Thursday, 9/28/17

    1. MacIntyre on rationality, virtuous politics
    2. American Iliad
    3. What Roy Moore signifies
    4. Retweetable



[T]hose who think they must think for themselves will need to undergo a transformation amounting to a conversion if they are to understand “that it is only by participation in a rational practice-based community that one becomes rational.”

Conservatives who think they have found an ally in MacIntyre fail to attend to his understanding of the kind of politics necessary to sustain the virtues. He makes clear that his problem with most forms of contemporary conservatism is that conservatives mirror the fundamental characteristics of liberalism. The conservative commitment to a way of life structured by a free market results in an individualism, and in particular a moral psychology, that is as antithetical to the tradition of the virtues as is liberalism. Conservatives and liberals, moreover, both try to employ the power of the modern state to support their positions in a manner alien to MacIntyre’s understanding of the social practices necessary for the common good.

Those who fear MacIntyre’s position might commit him to some form of confessional theological position should be comforted by his adamant declaration that his metaphysical position, his account of natural law, as well as his understanding of practical reason and the virtues are secular. BysecularI take him to mean that his argument that some overall good is necessary for our actions to be intelligible does not entail any theological convictions that are not available to anyone.

(Stanley Hauerwas, The Virtues of Alasdair MacIntyre)


“[Historian William] Dunning notched his gun [in the late 19th and early 20th centuries] by slaying apologist after Northern apologist of Reconstruction. Not surprisingly his legacy is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the South is quite enthusiastic about him. He and his doctoral students at Columbia did painstaking archival research to demonstrate how much the Radical Republicans hurt the former Confederate States of America. There was much of value in their findings, for they help us understand why the South resents the North to this day. On the other hand—a stained hand, no doubt—in retrospect he is considered a racist. People think his work extended the shelf life of Jim Crow and made black disenfranchisement respectable. Today, as you can imagine, his shade is persona non grata at the American Historical Association, which is ironic considering he was one of its founders.”

“I also mentioned Lord Acton whose reflections are to the point. It is my considered judgment that Acton was the most knowledgeable foreign observer of American affairs in the nineteenth century.His writings on America are not much read nowadays because he supported the South in the Civil War. Yet I urge you to read his long essay on what he called the Second American Revolution; it’s published in his journal The Rambler, and it’s misleadingly titled, ‘Political Causes of the American Revolution.’ Acton was no defender of chattel slavery—not at all like Calhoun who wrote of slavery as a ‘positive good’—yet he believed the federal system of states’ rights was critically important to upholding freedom and curbing the enlargement of the national government, not to mention the expanding tyranny of the president. The South, Acton believed, was fighting for liberty, for progress, and for civilization. And while he believed that most great men were bad men, he sympathized with the tragic pathos of Robert E. Lee, who felt duty-bound to defend his homeland against invasion. He wrote to Lee following his surrender, ‘I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.’”

(Gleaves Whitney, The South & the American Iliad) Internal quotes within block quote because Whitney is writing in the form of a conversation between himself and another historian over dinner.

The conversation may be a literary device, it seems to me, but the point is serious: the Civil War is our American Iliad, so we keep fighting over its interpretation. This seems especially noteworthy as barbarians are tearing down and vandalizing public statues.


Admittedly a current event (Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!), but it’s awfully good:

[Roy] Moore was an unruly Supreme Court judge in Alabama, renowned—or infamous—for defying a federal court’s orders to take down a monument to the Ten Commandments he had placed outside his courthouse and later ordering state judges not to abide by the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay-marriage decision. Other right-wing Republicans talk the talk: federal courts have usurped democracy, exiled the Constitution, etc. Moore walks the walk. He acts as if he believes the things the right says are true, and he’s proved willing to pay a career price for doing so. Naturally, this is the last thing Republican leaders want to see in the Senate. But now they’re hanged—ideas, even at the crude level of political rhetoric, have consequences. Moore has called the GOP’s bluff.

Roy Moore, like Donald Trump, is the conclusion that follows from the GOP’s ideological premises. Moore is surely going to be a tax-cutter, just as Trump is a deregulator or at least a nonregulator. But if talk radio, TV, Drudge, Breitbart and every other right-leaning media outlet and outside political aspirant is warning of Sharia coming to America, enemies abroad plotting our nuclear annihilation, cops shackled and criminals coddled in our cities, God thrown out of the public square and transsexuals lurking in every lavatory, how can tax cuts or free-market economics be what matter most? Republicans have been told that they are fighting a dozen existential wars at once, for body and soul. Is Luther Strange the man to grab the devil by the horns? Is Jeb Bush?

Moore and a great many of his voters subscribe to a simplistic and exaggerated view of the world and the conflicts it contains. Moore has voiced the belief that Christian communities in Illinois or Indiana, or somewhere “up north,” are under Sharia law. That’s absurd. But why does he believe it, and why do voters trust him despite such beliefs? Because on the other side is another falsehood, more sophisticated but patently false: the notion that unlimited Islamic immigration to Europe, for example, is utterly harmless, or the notion that Iran is an implacable fundamentalist threat while good Sunni extremists in Saudi Arabia are our true and faithful friends …

Moore, of course, has a legal education, and he assuredly reads the Bible. He’s not unintelligent, but he cannot lean upon a well-balanced and subtle right because such a thing hardly exists in our environment. Yet there is a need for a right nonetheless, and so a Roy Moore or a Donald Trump fills the gap. There is only one thing the Republican establishment can do if it doesn’t like that: reform itself from stem to stern.

(Daniel McCarthy, Why the Republican Party is Falling Apart, emphasis added)

I’ve always had a small but soft spot in my heart for Judge Roy Moore. I understood and to some extent endorse the legal theories that he cited:

  • The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment bound Congress, not the states.
  • The process whereby it came to be held that the Establishment Clause applies to the states now — the “incorporation doctrine” — is dubious. I won’t call it flat-out wrong and absurd, but it’s doubtful.
  • The Supreme Law of the Land is the Constitution, not whatever interpretation five Supreme Court Justices once endorsed.

But most reporters and even most lawyers are positivists: the Constitution means what SCOTUS says. Period. Full stop. Thus, Roy Moore got unfairly roasted as a lawless rube, when he wasn’t exactly lawless and may well not be a rube, by people too ignorant or smug to figure out where he was coming from. Whence my soft spot: he bore witness to an alternate view of law that needs to be remembered.

Were I in his position, though, I think I’d have (1) registered my rejection of or skepticism toward Supreme Court precedent I rejected or toward which I was skeptical before (2) acquiescing and applying the precedent in deference to the wide-spread misperception that the Supreme Court is right simply because it’s Supreme (and to save my state the expense of defending my intransigence that was bound to fail). Either that or recuse myself with the same sort of registration of the reasons why I consider the court wrong.

Those seem a better way: bearing witness to the truth while acquiescing in the inevitable. But it wasn’t Moore’s way And that’s why my soft spot is small.

UPDATE: My soft spot got smaller on Friday:

He’s a committed birther, espousing the racist conspiracy theory that President Obama was not born in the United States as late as December of last year. In 2015 his foundation and his wife shared a video declaring that Obama is a Muslim. He wrote a column in 2006 arguing that the House of Representatives should not seat Keith Ellison because he is a Muslim. He holds the crank view that certain communities in America are under Sharia law — though he was unable to name any in an interview with Vox‘s Jeff Stein.


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“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.