revitalizing the liberal tradition

a helpful way for understanding modern conservatism
"In the 1960s I was very much a man of the left. Not the left of countercultural drug-tripping and generalized hedonism, but the left exemplified by, for instance, the civil rights movement under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the latter half of the 1960s this began to change with the advent of the debate over what was then called "liberalized" abortion law. By 1967 I was writing about the "two liberalisms"-one, like that earlier civil rights movement, inclusive of the vulnerable and driven by a transcendent order of justice, the other exclusive and recognizing no law higher than individual willfulness. My argument was that, by embracing the cause of abortion, liberals were abandoning the first liberalism that has sustained all that is hopeful in the American experiment.

That is my argument still today. It is, I believe, crucially important that that argument prevail in the years ahead. There is no going back to reconstitute the American order on a foundation other than the liberal tradition. A great chasm has opened between the liberal tradition and what today is called liberalism. That is why some of us are called conservatives. Conservatism that is authentically and constructively American conservatism is conservatism in the cause of reappropriating and revitalizing the liberal tradition."
Richard John Neuhaus


a tribute

a friend of mine recently moved to Alabama. He was famous for repeating the same phrases over and over again [maybe] for comedic effect.
"You're a better man than I'll ever be"
"Not a big ___ guy"
"I'm being totally serious right now"
"This place is a fuckin mess dude"
"You're a good guy"
"You pumped?"
"Touch 'em"
"What EveR"
"You're on my shit list today"
"That's YOU dude"
"where are your shitkickers?"
"Let the judges and juries decide who was right and who was wrong."
What a guy

maybe he can come to UNH?

Richard John Neuhaus in a sermon at Columbia University:
"[there are competing ideas of freedom in this world]. there is a freedom understood as doing whatever you want; following your impulses, your passions, your desires. this is the freedom of indifference. that is, a freedom indifferent to right and wrong, the base and the noble, simply a freedom of acting upon desire.

true freedom, i will suggest, is the freedom that is directed towards excellence. the freedom that is not doing what we want to do, but wanting to do what we ought to do. the freedom of excellence, the freedom to be whom God called us to be and by his grace enables us to be. Jesus said, "You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free". Knowing the Truth, believing the Truth, living the Truth."


"Fyodor Dostoyevsky, perhaps the best novelist in the 19th century, wrote brilliantly about the question of God and atheism. In one spot, he put on the lips of a character the fact that if a person does not worship the real God, he will bend his knees before things created and finite. There are, he added, no atheists -- they are really idolaters."
- Fr. Thomas Dubay



"The lover will always be willing to give the loved one what Dietrich von Hildebrand calls “the credit of love”—that is, when the loved one acts in a way that we do not understand or is a disappointment to us, instead of condemning him, the lover will trust that, human life being as complex as it is, his actions may be justified, even though at first glance they strike us as regrettable. The true lover eagerly looks for “excuses” when the conduct of the one he loves is a disappointment. He carefully refrains from being overconfident in blaming the other’s conduct, baffling as it might be at first sight. He rejoices upon discovering that he was mistaken."

- Alice von Hildebrand in Crisis


on the origin of human rights

This is a great post on why morality has a solid foundation if God exists; and a shakier one if He doesn't.

... to be clear, I do not believe that atheists are demonstrably less moral than believers are. In my view, it takes a significant level of thoughtfulness and proactive moral agency to reject the idea of God in our culture (though that may be changing); most of the atheists I know have spent a lot more time thinking about these issues and taking ownership of a meaningful moral code than most Christians I know. Nevertheless, let me take a crack at showing why a belief in God is, in general, more supportive of a belief in human rights than atheism is.

I agree that both the atheist and theist must commit themselves to human rights by an act of faith: for the theist, it's a faith in a certain type of God, and for the atheist, faith in the intrinsic value (?) of human beings. But the atheist knows that his belief in human rights is an act of will -- he knows there is no reality that compels him to recognize human rights; it's more accurate to say that he's creating human rights because, in light of human experience and his observations of reality, they work. For the theist, though, his faith in human rights is simply recognizing the implications of his faith in God. And so I disagree with Brian's assertion that it's the existence of God, not the belief in God's existence, that matters for human rights. It is the belief that matters. Whether or not God actually exists, if I believe in the God that is at the center of the world's major religions -- that is, a God who wants to be in relationship with his creation, thereby signaling human beings' inestimable value in God's eyes -- then human rights are an unavoidable implication of that belief for anyone who wants to live in harmony with God's design.

As for Brian's question on the value of this whole line of inquiry, I obviously can't speak for Michael, but I would venture to say that the point is not to marginalize the many non-religious voices who have been and remain essential to the struggle for human rights, but to make clear that, in a public square where religion is often greeted as an archaic and divisive obstacle to human understanding, religion might still hold the best hope for instilling a deep commitment to human dignity and worth..

- Rob Vischer on Mirror of Justice
if there's no objective reality that compels our belief in human rights, then there are no human rights at all. further, if they are only human constructs than they can easily be changed and even lost entirely.
A Conversation
Me: So, how do you like living in Texas?

Engineer: Well, I live in Austin, and Austin is great. It's probably the only part of the state I would live in. I mean, Texas has a lot of Rednecks, and conservatives and the lot. Lots of people I try to stay away from.

Me: yeah [thinking yeah, those stupid people]

Engineer: Do you remember the 2004 election between Bush and Kerry?

Me: yep

Engineer: Yeah, every county in the state in Texas voted for Bush except the county which Austin is in.

Me: oh wow. [thinking man those people must be hard to deal with]

Engineer: but Austin is great otherwise.

me: yeah, i don't know if i could live without the change in seasons.


lecture notes

Oliver Wendall Holmes had perhaps more influence on American jurisprudence than any other judge in the 20th century. He wrote that what we call law is simply "the majority vote of the nation that could lick all the others", nothing more.

The Supreme Court demonstrated his influence in writing the decision in Planned parenthood v casey : 1992: "at the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life" Taken at face value, this is essentially the right to do anything.

But this is idea is challenged more frequently now, by natural law philosophers and even some sociologists, notably James Q. Wilson; in his book "the moral sentiments" he talks about "the existence of cross-cultural moral universals" which he says are "not strictly innate, developmentally inevitable."

And if you study our moral language, the moral law reveals itself to be a a presupposition of all moral debates. An example: the most secular moral theory is utilitarianism. the morally right action is the action that brings about the greatest possible total happiness. There are secular arguments against utilitarianism. one such argument is that the theory produces conclusions that violate some of our most deeply held moral intuitions. This argument stakes everything on the deeply held moral intution, i.e. moral intution. moral principles which we can't not know. But what is something that we can't not know, what is this moral intution but the law written on the heart.

the predominant tendency in our culture today: to deny the law written on the heart. no there isnt any natural law. there aren't any moral principles that are right for everyone.

colin turnbull [sp]: anthropologist, 1972, the ick tribe. conscience did not exist. everyone exploited everyone else. the ick proved there cannot be a law written on the heart. burnt heinna[sp]: later anthropologist, more fluent in tribal language, in 1985 said ick were not at all as turnbull had reported them. the ick were suffering great calamities, they werent lliving up to their own moral standards. margaret mead: famous, eager to prove sexual morality is culture. simoan culture was a paradise of free love; derek freeman proved her wrong. point being they haven't found a culture that has no knowledge of the fundamental moral law.

So - everyone knows moral law, not everyone knows the details, not everyone knows that he knows it.

thomas aquinas asked the question, "can the moral law be erased from the human heart?" he said the secondary principles can be totally erased; totally blotted out. (casuistry) the first moral principles can only be willfully misapplied, i.e., rationalizing, etc.
Science, art and literature all presuppose a created world, at least implicitly. For if the world is created by God, then it is a real and intelligible and good and beautiful world. It is a work of deliberate design, like the plot of a book. Remove the Author, and the book is simply sound and fury, signifying nothing.