On Whether to Move Forward

Because it is snowing still in West Michigan and the icy streets have me trapped inside for the second day in a row I am going to break from the typically “detached” nature of this web-log for a bit. The good news is that this will provide a break for those of you who are tired of what seems like an endless series of posts on the Christian East. The bad news is that I am still neglecting the other topics that seem to draw the most readers here, namely Catholic Social Teaching (CST), traditional Catholicism, and liturgy. What can I say? Sometimes I bore even myself with the subjects that matter to me most.

Sometime around 2002 I began keeping an informal journal which consisted of various musings that would come to me when I should have been paying attention in class. I recall, during law school, several of my classmates commenting on my “diligent note taking.” What neither they nor my professors realized is that I was probably writing about my impressions in Eastern Orthodoxy or trying to flesh out my thoughts on something I had just read by Leo Strauss or Carl Schmitt. When I had to start doing more extensive writing in law school, I would typically lay the piece out by hand with some questions in the margins that I needed to answer before assembling the final product with Microsoft Word. In fact, my law review Comment was composed in the back row of my Criminal Procedure course during the Fall 2005 semester. During the rest of my law-school tenure I laid out ideas for writing scholarly pieces on such wide-ranging topics as Eric Voegelin’s legal thought and the misappropriation of Schmitt’s thinking by Left-leaning scholars who wanted to imagine that his thought informed neoconservative law and policy. Nothing came of them. With a full boat of classes, along with law-review editorial duties and a newborn son, there just wasn’t time. When I graduated in 2007, I threw most of my notebooks out. I shut the door on that period of my life in order to prepare for the “next step,” which included the bar exam, a second child on the way, and what I thought would be a boring, but respectable, career in law. I passed the bar and my second son was born, but I never practiced.

Within months of leaving Chicago for my native Michigan I found myself returning to the Windy City to take up a post as an academic fellow at my former law school. The topic of my research agenda was international aviation law, something I knew next-to-nothing about, though I had enough international law courses under my belt to aid my grasp of the material. At first I was fascinated by it, but I assumed that after a year I would move on to practice. I didn’t. I stayed a fellow for nearly five years, teaching courses on aviation and trade law while getting some opportunities to publish on what I had learned. At first it felt very artificial, mostly because I had little passion for what I was doing. In fact, after encountering students and practitioners who were literally in love with aviation, I felt more than a little fraudulent. I hate flying; I cannot identify different types of aircraft to save my life; and I found most aviation law scholarship to be uninspired, repetitive, and theoretically thin. Still, I had a job that afforded me time on the margins to read stacks of scholarship on other, more interesting, fields that informed aviation’s regulatory framework: antitrust, security, and general trade law.

It was at that point that I started to think of new ways to approach “my field.” For reasons which remain unknown to me, aviation law, specifically international aviation law, never received a deep theoretical injection from the Law & Economics (L&E) movement. While some L&E scholarship was produced in the late 1960s thru the 70s to demonstrate the inefficiency of airline regulation under the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), interest petered out after the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act and the sunsetting of the CAB in 1984. And so I diligently studied L&E and, with it, the emerging “new international law scholarship” which took a rational-choice approach to international rules and institutions. Though I had a number of ups and downs during these years, I came away confident that I was helping to pave a new way of looking at international aviation. Where my occasional coauthor and I achieved this or not remains to be seen. What I do know now is that it doesn’t matter that much to me personally. It’s done. There is still more I could say about the field, but to what end? There’s no money in it, and as I have made clear on this web-log and in other more formal forums, L&E has lost its theoretical attractiveness for me.

This opens up the question of what comes next. Stacked up next to my bed are a dozen notebooks and journals, many of which contain sketches for articles and commentaries I never followed through on. Many of them are international law-related, which isn’t front and center for me anymore. A part of me is tempted to just throw them out and start another. Packed in-between some of my more detailed outlines are notes on Roman law, the development of early modern jurisprudence, and a series of questions—with no answers!—on the relationship between Eastern Orthodoxy and modern political thought. While I was never a stickler for dating my entries, I can tell, just by the side comments and my occasional reference to a family event, that by the start of 2011 I was starting to lose my allegiance to Orthodoxy for a variety of intellectual reasons. Mixed in with all of the questions were biting remarks about the asinine suggestions of some Orthodox “spiritual leaders” for married families to live out quasi-monastic lifestyles or the attempt to blend an Orthodox posture with mainline American conservatism. I had, through years of reading critical commentary on government regulation, developed more than a bit of a libertarian streak, though I didn’t think my libertarianism could find any “roots” in Orthodoxy. If anything, I thought libertarianism might provide “living space” to be Orthodox within a socio-cultural context where the Christian East would always be alien, but I never put any meat on that skeleton. By Great Lent 2011 I was well on my way back to Rome for reasons which had nothing to do with my sideline intellectual wanderings.

The question still remains whether or not there is anything to be done with the “stuff” I have amassed over the years. If I tossed it on the rubbish heap now, would I ever have time to start over? But is anything that remains worth pursuing? Over the past month I have been developing an outline for what I expect could become another book, though nothing as academic and dry as what I have achieved previously. As frustrated as I once was that international aviation law was under-theorized, that frustration is exponentially larger when it comes to CST and a coherent economic order which rests on authentically Christian principles. There is an entire legal dimension to Distributism that has received scant attention—an unfortunate reality given the fact that it allows Catholic libertarians to parade forth false claims about Disitributism’s inherently “statist” nature. These, and a number of other problems, are currently “on the agenda” so-to-speak; the question is whether or not I will have the time and opportunity follow through.

That, I believe, is in God’s hands. Recognizing as much doesn’t come easy, or at least it doesn’t come easy to someone like me who is accustomed to separating out his formal writing from any vocational framework. There’s not an angel in Heaven who cares whether or not United Airlines stays in business; they’re just doing their part to make sure United’s planes don’t fall out of the sky. If I were to continue forward on writing more frequently and intensively on CST, economics, and, above all, the social Kingship of Christ, then couldn’t be just “a hobby.” Maybe, with realities being what they are, it could never be “a career” in the sense that it would draw enough income to sustain my family and I, but that’s not what’s important right now. What’s important is for me to discern whether this step is the right step and, from there, what I need to do personally, practically, and, above all, spiritually to prepare for it.

With that noted, dear readers, I would ask for your prayers as I attempt, to the best of my abilities, to make a decision on this. There are some real obstacles which need to be overcome, not the least of which being my uncertainty over whether this task should fall to me. However, as I well know from past experience, it is exponentially easier to make excuses and justify inaction than to simply do.

5 comments

  1. It’s funny. In law school I had a similar intellectual interest in law. But 10 years on from graduating I’ve completely lost any interest in law as a subject. I do it for a living and I know a lot about my area of expertise but the thought of reading, writing, or talking about law “off the clock” now makes me feel ill. Perhaps it’s a common experience as you discover it’s really all about “whether or not United Airlines stays in business,” as you say.

    In any event, good luck with your future endeavors!

  2. After almost 35 years in advertising copywriting, going from crazy ad agencies to soul-stifling corporate in-house work, I tell my kids: “Don’t settle. If you possibly can do something you really care about, then do so. Don’t end up like me!”

    It’s so hard, especially in this lousy economy. My heart goes out to all young people (and, for me, 30-somethings are definitely young people). Prayers for you, Gabe, and for all young people discerning their vocations.

  3. Ah, hello! You could join your local party municipal committee, get your name known by showing at local town council meetings in prep for your first run for office on your town council or county committee. Nobody knows about CST or distributism because nobody who gives a hoot about that sort of thing wants to get their pretty little hands dirty knocking on doors and building a consensus to put them in office. Sure, it’s a whole lot easier kicking back with a little Chesterton or the Southern Agrarians at 8pm every night, but at the end of the day, it’s just in your own little bubble if you’re not out their with the hoi polloi. Quit your bitchin and get out there.

  4. Dude I think these are awesome things to be considering. It would be a complicated matter to realize them, sure, but you’re smart… Prayers for you :)

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