• Sohrab Ahmari writes on the threat that the New Right will be co-opted into the old right.

    In the wake of Roe v. Wade’s reversal, I think it’s worth considering what the old right has delivered culturally and politically. The answer that comes to mind is: accommodation. The reversal of Roe v. Wade was achieved for distinct and apparently unrepeatable reasons, including decades of moral clarity and political campaigning by pro-life advocates who often had to lead the political establishment reluctantly in its direction on the issue. On nearly every issue other than abortion, the old right has offered what it considers prudential accommodation to cultural and political degeneration and decay. Its institutions fought, but rarely won.

    American culture has shifted markedly, and almost never due to the wishes of voters. The New Right, as far as I can tell, proposes to reverse this dynamic, and for that reason its dynamism and health should be protected from those who would wear it as a sort of costume.

    This doesn’t need to mean hostility and it doesn’t need to mean suspicion of tactical alliances. But it should involve clarity and frankness about the costs of continuing to engage in the politics of accommodation on a host of issues versus recovering the politics of regeneration.

  • Peter Thiel once famously observed, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters,” referring to Twitter. “We are no longer living in a technologically accelerating world,” Thiel said nearly a decade ago. “There is an incredible sense of deceleration.”

    Despite so much happening in the world of software and information technology, there has been relatively little in the way of transformation innovation—little in the way of truly new technology. We appear to be in an area of iterative change, of mimicking, of competitive copying. But even Amazon, as Gladden Pappen notes in the talk I’m sharing today, is little more than an iterative take on the mail order catalogue, reimagined in light of changed circumstances:

    I notice when it takes nine months for construction workers to replace one worn-out escalator, as it did this past year at the Brookland-CUA WMATA Metro station near my home. This is an example of Pappen’s observation that, letting alone entirely the question of new technologies, we seem to be struggling simply to maintain past innovations.

    “The point, I think, that is the one I’m attempting to make in response to modern innovation,” says Pappen at the 39:30 mark, “is that for Aristotle, aiming at innovation causes destruction. Aiming at preservation, allows and requires the right kind of change, or fosters the right kind of change.”

  • Adrian Vermeule delivered an important speech at the National Press Club last month to mark the launch of his book, Common Good Constitutionalism. Vermeule is carries forward many of Hadley Arkes’s crucial contributions to American constitutional democracy articulated in books like Beyond the Constitution, The Philosopher in the City, and Natural Rights and the Right to Choose. Arkes and Vermeule, in their own ways, both strive to show why it is that the rule of law is not merely the rule of persons.

    Vermeule’s remarks for the launch of his book are worth reading in their entirety, but I’m excerpting portions that I found to be particularly helpful here:

    Common good constitutionalism aims to recover and revive the profound connections between the classical American legal tradition on the one hand, and on the other the classical Roman and Western legal tradition, the ius commune, of which the Anglo-American common law is best understood as a local variant. The book thus has both a general part and a particular part—a duality that is itself typical of the classical legal framework. It speaks both to general principles of common good constitutionalism and to the specific embodiment or determination of those principles in the American constitutional order. These two are detachable, in the sense that one can subscribe to the methodological framework without subscribing to my particular interpretations of American law. …

    While our legal theory has lost sight of its own origins, it is no contradiction to say that in practice our law retains many classical elements. That’s indeed how amnesia works. …

    Where at all possible, classical law reads the law of a particular jurisdiction (the ius civile or “law of the city”) in light of the ius gentium (the law of nations or peoples) and the ius naturale (natural law), which the civil positive law is taken to make concrete or “determine” within reasonable boundaries. …

    [T]he common good is, for the temporal purposes of the constitutional lawyer, the flourishing and happiness of the political community. The common good is unitary and indivisible, capable of being shared without being diminished. A humble analogy might be the victory of a sports team, which is the victory of the team as such, over and above the victory of the individual players.

    The common good is also the highest good of the individuals comprising the political community. No man is an island. As Aquinas memorably put it, “The individual good is impossible without the common good of the family, state, or kingdom. Hence Valerius Maximus says of the ancient Romans that ‘they would rather be poor in a rich empire than rich in a poor empire.’” …

    [T]he classical view is not at all that the common good is the good of the collective or aggregate, as opposed to that of individuals. Quite the contrary. The common good of happiness in a flourishing political community is ultimately for the sake of individuals, because a flourishing community is both the precondition for the goods of individual and family life, and the highest temporal good for individuals as such.

    To give the common good more specific content, I look to the precepts of legal justice in the classical law: to live honorably, to harm no one, and to give each one what is due to him in justice. These underpin the classical account of the central goods at which constitutionalism should aim. These goods include, in a famous trinity, pax, iustitia, et copia— peace, justice, and abundance — which I extrapolate to modern conditions to include various forms of health, safety, and economic security. I also elicit from the tradition the key principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. …

    Contrary to what someone may have told you, in the classical tradition, “rights” very much exist, but they are not defined in the essentially individualist, autonomy-based, and libertarian fashion familiar today. Instead rights are objective corollaries of justice, which is the constant aim of giving every man his due. In the classical tradition, both natural and positive rights are, in somewhat different ways, themselves included within law’s larger ordering to the common good. …

    The consequence of the amnesia I mentioned is that our public law now oscillates restlessly and unhappily between two dominant approaches, progressivism and originalism. In my view, despite their superficial enmity, these are both aspects or variants that flow from the same basic premises about law and political morality. Their apparent conflict is really a kind of duopoly. They are constitutional law’s equivalent of the two party system.

    Since its modern inception in the 1960s and 1970s, originalism has been unable to free itself from—or usually even to acknowledge—the implicit normative assumptions and judgments needed to attribute rationality to legal texts, to determine the level of generality at which the meaning of texts should be read, to resolve ambiguities, or otherwise to make sense of their terms. Thus originalism is, in that sense, an illusion. Even putatively originalist decisions of the Supreme Court turn out to be richly interpretive and normative. They are shot through with implicit and explicit justification in light of claims about political morality. Indeed, I argue that no law can operate without some implicit or explicit vision of the good to which law is ordered. The only questions are whether we are transparent about that, and which account of the good our law will promote, pursue and endorse. …

    I think the impetus behind the revival of classical law runs much deeper than the shortcomings of originalism. It really stems from the parlous state, not of law and legal theory, but of the larger polity. I suggest a kind of paradox: as a polity becomes increasingly disordered, increasingly remote from a flourishing commonwealth promoting peace, justice and abundance, the claims of the common good and indeed the natural law actually become more visible, more insistent, and less debatable. It is easy to be fashionably skeptical about the claims of the common good when the polity is more or less basically functional; the intellectuals can focus on edge cases and recondite exceptions, because the main tasks of civil governance are being taken care of in the central cases. But when the polity is in undeniable decay, when disparities of wealth and inequalities of educational opportunity are pervasive, when fentanyl has become the leading cause of death for adults between 18 and 45, when a million Americans die in an epidemic, when judges are harassed in their homes over cases they are currently deciding — in circumstances like these, it becomes ever more plausible that a flourishing polity is itself the highest good for individuals, and that there exist background principles of reasoned order that should themselves be part and parcel of our law. Just as absence makes the heart grow fonder, so too we perceive more keenly what our polity desperately lacks when we lack it. It is no accident, I think, that the last major revival of classical legal theory was just after the Second World War, when the idea that positive law does not exhaust the binding sources of law was vindicated at Nuremberg.

  • I speak with Dr. Catherine Ruth Pakaluk in this week’s episode of AUL’s “Life, Liberty, and Law” podcast on American birth rates, pro-family policies, and “paths to glory” in everyday life.

    When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020 and Americans entered into what authorities assured us would be “two weeks to slow the spread,” many predicted a baby boom would be the natural result of this time of closeness in quarantine. Yet there’s been no baby boom. And in fact, it looks like family formation and birth rates may, in fact, be continuing to decline as a result of the pandemic and the economic fallout of more than two years of ad hoc state and fiscal policy decisions. We speak about the challenging experiences and trends of the past few years in light of what a poe-Roe cultural and political future might look like.

    Dr. Catherine Ruth Pakaluk joined the faculty of The Catholic University of America’s Tim and Steph Busch School of Business in 2016 and she is the founder of the Social Research academic area, where she is an Associate Professor of Social Research and Economic Thought. Formerly, she was Assistant Professor and Chair of the Economics Department at Ave Maria University. Her primary areas of research include economics of education and religion, family studies and demography, Catholic social thought and political economy.

  • Heather Long writes that we’re living in an age of scarcity and that, although we don’t like it, there’s little we can do about it:

    Why are Americans so gloomy about the economy? Jobs are plentiful and unemployment is back at pre-pandemic lows, yet sentiment is in the dumps. The obvious answer is that inflation is at a 40-year high and that wages largely aren’t keeping up. But there’s a deeper force at work that is fundamental to why Americans are so upset: scarcity.

    Availability of products, or lack thereof, is as critical an issue as rising prices. The last time Americans experienced this phenomenon was in the 1970s, with long lines at gas stations. Today, more than two years into the pandemic, generations of Americans at a variety of income levels are encountering shortages across a much wider array of products. It is, in many ways, a new age of scarcity. …

    Many families feel that they still can’t get ahead, even if they saved diligently during pandemic lockdowns and landed higher-paying jobs or raises. Part of the reason is they want to buy things — homes, cars, dishwashers — but often can’t, even for a sky-high price. Car inventories are at unprecedented lows, so people are paying more than the sticker price, yet the color or model they want isn’t always available. Similarly, grocery stores and restaurants are struggling to keep items in stock. Before the pandemic, the share of items unavailable on store shelves was typically about 5 percent. Most customers barely noticed. Lately, it’s been closer to 12 to 15 percent, sometimes worse. …

    Americans aren’t used to this kind of scarcity, and it compounds the frustration that politicians spent much of the past year saying supply chains would be fixed “soon.” Instead, the problems keep coming: as varied as baby formula shortages, Russia’s war in Ukraine triggering a food supply crisis, and China’s covid-19 lockdown shuttering factories and delaying shipments. It’s now taking manufacturers an unprecedented 100 days, on average, to get materials — the longest delay on record since the industry started keeping track in the late 1980s.

    Obvious political responses to the roiling crises that Americans have felt themselves undergoing—arguably more or less since President Donald Trump’s election and throughout President Biden’s reactive presidency—is for the White House and Congress to prioritize American manufacturing, continue to impose tariffs on companies and industries that pursue outsourcing, and incentivize regions and localities to develop generational plans for the insourcing of critical industries and products.

  • Russell Dalton, one of America’s politically homeless, speaks:

    I am a union tradesman. Our bread is buttered maintaining the coal-fired, gas-fired, and nuclear power plants that scatter this country and provide the only reliable sources of power to keep our iPhones and electric cars charged. Yet as a citizen who casts his ballot like everyone else, I keep asking myself, who represents our interest? To put it succinctly: No one. …

    The Democrats long ago turned their back on the working class. They abandoned Labor. They cheered as honest work was sent overseas. Yet they still take our union money and hope we don’t notice when they side with the Sierra Club.

    It is Democrats who now occupy every cultural, financial, political, and educational institution, yet somehow maintain the façade that they’re still the underdog. Then they’re repulsed upon facing the actual underdogs. …

    Republicans are just Democrats with a five-year lag time, chasing the same pool of money and spreading a different set of lies. They do not believe themselves worthy to rule and do not posses the confidence in themselves to govern. What little authority they allow themselves to flex is happily deployed in service of pumping the brakes. Without the ability to steer the ship, they giddily become the tugboat of controlled opposition.

    So where does that leave a tradesman like me?

    Politically homeless and cast aside.

    There are millions more like Russell Dalton experiencing the same frustration and feelings of political homelessness and alienation. But here’s the thing: millions of Americans have always felt politically homeless, I think partly because the nature of democratic politics is that it creates faction and confrontational friend/enemy conflict.

    Our political parties are, like it or not, the machines by which political power is exercised in American institutions and in public life.

  • Catherine Glenn Foster, President & CEO of Americans United for Life, wrote yesterday on the need for a more proactive White House pandemic response:

    America has the best health-care system in the world, but as we brace for COVID-19’s ongoing effects, we’re faced with the stark reality that we almost certainly will need even more bold and decisive national action to save lives. We have approximately 45,000 beds in intensive care units across America and about 160,000 ventilators — essential goods for saving lives, but not nearly enough if the scale of the pandemic grows to mirror or exceed our international peers. …

    A 2005 federal government report anticipated that in the event of a pandemic similar to the Spanish flu a century ago, the United States would need as many as 740,000 ventilators to treat all patients. Our beds in intensive care units, as well as many of the ventilators we do have, are already often in use.

    Even if we escape the worst of COVID-19, America may well require tens or even hundreds of thousands more ventilators than we have at present. We need bold and decisive action beyond economic reassurances in this time of national uncertainty and shutdown. President Trump recently instructed governors to obtain their own ventilators, which is heartening. But the president must do all he can to ensure these life-saving devices are available. …

    I applaud Trump for his courageous choice to invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA) to mitigate shortages of vital medical equipment such as ventilators. This important step allows us to mitigate medical supply chain disruptions.

    To have a real impact, Trump must in addition use his executive power to mandate the rapid production of ventilators by major corporations, which should redirect their production capacities to respond directly to the current crisis. Some corporations are already doing this, but there is no greater pro-life imperative in this moment than an effective national response to COVID-19.

    Trump’s bold action is welcomed bipartisanship after 57 members of Congress, all progressive Democrats, urged him to invoke DPA powers. The next steps are perhaps even more important, however, for mitigating potential shortages. I urge the president to set specific and measurable goals for the production of critical medical supplies.

    Hours after Catherine’s op-ed appeared yesterday, President Trump did, in fact, use his executive power under the Defense Production Act specifically to mandate ventilator production.

    We can’t know how things will turn out, but it’s better to prepare for the worst while working for the best possible outcome. And to whatever extent these temporary manufacturing mandates (and the conversations around the implications of government wielding this sort of power) can spur a necessary conversation on the need to restore a greater and permanent American manufacturing capacity, then all the better.

  • R.R. Reno writes on fascism and anti-fascism in light of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s public threats against members of the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week, wherein Sen. Schumer told two U.S. Supreme Court justice that—if they didn’t vote to strike down a Louisiana law mandating hospital safety standards for abortion clinics—those Supreme Court justices “will pay the price” and “won’t know what hit you”.

    Chief Justice John Roberts issued an unprecedented public rebuke of Sen. Schumer, but the threats linger and no U.S. Senate censure has occurred. It’s in this context that Reno writes:

    Every society maintains a boundary between what is clean and what is polluted, what is permitted and what is taboo. This is the boundary where civility stops and fierce resistance to that which defiles begins.

    Our society is distinct in the way that the progressive left has politicized this boundary, using it as a powerful partisan tool. The right, in this scheme, is unclean. It is a polluting force. Strenuous efforts to eradicate its influence may tend toward “unfortunate” extremes. But establishment liberals excuse the excesses, which is why the antifa can riot with relative impunity and undergraduates can hurl obscenities at faculty and threaten to get them fired without suffering any disciplinary consequences.

    Schumer’s words of implicit violence have precedent. In 2018, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib notoriously said of her class of newly elected Democrats, “We’re gonna impeach the motherf*****!” Establishment liberals raised no objections. I believe Tlaib could have said, “We’re gonna assassinate the motherf*****!” and suffered nothing more than perfunctory censure. There is no serious censure partly because of social media, which has created a video game atmosphere of verbal political violence that makes it hard to tell the virtual from the real. But there is also no censure because, in truth, our liberal establishment is not averse to the use of threats and intimidation—and even violence—in defense of its causes.

    It is often said that conservatives, especially social conservatives, “drive polarization.” This is a willful reversal of the truth. Today, the forces of violence and intimidation are primarily on the left. Huey Long, a Louisiana populist, often had charges of fascism hurled at him by establishment liberals. He observed the irony of the attacks, noting, “When Fascism comes to America, it will come under the guise of anti-Fascism.”

    “The right, in this scheme, is unclean.” And the right, insofar as it represents tradition, offers what tradition has always offered: “solutions to problems we have forgotten.”

  • Carroll William Westfall, Columbia University professor of architecture, writes why classical architecture is better than modernist architecture:

    The defenders of modernist architecture lost no time in assaulting the recent Trump administration proposal that government buildings be classical. Architecture critics and the heads of architecture schools are among those who seek to preserve the putative right of architects to express their interpretation of the modern era with the latest fashions on public land and at public expense.

    They argue that government interference would curtail their right to practice their art. If people do not like what they see, well, too bad for them. This argument ignores the fact that a building is a public object that occupies a site that is necessarily part of the realm where people lead their lives.

    Things placed in the public realm are obliged to serve the public, common good even if privately owned, and it is the duty of government to ensure this is done. Presently, land is to be used for its “highest and best use,” which is defined by the greatest economic return or, in the case of cultural institutions, for the education of the taste of the people. The result has been a half-century of commercial construction and one-off cultural centers that display the avant-garde styles that the 1962 guidelines encouraged for public buildings as well. …

    The classical in service to the public, common good of our nation, however, has been manifested in buildings from those of Thomas Jefferson to Franklin D. Roosevelt. It is also apparent in the choics of President George Washington and Pierre Charles L’Enfant when building the national capital, and in the architects of the first half of the previous century who added the Federal Triangle, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, Union Station, and the National Mall. Need I add the countless state capitols, city halls, courthouses, and other public buildings serving and representing our ideals all across the nation? …

    The 1962 guidelines mandated, “Design must flow from the architectural profession to the government and not vice versa,” but praise for what the profession has produced is scarce. Consider the colony of federal agency buildings across the National Mall. Their saving grace is that their height and siting is acceptable, but those qualities were determined by century-old safeguards.

    “Traditions are solutions to problems we have forgotten,” I read someplace recently. One of the things for which tradition has long been a solution is the challenge of creating beauty in our public life. If we understand beauty as intelligible, that is, if we understand that we can recognize a person or a thing as beautiful for whatever reason, then we understand that beauty points beyond itself, beyond its physical or material aspects, to a spiritual core.

    What classical architecture predates and also outlasts is the notion that “form follows function” in what we built and how we live. We need more than a built environment of mere functioning. We need beauty.

  • Kobe Bryant, RIP

    Tom Hoffarth and Steve Lowery on the late Kobe Bryant’s faith:

    In the immediate aftermath of Bryant’s sudden death along with eight other people, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, in a helicopter crash Jan. 26, it soon became known that Bryant stopped by Queen of Angels, located a couple miles from his Newport Coast home, for a few moments of reflection and prayer, leaving just 10 minutes after that 7 a.m. Mass started to head to John Wayne Airport.

    Father Sallot later confirmed to various local news outlets that he had seen Bryant after he had prayed in the chapel.

    “We shook hands, I saw that he had blessed himself because there was a little holy water on his forehead,” Father Sallot said. “I was coming in the same door as he was going out … we called that the backhand of grace.”

    Though Bryant was well-known for his discipline (Mamba Mentality), cosmopolitan ways (giving interviews in multiple languages) and, most of all, love, admiration, and devotion for his daughters (the trending hashtag #GirlDad among the tributes), the fact that Bryant took his faith so seriously seemed to take many, including those in the media, by surprise.

    The media may have first met him as a star in Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania before the Lakers obtained him in a 1996 NBA draft trade, but considering Bryant started living in Milan, Italy, at age 7, since his father, Joe, played seven seasons in the Italian League after his own NBA career ended in 1983, Catholicism seems to have been as natural a part of life as basketball.

    Bryant was willing to talk about his faith with anyone willing or wanting to listen. It was there, he said, at both his highest and lowest moments.

    “I have nothing in common with lazy people who blame others for their lack of success. Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses.”

    “If you do the work, if you work hard enough, dreams come true… and if you guys can understand that, then I’m doing my job as a father.”