According to Steven Smith, it’s meaningless to speak of our inherent natural rights. He dismisses the Founders without properly understanding them. A return to the Founders’ natural rights constitutionalism may not offer the best alternative to protect religious liberty today. But we cannot even entertain the possibility that it might if we do not understand the principles of justice or the practical meaning of the philosophy that originally animated the Constitution.
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.
In Religious Liberty and the American Founding, Phillip Muñoz believes that there is a kind of natural rights logic that leads to his minimalist version of religious freedom. His central premise is that the Constitution should be interpreted according to the “natural rights” logic that was prevalent in the Founding period; and he tries to follow this logic to its conclusions, come hell or high water.
If Hittinger does not think that the Church is meant to keep herself uninvolved with temporal politics, or that the temporal polis is meant to keep itself uninvolved with the Church, then his separationism does not conflict with integralism at all. This would be welcome news for Hittinger’s many integralist admirers. But it would also mean that Hittinger’s lectures, although rhetorically situated—and marketed—as a corrective to integralism, offer no such thing.
A healthy culture, nearly every Public Discourse reader would agree, needs strong families. There is a growing number on the right—and I count myself among them—who recognize the family as possessing an inherent economic logic, in addition to its essential culture-shaping role. Families are influenced by market forces, starting from the very fundamental decision of whether to form a household or not. This requires some amount of getting our hands dirty in the nitty-gritty of politics and policy design.
The source of disagreement between the integralists, as represented by Mr. Urban Hannon, and Dr. Russell Hittinger is at root Christological. If God in fact achieved the separation of his Kingdom from temporal politics in the person of Jesus—as St. Augustine, Pope St. John Paul II, and Ratzinger claim—then Hittinger’s lecture is not only correct, but also profound. Recognizing such separation really would be the beginning of wisdom.
Although social contract theory is a prominent feature of the American founding, it is both unsound and harmful to a proper understanding of politics. This fact presents a challenge to any form of conservatism that is based on protecting and promoting the principles of the American founding.
William McCormick, SJ, has written a new and welcome interpretation of Thomas Aquinas as a political thinker. His reading of Aquinas suggests that the political common good, as an intermediary between human and divine things, is a subject for ongoing inquiry, sensitive to the exigencies of a fallen world. McCormick holds that the “pedagogy of politics” unfolds teleologically as a community—in and through common deliberation and action—comes to greater knowledge of itself and its own ends.
Even the healthiest patriotism does not address whether America’s political regime ought to re-main basically neutral about whether its citizens flourish. If what our politics can give us is fair procedures for resolving disputes, and protections for speech and property, and a broad enough distribution of power that tyranny has difficulty taking hold, that is remarkable and we should be grateful. That still isn’t living well.
National Review midwifed and nurtured the modern conservative movement into being. Conservatism today is in a very different situation from the one that Bill Buckley confronted in 1955. There is this vast conservative enterprise now; it’s kind of hydra-headed. But the basic need is, first, to think about the circumstances in which we find ourselves and how to apply conservative principles to them—or a conservative disposition, if one prefers—and second, how to build a coalition that is large enough to take these ideas off of the shelf.
In the last decade or so, various strands of the “new right” have fallen prey to the lures of governmental consolidation. But despite these conservatives’ attempts to justify bold state action in the name of the common good, subsidiarity remains an indispensable guide. Subsidiarity is perhaps the greatest expression of a polycentric approach to the common good.
Although a committed progressive, through his novels, Todd Gitlin hedges his commitments by both recognizing the limitations of his worldview and portraying the merits of his political adversaries. No matter one’s own views, Gitlin’s intellectual virtues and fairmindedness displayed in his work are deeply instructive.
John Witte, Jr.’s The Blessings of Liberty offers a wonderful overview of the development of human rights in the West. He contends that natural rights are found in the Bible, were developed by Christian thinkers, and played an important role in the West long before Enlightenment thinkers wrote about them. Witte also focuses on religious freedom more narrowly as the preeminent right.
Just as justice requires us to protect all unborn children, so too does it require us to protect access to life-affirming medical treatment for pregnant women facing grave medical complications. This is part of the pro-life ideal, not an exception to it. While children at all stages of development ought to enjoy the law’s protections, political realities may make it impossible to achieve this fully and immediately in many jurisdictions. When that is so, enacting the most pro-life law realistically possible is justified.
If Governor Newsom signs California’s transgender youth “refuge” bill into law, it will be one of the most explicit and radical assaults on parental rights that our nation has ever seen. While debates about how best to care for children with gender dysphoria are ongoing, one thing is clear: encouraging troubled children to run away from home and dividing them from their parents is certain to inflict great harm.
Francis Fukuyama offers a useful account of the pathologies of liberalism and argues that it still has the internal resources necessary to resist its critics. But his defense of liberalism seems designed only to appeal to likeminded centrists. Liberalism today should not be about splitting differences and seeking moderation, but staking out its ground and affirming its beliefs.
According to a recent complaint filed by the Jewish congregation L’Dor Va-Dor, Florida’s new law restricting abortion limits the free exercise of religion for Jewish women in Florida who wish to have an abortion after fifteen weeks. But this complaint misunderstands the nature of religious liberty: no religion, or any adherent thereof, has the lawful or moral claim to kill an innocent person in the name of that faith.
Readers of Thomas Kidd’s book, Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh, are left with a portrait of a brilliant, morally flawed, and often contradictory, overindulgent, and undisciplined man—a combination not uncommon in great men. The biography is careful and balanced in its presentation of the evidence, revealing a man of monumental achievements and profound failings.
We’re not born being patriots. It’s not something that’s inscribed in our moral DNA; rather, it’s something that has to be cultivated. It is love of country. But as Edmund Burke famously wrote, “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” What does it mean to have a lovable country, and what should the honest patriot do or think?
Albert Wolters’s conservatism, based on his metaphysical view of the structure of creation, encourages us to view America with neither optimism nor pessimism but with an eye toward healing and cultivation. As a counterweight to ideological extremes and rigid traditionalism, his approach promises the chance of real progress.
The arguments of Yoram Hazony’s Conservatism: A Rediscovery reveal both the value and the difficulty of applying a Burkean approach to human social life in a modern, non-Burkean society like our own. Part two of a two-part review.
Yoram Hazony’s Conservatism: A Rediscovery offers a valuable new take on non-Lockean political theory, grounded in the Biblical tradition and relevant to our current affairs. Part one of a two-part review.
The recent defeat of a pro-life constitutional amendment in Kansas was not a consequence of strategic overreach, nor was it a rebuke of Dobbs. In fact, it followed from the difficulty of communicating complex legal and political principles, as well as navigating the fear and distortion generated by abortion advocates and their media allies. To help secure a pro-life future, we must learn the correct lessons of the Kansas loss, including the need to harness the emotional power of truthful narrative to shape political choices.
Traditional conservatives and others committed to the principles of limited government have nothing to fear from natural law-based accounts of the political common good. In fact, natural law accounts offer the strongest principled basis for defending liberty and limited government by showing how such values are themselves core aspects of the common good.
The only way that we can really meaningfully grapple with the Supreme Court's legitimacy is to ask: what was it actually built to do? Roe was wrong. It had become the political equivalent of a black hole, totally devoid of substance, but with such immense gravity that it distorts everything around it. Abortion, of course, isn’t going away as a political issue. The difference now will be that instead of having debates about Roe, we’ll debate about abortion.
Harry Jaffa and Allan Bloom represent two ways of understanding the political philosophy of Leo Strauss, particularly in relation to the concept of classical natural right. The creative tension between Jaffa and Bloom, as well as their respective students, has produced some of the finest scholarship of the last half century or more.