Thursday, 2/18/16

  1. The unforgivable sin
  2. Scalia baits a rube
  3. Democrat Dogma
  4. An “exceptional” time warp
  5. Inarguable?


[A]s Germaine Greer can attest, transphobia is the unforgivable sin du jour of anyone with the temerity to suggest that a man who thinks he is a woman is not necessarily so and has no automatic rights to the narrative of female victimhood. In fact, the claims against [Peter] Tatchell are groundless, the only evidence of his bigotry being his signature on a letter to The Observer last year, supporting free speech.

(Carl R. Trueman, on The Revolution devouring its own)


You believe in heaven and hell?
Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell?

Oh, my.

Does that mean I’m not going?
[Laughing.] Unfortunately not!

Wait, to heaven or hell?
It doesn’t mean you’re not going to hell, just because you don’t believe in it. That’s Catholic doctrine! Everyone is going one place or the other.

But you don’t have to be a Catholic to get into heaven? Or believe in it?
Of course not!

Oh. So you don’t know where I’m going. Thank God.
I don’t know where you’re going. I don’t even know whether Judas Iscariot is in hell. I mean, that’s what the pope meant when he said, “Who am I to judge?” He may have recanted and had severe penance just before he died. Who knows?

Can we talk about your drafting process—
[Leans in, stage-whispers.] I even believe in the Devil.

You do?
Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.

Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …
If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.

Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.

It’s because he’s smart.

So what’s he doing now?
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.

That has really painful implications for atheists. Are you sure that’s the ­Devil’s work?
I didn’t say atheists are the Devil’s work.

Well, you’re saying the Devil is ­persuading people to not believe in God. Couldn’t there be other reasons to not believe?
Well, there certainly can be other reasons. But it certainly favors the Devil’s desires. I mean, c’mon, that’s the explanation for why there’s not demonic possession all over the place. That always puzzled me. What happened to the Devil, you know? He used to be all over the place. He used to be all over the New Testament.

What happened to him?

He just got wilier.
He got wilier.

Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?
You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.

I hope you weren’t sensing contempt from me. It wasn’t your belief that surprised me so much as how boldly you expressed it.
I was offended by that. I really was.

I’m sorry to have offended you!
Have you read The Screwtape Letters?

Yes, I have.
So, there you are. That’s a great book. It really is, just as a study of human nature.


In truth, our affluent, establishment Democrats can no more be budged from their core dogmas – that education is the solution to all problems, that professionals deserve to lead, that the downfall of the working class is the inevitable price we pay for globalization – than creationists can be wooed away from the tenets of “intelligent design”. The dogmas are simply too essential to their identity. Changing what the Democratic party stands for may ultimately require nothing less than what a certain Vermonter is calling a “political revolution.”

(Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter With Kansas?, writing in The Guardian) As Rod Dreher put it, the “Democratic Party today is the one [Bill Clinton] made, and it’s pretty much the GOP with a socially liberal face,” which goes a long way toward explaining the rise of Bernie Sanders.


There has in recent years been a revolution in American politics, one so at variance with how we think of ourselves that it is remarkable how little it is noticed. We are used to imagining America as the land of the free, yet we have dropped to 12th place in the rankings of economic freedom produced by the conservative Heritage Foundation. The libertarian Cato Institute is even more doubtful about us, and in their Human Freedom Index we come in only at number 20. In both rankings, we trail countries that uniformly have single-payer government healthcare systems. We used to be number two or three, behind Hong Kong and Singapore, but now we’re embarrassed to find we’re far behind ostensibly socialist Denmark.

(F. H. Buckley) How can this be? We have more laws, more Constitutional rights, more litigation, than anyone in the world! We’re exceptional!

Buckley has the temerity to suggest that our rights may be part of the problem:

Scholars such as Mary Ann Glendon and Jeremy Waldron have argued that legal issues are often better left to legislatures than to the courts. Unlike Justice Kennedy’s decisions, legislative changes have the legitimacy conferred by democratic institutions and are easier to mend when, with the benefit of hindsight, they’re found to be misguided. As the product of democratic deliberation, they’re also easier to accept, less likely to result in protracted, bitter debates. If one has lost a political battle, there’s always the chance of fixing it down the road, and there’s no great shame about being on the losing side. Not so with a Supreme Court decision such as Obergefell, where Justice Kennedy announced that he sought to “teach the Nation that [rights to same-sex marriage] are in accord with our society’s most basic compact.” The message to losers is not merely are you churlish but you’re also non-American, since the Bill of Rights is constitutive of our identity as Americans.

If one has problems with a judicial un-American Activities Committee, this argues for a thinner conception of legally enforceable rights, for a slimmer Bill of Rights. That’s not to say that I think the legislature should take up the slack, however, as Waldron might want. Instead, we should ask ourselves whether we could do with less law all around, whether indeed we might improve our rule of law ranking in doing so.

We have more law, more regulation, more litigation than any other country, and somehow we’re faulted for failing to adhere to the rule of law. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the answer isn’t more law, and anything that contributes to our litigation culture should be viewed with suspicion. And one of the chief offenders is our fascination with legally enforceable rights, which were greatly expanded by Justice Kennedy’s decision in Obergefell. It wasn’t simply the right to same-sex marriage, which affects only a percent of a small percent of the population, but the basis upon which the right was grounded. The plaintiffs asked for equal dignity in the eyes of the law and Kennedy held that the Constitution grants them that right.

What Kennedy had done was to graft onto the Constitution an open-ended right to respect, derived from Hegel by way of Alexandre Kojève. We suffer a psychic wound when others fail to respect us, and for Kennedy this amounts to an unbounded cause of action. Once let out of the box, there is no principled way of denying a right to marry to any kind of union, no matter how many the husbands and wives, since this would imply a want of respect for their union.

Worse still is the way in which a right to respect gives the permanently aggrieved an incentive to seek out disrespect. Robbie Blankenship and his partner Jesse Cruz sought to marry after the Obergefelldecision and might have done so in Columbus, Ohio, where they lived. When they heard that court clerk Kim Davis was refusing to issue marriage licenses to gays, however, they got in their car and drove 151 miles to Morehead, Kentucky, to see her, in order to suffer the indignity of being turned down.

What shall we call people who go out of their way for a smack in the face? Today they’re called social justice warriors. Not too long ago they were called jerks. They are also opportunists, for they seek to exploit the correlative duty that lies behind every enforceable right. If I have a right to respect, you have a duty to show it to me, and woe betide those who fail to do so. You must give it to me, good and hard, and I’ll search you out to get it.

We shape our law and then our law shapes us. At a time when the common law was less solicitous about bruised feelings, it taught us to suck it up. And that plausibly made us happier as well as tougher. When we are encouraged by the legal regime to obsess about emotional slights, we feel them more deeply and for a much longer period of time. When we can’t sue over them, we get over them more quickly.

The strategic victims are tiresome in the extreme, but what interests me more is the special virtue of those who aren’t like that, who don’t look for payback, who won’t administer the last vicious kick to a fallen opponent, who don’t look for people to sue and who in their own quiet way contribute to the rule of law. I do not have a name for their virtue.

Food for thought. Now how do we word the law requiring people to exercise the nameless virtue?


“Whenever someone says that something is “inarguable,” it’s a good bet that this is the weakest part of the argument.” (Daniel Larison) Larison is responding to what he calls the “cult of leadership,” exemplified by Sens. Ben Sasse and Joni Ernst:

Reasonable citizens and candidates for office should wrestle with what — and where and when and how — U.S. leadership looks like in the world. But the necessity of U.S. leadership is inarguable — for our allies and for us.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.