Peter Augustine Lawler

Peter Lawler is Dana Professor of Government and former chair of the department of Government and International Studies at Berry College. Lawler served on President Bush's Council on Bioethics from 2004-09. He writes at National Review Online's Postmodern Conservative blog.

Why Carson and Trump Aren’t Fading Away

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

It looks as if the Republicans are stuck with the strange truth that, now more than ever, their leading candidates are Ben Carson and Donald Trump.

The perception of the members of a key focus group was that Carson is “wise” and a “gentleman.” He might be more immune than Jeb to the Trump allegation that he’s “low energy.” While he did seem nervously lacking in assertiveness during the first two debates, his tone is inspirational on the stump and at times on the talk shows. He excels at quietly but firmly articulating American exceptionalism as a mixture of economic liberty and Biblical faith. For better and worse, Ben Carson isn’t much like Jeb Bush.

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Freedom Is the Condition to Living Well

Statue of Liberty detail, New York

What is the relationship between law and ethics? It’s one of the trickier questions.

Sometimes we think they’re the same thing. In government, most ethics committees really investigate people who might have broken the law. The same goes for university life: A violation of my college’s code for students when it comes to sex is also pretty much a crime. To be ethical is to be law-abiding.

Well, that’s a low standard, even if it’s one lots of politicians and business leaders can’t meet. Everyone knows that sexual ethics is about more than safety and consent, and political ethics is about more than not embezzling or not lying under oath.

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Marco Rubio vs. Aristotle?

Statue of Aristotle

Aristotle, unfortunately, won’t be on the ballot.

Marco Rubio’s form of dissing liberal education is probably more ridiculous than the more insistent and policy-driven efforts of Scott Walker, although Rubio, just as obviously, is much smarter than Walker. It’s reasonable to believe that Rubio and his supporters can be educated concerning how his ill-considered rhetoric aids and abets the more deeply misguided attack on liberal education.

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Atticus Finch’s American Stoicism


It’s hard not to think of the printing of two million copies of Harper Lee’s “new book” as a capitalist macroaggression against America. Many readers consider it a sequel, although it’s really a rough and in some ways misbegotten draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, the work that stands as the one and only account of heroic virtue shared by all Americans. When I go to my college classes, I (fake) struggle to find a piece of cultural literacy that all of us in the classroom share. The result is always the same.

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Originalism and Legislative Deliberation

The point of Ilya Somin's able and humane Liberty Forum essay is to show libertarians how to deploy originalism as a doctrine to maximize “negative liberty” in America. He doesn’t claim to establish that negative liberty is good, or that its maximization accords with living in the truth or with dignity. It’s enough to say that it’s “an important value” for many people, mainly his people. It’s, as the economists say, a preference, and we all have our preferences or values. He is candid enough to write that all theories of constitutional interpretation are value-laden. There’s no such thing as surrendering…

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What “Liberties” Does the Constitution Protect?

In his famous, breakthrough speech at the Cooper Union in New York, Lincoln remarked on those black slaves who had not thrown in with John Brown. Even though, as he said, they were “ignorant”—even though they had no formal education—they had the wit to see that the schemes of this crazy white man would not…

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The Use and Abuse of Originalism

Ilya Somin’s thesis in his Liberty Forum essay is modest and hedged. Confining himself to “the circumstances of the United States for the foreseeable future,” he argues only that, among the “plausible competitors,” originalism is “likely to be” the theory of constitutional interpretation that best protects the components of  “ ‘negative’ liberty defended by most…

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Originalism and Liberty: Ilya Somin Replies

I would like to start by thanking Law and Liberty for hosting this symposium, and Hadley Arkes, Peter Lawler, and Ed Whelan for their thoughtful comments on my initial essay. I had planned to complete this reply much earlier. But just as constitutional originalism sometimes has difficulty taking account of new developments, so my original…

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Mad Men and the American Consciousness


This is supposed to be about my job, not the meaning of life.

So you think those things are unrelated?

—Peggy and Don, Mad Men (“The Forecast”)

Now that Mad Men is over, we begin by remembering that it was a deeply political show. The lives of particular people were intertwined with the big events that moved the whole country—elections, assassinations, riots, and the noble national achievement that was the landing on the Moon (then thought to be the first giant step for mankind in the conquest of space). The show engaged in good old-fashioned American self-criticism, displaying the contradiction between our principles and our residual racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, classism, fundamentalism, and homophobia. It also celebrated the genuine meritocracy based on productivity that is American capitalism. Skill and talent were shown triumphing over especially WASPish prejudice, stupidity, and cruelty, even as there was an awareness of the relational costs of our individualistic and self-inventive understanding of freedom.

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Aristocratic Morality Properly Understood

So this is really interesting:  The Court, according to John McGinnis, doesn’t really deliberate about the law when it comes to high-profile cases. It functions instead as a “cognitive elite”— the aristocratic part of a mixed regime.  It’s job, I guess, is to supply wisdom and virtue to counter popular and legislative ignorance and expediency. First off: I don’t know about the virtue part; after all, they were trained to be lawyers and not philosopher-kings. And if what they were doing were “cognitive” in the sense of listening to reason, why do they so often divide 5-4 on the high-profile cases? All reasonable men and women should assent to the truth. when they hear it.

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Legal Education Better Call Saul  

Breaking Bad (Season 4)

This site features an excellent Liberty Forum discussion this month on the future of legal education. If Ken Randall is right about a “blue ocean for law schools” (and he probably is), it looks like a lot of them will be traveling online, providing a needed service for those who only want a ticket to take the bar. As the profession gets more entrepreneurial, the argument for taking this route gets stronger.

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Taking Scott Walker to School on Higher Education

What to think of Scott Walker? I’m not necessarily against the Governor’s proposed budget cuts for Wisconsin’s higher education system. Certainly it is good to hold colleges and universities more accountable than they currently are, so they’ll be more effective. And yes, there surely are faculty everywhere, and probably in Wisconsin, who could be “teaching more classes and doing more work.” And it’s true that the tradition of “shared governance” in American higher education has impeded administrations “from directly running things.” (See Joe Knippenberg’s excellent recent posts about this.) Administrations increasingly think of the out-of-touch faculty as a force that has…

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Jaffa As Neo-Puritan

In the days since Harry Jaffa and Walter Berns passed away, the former’s angry disputes with his fellow Straussians have received a lot of commentary. There are those who say it was all quite childish. And you know, a lot of it was, precisely because the differences so often seemed small or, when examined closely, not really differences at all. Still, some of the differences are real enough to merit our close attention.

On the more general issue of which student of Strauss is more faithful to the true and complete teaching of Leo Strauss, the most obvious response is that the capable students of any great teacher always grab on to part of what he (or she) taught and confuse it with the whole. Marx and Hegel. Alexandre Kojève and Hegel. Maybe even Aristotle and Plato.

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