“If you want to understand why evangelicals could vote for someone of Trump’s morals,” Megan McArdle suggested, read Harvard Law professor Mark Tushnet’s “Abandoning Defensive Crouch Liberal Constitutionalism.”
In Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Gil Pender vacations in Paris with his fiancée and her parents. One night Pender takes a walk to escape the insufferable egotists who surround him and stumbles upon an antique Peugeot. It takes him to the 1920s, the golden age for which he has always yearned. He falls in love with Picasso’s lover Adriana, who herself has always longed for the 1890s’ Belle Époque. After a horse and carriage pass them by and whisk them to that period, and after the Impressionists they meet yearn for the Renaissance, Pender realizes that no age is as golden as we imagine and concludes that it is better to live in the reality of the present.
Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic is an extended essay on the same theme.
This past year, I helped teach a course in the development of the social sciences in Boston College’s Perspectives Program, our equivalent of a great books curriculum. As we read Hobbes, Spinoza, Marx, and Weber, I asked the students to track the thinkers’ views of human nature and of an objective moral order or natural law. Such core beliefs form the foundation of the many disagreements we have in the public square, I explained. Whether you know it or not, your opinion on welfare reform, the role of “judicial activism,” or the nature of marriage can be tied back to…
Many times in public discourse one finds oneself repeating the old line from The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” We disagree about the terms of the debate, but also fail to address the more substantive disagreements that lie below the surface. Few thinkers speak as clearly as Robert P. George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. “Self-awareness is, indeed, an obligation of democratic citizenship,” George writes. By that reckoning, he is a model democratic citizen. George’s newest book, Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas…
In the public debates over religion, politics, and morality, isn’t there some rational standard that we all can agree on? Surely there must be a set of common foundations and core first principles from which we can reason together. This is by no means a new question, of course. For viciousness of rhetoric and physical treatment of other human beings, few ages rival the early modern period. In the midst of that age’s battles, Hugo Grotius, the Dutch humanist whose writings have greatly contributed to international law, sought to determine and argue for the core principles of Christianity on which all parties could agree.
The topic was not an abstract one for Grotius. He wrote from the castle in which he was imprisoned by Dutch Calvinists, who opposed his allegiance to a party that sought toleration for dissenters from strict Calvinism.