Notre Dame’s 2018 Fall Conference was a good and worthwhile experience, focused on the theme of “Higher Powers”. I was fortunate to meet Ignat Solzhenitsyn and Rod Dreher for the first time, and many other good people. Here’s context on the conference:

What is the proper relationship between God, the human person, and the state? In a 1993 address, Nobel Laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn observed that, “having refused to recognize the unchanging Higher Power above us, we have filled that space with personal imperatives, and suddenly life has become a harrowing prospect indeed.” Twenty-five years after Solzhenitsyn’s address, and one hundred years after his birth, the Center for Ethics and Culture’s 19th Annual Fall Conference will consider how every human pursuit can be oriented toward higher powers and reflect on the true measures of social progress, the role of morality in law and politics, and the dynamics of liberty, dignity, self-sacrifice, and the good in public life.

Daniel J. Mahoney’s conversation/interview with Ignat Solzhenitsyn on “Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Art and Truth in a Fearsome Century” was the highlight of the conference for me. Other highlights were Alasdair MacInytre’s talk “Absences from Aquinas, Silences in Ireland” as well as Adrian Vermeule’s “Liberalism and the Invisible Hand”. Carter Snead moderated the closing colloquy on “Catholicism and the American Project“, which provides glimpse into a wide and deep debate within American Catholicism on how to Catholics are to move forward in this country in the 21st century.

The colloquium “I Shall Write My Law Within Their Hearts” moderated by Rev. Séan Mac Giollarnáth, O. Carm. was also very good. It featured Hon. Thomas Donnelly (Loyola University) who spoke on “Freeing Law from Legalism”, Marianna Orlandi (University of Padua) who spoke on “Judges Who Refuse ‘Higher Powers,’ and Judges Who Die for Them: An Italian Case on Assisted Suicide, and on Sanctity” and Bernard Prusak (King’s College) who spoke on “The USCCB and the U.S. Supreme Court on Cooperation with Evil”.

Donnelly advocated the restoration of the U.S. jury trial to common practice and the habit of judges not hiding behind a technocratic method of rendering judgment, but instead fully engaging their cases as moral agents. Orlandi contrasted public disengagement from moral issues in the case of suicide by physician and contrasted this with the witness of Rosario Livatino, a young Italian judge murdered by the mafia who is now a Servant of God. Prusak spoke on the danger of all public questions of moral philosophy and moral reasoning being distilled to a narrow set of “religious liberty” issues in constitutional practice, making the point that many if not most so-called “religious” questions in American law are not properly theological disputes that are, consequently, unresolvable in law, but are in fact generally issues of moral philosophy and moral reasoning.