Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Is It Really That Simple

Jonathan Freedland suggests that the Presidential election represents a conflict between faith and reason. While Freedland may overstate that conflict, even in his expression of grave concern he may well be understating the effect of a second Bush term on the United States.


  1. Aaron,

    My own hunch is that Kerry will win (hurray, world is saved, right?!), but in case GW prevails, I'll prepare a copy of St. Thomas' Summa Theologica to send to the White House, so as to clarify the respective roles and spheres of authority for faith and reason.

    On a serious note, I don't care much for Freedland's work, and I thought this article was quite misleading. For example, on the matter of "Sodomy" laws, it's perfectly possible for a Supreme Court Justice to refuse to countenance striking them down with Federal authority, while believing that locally they make for bad law (Thomas himself said that he wouldn't have voted for such a law, were he a legislator). I don't have any coherent notion of a desirable Supreme Court philosophy, but I do take the notion of erring on the side of local control (even "tyranny") seriously (and contrariwise I also realize that many of our modern liberties were formulated by a strong central govt., in the wake of the Civil War).

    Hence to represent that Bush and Scalia-Thomas are somehow theocratic allies primarily is a real stretch - especially (referring back to my opening quip) since American evangelicals tend to have a rather different understanding of faith/reason than do Catholics and similar thinkers within the "natural law" tradition.

    Also, concerning religion in America more generally ... even though I'm an atheist, and am ill-disposed towards Bible-Belt Christianity, my own pet sociological theory is that part of the greatness of the U.S. is that it's held in a dialectical tension between two opposing tendencies - the perennials, of course, change and preservation (with the religious embodying the forces of the latter). Religion is all but discredited in post-modern Europe, but it persists here - to our ultimate benefit, I think, despite obvious demerits.

  2. More of a "what I've been reading lately" than a response.... But there is an interesting take on stare decisis and the Supreme Court in the Times. The author suggests that the Court has been nominally adhering to precedent while ignoring the underlying legal principles. This may be something of a "compromise", whereby the traditionalists on the Court at least nominally preserve a precedent while those inclined toward the Scalia/Thomas position on precedent (which boils down to, "If it's a bad decision, why not reverse it even the next day?").

    Bush's theocratic allies like the Scalia/Thomas philosophy, because of their "take no prisoners" attitude toward the precedents they would like to overturn, even if Thomas and Scalia might disagree with them on specific issues. Add three new Justices with a similar philosophy, but also from a right-wing fundamentalist background, and those horrible "liberal" precedents will fall like cordwood.

    Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds has a piece in the Guardian telling us that we should expect a Kerry presidency to be a lot like GW's. And to think I have historically found his "reasoning" to be unpersuasive.... [insert smiley here for the sarcasm-impaired]

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