Note: The following — lengthy — post is a collection of three separate posts dealing with law school which appeared on Opus Publicum‘s predecessor, Ius Honoarium, in late 2011/early 2012. Since the question of my experience in law school (and after) arises from time to time, I thought it may be of some service to re-post them. At the time I wrote them, I was a faculty fellow at DePaul University College of Law. Please remember that these posts are nearly five years old; my thinking has developed on some of the sub-issues addressed below.
Note: This post originally appeared on September 11, 2011 on Ius Honorarium, the predecessor web-log to the first Opus Publicum, where I mostly wrote about law and politics. I am posting it here as an example of how my thinking on liberalism generally and libertarianism specifically “evolved.” Given what I have written over the past few years, some of you may find this amusing — particularly my opening line about moving past the old days of watching hours of international professional wrestling.
Note: This post originally appeared on January 6, 2014 on the original Opus Publicum. It is being re-posted here with slight edits.
Those who follow me on Facebook are already aware of this, but for those who do not I wanted to announce two things.
First, I have accepted an offer to become assistant editor at Angelus Press, the publishing arm of the Society of St. Pius X. In addition to my day-to-day editorial duties, I will also be concentrating more on contributing original pieces for their various publishing endeavors. (For those interested in my prior contributions to the Society’s English-language magazine, The Angelus, please consult the “Writings” section of this web-log.)
Second, in order to concentrate my energies on my new position, I am putting a moratorium on new writing for Opus Publicum with the caveat that I will begin re-posting pieces from earlier iterations of this blog which readers have been requesting for some time. I will also use the blog to keep people posted on my off-blog writings and other matters which may be of interest.
Please don’t misunderstand. This is not the end of Opus Publicum and certainly not the end of my online presence. Your prayers during this time of transition are most appreciated.
Matthew Schmitz, literary editor at First Things, wants to ban pornography. Good for him. The problem, of course, is that it’s probably not going to happen anytime soon. Still, there is something to Schmitz’s argument which, unsurprisingly, is framed in largely utilitarian terms, perhaps because speaking of the divine and natural-law prohibitions on such garbage is not something the Washington Post (or its readers) is all that interested in. Fine. Schmitz wants to convince readers that pornography ought to be banned because it causes “social harm” without actually providing a working definition of what, in fact, constitutes a “social harm.” Granted, there is a healthy pile of research available linking pornography consumption to misogyny and violence against women, but so what? Why should any society be concerned with manufacturing an egalitarian view of the sexes? What is intrinsically wrong with one sex viewing the other as inferior and, from there, treating them so? Perhaps pornography feeds into that perception, or maybe it’s just a symptom of it. Either way, in a day and age where slaughtering babies and sending entire regions of the earth into political and moral chaos is commonplace, making pornography out to be a “social harm” that needed to be rectified yesterday is a hard, hard sell.
Now, lest anyone misunderstand what I am saying, let me be clear that I have no quarrel whatsoever with banning pornography — or a host of other forms of speech which have no place in a decent society. Late last year, over at Ethika Politika, I defended the practice of banning books while leaning heavily on St. Alphonsus’s moral theology. Moreover, when writing about the Charlie Hebdo murders, I (controversially) maintained that no man has a right to commit blasphemy. (For more on the fall-out over those comments, see this.) For what it’s worth, I am far more uncomfortable living in a society that allows — even encourages — God to be openly mocked, scorned, and belittled than one which has become so morally twisted that it cannot distinguish between obscenity and art. And might I go a bit further and say that there will always be something unsettling about a state which officially refuses to acknowledge the social rights of Christ the King and thus fails to conform its laws and regulations to His divine precepts.
As for Schmitz’s utilitarian case against pornography, it’s a mixed bag. While there is plenty of social-science research — and anecdotal evidence — to back up some of what Schmitz says, it stands to reason that there are plenty of individuals who “use porn” who do not develop any misogynistic tendencies nor have a disordered sex life (as judged by today’s lights). It is also quite possible to pitch a counter-case against Schmitz which, on the one hand, concedes that there are some types of pornography which ought to be banned (e.g., overt depictions of rape) while, on the other, holding that most other types are purely consensual in their depictions and therefore should be allowed. Then the question becomes, “Where do you draw the line?” Because legal jargon and judicial decisions are, more times than not, clumsy instruments of social control, it’s not terribly surprising that legal institutions have steadily steered clear of trying to define and enforce obscenity laws — something Schmitz wishes were enforced with greater vigor. The only way to avoid the difficulty of “marginal cases” is to be perfectly blunt what what should or should not be produced and displayed. St. Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Trinity? Yes. Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus? Absolutely not.
Rorate Caeli ran an odd post (for a traditionalist website) on Saturday decrying “false collegiality.” Why? Because the Holy See is now demanding that it must be consulted in advance of bishops establishing new institutes of consecrated life with their respective dioceses. While this move—which could have negative consequences for conservative and traditional institutes—does indeed appear to be a slap in the face to the idea of collegiality in the Church, since when have traditional Latin Catholics cared about such a thing? For nearly fifty years traditionalists have been attacking the very idea of collegiality since the promulgation of Lumen Gentium at the Second Vatican Council. Generally stated, traditionalists worry that collegiality undermines the authority of the pope by disrupting its inherent monarchical structure (assuming the Church has ever truly had such a structure as many traditionalists conceive of it today). Even during the days of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, when my traditionalists felt alienated from the Church and unhappy with various decrees emanating from the Vatican, they continued to call for an end to collegiality, or at least a reformulation of the concept along papal-monarchical lines. So what has changed? Has Francis’s pontificate become so nauseating to their ecclesiastical tastes that they are now willing to flip on collegiality, desiring for its full return rather than suffer from the apparent horrors of centralization?
Granted, there is plenty of room offered up by this recent move concerning institutes of consecrated life to wonder about the intentions and motives of Pope Francis. Francis, who has never been shy about speaking on the need for great collegiality and doctrinal decentralization in the Church, doesn’t seem to be following his own mind, at least not on this matter. Moreover, there have been plenty of points during Francis’s pontificate where it appears that he wants his own personal form of piety and idiosyncratic understandings of Catholic teaching to become normative for the universal Church without regard to the Church’s rich history of diversity. And he has certainly had no problem preempting the heads of particular churches in dealing with non-Catholic Christians, such as failing to invite Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (or any official UGCC representatives) to his historic meeting with Moscow Patriarch Kirill.
As I have written about elsewhere, there is a concerning inconsistently among some traditional Catholics when it comes to how the Church should be organized and governed. During this period of crisis when it seems that many popes and bishops have failed in their duty toward Christ and the Church, traditionalists long for decentralization, autonomy, and the right to follow their own consciences. But assuming things take a turn for the traditional, then many of these Catholics will no doubt agitate for a return to a strict monarchical model where the pope behaves more like the President of the United States and less like the Supreme Court. If anything now is the time for traditionalists, in concert with other serious Catholic thinkers, to reflect long and hard about the nature of the papacy, particularly as that nature is distorted or enhanced by the era of the “celebrity pope” and the ubiquity of modern media. If traditionalists desire neither collegiality nor centralization
After posting earlier about think tanks, a friend of mine messaged me to inquire whether the black-box nature of think tanks is also present in formal academic institutes, that is, subdivisions existing within university schools or departments which are dedicated to a particularized field of study. The reason he asked me this is because I spent nearly five years associated with one directed toward international aviation law and had up-close familiarity with numerous others covering, inter alia, human rights, intellectual property, and animal law (ugh). My frank answer was, “I don’t know. It depends.” I realize that’s not terribly helpful, but given the sheer size and diversity of academic institutes out there, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to color them all with a single bucket of paint. Besides, I know very little about the nature of institutes dedicated to, say, the physical sciences or the arts; my “realm” was always law. With that out of the way, I do think it is fair to say that legal-academic institutes which rely heavily on donor money, particularly corporate and special-interest donor money, are always at risk of being captured ideologically. For instance, here is an excerpt from the mission statement of my former institute, which appears on its website:
IALI [The International Aviation Law Institute] strives to be the premier source for research, analysis, and study of international aviation law and policy. To achieve this mission, IALI is engaged in educating the next generation of experts in aviation law and policy through both its journal, Issues in Aviation Law and Policy, and its academic programs; originating and disseminating groundbreaking research and analysis of timely issues in aviation law and policy for the benefit of academics, policymakers and industry stakeholders; and acting as a forum to inform, advocate and promote a liberal, free market approach to the transnational air transport industry.
Notice the last sentence: IALI exists to “act as a forum to inform, advocate and promote a liberal, free market approach to the transnational airport industry” (emphasis mine). (In the interest of full disclosure, dear readers, I had a direct hand in penning that line many moons ago.) It should come as no surprise that IALI receives direct support from several major international carriers, including United and FedEx, and regularly participates in conferences dedicated to air-transport liberalization. (Also in the interest of full disclosure, dear readers, I directly benefited from this donor money for most of my time with IALI.) I can say from personal experience that that there was little-to-no tolerance at IALI or among its allies for any research or writing suggesting that the air-transport industry and its workers may be better off through the introduction of more regulation or transnational oversight. Indeed, the only time regulation was ever mentioned with a positive ring is when it protected airlines colluding with each other under blanket grants of antitrust immunity. When I authored (eventually co-authored) an article published in the Harvard Environmental Law Review, I was compelled to insert footnotes and qualifying language suggesting that not only should international air carriers not be subject to transnational emissions regulations, but that man-made climate change itself is possibly a myth. The donor base for IALI would have been unhappy otherwise.
How common this behavior is among legal-academic institutes is anyone’s guess, though very few exist without external support. There has been a longstanding suspicion that institutes dedicated to the so-called “Law & Economics” movement have been directed primarily by interests favoring free-market capitalism. Similarly, human-rights law institutes invariably favor Western, liberal-democratic responses to human-rights issues and act to promote an Enlightenment-era conception of “rights” rather than, say, study the efficacy of international human rights law (a far more defensible academic enterprise). Given how closely law is intertwined with policy and politics, I would not be the least bit surprised to find that a majority of legal-academic institutes directed by particular ideological orientations that favor the interests of their respective donors.
Last Friday’s decision by the Left-leaning think tank Demos to cut ties with blogger Matt Bruenig over his behavior on Twitter caused a minor firestorm among online leftists who see the move as an attack on Bernie Sanders supporters by Hillary Clinton supporters. You can read the dirty details over at Politico here. Regardless of what you think about Bruenig’s politics, his social-media antics — and the antics of his supporters — fall a wee bit short of good decorum, but so it goes. There are plenty of, umm, “online personalities” who have made a name for themselves wedding above-average writing with below-average manners, though very few of them work for mainline think tanks which, for better or worse, prefer to maintain an image of intellectual credibility despite operating as ideological black boxes. And so it makes sense that Demos would not want to be associated with an individual who can’t seem to help himself when it comes to taking a 140-character jab at fellow leftists who don’t subscribe to his personal brand of socialistic politics. As I have stated elsewhere, if you take the king’s shilling, you follow the king’s rules, or else. There’s no conspiracy at work here; it’s just the way it goes. Think tanks are not designed to be free forums for open-ended discourse where both the norms of civility and toeing the party line are checked at the door.
Now, some will claim that Bruenig’s Twitter account is his own and that he was not representing Demos when he decided to call a Clinton ally a “scumbag.” That’s a silly defense. Think-tank affiliation, no less than academic affiliation, can’t be flipped on and off like a light switch; it becomes part of your professional (and, to a large extent, personal) identity the second you sign-on. And even if you want to hold that there ought to be some separation between a person’s professional life and personal opinions at a general level, most employers — particularly those in the public eye — do not want persons working for them who are going to undermine their credibility and appeal with unbecoming off-the-job behavior. In my near-decade as an attorney, I have known more than a fair share of lawyers who have lost their posts at various law firms and companies because of comments made on social media and other public fora. Moreover, I have known aspiring, non-tenured academics who have lost their positions because of similar behavior, including questioning certain popular orthodoxies promoted by their coworkers. You can decry that as “unfair” or “not right” if you wish, but everyone who plays the professional game (and it is a game) knows the rules going in, particularly when the environment they choose to inhabit comes packaged with an overt ideological bent.
None of this is to say the think-tank enterprise is good. In fact, very little think-tank behavior is defensible since the last thing that goes on in their walls is actual thinking. Surely Bruenig knew this going in, and so while his lack of employment is unfortunate (as all unemployment is), it’s neither surprising nor tragic. If you desire to be an independent, principled voice for this-or-that cause or political orientation, then a think-tank is the last place on earth you ought to be. Heck, at this stage in the game, being anywhere but a survivalist shack in Idaho is probably unwise if you have anything credible to say at all.
Rorate Caeli sent out a tweet today congratulating the (Orthodox) Church of Greece for the low rate of out-of-wedlock births in Greece as compared to other members of the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD). (You can view the numbers here.) As Life Site News reported last year, abortions have been skyrocketing in Greece since the economic crisis, with people increasingly relying on them as a form of birth control. In fact, many historic Orthodox countries, including Bulgaria, Romania, Belarus, and Russia, have some of the highest abortion rates in the world — a depressing truth made all the more depressing by the Orthodox Church’s ostensible resurgence since the fall of communism in the East. Sad times these be.
I am deeply wounded that Peter Wolfgang, author of last week’s misguided critique of the so-called “Benedict Option,” bypasses my own critical remarks on his article in his latest piece (ok, not really). It matters not, for the same problems present in his original article are alive and kicking in this one, specifically not knowing what the “Benedict Option” is and, more critically, offering neither empirical evidence nor even a plausible research model which could in some way, shape, or form show that the “Benedict Option” caused Donald Trump. Where I do find myself agreeing with Wolfgang is with respect to his assertion that the “Benedict Option” can have real-world effects. The problem is that it’s far from clear that it has had any effect thus far — a problem Wolfgang chooses to ignore.
As for the rest of Wolfgang’s article, it’s a meandering mess of anecdotes blended with confusing claims about elementary terminology. So I am left wondering why Wolfgang is still going on about this topic. Could it be that the “Benedict Option,” despite its limited circulation in the winder world, is still a “hot property” among religious writers and thus an easy draw for clicks? That was the hunch which closed-out my initial post on this matter, and Wolfgang’s latest provides me with no reason to revise it.
To close on a positive note, let me say this. Wolfgang is right to decry retreatism even if he does it in the context of an ill-fitting critique of an idea he doesn’t seem to grasp in full. If the “Benedict Option” is nothing more than a bald call for retreat, then it seems patently obvious to this Christian that it is impossible to support it. It seems, however, that there is a bit more to the “Benedict Option” than this, but it will probably take some time before Rod Dreher (and others who support it) fully articulates what the term means in full.