Theodicy. According to Denis Edwards, Southgate’s response to Kitcher has three aspects: First, evolution is the only way that a creative universe could go forward—-like the Vatican Astronomer I once heard say that God could create any way He chose, but if he wanted to create life with carbon, He had to wait for stars to explode; second, God as co-suffering—-God is with all creatures at all times; third, “pelican heaven”—the chick pushed out of nest participates in God’s eschatological fulfillment.

The reader can make of this what she will. It’s not for me. But I am not the audience.

For me, the word God must describe the world we know. But the world we know is in many ways miraculous and mysterious and that is about all that we can say. I mean that there are possibilities for truth and justice and beauty that should not happen, but do.

I have experienced miraculous interventions in my life, twice in fact. These were saving experiences. So, I know they happen. The universe has a loving aspect. But prayer won’t get you rain.

A God who could resurrect Jesus from the dead could create without pain. So, I cannot accept the God who resurrects from the dead in a literal sense. Yet resurrection does happen. Every spring, in fact. Hallowed Secularism is the search for where all this leads. Paraphrasing David Ray Griffin, Enchantment Without Supernaturalism. Or, as I wrote in the book, if you believe in magic, come along with me.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

A Society Without a Soul

11/3/2018—In a review/essay in the September 27, 2018 issue of the New York Review, Jackson Lears, Rutgers Professor of History and the editor of Raritan Magazine, wrote about the year 1968. Lears tried to capture the sense of the period just prior to 1968, when whatever promise there had been succumbed to violence, government undercover agents and political assassinations.

The sense that Lears emphasizes is religious. He likens 1967 to a moment of yearning for a new Reformation—-a more direct connection to the ultimate. He associates Martin Luther King, Jr. with Christian existentialism.

In one insight, Lears captures the ultimate critique of the technological world of management: He quotes King, “Somewhere along the way we have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live.” And concludes, “A society of means without ends was a society without a soul.”

This conclusion seems very apt for us. But how can there be ends when all ends are arbitrary posits? Your ends. My ends. Even if a society had ends, they would just be a collection of arbitrary individual ends.

Unless the universe itself makes sense and has ends, we cannot. Not really.

Once, the end was to bring about the Kingdom of God. That was the heart of the Christian West. It did not survive WWI.

I suppose now it could be, without much difficulty conceptually, to build a society of prosperity, justice and peace in a world heading in those same directions. It is hard to see why that sort of movement has either never caught on or ran out of steam. Maybe materialism just does not give me a reason to care how anyone is doing other than myself.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Executing Robert Bowers

10/30/2018—We can start with the proposition that anyone who kills someone forfeits his right to live. That is why bad guys in movies are killed. That is why life imprisonment is the normal punishment for murder.

We can also agree that there is nothing redeeming about the killer in this case, Robert Bowers. He is not someone mentally ill or abused as a child. Bowers is just what he seems—a miserable, hate-filled killer.

It would have been satisfying if Bowers had stood his ground and then been killed in a shootout with the police. What is needed is for Robert Bowers to disappear.

The problem with the death penalty is that now we will have to think about Robert Bowers. And it will not be the Robert Bowers who pulled the trigger. It will be this other figure that appeared in court yesterday—-an empty shell in a wheelchair.

The US Attorney, Scott Brady, said, “We have a team of prosecutors working hard to ensure that justice is done.” But there is no real work to be done. They are just crossing all the t’s. Bowers is the killer and this is a hate crime. End of story. All the rest is inflation.

If there were no death penalty, the case would be over in a few weeks and we would never hear from, or think about, Robert Bowers again. And that is what I want. I don’t want my consciousness sullied by him. He is not worth it.

People who think they want the death penalty don’t understand how things work. What they really want is for someone to kill Bowers right now. Instead of that, the death penalty prolongs the killer's public life. The death penalty should be renamed to the Robert Bowers show. And this cannot be cured by speeding up the execution. The problem with the death penalty is that you cannot avoid attending to the killer, when the only important people are the victims.

One day, when we do get rid of the death penalty, we won’t even notice how good life will be without having to think about killers.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Shootings in Pittsburgh

10/28/2018—A story from the July 2, 2018 issue of Sports Illustrated, of all places, offers wisdom in light of yesterday’s killing spree at Tree of Life synagogue. The story was adapted from Ben Reiter’s book, Astroball, which is about how the Houston Astros won the World Series in 2017.

Before the season started, the Astros signed Carlos Beltran, an aging superstar, to a one-year, $16 million deal. Before spending that much money, the data-driven Astros wanted to know not just about Beltran’s hitting and fielding, but about team chemistry. But nothing about chemistry had ever been quantified, or even really studied.

The team examined all major league baseball team performance in terms of what are called fault lines—essentially differences among players, like race and age and compensation. They found that the teams that did best were neither those who were most alike or most different. Instead, two factors consistently aided winning: players who transcended fault lines—a older white, less compensated, player and players who were motivated to deactivate fault lines.

America has fault lines—on issues, on race, on compensation, on Parties—what some call tribal factors. And, of course, our politicians and interest groups thrive by emphasizing these fault lines, not by deactivating them.

So, you could say, that we need coalitions that transcend our fault lines: pro-choice Republicans, rich Democrats, etc. Of course such people exist, but not together. This analysis suggests that the decline of fault-transcending social networks is as bad for society as some sociologists have suggested—think of Bowling alone by Robert Putnam (2000). Of course, Putnam was weaker on what to do than on what had gone wrong, but he has a great deal to say.

As Putnam noted, religion was once one of the great networks building what Putnam called social capital. But now even religion tends to divide rather than unify.

So, the great task is for secularists to build fault-line transcending social groups—we can start by ending our demonization of religion, seeing religion as still an important societal resource—hear that Brian Leiter! I don’t know how to do that, any more than anyone else does, but it is clearly one of our great tasks—along with restoring the climate.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

"Because He doesn’t exist"

10/23/2018—I go back through my old Sports Illustrated issues—long story—and I found a short essay by Ana Marie Cox about…well, it was about a lot: her dad, Sam, her addiction and recovery, and TCU football. It was the college football playoff issue (Embracing the Frog). I wish I could write like that.

The part about her slow recovery and her dad was just beautiful.

I trudged off to rehab lonely and in utter defeat, which turns out to be a great state of mind for starting to get better. I had met the enemy and it was me—so I surrendered. Studies show that extended intensive, in-patient treatment is one of the few methods with any success in treating addiction. But it’s prohibitively expensive—around $20,000 a month—and it wasn’t covered by my soon-to-be-ex-husband’s insurance. I had next to no money. So Sam cashed out some of his retirement funds and paid for all of it. I once tried to thank him for stepping in the way he did.

“Well, statistically, that’s what works,” he said. “Of course I paid for it.”

The foundational truths of my life today are these: I am sober. I am, finally, a fully functioning member of society. And my dad was there for me when I had given up on myself.

Now, Cox herself apparently eventually became a Christian. But the essay was not about that. It was about faith, though, at least faith in football team so bad for so long. (not anymore). One day Cox asks her dad about his atheism, expecting a story. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t get one. Sam is too taciturn.

But when at some point during my own years of religious questing I decided to engage him about his lack of faith, it went like this: “Dad, why don’t you believe in God?”

“Because He doesn’t exist.”

And then he went back to reading the paper.

There is an important lesson here. If God means the kind of being who could be said to exist, like you and me, which is what Cox’s dad thinks, then of course He doesn’t exist. But I think religious people, thinkers at least, have always known this. If God is important at all, the word must be used to describe reality, not something made up. If we want to describe the triumph of the good, the power of compassion, the forgiveness of sin that we have experienced, the most we could say is that God happens. That is a kind of process language about God. And if some people experience that happening as personal, as if someone is there to answer prayer, well that is also part of the happening of God. But, certainly, God does not exist. I believe it was Paul Tillich, the great theologian, who said that to affirm that God exists, is to deny him.

All these years I have described myself as an atheist, I was describing the same kind of atheism Sam espoused. But this is really not very helpful. Beyond existence, we have to start talking about what reality, including history, is like. Then we may get somewhere. That is what I hope to begin doing in the Bends Toward Justice Podcast Series. More on that later.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Absurdities of Anti-Religious Bias

10/20/2018—Here is a great instance of how anti-religious thinking becomes second nature among secularists. In last Sunday’s New York Times, there was a review of The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler, a book by John Hendrix. The review was written by M.T. Anderson, described as an “author of books for young readers including ‘Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad.’”

Here is the key paragraph:

For young readers, one could easily play the near-miss attempts to kill Hitler as a straightforward thriller. The plots involve deception, gut-wrenching timing and concealed explosives: a bomb in a gift package, a rigged docent conducting a tour of captured Russian weaponry and an explosive briefcase spirited into the heart of Hitler’s fortress, the Wolfsschanze. But Hendrix makes the bold and surprising decision to tell it as a tale of faith.

We are talking here about the life of one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century, who, by all accounts, opposed Hitler as an act of Christian witness, and paid for it with his life. His account of his last days in Letters and Papers from Prison is a masterpiece of religious thought, inspiring countless believers. Bonhoeffer deeply pondered growing secularism, too, and has been instrumental in religious/non-religious dialogue. In other words, he was a shining beacon of faith, courageous and thoughtful, and died a martyr to Christ.

How else could the story of Bonhoeffer’s wrenching decision to turn to political violence be told except through his faith? Whatever one thinks of his decision, his faith was the context in which that decision was made. In other words, the plot to kill Hitler can be told in many ways, but the role of Bonhoeffer in it has to be told as a tale of faith.

So, what was Anderson talking about? He doesn’t seem to mean it is odd to tell the story about Bonhoeffer’s role in the plot—and there are other conspirators of religious conscience as well. So, what is surprising about the way Hendrix tells it?

I believe Anderson just means young people don’t care about religion. But he is wrong about that. Anderson may not care about religion. His friends may not. The readers of the New York Times may not. But children are instinctively religious. They understand better than Anderson what it means to live a life of faithfulness to God. If their thoughts are child-like, they are not childish. If their simple conception of God must change as they grow, it is not the only kind of thought of childhood that must be adapted as we grow.

What is “surprising” is that no editor at the New York Times could hear how odd and silly this review sounds.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Rhodri Lewis Responds

10/18/2018--Rhodri Lewis, Professor of English at Princeton and author of Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness, responded to my blog post here last Friday. Since I did not obtain his permission, I will only set forth a paragraph from the book that he sent me in arguing that the book does not associate Shakespeare with an entirely nihilistic view. Shakespeare wrote Hamlet as an exercise in truth-telling, an actual way out of the collapse of classical humanism.

It might be objected that I am describing Hamlet as a work of nihilism, in which nothing signifies “but as ’tis valued”. Not so. Rather, this book has endeavoured to demonstrate the extraordinary pains that Shakespeare took to represent the cultural world of humanism as fundamentally indifferent to things as they really are, and as one in which the pursuit of truth is therefore all but an impossibility. All but: taken in new directions that Hamlet lays out for it, dramatic poetry might be able to offer a likeness of this cultural world in all of its self-deceit, illusion, and pretence. Humanist models of history, of poetry, and of philosophy cannot “show ... the very age and body of the time his form and pressure” (3.2.24-25), and are in large measure a part of the problem. By insisting on their own sufficiency, they impede the proper comprehension of the human lot. But precisely because Hamlet is a post-humanist work of tragedy (one might call it anti-humanist but for the fact that the fabric from which it is assembled is so consistently that of sixteenth-century convention), it is not bound by the sort of strictures that Shakespeare brings to bear on superficially imitative neo-classicism. In place of preordained moral reflections that show the world as the playwright and his authorities think it should be, Hamlet – as most clearly articulated in chapter 5 above – provides its readerly and theatrical audiences with the prompt to examine themselves, their presuppositions, and their beliefs about the status of humankind within the moral and physical universes. The audacity of Hamlet is to demonstrate by example, rather than theoretical disquisition, that in the humanistic world of which Shakespeare and his work were a part, dramatic poetry – not history, not philosophy, and certainly not theology – is the medium best fitted to telling the truth. Best fitted to revealing that in its attachment to various forms of theatrum mundi, humankind not only propagates its own ignorance and self-alienation, but ensures that it will remain unable to devise a better way in which to live. Kings, their challengers, and their impetuous heirs will come and go, but the nature of the masquerade will continue unchanged. Only by dramatizing this most self-reflexive of truths alongside the evasions and authority with which it ordinarily eludes scrutiny can fulfilment or progress become a possibility. What that progress might look like, Shakespeare does not say; nor will he do so in Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear. Instead, and to borrow a phrase from Lafew in All’s Well, his tragedies enjoin their audiences to “submit” themselves to “an unknown fear” – one that the canons of neither ancient nor modern wisdom can help them to allay.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Pittsburgh Foundation Grant

10/16/2018--Last week the Pittsburgh Foundation approved a $5000 grant to fund a pilot four podcasts in what I hope will become the Bends Toward Justice Podcast Series of 50 conversations with a variety of Americans about the teaching of Martin Luther King, Jr., that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. In my view, as readers of this blog know, American public life is in decline, and private life too, because of the decline of moral realism. These conversations represent an attempt to reintroduce justice and history as serious cultural categories.

The podcast series is a part of the Truth/Justice/Democracy Initiative intended to change American public life. Truth refers to the billboard in Erie, PA, this summer that focused on lying in politics. It announced that "tax cuts threaten social security." It was aimed at a particular lie--that tax cuts pay for themselves--but not only lying by one Party. I have Democratic Party lies, also, such as the we keep our doctors and plans under Obamacare, a claim President Obama undoubtedly believed at first, but kept repeating when he knew it was not going to be true.

The podcast series represents the justice part of the initiative.

The Democracy part has to do with all of my work recently about the looming threat to democracy. The immediate issue is partisanship that overshadows truth. That Republicans will not criticize President Trump about global warming. That Democrats will not acknowledge any good that President Trump is doing. My answer is the formation of a pro-democracy caucus among law professors promising to call out their own side. (Not much luck so far).

Here is the billboard and me in front of it. Photo by P. Ledewitz.

Friday, October 12, 2018

So, Shakespeare Is Now a Nihilist

10/12/2018—By nihilism, I mean the belief in the culture that claims of value are just matters of opinion, and are often just manipulations masking the will to power. I have been arguing for years that nihilism has infected the culture and that the effects are dire, especially in the political realm, leading to hyper-partisanship and the death of truth. Still, it is always a shock to see nihilism in an unvarnished state, certain of itself and unwilling to acknowledge its own uncertainty.

I received one of those shocks when reading a review by James Shapiro of Rhodri Lewis’s book on Hamlet, Hamlet and the Vision of Darkness in the April 19, 2018 issue of the New York Review. For Lewis, Hamlet is not the model of nascent subjectivity, inwardness, that he is often seen to be: “’He is instead the finely drawn embodiment of a moral order that is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions.’” (Lewis’s words, quoted by Shapiro)

And the reason readers have largely missed this? Because we have been unwilling to acknowledge that Shakespeare himself rejected humanism:

Shakespeare repudiates two fundamental tenets of humanist culture. First, the core belief that history is a repository of wisdom from which human societies can and should learn…. Second, the conviction that the true value of human life could best be understood by a return ad fontes—to the origins of things, be they historical, textual, moral, poetic, philosophical, or religious (Protestant and Roman Catholic alike). For Shakespeare, this is a sham…. Like the past in general, origins are pliable—whatever the competing or complementary urges of appetite, honour, virtue, and expediency need them to be.

Shapiro notes that in Lewis’ view of Shakespeare’s vision, the search for absolutes by which to live and act is doomed to failure. In the search for meaning or fixity, one discovers nothing of significance.

Shapiro draws the natural conclusion from Lewis—“The absence of any moral certainties means that it’s a ‘kill or be killed’ world.” That is the jungle President Trump lives in, and increasingly, so do we. We can learn from Shakespeare that “the world has always been amoral and predatory.”

If I may say so, Professor Shapiro, renowned Professor of English at Columbia, seems unwilling to really criticize Lewis beyond acknowledging that “Lewis’s Hamlet is not mine.” I believe Shapiro generously wishes to give a newer generation its say without insisting on his own vision of Hamlet.

Fair enough—more than fair. But I have to ask, how is it that we can have “paid a steep political price for failing to heed Shakespeare’s warning” when we, including Lewis, basically share the vision that Lewis attributes to Shakespeare? We have paid a steep price, but we have paid it for accepting what Lewis is offering. We now need to expose this dark vision for the dead end it has proved to be.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Journalism, Truth and Originalism

10/6/2018—I now see that Kimberley Strassel, columnist for the Wall Street Journal, did not mean what she wrote. But what she tweeted, which was retweeted by Randy Barnett, thus probably indicating his approval, demonstrates how nihilism infiltrates a culture, even a culture that thinks it believes in truth.

Here is the tweet: “Actually, the goal of journalism is presenting facts--and presenting them on both sides of any given issue. Americans then get to work out themselves, on the basis of those facts, the truth. We don't need press to divine it for us. Just try who/what/where/when/why/how”

The tweet was in response to Matthew Dowd, ABC News political analyst, who had written, “So kim so what do you think the goal of journalism if it isn’t the truth? Do you think we should have people on panels that argue the earth is flat?”

Now the reason I say that Strassel does not believe what she wrote is that she does not practice it on twitter. On twitter, she tells a story she believes to be true—-for example, that Democratic Party tactics over the Kavanaugh nomination were an unprecedented attack on a nominee.

That is a factual claim in a sense, but it is also an important truth claim. Any news report that, at least over time, did not make it clear that the Kavanaugh attacks were something new, would not be telling the story about the nomination.

Strassel might say here that twitter is not journalism, but the line between them is not particularly clear. A real reporter is always a reporter.

Notice that Strassel did not respond to Dowd’s actual example. You don’t put a flat earth person in a story and say neutrally that some people say the earth is flat. If there is a demonstration of people claiming the earth is flat, it would be poor journalism to present that claim as possibly accurate. The story would have to say that the flat earth position contradicts all that is known about the earth.

In the context of flat earth claims, the correction is not needed. But the broader point is that facts depend on values, as the philosopher Hilary Putnam showed years ago. That doesn’t make facts a matter of opinion, because those values—-consistency, integrity, beauty—-are themselves a matter of truth. Science does not advance based on facts, but on these values.

The goal of journalism is to present the relevant facts and explain their relevance. That is telling the story, which by the way is how journalism self-defines: telling the story.

When Walter Cronkite finally concluded and announced that the Vietnam War was being lost and that the government was lying, he was not violating journalistic norms. He was explaining the meaning of the relevant facts.

The reason Strassel wants to deny all this is that much of the media is biased. It claims that truth is on one side when there is actually room for perfectly reasonable disagreement—-that Justice Thomas is a sexual predator, for example, which is taken for a fact by much of the Left, but of course may be completely false.

But debating bias is hard. Denouncing truth is unfortunately easy. And so Strassel makes the big mistake of undermining truth.

The reason that Randy Barnett retweeted Strassel is that proponents of originalism make the same mistake she did. There is a truth of free speech, equal protection, free exercise, takings, etc. There is even a truth of fundamental, nontextual rights. Liberal jurisprudence has abandoned the search for these truths and just proclaims certain outcomes. Frustrated with that process, conservatives deny there is any truth to these values and so retreat to making historical claims about original public meaning (claims that often turn out to be disguised truth claims anyway, but that is for another day).

Showing that liberal claims are false is hard. In fact, conservatives are not even sure anymore that they are false. Denying truth, on the other hand, is easy.

Ironically, the framers themselves were liberals—-they thought there was a truth to free speech and would not be unhappy that we now know more about free speech than they did. The framers were not nihilists. Conservatives are turning themselves nihilists because they don’t understand their own position.

Randy Barnett wants to return to the Lochner era of judicial evaluation of economic legislation. But Randy does not ever want to defend such judicial outcomes on their merits. He wants to say that he is just returning to the framers’ understanding.

The framers, however, are all standing there saying, Randy, in a world of trillion dollar corporations and massive human populations that change the climate by their very existence, the meaning of individual liberty and limited government have to change. If you try simply to go back to us, you mistake us and undermine our goals.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Judge Kavanaugh Doesn’t Have a Judicial Philosophy: Only Randy Barnett Does

10/3/2018—Randy Barnett published a very thoughtful 1000 words in The Volokh Conspiracy arguing both that judicial philosophy is relevant to Senate votes on a judicial nominee and that Senators who vote against a candidate have an obligation to say for the record what it is about that philosophy they don’t agree with.

Randy also implied that a vote against Merrick Garland would have been justified by the Republican-majority on this basis. This is probably a bad idea because it means that no nominees will be confirmed unless the President and the Senate are controlled by the same Party.

But Randy’s idea is also unworkable for a simpler reason—judges don’t have judicial philosophies in the sense of “a proper method of interpreting our written Constitution.” Only legal academics like Randy have such a thing—because we don’t actually decide cases.

Judge Kavanaugh’s alleged legal philosophy is originalism—interpreting the Constitution according to its original public meaning and not changing that meaning until there is a constitutional amendment. But Kavanaugh would have voted the same way that Justice Gorsuch—another alleged conservative—voted in his first big case, Trinity Lutheran Church, in which the Court held that denying a taxpayer-funded grant for a playground to a church that was available to other nonprofits violated the Free Exercise Clause.

Without doing any research, I’m pretty sure that to the framers, Free Exercise just meant that government could not interfere with religious practice. It would not have required affirmative help by government. So, Justice Gorsuch changed the original meaning of the Free Exercise Clause without a constitutional amendment.

The reason he voted this way is that interpretations of the Constitution have to make sense today to the American people. Government involvement in the economy is now so vast that excluding churches from government programs really does deny Free Exercise. Lutheran Trinity Church was therefore a proper decision, but it was an example of the Living Constitution in action. (The Living Constitution is not a method of interpretation in Randy’s sense either).

Trinity Lutheran Church is just one example, but it is important because this claim to have a “method” of interpretation sometimes is used to absolve judges from having to defend their decisions morally. If a judge is perpetuating an injustice, that judge should have to answer for that and not pretend that some method forces the decision.

On a whole range of commitments—-forced unions membership violates the First Amendment, corporations have rights, advertising is more than a contract offer, property restrictions are a taking, Equal Protection bars gender discrimination—Judge Kavanaugh will predictably vote in ways that either clearly violate the original meaning of the Constitution or at least will vote without really worrying about whether such outcomes violate original meaning or not. In other words, Kavanaugh was picked because he would “simply reach all the outcomes that a [conservative Republican] would like the Supreme Court to reach… .” Not because he has some kind of philosophy.

I don’t want a judge who allows the government to violate fundamental rights whether or not the framers would have recognized the right as fundamental. The Ninth Amendment suggests that maybe the framers agree with me about that. My vote on Kavanaugh would in part depend on how he answered that question. Of course, neither I nor Randy are considering how the personal issues now also before the Judiciary Committee regarding Judge Kavanaugh will ultimately play out.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Abortion and Climate Change

9/27/2018—Richard John Neuhaus wrote The Naked Public Square in 1984. He presciently foresaw the secular future and he worried about the effect of a valueless secularism on American society. Later, in 1990, Neuhaus would found the journal First Things.

Neuhaus came to speak at Duquesne University some years ago and he talked about his break with liberalism. He had been a liberal Protestant, but ended up a conservative Roman Catholic.

He said he felt betrayed by liberalism over abortion. He expected liberalism to champion the unborn as the latest population vulnerable to oppression. He praised liberalism’s defense of equal rights, especially in the area of race, and could not understand why this traditional understanding would not be extended to the unborn.

If it would not be, there must be something wrong with liberalism.

It was a compelling story. And it made me wonder where the equivalent conservative turned liberal story is? Conservative thought has failed humanity in the realm of climate change. Climate change is a catastrophic turning point in human history. It is not a specific evil, but it is a specific threat. Conservatism has blocked all efforts to deal with the problem. Indeed, in the name of denial of the threat, conservatism has undermined the notion of truth itself, pursuing ungrounded skepticism that now undermines all rationality in politics. This last movement is known as the death of truth, or the post-truth age.

In terms of skepticism, conservatism has plenty of company in the postmodernism of the left. But climate change is uniquely the responsibility of the right, because the phenomenon is a predictable consequence of a market failure that conservatism, as the market driven force in American public life, had a responsibility to publicize and fix.

The market failure was simply that of the tragedy of the commons. Because no one owns the climate, people abused it even though doing so was in no one’s long term interest. If industry had had to pay for changing the climate, there would not have been enough money to do so. A stable climate is much more profitable for everyone. But, since no one did own the climate, the market acted as if changing the climate was cost free. Actually, the costs of a warming Earth are enormous.

Why did this happen? Simple greed overwhelmed principle. There never was any actual explanation or defense. Global warming that robs South Sea people of their territory and others of their livelihoods and property, is a kind of theft. Heavy carbon users in places like America and China are stealing from those who are the most exposed to the effects of climate change.

Free market theorists should have been the first to insist that a carbon price was needed to mimic the effect of a private property regime in the climate. But the conservatives I know just put their heads in the sand and allowed the carbon extraction industries to take over the Republican Party and the right generally.

In this way, conservatism failed its most significant test, just as liberalism did in the issue of abortion. Neuhaus, who died in 2009, should have seen this. He should have talked about it. I don’t believe he ever did.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Constitution Day Talk at Robert Morris University

9/26/2018--The title of the Address was "Taking the Threat to Democracy Seriously: The Truth/Justice/Democracy Initiative. The talk is now available here.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Politics After the Death of God

9/23/2018—If you had to use one word to describe politics today, angry would be pretty accurate. This anger has no real content. As the 1976 movie Network predicted, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.” A lot of people have said that Network predicted the Age of Trump. But what is most poignant about the movie is that those people shouting out their windows at the end of the movie had no idea of what their problem was and could not have described it. In the words of the headline in the New York Review of the new Network play, Mad As Hell About What? It isn’t obvious what we are mad about and the usual bromides are irrelevant. The people who say we’re mad about some issue or other are wrong.

We are not angry about some issue—government spending, taxes, the environment, social issues. None of those things could account for this kind of anger.

It would be closer to the actual phenomenon to say, we’re mad as hell that we’ve been robbed. We have lost something crucial and necessary. We know that. We sense something to which we feel entitled, though we cannot say what it is exactly that we have lost.

I believe we have lost the solidity and reliability of the good universe. At least my suggestion reaches the depth that is obviously driving us.

You can put that suggestion any way you like—we have lost God; we have lost meaning; we have lost purpose. It makes you furious and, as Fintan O’Toole noted in that same New York Review story, this kind of fury is “dangerously satisfying and…treacherously entertaining.” Especially is this so in a world in which there is nothing else other than passionate intensity. Our anger is its own justification.

How do we escape this anger? The only way out is to rediscover real purpose, real meaning, real value, in the universe. The greatest danger of the materialism that replaced God, which insists that science does not incorporate truths revealed by religious experience, is that is leads to the view that “the universe provides no normative values to guide the future course of civilization.”

Griffin believes that we are simply mistaken. The universe does provide normative values to guide us. And that guidance is not supernatural. Since that is the case, we don’t have to hate each other. We can sit down together to discover how this is so and what we are being taught. Then we would have a politics that would work again. We could still be angry, but not about everything.

Friday, September 21, 2018

The End of Constitutional Government

9/21/2018—I talk a lot these days about the end of constitutional government. I spoke about this theme at Robert Morris University on Constitution Day.

These talks emphasize the end of elections.

But there is a more traditional fear of the end of constitutional government that we can call Presidential government. The President is not to be a policy maker, especially not a domestic policy maker. This was a real fear that the framers of the Constitution had. It is why Youngstown, the Steel Seizure Case, was so important. The decision emphasized that Congress makes policy, not the President.

This is why conservatives criticized President Obama’s immigration policies.

But most of President Trump’s economic policies are similarly abusive—aside from his withdrawing Obama era regulations. The President does not have authority to unilaterally impose tariffs. President Trump is falsely invoking a national security justification, which made no sense in the instances of threats against Canada and Europe, and is only slightly more defensible in the case of China. But even with regard to China, expansive tariffs are an economic policy, not a national security one.

As Paul Krugman points out, with abusive Presidential authority, comes favoritism in exemptions—Apple is exempt, for example. Everything about this is corrupt. Even if the policy is justified in part, it is not the President’s call.

You can say the same thing about a supposed two-State NAFTA agreement. No authority for that either.

Maybe worst of all is the widespread suspicion that Justice Department opposition to the AT&T purchase of Time Warner was politically motivated. That is precisely what you would expect from Presidential power abuse.

The real question is, where are all those conservatives who criticized President Obama’s immigration policies? They were justified then. Don’t they see the real threat in front of them?

There is something comical about worrying about same-sex marriage and desperately trying to get Judge Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court while the genuine threat to constitutional government goes unremarked. What are they thinking?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Kavanaugh Story

9/18/2018--When I first heard the allegation against Brett Kavanaugh, it seemed to me absolute character assassination. And I said so on Twitter. It is hard to tell anything from news reports, but to me it sounded like a high school groping. A guy and a girl are engaged in quite consensual making out, he gets carried away and she tells him no and he stops.

Even in this era, that is not only not a crime, it is normal human behavior.

It did not sound like he pushed her into a room, pulled her onto a bed, held her down and started pulling off her clothes, which, of course, would be sexual assault. But I have now read reports that that is exactly what she is alleging. I was surprised to realize that Ms. Ford is also alleging that someone else was present in the room, which is not something normal at all.

David French of National Review wrote a column that appeared in the Post-Gazette that says he always thought the allegations very serious, but that now the issue is whether Judge Kavanaugh is lying when he denies them. That is also correct.

So, I have to admit that my first reaction was a mistake. Not only is the allegation much more serious than I realized but the absolute denial makes the matter one of veracity, which of course is an absolute for a Supreme Court nominee.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Who’s Afraid of the Russians?

9/15/2018—This blog entry is not about the independent investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Russians broke the law hacking the emails of American citizens and groups, including Secretary Clinton and the DNC. If President Trump solicited that or encouraged that, he committed a crime and should be punished. Certainly impeached and removed from office. (No evidence he did, however. The Russians did this on their own.)

We need to protect all our systems from hacking.

But what about the other, far more pervasive Russian interference—-all those Russian fake ads and disinformation? Do we need to be afraid of that?

Have you seen this stuff? There is an example on the page of a review of Alex Klimburg’s book, The Darkening Web, in the New York Review, from April 5, 2018 (review by Tamsin Shaw), which shows an arm wrestling match between Satan and Jesus. The headline says, “Satin: If I win Clinton wins!” Jesus replies, “Not if I can help it!” At the bottom, the ad, on Facebook, says “Press ‘like’ to help Jesus win!”

It’s nice that the ad did not associate Trump with Jesus. That was delicate. But as for the ad itself, why would Americans worry about this? At the same time that this was going on, intelligent, well-known Americans on the Right were calling the 2016 election, the Flight 93 Election. Whatever they meant, that analogy had Hillary Clinton as an Islamic terrorist ready to kill Americans at the Pentagon by crashing a plane. That would have justified shooting her. At least in the ad, Clinton herself might be an unwitting agent of Satan.

The point is, this is crazy stuff. If it is serious enough to throw a close election to Trump or inflame American society, then the voters are already crazy themselves. It would be like an ad claiming Clinton runs a pedophile ring, which is also something that was around and convinced some Americans.

This kind of weird conspiracy stuff is also another reason that Kavanaugh should not be confirmed. In an ideal world, he would be rejected purely for his astoundingly bad judgment—-urging the investigation of President Clinton for Vince Foster’s murder or going into serious debt over baseball tickets. It seems to me there is something wrong with this guy and it is not about Roe v. Wade.

Anyway, the point is, don’t worry about Russians inflaming Americans with crazy stories. We should be worrying that Americans listen to this stuff.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

9/11 R.I.P.

9/11/2018--Some people called the 2016 election, the Flight 93 election. The stakes were high. But people lost their lives on 9/11 and no election is entitled to that title.

Aside from the somber tone of remembering the loss of life, what have been the consequences of that unique event?

I am not sure. The attacks brought tremendous suffering. They led to two unending wars. They militarized our society. And they led to more terrorism.

But are the attacks responsible for where we are today?

President Bush did not use the attacks as an excuse to go after Muslims. He was very clear about that.

The biggest result, aside from the horrible loss of life, was that the opportunity of a that 2001 world were squandered. There was a moment then of the possibility of post-cold war peace and development. 9/11 destroyed that, for sure.

So, R.I.P. my follow countrymen. You are remembered.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Happy New Year

9/9/2018—Sundown today the holiday of Rosh Hashana begins—the birthday of the world, the birthday of the universe. This is the anniversary of the Big Bang, you might say. Time began today, although that concept is strange indeed.

In Jewish tradition, the entire previous month of Elul has been one of introspection. The Saturday night before, just some hours ago, the prayers for forgiveness, called Selichot.

Rosh Hashana is the beginning of the Ten Days of Awe, culminating in the fast day of Yom Kippur. During these ten days, one seeks out those whom one has wronged to ask forgiveness and to forgive those who ask for it.

The entire holiday is a kind of technology of renewal of the spirit.

Having been a participant, I attest to its power.

But I actually have never seen it work its magic on others—maybe renewal is hidden.

I suppose you could say that it is a time for rededication, but I think that understates the holiday’s potential.

Better to say that I give up my commitments. I don’t assume anything. I will allow the holiday itself to orient my life. I might go into the holiday a Republican and come out a Democrat. Or go into the holiday oriented toward politics and come out a person who listens to a different sound of life altogether.

As I say, I don’t expect any such thing. And I am not familiar with any literature in which such things happen.

But they have happened to me.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

When Does Disagreement on Climate Become Dishonesty?

9/2/2018—When does disagreement become dishonesty?

In the August 10 issue of The Week—the remainder of the old Newsweek magazine, I think—the cover story was the summer of hell—As the World Burns. Readers may remember that the unusually high temperature in the northern hemisphere and the wildfires raging grabbed the attention of the media at that time. There were quotes from scientists that global warming was no longer a prediction but was here.

The method in The Week is to present two sides, one commentary and then at least one overall perspective. In this case, the New York Times, why are you not alarmed? Then the skeptical paragraph.

But this skeptical paragraph was unusual. Gone was any hint of denial of the underlying science. Yes, it is getting warmer. Yes, humans are causing it.

This is strange, since it is unaccompanied by any acknowledgment that some of these voices have aided and abetted false denial for year. You would think they would say that we are sorry we were wrong and helped prevent action when it might have been effective.

No. The new word is alarmism. The reason people are not alarmed is the fault of Al Gore for going on about the danger. People stopped paying attention, wrote Investor’s Business Daily.

Now this is really stupid. Gore went on and on because outlets like Business Daily doubted the warnings and prevented action. Now the criminal blames the prophet.

Then there is the right-wing innovation machine. David French is quoted in National Review as saying that “the alarmists” must admit that humans have prevented catastrophe before—-look how we cleaned up our rivers in the 1970’s.

Now this is crazy on two grounds. First, surely people like French opposed the Clean Air Act and other environmental initiatives that cleaned these things up. Second, at this very moment, when the danger is obvious, French is taking no responsibility for proposing measures to prevent further damage.

You should never call the people who disagree with you opponents. You should never call them dishonest. But I don’t know what to call this. These conservatives are treating global warming as a political issue they are trying not to lose. Why? Climate change is a predictable market failure because no one owns the climate. It is a tragedy of the commons. So dramatic government action is needed to supplement the market. That is not an attack on capitalism but a recognition of its inherent limits. So, you adopt a carbon tax to mimic what the price of carbon would be if the harms it causes were factored in. Such a tax can be revenue neutral, returned to the people. French engages in vague talk about nuclear power—-again just to make a political point that environmentalists won’t act reasonably—-instead of putting that suggestion in the form of an overall real plan.

I didn’t read French in the original, nor the business editorial. But I don’t doubt that The Week got the tone right. This is now so irresponsible that it is reminiscent of the cries of alarmism in Britain when Churchill tried to warn his country about Hitler. (All arguments on the Internet end up with Hitler). Then too conservatives-—and most people said-—what are you so worried about? Unfortunately, they found out.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Needed: A New Ontology and Epistemology

8/30/2018—Now there is an accessible slogan for the 21st century. Basically, a new ontology and epistemology means a new way of thinking about what there is and what we can know. With the death of god, announced by Nietzsche in The Gay Science in 1882, the West became materialistic in what was real and sensory in how we could know things. And this is true for most people, including most religious people. And this is both how and why science became so powerful. This worldview says that matter is all that is real and we learn things only through the five senses.

This way of relating to the universe was a long time coming. David Hume, who died in 1776, a hundred years before Nietzsche’s announcement, was a key figure. But with this ontology and this epistemology, there not only cannot be any god, there cannot be any invisible thing-—justice, goodness beauty and truth become things we agree with rather than descriptions of anything real in the universe. And the universe becomes a collection of forces without meaning or purpose. You get a headline like the one last summer in the New York Times, The Universe Doesn’t Care About Your Purpose.

Religion under this worldview becomes a kind of fiction, incapable of providing knowledge about the world.

Law is dominated by this current ontology and epistemology. Even someone like Ronald Dworkin, who wanted to claim that goodness was real in some sense, felt he had to pay homage to Hume. Dworkin therefore wrote self-refuting nonsense toward the end of his life.

I thought all this was an insurmountable dilemma. That is even why I left Judaism. Its talk of God became unreal to me.

People have a hard time seeing what this has to do with President Donald Trump. But to me it is obvious that the next step in our current worldview was the death of truth. Once truth is gone as something reliable, I lose the common ground from which to reach out to my political opponents. We then have to hate each other because only winning counts.

Before, years before, there was lying and cruelty in politics, but it took place within a context of meaning and truth. Now, there is lying and cruelty within a context of chaos and chance.

What I did not realize is that the current worldview is not at all insurmountable. In fact it was surmounted by thinkers like Bernie Lonergan, Alfred North Whitehead and Martin Heidegger. Their thinking does not yet seem to have become popularized in the culture, however. American lawyers were not all lucky enough to have a teacher like Robert Taylor. Nevertheless, it will happen. In a hundred years, it will no longer be thought strange to say that the world is more than matter and not mean that there is a supernatural realm.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Why I Took Out a Billboard

8/27/2018—Friends and family—and other people by now—are wondering why I would take out a billboard in Erie County that reads “Tax Cuts Threaten Social Security.” It wasn’t primarily because I am worried about social security. It’s that I hate lying.

I became enraged that politicians who plainly knew the truth would repeat the lie that tax cuts pay for themselves.

But, of course, we now live in a post-truth age and so the issue of lying is much deeper and more sinister than that. Lying about the effect of policies makes democracy impossible. The people are treated like children and cannot make effective decisions. We are encouraged to believe that money grows on trees.

But it is even worse and deeper than that. The lie is the foundation of totalitarianism, as Hannah Arendt argued in The Origins of Totalitarianism in 1951:

In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. ... Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

This is why I took out the billboard, so truth would have a champion.

This culture has become convinced that there are no objective truths. This view arose first on the academic Left in postmodernisn. Now it lives on in the anti-elitism of both the Right and the Left—climate change and vaccine denial.
We must reclaim realism. Not just about truth, but about the good, the beautiful and the just. I am trying to fund a podcast series highlighting the teaching of Dr. King that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Go to kickstarter:

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Coming Desperate Struggle

8/24/2018—Watching recent exchanges on the Law and Religion Law Professor List, it is obvious that liberal legal thinking has not adjusted to the looming loss of the Supreme Court. While liberal political operatives are acting as if Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination could be stopped, when his confirmation is actually certain, liberal legal thinkers are still acting as if certain paradigms and analogies are going to be applicable in a few short months. Specifically, in the area of same-sex marriage and religious liberty, these legal observers seem to believe that the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court will not immediately act to protect the religious right to refrain from involvement in same-sex marriage. Even if Obergefell is not itself overruled, there is zero chance that this new conservative majority will allow religious dissenters to be forced by anti-discrimination laws to do anything that compromises religious conscience. And this definitely includes discrimination in the commercial realm.

Liberals imagine that there is some rock solid commitment to anti-discrimination law because of the experience of race discrimination, which was not permitted in the commercial realm regardless of religious sincerity. These liberals are about to get a lesson in legal realism. Nothing binds judges when those judges are determined not to be bound.

What is shaping up is a very harmful clash between political/legal power, on the one hand, and cultural influence, on the other. Same-sex marriage and other aspects of LGBT rights have won the culture without question. But they have lost in Congress and the Presidency for the moment and that means they have lost the Supreme Court for a generation. This pill is going to be incredibly bitter to swallow, especially because of the refusal to face a reality that is already here. It is already too late to salvage anti-discrimination law.

The bitterness should be assuaged by the fact that this religious rearguard action is actually completely insignificant as a practical matter. The conservative protection of religious dissenters could be accommodated without the loss of a single same-sex marriage or the loss of a single other right. Yes, religious believers are about to win an unlimited right to discriminate against LGBT persons, but all this will accomplish in the end is the further discrediting of religion, especially in the eyes of the young. It need have no impact on the actual lives of LGBT persons.

Unfortunately, that insight will be lost. Despite all the signs, the loss of the Supreme Court is going to be very hard for the Left to take. No plans yet exist to use that loss to finally translate cultural influence into political power.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Busy Day for Hallowed Secularism

8/23/2018--Busy day. The Kickstarter Campaign for the Bends Toward Justice Podcast Series went live today. Also today is the press conference underneath the billboard in Erie that I commissioned that says Tax Cuts Threaten Social Security.

I will have some prepared remarks.

Americans are tired of being lied to. But we think there is nothing we can do. This billboards shows that something can be done. It confronts one particular lie--that tax cuts pay for themselves. They don't. They add to the deficit under most circumstances and the 2017 tax cuts are adding to the deficit right now. The politicians who told this lie knew it was a lie and thought it was OK to lie to the American people. This billboard says it is not OK to lie.

I would like to see ordinary Americans get together to do things like this--create new ways to confront the lying we see in public life. It might mean billboards. It might mean something very ordinary, like asking every candidate for Congress the simple question, do tax cuts pay for themselves. If the candidate says yes, the candidate is a liar who should not be supported. We are citizens, not subjects. We live in the post-truth age only if we allow it.

Politics is complicated. Many matters involve judgment and honest disagreement. You could certainly support tax cuts or urge the privatization of social security in good faith. But democracy requires that debate be based on honest disagreements. Not on lies.

I know both parties lie. I have a list of Democratic Party lies also and I would be happy to see them confronted too. (Obamacare did not allow us to keep our medical plans. It is not illegal to accept dirt on a political opponent.) The lie about tax cuts has been a successful one for far too long and is dong real damage. Without that lie, the 2017 tax cuts would not have happened.

As to why there is so much more lying now in politics than there used to be, this is a deep problem of relativism and nihilism in our culture. I want to begin to confront that as well with a podcast series called Bends Toward Justice. The kickstarter campaign for that is going on right now.

The billboard and the Podcast Series are part of the Truth/Justice/Democracy Initiative that includes efforts to create a bipartisan pro-democracy caucus of law professors to call out both Parties. Against gerrymandering and partisan Presidential impeachment.

A best selling book, How Democracies Die, explains how it can happen in America. We must act in creative ways to save our democracy. More partisanship will not do save us. Only coming together.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Pantheism and Penentheism

8/21/2018—One of the issues for a hallowed secularism that is open to the divine is to ask where and how the divine could manifest?

If you are a traditional monotheist, God is a pretty simple idea. God is separate from the world. But this leads to all kinds of issues that for me are unsolvable. The problem is supernaturalism that breaks into the causal connections of the world, creating miracles and creation, but contradicting what we actually know and experience of the world.

But, once the idea of a god separate from the world is given up, God is somehow in the world—-or, if the word God can only be conceived of as separate, as a being--then in the world are holiness, the good, the true, the beautiful and justice.

The route often taken by thinkers at this point is called panentheism—-God within the world but not the same as the world. God as a kind of blueprint underlying all that we see, know and experience. So, much of the world is ugly and violent, but that is not the divine principle, which is constantly working at purifying the world and becoming more manifest.

In panentheism, you don’t ask about where the divine comes from, anymore than you ask that about God in traditional monotheism. The divine is baked in at the heart of reality.

But panentheism still suffers from a kind of dualism—-this is not God, that is God. This is the ugly part, this is the good part.

Panentheism is not entirely satisfying, but it is better than a pantheism that appears to make everything holy when we know most of the world—-much of the world?—-is not holy at all, but horrible.

But I learned yesterday during a study with my mentor of Alfred North Whitehead-—Process and Reality, for those wondering-—of a different kind of pantheism. In this thinking, God is indeed the whole of reality, but only the whole. We see and experience only partially and from this perspective there is much that is ugly and violent. But we are called through experience always to more, and in that lure to the more, to the fuller, there is our experience of the divine. And if we could somehow see and experience all of reality, we would see God face to face, so to speak. This is like St. Paul who sees through a glass now but will one day see all clearly.

Evil now becomes resistance to the whole. We try to sanctify the partial—-our experience, our group, our way of doing things, even our one lifetime—-and forget about the whole. We deny the lure of the more and shrivel in our racisms and nationalisms and partialisms. And we all do this. Instead, we should try all our lives to open ourselves to all that reality offers.

I don’t know about this. It exalts the aesthetic at the expense of the good, of morality, to some extent at least. I’m more comfortable condemning evil than seeing it as partial. In this pantheism's way of seeing and understanding, even a Hitler serves a kind of good—-helping Germans recover pride and economic security—-but errs in holding the German race as supreme, an idolatry of racism.

Friday, August 17, 2018

This Social Democratic Moment

8/17/2018—It is said that the Democratic Party is in conflict between its more progressive wing and its more moderate wing. But there is no real conflict. Today’s Democratic Party is basically an inheritor of the European tradition of social democracy. It basically seeks the protections and security of the welfare state within a primarily capitalist economy. The Democratic Party does not reject public undertakings in principle, and seeks human solidarity against an overly individualistic market viewpoint. But we are not socialists, democratic or otherwise.

The tradition of social democracy has fallen into disarray and disuse but it brought about and maintained security and prosperity in Europe for 70 years.

There is no reason to reinvent the wheel and deny that all this has been done before and thought before. The point is to cure what ails social democracy; there is no need to invent anything really new.

We have a model in this effort: Tony Judt, the great thinker and historian of the Left, who died in 2010 from the ravages of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It was Judt who started us thinking about what is living and what is dead in social democracy, the title of his famous lecture in 2009.

Just what is living and what is dead in social democracy I will leave for another day. What Judt himself represented, however, is the first step. Judt was humble in his thinking. He was not vicious toward those he disagreed with—they might think he was, but just compare his tone with today’s exchanges.

Judt was educated in the history of ideas. He believed with Keynes that when public men proclaim that they are uninfluenced by thought, they are likely just repeating in garbled fashion an idea from the very tradition they think they reject.

Judt was universal. He believed in a common good for all. This did not mean for him the end of cultural differences. But universal values were real to him.

Judt was open to religion. He was a product of the Jewish tradition, however much he became a critic of the policies of the State of Israel. The worst aspect of the thinking of the Left today is its belittlement of religion. In doing that, the Left sacrifices that which is tender and the longing for the permanent and ultimate. Even for what is fair.

Judt was clear that the social democratic critique of unrestricted capitalism is a moral critique. And you can’t have a moral critique if religion is wrongheaded in principle—not in its particulars but in its generals.

This is the social democratic moment. The moment to celebrate what social democracy in the postwar period accomplished and how little the Reagan-Thatcher reaction to it brought to us. Ironically, Reagan’s great accomplishment was in his unflinching dedication to freedom from Soviet domination. For this he deserves to be lauded. But in this he was mostly within the post-war liberal consensus.

There is much more to be said. But only after recognition of who we are, where we are and what time it is.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Catholic Church Child Abuse Scandal Comes Out

8/15/2018—A redacted version of the Grand Jury Report was released yesterday and as expected it showed 70 years of repulsive and criminal conduct by hundreds of Catholic Priests in Pennsylvania as well as probably criminal acts of cover up by the Church hierarchy. Good thing it came out and people like me who are critical of some of its recommendations had better acknowledge the important good that the Report is doing, both in allowing victims a forum and in asking questions about who knew what when in terms of persons still active in public life.

That said, there are questions about the Report. The most important one is why the Catholic Church has been singled out in this way? If the answer is that a child abuse report on abuse generally would have been too diffuse to be useful, which is true, there should certainly be another investigative grand jury now that allows all victims of institutional child abuse to come forward. Were there similar patterns in other institutions, like private schools and organized athletics, or not? There have already been some allegations about child abuse in elite prep schools over the years. (here is an example). These victims also deserve to be heard.

Second, what about innocent persons named as abusers? The public probably believes there aren’t any and maybe that is true. Certainly, the overwhelming number of accusations in the Grand Jury Report are true. But 13 of the persons named (out of 301) apparently deny the allegations and that is why the Report was redacted to exclude their names—although the media will probably be able to figure out who most of them were. Perhaps even more important, the cover up allegations might certainly not be true in every instance. So, are innocent persons being included with the guilty?

Third is the question of future reforms. Basically there are two. One is against non-disclosure agreements in settlements in civil cases. I agree that State law should be amended to prohibit all such agreements. (I don’t think the Grand Jury Report goes that far). These non-disclosure agreements go way beyond the Catholic Church. They are routinely used to protect powerful corporations.

The other reform, and this is really the focus of legislation in Harrisburg, is the statute of limitations in civil and criminal cases. In 2002, the statute was extended in both, but the change not made retroactive. That is why the Grand Jury Report only led to 2 criminal cases being filed. The last instance of child abuse in the Report occurred in 2010 and most occurred over twenty years ago.

I really don’t understand the idea of making a change in a criminal statute of limitations retroactive once it has run. If that is not unconstitutional, it ought to be. There is no constitutional requirement that there be such a limit—there is not one usually in murder cases, for example—but once one has run, surely the defendant’s right not to be prosecuted has vested.

In terms of civil liability, it really is a question of whether you are willing to bankrupt the Church over wrongdoing that mostly occurred more than 30 years ago. The Church adopted reforms in Dallas in 2002 that are apparently effective in preventing and dealing with child abuse today. Many victims have come forward and have been compensated. We have statutes of limitations for a reason. So, I wouldn’t support such a rule essentially just for the Catholic Church. But I understand how others would.

Finally, there is the question of reckoning for persons still around. The fall of retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for sex crimes against seminarians in June 2018 has raised questions as to who had been silent about allegations against him over the years. These are the questions that current members of the hierarchy are going to have to answer. Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubick denies there was any cover up under himself, since 2007, or previous Bishop, and now Cardnal, Donald Wuerl. But there are allegations concerning Wuerl. They, and other such allegations, will have to be looked at in detail.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Decent Republicans, Especially Law Professors, Have Got to Stop Voter Suppression

8/12/2018—I have called and will continue to call on my fellow Democrats to stop making up grounds for impeaching President Trump. And I will do it publicly when the time comes. So I believe I am in a fair position to say that the time has come for decent Republicans, especially law professors, to stop making excuses and stop voter suppression their Party is practicing.

My friends know it is happening and they know it ought to be illegal. But they point out that White Democrats invented suppression of African-American voters and in fact did far worse than Republicans are doing today. It’s true, but is that an excuse—that 50 years ago Democrats murdered African-Americans for trying to vote and we don’t go that far?

The Justices should have stopped this stuff years ago. The intent to suppress lawful voters because of their likely votes violates lots of fundamental rights and strict scrutiny should have been applied all along. It wasn’t. What we got was acceptance of lies by the courts. Voter fraud. No partisan intent. Neutral rules. All the while a conspiracy to destroy democracy was taking place.

This becomes crystal clear in Carol Anderson’s searing column today in the New York Times. Read it and see if you are not ashamed.

Really, all Republican law professors have to tell the Justices is that it is ok to enforce the Constitution. The new conservative majority would go a long way toward saving democracy if it would bite the hand that put it in office.

Democracy is at stake. Voter suppression is one step away from cancelling elections. Think about that.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Lynne Kelly Quote

8/10/2018—A good day for the meaningful universe. I saw a retweet by Michael Shermer of the Lynne Kelly quote:

“Some believers accuse skeptics of having nothing left but a dull, cold, scientific world. I am left with only art, music, literature, theatre, the magnificence of nature, mathematics, the human spirit, sex, the cosmos, friendship, history, science, imagination, dreams, oceans, mountains, love, and the wonder of birth. That’ll do for me.”
― Lynne Kelly

Then Jonah Goldberg, the conservative thinker, publishes a column in which he argues that political hatred is a substitute for religion—a re-enchantment creed, following Ernest Gellner. Presumably this description includes people who go to church but still hate their enemies.

The problem at base is the meaningless universe.

A question for me, however, is the status of these wonderful things that Kelly points to and that Goldberg celebrates. Are they real or just hobbies that humans have? Are there re-enchantment creeds that are true even though not supernatural?

So, there is art. Is it all beautiful? Is nature actually magnificent or does it just appear that way to a certain privileged white perspective that can afford such contemplation?

And if the good, the true and the beautiful—and justice—are in fact real (in some sense)—then why attack religion? Why play into the religion/non-religion dichotomy? Why not celebrate all the traditions that pay homage to the real?

That would be a hallowed secularism.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

What Can We Learn From the Failure of Four Secular Democracies?

8/4/2018—In one way or another, four countries may be said to represent the failure of the secular democracy project: Turkey, India, Israel and the United States. The story of each failure is different, but there is a pattern. In each, a left-leaning secular elite, generally hostile to religion, tries to create a State without religion in the public square. Some form of separation of church and state. In each, over time, a pretty religious voter majority rebels and brings to power a religious, nationalist government. In each, democratic forms are kept, more or less, but minority rights are definitely threatened.

Of course, each county is also quite different. Recep Erdogan in Turkey is pretty religious and the struggle is pretty directly religion versus secularism. Narendra Modi is pretty religious, but the struggle is also highly nationalistic with Hindus versus Muslims and others. Benjamin Netanyahu does not appear to be religious at all and the struggle is definitely nationalistic, although joined by religious fervor, as in India. In the US, President Trump is as secular as can be, personally, but is highly identified with religious believers. The struggle, though, has no religious content per se, except in allowing a very small number of religious people to practice controversial forms of discrimination.

What can we learn from the failure of the secular democratic project in these four countries? Michael Ingatieff, the President of Central European University, has suggested that liberal society will always disappoint. His article appeared in the New York Review of Books in June 2018. I wrote a letter to the editor that was not published, which I reproduce below. I should add that Ignatieff is so gracious that he wrote a short response to me, which I will not reproduce here only because he did not suggest it was for public consumption. Basically he suggested that my mistake is in the use of the word “shared.” In liberal society, people cannot share fundamental commitments of meaning. That is the point of liberal society.

I should also add that I have always been skeptical and hostile to the secular democratic project. I wrote American Religious Democracy as a rejoinder back in 2007. I believe democracy will only succeed in building societies of freedom and flourishing human life when the secular/religious split is overcome and religion is acknowledged as the positive and necessary force that it is. Not everyone is going to be religious, but everyone is going to be human, which entails some kind of depth experience.
To the Editor:

Michael Ignatieff’s dispiriting review of three books about the relationship between liberal, secular society and religion was unduly pessimistic because Ignatieff’s conception of secular society is truncated and static. On the one hand, there is religion—a rich, but ultimately irrational, communal search for meaning, belonging and the purpose of human life. On the other, there is secular society—an arid collectivity that tries, increasingly unsuccessfully, to deliver a welfare state, equality and individualism.

Ignatieff then concludes that religion will not disappear and that liberal society will inevitably disappoint. Really? With a stacked deck like that, of course liberal society will disappoint. But, then, so will religion, which, according to Ignatieff cannot deliver knowledge about the nature of reality.

Maybe the accommodation of religion and secularism has to be deeper than Ignatieff’s example of whether a Sikh has to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle. Maybe the accommodation should be a shared search for meaning among religious and nonreligious persons of good faith.

Secularism rejects supernatural accounts of reality and holds that scientific laws are invariant. But almost all modern religions accept scientific accounts of the world and do not routinely invoke miracle to explain natural phenomena. There is much more common ground here than secularists are willing to admit.

The important issue between secularism and religion is the status of what Tim Crane calls, in one of the books Ignatieff reviewed, the religious impulse—the human hunger for something transcending the world of ordinary experience.

Secular society will continue to disappoint until it comes to terms with this impulse and its meaning.

Crane, himself an atheist, does not believe that there is any transcendent reality. But, how can anyone listen to Mozart’s music or look at the night sky and deny transcendent reality? For that matter, how can anyone listen to the words of Martin Luther King Jr., and deny transcendent reality? The arc of the moral universe bending toward justice is definitely something transcending the world of ordinary experience.

In their unthinking zeal to defeat religion, secularists have surrendered everything that gives human life purpose and meaning. But that surrender is not required by denial of the supernatural. Liberal, secular society does not have to be arid. It can be as rich with meaning as any formal religious community. And when secularism realizes that, its opposition to religion will be seen as unnecessary and will recede. On that day, all of us, religious and nonreligious, will just be spiritual seekers again. On that day, it will be possible for politics to be again a shared public search for the deepest truths of human experience.