Thanks to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the government cannot use significant penalties to coerce a religious adherent into violating his faith, no matter how trivial the government considers the adherent’s beliefs to be, unless doing so is the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling governmental interest.
Pillar: Politics & Law
The third pillar of a decent society is a just system of politics and law. Such a government does not bind all persons, families, institutions of civil society, and actors in the marketplace to itself as subservient features of an all-pervading authority. Instead, it honors and protects the inherent equal dignity of all persons, safeguards the family as the primary school of virtue, and seeks justice through the rule of law.
Ross Douthat’s depiction of our society in his new book, The Decadent Society, should unsettle defenders of the status quo; his assessment of its potential resilience should give pause to those who are eagerly awaiting its fall and planning for what comes next. Decadence may be worse, and yet more permanent, than we think.
Hadley Arkes and Robert Miller go one more round on the moral norms that govern speech and the government’s authority in prohibiting immoral speech.
As civility becomes a contested value, we would do well to look to the example of Roger Williams, whose understanding of civility was grounded on the natural law. It depended on common human virtues and fostered the freedom of conscience and freedom of expression for members of a pluralistic society.
The Constitution itself directs us to use metaphysical and moral truths that lie beyond it in its interpretation. Indeed, a contemporary judge can be faithful to the Founders only by relying on these truths.
The Christian moral tradition provides a solid foundation for the right to privacy by linking it to the act of communication and sharing information, a fundamentally relational activity oriented toward both the personal and common good. The failures of Capital One, Ring, and others illustrate that it cannot be left up to individual institutions to protect their clients’ privacy. We must therefore develop stronger legal institutions that embody the principles of both privacy and transparency.
The US Supreme Court seems likely to rule in a way school-choice advocates will welcome. The Court will likely overrule the Montana court and hold a ban on scholarships for students at religiously affiliated schools unconstitutional—an important ruling, to be sure. But a sweeping opinion seems unlikely. Rather, Espinoza is shaping up to be one of those closely divided, narrow decisions that have become familiar in the Court’s Religion Clause jurisprudence.
Catholic social teaching can serve as an important source of wisdom about how to order personal action and social policy toward the ultimate ends of human life. Still, invoking this tradition does not obviate the need for detailed and mundane policy debate.
For decades, both First Things and National Review have struggled to make as much peace as possible between two uncongenial streams of conservative thinking and praxis. That their editors have now planted their feet decisively in one of those streams marks an important moment in the history of American conservatism.
There are moral standards applicable to all forms of human behavior, including speech, but neither the existence of such standards nor even our acknowledgement of them entails that government should enforce them. Whether the government should enforce a given standard depends on the likely effects of such enforcement, and the sad history of censorship shows that empowering the government to suppress “immoral” or “offensive” speech is highly susceptible of abuse and results in serious violations of the rights we all have to engage in good speech and hear the good speech of others. Giving this power to government is wrong for the same reason that giving alcohol and automobiles to teenage boys is wrong.
Robert Miller’s defense of free speech risks removing the moral ground that could explain the rightness or goodness of the freedom we seek to preserve. In place of a moral defense in principle, we would simply have a set of utilitarian guesses: that if we pretend we have no standards of judgment, things will work out better for us in the long run.
Although they often have the flavor of thought experiments, the arguments of integralists are nonetheless worth taking very seriously. Their reflections include spot-on diagnoses of many pathologies affecting our political community.
If you really must attack other conservatives, take the time to figure out what they actually said and why, and interpret them charitably, the way you would wish to be interpreted. You owe this even to your enemies, but other conservatives are not your enemies but your friends. After that, have some definite arguments.
“Virtue politics” is modeled on the phrase “virtue ethics,” an approach to moral philosophy inspired by Aristotle and elaborated by the British philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. “Virtue politics” describes the central concerns of Renaissance political philosophy. Like the ancient Greeks, the Renaissance humanists had a richer understanding of what the state has to do in order to encourage virtue.
Every time we fail to muster the courage to do what’s right, what God is calling us to do, there is behind that failure a still deeper failure: a failure of love.
Faith and family: for many of us, these are not only the most important parts of the Christmas season. They’re also the things that make life most worth living.
The team at Public Discourse doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but we do think we’re asking the right questions, and getting the right thinkers to propose some of the answers. That’s one thing that we hope will always be our hallmark: thoughtful, reasoned discourse, which is rigorous yet still accessible to the educated layman.
Though Christmas is a religious holiday, secularists should appreciate its great contribution to Western Civilization: the lesson that all men are equal in their fundamental human dignity.
Christmas isn’t tasteful, isn’t simple, isn’t clean, isn’t elegant. Give me the tacky and the exuberant and the wild, to represent the impossibly boisterous fact that God has intruded in this world.
Once we recognize the insufficiency of liberal political theory, we should turn back to classical political philosophy, which offers us a deeper understanding of the American tradition and invaluable guidance in reforming our contemporary politics.
Conservative critics of “liberalism” are right to identify major flaws in liberal theory. But a deeper appreciation of those flaws should prevent us from blaming the American political tradition for them. Liberal theory is so erroneous that neither the Founders nor any other Americans could ever really put it into practice.
The first recommendation of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights should be directed to the same State Department that houses it: Stop using the UN to advance sexual ideologies that have no basis in international human rights law.
Pope Francis’s theology of the people gives us a new ecclesial lens and paradigm through which to understand earthly politics. And the clerical abuse scandal, like the Church’s loss of temporal power, may well do Catholics a service in the long run, freeing us up to a better, more “ground-up” conception of how societies and their economies work.
Without a proper understanding of human beings that is grounded in natural law, human rights will always fall short of the lofty goals set by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights is to help the U.S. protect human rights, it needs first to try to understand their nature.
Were the criminal sentencing reforms that began in the 1970s too harsh? Rachel Barkow’s new book says they were. But most Americans would likely call these changes progress: our worst offenders now get something closer to what they should get than in the days when the experts were more in charge of punishment. Perhaps the real question is whether we should ground our criminal law more on justice as retribution.