Pillar: Politics & Law

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.

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The Problem of Human Rights

For the considerable body of people in the western world who still believe in self-government, and in the preservation of their nations’ traditional moral identities, the overreaching of the contemporary human rights project will perhaps lead them to reconsider natural law, presented in a prudently modest formulation. This is a crucial undertaking to which Pierre Manent’s new book is a worthy contribution.

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Reclaiming Social Justice

The term “social justice” is typically associated with an aggressively progressive political agenda led by a muscular Uncle Sam. But there is an alternative understanding of social justice—one that is especially well-suited to helping the nation address many of today’s most troubling challenges. It’s time for conservatives to explain this approach and articulate an agenda for the future based on it.

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Christopher Caldwell Is Not Here to Give You Hope

In The Age of Entitlement, Christopher Caldwell chronicles our increased willingness to eat our seed corn and inability to propagate the future. But the questions he raises require a treatment other than borrowing the frameworks of progressive theorists and drawing different conclusions that suggest an inescapable logic of racial resentment.

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Is It Ethically Defensible for the Church to Suspend Public Masses?

One can certainly debate the scientific warrant of a quarantine, its effectiveness in a given region or country, its proportionate value in the face of its economic consequences, and its psychological effects on citizens. Still, in principle, the state may legitimately request Catholic Christians to undertake such a quarantine, in accord with the natural law. There is nothing illegitimate about such a request, if it falls within certain parameters of temporary and just use, nor is it historically unprecedented.

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Information Can Do What Lockdowns Can’t

In the effort to combat COVID-19, making the public aware about the truth of the pandemic has been more effective than government lockdowns. China’s suppression of information, the WHO’s dilly-dallying with declaring a pandemic, and President Trump’s refusal to take COVID seriously enough from an early date all cost lives. Once Americans understood the gravity of the problem, they began social distancing on their own, before government-mandated lockdowns began. That has been the most effective measure in controlling the virus’s spread.

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Lockdowns Don’t Work

Many policies provide public-health benefits in pandemics, such as making facemasks mandatory, cancelling school, and banning large assemblies and long-distance travel. But ordering people to cower in their homes, harassing people for having playdates in the park, and ordering small businesses to close regardless of their hygienic procedures has no demonstrated effectiveness.

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A Tale of Two Nations? Populism, Plutocrats, and the Managerial State

Michael Lind’s The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite addresses the growing gap between the successful and those left behind in the United States and in other developed Western societies. Contemporary “demagogic populism,” he argues, is a symptom of the disease of technocratic, neoliberal elitism, the cure for which is a return to democratic pluralism.

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Progress Revisited

Bradley C. S. Watson’s new book Progressivism: The Strange History of a Radical Idea points scholars in new and productive directions regarding the political thought of the Progressive Era. Watson writes with vigor and verve, making the book of great appeal to anyone trying to take the true measure of the legacy of Progressive political thought in American history.

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Conservative Liberalism, Liberal Despotism: Part 2

Liberal doctrines necessarily require disenfranchising and punishing those who hold rival beliefs. Liberal ideology is jealous, and will have no other gods before it. American conservatives should reject this revolutionary liberalism and the attempts to make it the central principle of our national heritage. We need not deny that liberal ideas influenced the Founding, but we ought to follow our forefathers in tempering them.

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Conservative Liberalism, Liberal Despotism: Part 1

An oddity about our current debates over liberalism and America is that both sides view the American Founding, and thus America, as fundamentally influenced by classical liberal ideology. They only disagree over whether classical liberalism is good or bad. But the historical record shows that liberal ideology was one influence among many, not that it was the definitive one.

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Subjects Matter: It Is Past Time to Rescue the Study of History from Its Present Decline

It would be a mistake to believe that the current decline in historical literacy is due to the loss of some homogeneous version of the American story that used to hold the nation together. The problem is rather that younger generations are no longer being exposed to the historical themes that would most attract their interest.

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The Long Autumn of Our Content

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.

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“Peaceable and Just . . . Notwithstanding Their Spiritual Whoredoms”: Roger Williams, Civility, and the Freedom of Conscience

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.

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Understanding the Right to Privacy in the Age of Big Data

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.

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The Supreme Court Is Poised to Deliver a Victory to School Choice Advocates

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.

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