A cage match made in heaven: under the good-humored rays of The New York Sun, it's the imposing Father against the suffocating Mother. He liked reading her new book -- and Nussbaum is a smarty, with a smart pen, at that -- but didn't like what he read. Scalia's a textualist more than an originalist, but otherwise Neuhaus is deadly accurate. This passage in particular calls forth further comment:
It is at the grand theoretical
level, however, that Ms. Nussbaum's radical revisionism has come in for
sharpest criticism, and deservedly so. She agrees with political
philosopher John Rawls
that genuinely public reason cannot be based on "comprehensive
accounts" of reality such as those proposed by religion. Then, from
start to finish of the book, she lifts up the 17th-century Roger Williams,
founder of Rhode Island, as the philosopher and practitioner of her
understanding of "liberty of conscience." Williams did indeed defend
Quakers, Jews, and sundry religious dissenters, but he did so
emphatically, explicitly, and contentiously on the basis of his reading
of the Christian Bible, as anyone familiar with his "The Bloudy Tenet
of Persecution" well knows. In the scholarly, and I think correct,
depiction of Williams, he was something of a religious fanatic who
arrived by uncompromising religious reason at conclusions about
religious freedom with which almost all of us agree. To contend, as Ms.
Nussbaum does, that Roger Williams anticipated the arguments of John
Locke, Immanuel Kant, and John Rawls is — not to put too fine a point
on it — risible.
What's risible is this continued misbegotten reliance on one of Rawls' most misbegotten misbegotten ideas -- that 'religion' is, and is best explained as, always a 'comprehensive doctrine' or 'comprehensive account,' and that for this reason it is disentitled to public participation. It's not just that, as Neuhaus explains, people with suspiciously full-blooded religious convictions are capable of remarkably pluralist political attitudes -- which, stunning or incomprehensible only to analysts like Nussbaum, is indeed the case.
What's more to the point, religions are not by definition 'comprehensive doctrines' -- most glaringly because both the concept of 'doctrine' as it is used in the phrase and the concept of 'comprehensive' are inventions of modern philosophy produced from a self-consciously a-religious standpoint, but also because even if that phrase is translated into a religious meaning, only some religious frameworks come in as comprehensive, and those that do, with their taste for literalness and totality, are quintessentially modern!
Now what could it be about modernity that makes religion antagonistic and contradictory with regard to modern ideologies that are themselves antagonistic and contradictory with regard to modern religious ideologies? Could it be something inherently self-contradictory and self-reflexively antagonistic about modernity? Something for us -- and Nussbaum -- to meditate upon, is it not?
UPDATE: N.B. I should be explicit that, in my judgment, a large part of that meditation has already been the life's work of Alasdair MacIntyre. (See especially Chs X and XI of Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, but consult After Virtue first and its 3rd edition Preface.) MacIntyre's thesis is that Aristotelian Thomism is in no way intelligible as a 'comprehensive doctrine' for two reasons. The first reason is that the modern standpoint, from which and only from which the concept of 'comprehensive doctrines' is intelligible, is itself the product of a tradition that developed and maintains such concepts because it is unable to intelligibly understand and explain the ways that alternate traditions (like Aristotelian Thomism) have overcome the sorts of problems in which modernity is indefinitely, and probably eternally, mired. The second reason is that Aristotelian Thomism is able to overcome the sort of problems of which the existence of concepts like 'comprehensive doctrines' are the symptoms because it syncretizes practical reason and divine law into a coherent but contingent monist teleology. Thus Aquinas:
it is all the more uncertain if one wishes to descend to bringing doctrine to bear on individual cases in specific detail, for this cannot be dealt with by either art or precedent, because the factors in individual cases are indeterminately variable. Therefore judgment concerning individual cases must be left to the prudentia of each person. (Commentary on the Ethics II, lect. 2, quoted in MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? 196.)
And thus Aristotelian Thomism is not, nor can be, a 'comprehensive doctrine'. Were I to go on I would explain that this is not the case because Aristotelian Thomism is the result of really smart Christian people saving 'religion' from a condition into which it otherwise would, and into which lay believers often or always cause it to, descend. (MacIntyre explains that the reason why involves the centrality of practical reason to both Aristotle and Aquinas, the latter of whom showed how practical reason can guide even morally and rationally immature human beings to their perfect end precisely in virtue of an even-immature recognition of the law and the grace of God.)
It's not every day that I accidentally write a blog post which triggers an extended meditation on frontiers of the philosophy of mathematics capable of bending the uninitiated mind into a beautifully calisthenic pretzel. So hopping up and down I point you most energetically toward The Reactionary Epicurian's dazzling account of the Stages of Mathematical Development. I'm Stage 0. What stage are you?
Neither God nor Man seem to have died at Yale quite yet. The Yale Mafia is so in the running for my coolest undergrad posse of geniuses award.
Unfortunately, many conservatives seem to have given up on the idea of masculine honor, that taking advantage of a drunk woman (which you can do without legally committing rape) is unmanly and disgraceful.
they act like they're proud to have done so. The attitude is too often,
"Great, now we can act on our basest impulses, and when things go
wrong...hey, you skanks made the rules." And they make this argument
even as they acknowledge that the playing field isn't really level, and
sex will always be more emotionally-fraught for women. Shouldn't a
recognition of that fact--of women's special vulnerability--entail a
moral responsibility to protect those women, even the drunk,
There is an element of very womanly -- and not manly at all -- vengefulness in these kinds of contemporary male creeds of complicit permissiveness: you dared to assert yourself foolishly; now watch as I consent to a role in your undoing. Except when the genders are in the original position, the woman's hand in the man's undoing usually comes in the form of suddenly revealing that she is not ever going to have sex with him, rather than, as is now the case, revealing, as the guy is wont to do, that he is immediately (but probably not ever after that) have sex with the suddenly disgraced girl. This should be a descriptive enough account to suggest how what Cheryl's bearing witness to brings forth the worst of both worlds -- men unnaturally adopting a naturally female attitude to gratify their most male desires at the expense of female dignity, women unnaturally adopting a naturally male attitude to put a desire-shaped plug in a dignity-shaped hole.
None of this really has any bearing on the so-called 'adult world', in which lots of women like sex and seek it out from obliging males because they want to and can handle themselves just fine. But college is, in increasing part by design, a sort of state of nature -- artificial as all they are -- in which kids are socialized out of their usually partial training in ethical restraint. Or at least the good-looking kids, though there are competitive games for the less attractive ones, too, who -- if they don't have money already -- can look forward to handsome prizes tomorrow for top performance today. How college kids are supposed to excel while running the gauntlet of sociosexual discovery -- lost virginity, gay experimentation, drug-induced dalliances, falling in love for the first time, the weird breakup, the psycho ex, the attempted suicides, the campus counseling, the pregnancy scare, ad fillintheblankum -- is beyond me, excluding of course a carefully calibrated regimen of grade inflation and inside recruitment deals with enviable firms...firms that reproduce and institutionalize the chaos of 'private' life that sets the tempo of public practice long after higher education has become an asterisk associated with a particular compartment of 'issues'.
There are lots of things to blame skanks for, particularly messing with the minds of the guys they like but won't screw, but on the above, and on related counts, they need the possibility of shelter, not more lashes with yet further wet noodles.
So where does this leave us: Any violation of the above
responsibilities is to be frowned upon and denounced vociferously.
However, rape, as a criminal act, must be defined as when one party
continues an action even after the other told them to stop. Or when one
party is unknowingly drugged. Or one party is too drunk to willingly
consent. I am not sure how to deal with both parties being drunk and no
force is used.
By busting in their dorm room with a fire extinguisher.
in the last two or three years, a whole host of giants have passed
away, men who were political thinkers at a time when that made you a
cultural figure. John Kenneth Galbraith, Milton Friedman, Arthur
Schlesinger Jr., Norman Mailer, and now, William F. Buckley Jr. Gore
Vidal is just about the last of their number left. And that's a shame.
They would write serious books of political analysis and sell millions
of copies -- they were the writers you had to read to call yourself an
actual political junkie [emphasis added]. Now, the space they inhabited in the discourse
is held by the Coulters and O'Reilly's of the world. Where we once
prized a tremendous facility for wit, we're now elevating those with a
tremendous storehouse for anger. Run a search on quotes from Galbraith,
Buckley, or Friedman, then do the same for O'Reilly and Coulter. We're
really losing something here. And we don't even have Molly Ivins around
to wrest it back.
'We' are not producing tremendous storehouses of wit, because 'we' are not producing intellectual aristocrats as we once did -- a generations-long project that actually cannot be preplanned and gamed out and effectively managed by any kind of hive mind or professional organization. At the same time, 'we' are not even producing an audience for intellectual aristocrats as we once did -- a generations-long project, etc., etc. I would point out that rarely nowadays do the professionally angry make it big without also having an immense talent for public sarcasm. The incredible opportunity provided to the lowbrow by a public taste for being able to mean something and not mean it at the same time has more or less directly resulted in fame and fortune for the Snark Class, who have fanned out across the entire infotainment world.
One disturbing thought is that the seed for this evil kudzu plant was nestled indeed within the imperious irony and cold touch perfected in the Golden Age by the deck-shoe dandies of the blueblooded Right and the Olympian homosexuals of the left intelligentsia. Soon, we discovered, one needn't write fifty historical novels like Gore Vidal in order to dialectically bitch-slap designated public pinatas sort of like Gore Vidal might do. And one needn't grow up behind ivy-encurled fencework like William F. Buckley to get a conference room full of coeds to laugh, cheer, and buy autographed copies. More importantly, one didn't need to be as wise as these men -- one could be 'smart in a different way', 'street smart', 'incredibly hardworking at what one does', etc., etc.
So, congratulations, latter-day America, your moment has come, with all the pomp and gravitas of Trivial Pursuit '90s Edition.
So, basically, you've got a sketch that
portrays Hillary as a witch whose own husband can't stand her . And
you've got Obama essentially giving this Hillary caricature his stamp
of approval by appearing in the sketch. And, yet, I can't recall anyone
in the press criticizing Obama for this. In fact, he was praised
for his SNL appearance. You don't have to be Howard Wolfson to think
that Hillary could never have gotten away with a similar move--by
appearing in an SNL skit that caricatured Obama as, say, a Manchurian
Of course, I don't really think Hillary should have
tried to reference a months-old SNL bit in last night's debate. That
actually would have been worse that what she did do. But I still think
it's kind of interesting, in light of the Clinton campaign's constant
carping about the press, that no one batted an eye at Obama's SNL
appearance. In other words, I think the Clinton people--sour grapes
aside--have a bit of a point. -- Jason Zengerle, The Plank
But maybe the real point is that Clinton really is horrible and nobody really does like her. This may not seem 'fair' insofar as a President's competence and clout should not as a rule be ignored by press and populace in formulating and passing its judgments, but in Hillary Clinton's case, as we all know, we have looked into this mouth and we have turned away. Everybody knows exactly how driven and powerful Hillary Clinton is, and they...don't like her anyway. Not even her supporters, as far as I know, raised an audible peep about this sketch. Finally I have to imagine that this is nobody's fault but Bill and Hillary Clinton, whose relationship seems so easy to caricature that the world shrugs when Barack Obama appears in that caricature, as he has, in fact, already in real life.
Granted, Jason is right to suggest that the bit of a point Clinton would seem to have is that the press doesn't defend her the way they defend Obama because they like Obama more than they like her. That points to questions of journalistic, not political, fairness. But these questions would appear to be inseparable from the practice of journalism itself, at least in its post '50s/post just-the-facts incarnation. And of course in prior decades and centuries journalists were under little professional obligation to treat people they didn't like nicely. Or fairly. Especially when it came to opportunities to stand by silently while someone was, erm, pilloried.
The bottom line is that neither the press nor anyone else woke up one morning out of mirthful Nietzschean spite to announce "It would be fun to constantly not like Hillary Clinton! And to act accordingly, but without really coming right out and saying so!" She never had any great personal appeal -- it was a great victory and tremendous effort just to get up to that point from active dislike -- and her husband has burned a vast swath through his own legendary appeal like Sherman marching to the sea. Not a one of us is under obligation to expend the effort to transform this into anyone's problem but their own.
Whatever else raising children may be, it's also an expensive and time
consuming pain in the ass that sharply limits your flexibility to do a
variety of things for a large number of years. One can easily imagine
the joys of parenthood being roughly offset by the burdens. But later
in life, having a solid relationship with grownup kids and their
children seems low-cost and hard-to-replace. Loneliness is very hard on
people. To acknowledge that reality isn't to say we need to get all
freaked out if the norm moves from 2-3 kids per family to 1-2 kids per
Surely Matt is right about this utilitarian analysis of childbearing and rearing -- until the appearance of those pesky imaginary numbers. The "1-2 kids" concept seems designed expressly to obscure the central problem, namely, that there is a huge difference between a society that generates an average of one child per father and mother and a society that generates two. The difference: one society is working on a population decline and one is not. Now there may be no reason necessarily to freak out if the population is headed for decline in this fashion -- and certainly whether or not a population should decline depends on the population (its position with regard to resources, space, etc., etc.). But let's not swallow up the question with an analysis designed to do so, eh?
If your musical tastes run in directions similar to mine, this is welcome news. Pocket Revolution was a little tired and rusty, but Instant Street is hands down one of the best ten records of the past...oh...18 years.
This will have to substitute for now for reflections on Buckley.