Steven Grosby Website

Steven Grosby is Professor of Religion at Clemson University. His recent works include Nationalism: A Very Short Introduction (2005), Biblical Ideas of Nationality: Ancient and Modern (2002) and the edition and translation of Hans Freyer, Theory of Objective Mind: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Culture.

The Rule of Law and Its Many Tensions

Best to begin by acknowledging one’s mistakes. In the original Liberty Forum essay given the title “Why Freedom Is a Legal Concept,” I referred to the often quoted statement, so important for liberty and the rule of law, of Henry de Bracton, that “above the king is the university of the realm”—that is, “there is no king where will rules and not the law.” I should have made clear that de legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae is to be understood as attributed to Bracton rather than having been written by him. Not for the first time am I in the debt…

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The Rule of (Pluralistic) Laws

Steven Grosby’s rich Liberty Forum essay combines, as his writing always does, a sensitivity to history with a careful attention to theoretical problems. I am tempted to engage him on the terrain of history, in the hope of prompting still more from him on the Middle Ages; were I just a listener, that is what…

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The Rule of Law and the Rule of Reason

Steven Grosby’s essay is an excellent contribution on the formal and procedural elements that must be upheld to maintain the rule of law. Grosby’s essay, however, invites us to unpack what kind of “reason” is inherent in law and to ask what it means for law “to rule.” The 13th century theologian and philosopher Thomas…

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One Need Not Choose Between the Rule of Law and Constitutional Federalism

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to read Professor Grosby’s Liberty Forum essay and to be invited to comment on it. I am especially happy that Professor Grosby has focused on the rule of law as a legal concept, as opposed to arguing that it's a political or philosophical concept. For unlike much…

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Why Freedom Is a Legal Concept

John Lilburne reading from Coke's Institutes at his trial for treason (c.1649).

The king will have a copy of the law written for him . . . It will remain with him and he will read it all his life . . . to observe faithfully all the words of the law. –Deuteronomy 17:18-19 You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your fellow countrymen fairly. –Leviticus 19:15 You shall have one law for the non-Israelite who lives permanently with you (in your land) and the native-born in the land (the Israelite). –Leviticus 24:22   More than 50 years ago, Bruno Leoni, in Freedom and…

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The Rule of (Pluralistic) Laws

Steven Grosby’s rich Liberty Forum essay combines, as his writing always does, a sensitivity to history with a careful attention to theoretical problems. I am tempted to engage him on the terrain of history, in the hope of prompting still more from him on the Middle Ages; were I just a listener, that is what…

Read More

The Rule of Law and the Rule of Reason

Steven Grosby’s essay is an excellent contribution on the formal and procedural elements that must be upheld to maintain the rule of law. Grosby’s essay, however, invites us to unpack what kind of “reason” is inherent in law and to ask what it means for law “to rule.” The 13th century theologian and philosopher Thomas…

Read More

One Need Not Choose Between the Rule of Law and Constitutional Federalism

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to read Professor Grosby’s Liberty Forum essay and to be invited to comment on it. I am especially happy that Professor Grosby has focused on the rule of law as a legal concept, as opposed to arguing that it's a political or philosophical concept. For unlike much…

Read More

The Rule of Law and Its Many Tensions

Best to begin by acknowledging one’s mistakes. In the original Liberty Forum essay given the title “Why Freedom Is a Legal Concept,” I referred to the often quoted statement, so important for liberty and the rule of law, of Henry de Bracton, that “above the king is the university of the realm”—that is, “there is…

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Lawyers Should Read Dostoevsky

Fyodor-Dostoyevsky--006

Moments of disorienting despair, or of painful honesty, can strip away our comforting self-conceit and force us to recognize what a disquietingly thin barrier it is that separates the decency of civilized life from the brutality of barbarism. If the barrier is thin—and there is too much evidence to deny it—do we have the strength, character, and means to maintain, and thereby meet the challenge of defending, that decency?

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Wherefore Art Thou Cicero?

With “Where did the Noble Lawyer Go?: Looking for Cicero in the Boardroom and on the Billboard,” Professor Stephen Sheppard has provided us with a provocative, as one expects from the editor of the three-volume Selected Works of Sir Edward Coke,[1] rumination on the decline of the legal profession. He contrasts the lawyer of today with Cicero, “the model of the lawyer as hero,” the civic leader who guards the ideals of the law. The contrast is appropriately self-reflective, as Sheppard raises these questions for our consideration: “What does the hunt for Cicero mean? What should we expect a modern…

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Teaching the Law’s Moral Purposes

I am an admirer of Steve Sheppard and of his scholarship. His book on the ethical obligations of lawyers is not just as a reminder of the necessity for lawyers to comply with lawyerly standards. More than formal compliance with the canons of ethics is needed today.[1] Serious consideration of the true moral purposes of…

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Cicero, Demythologized and Disenchanted, and Still a Voice Worth Heeding

I am fascinated with Stephen Sheppard's essay on Cicero and the modern American lawyer.  In a sense, he is calling me back to those ideals I held so dear as an entering one-L a long time ago. Cicero, it is not too strong to say this, is one of the reasons I went to law school.…

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Rebuilding a Ciceronian Legal Culture

It is daunting to be read by genuine scholars whom one admires.  The thoughtful comments, elaborations, and criticism of Stephen Grosby, Charles J. Reid, and Dick Helmholtz have surely given the reader much more wisdom and provocation than did my essay. Despite the many truths of my commentators’ criticism, Liberty Law Forum and its editor Richard…

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The Distinctive Spheres of American Liberty and the State

“The Institutions of American Liberty” is a nicely written and, for the most part, compelling encomium to the tradition of American liberty and the institutions upon which it rests. The author of this piece, as so many following Tocqueville have observed, rightly notes that American history displays “a fervor of institution building by people who loved their liberty”—a fervor fostered by “a disposition to solve as many problems and serve as many needs as possible by way of voluntary associations and self-governing institutions.” It is a liberty based not on grand, abstract system-building but on a tradition of concretely addressing…

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The Revolution in Ideas and Practice That Elevated American Liberty

Ted McAllister and the Liberty Law Forum at Liberty Fund are to be thanked for resurrecting a vitally important but seemingly forgotten, or, at least, neglected topic. The subject of McAllister’s essay is the American tradition of liberty, which he contrasts with perfect or abstract liberty. He asks two important questions: What is distinctive about…

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Piety, Benevolence, Self-Government, and Free Institutions

The Rev. Timothy Dwight (President of Yale, 1795-1817, leading Congregational and Federalist thinker, enemy of Thomas Jefferson), wrote about the three great good works: piety, benevolence, and self-government. Self-government meant the well ordering of one’s life so he could live as a free and responsible human being. If a person was well self-governed, he would…

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The Extinction of American Liberty? Ted McAllister responds:

Lamentably, I find myself in general agreement with the thoughtful commentaries on my essay by the three respondents, C. Bradley Thompson, Steven Grosby, and William Dennis. This is not to say that underneath this broad consensus there aren’t serious and enjoyable differences of philosophy that warrant sustained engagement. Taken as a whole, the body of…

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Reading the Talmud in the Tower of London

On March 4, 1629, John Selden, the most learned man in England, was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He had been arrested on charges of conspiracy and sedition against King Charles I. The question is: what did Selden choose to read while imprisoned?

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Further Thoughts on Michael Walzer’s In God’s Shadow

The bizarre disappearance of the Hebrew Bible from political philosophy and ethics

One of the more bizarre, intellectual occurrences in the Wissenschaften of the Occident has been the disappearance of the Hebrew Bible from politics, political philosophy, and ethics. There are several reasons for this disappearance: the destruction of the Jewish state by the imperial Romans, made complete by the so-called “Bar Kokhba war” of 132-35 CE, that forced the Jews into communal existence; the hermeneutic approach, already manifest by the mid-second century in the work of Justin Martyr, to the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament, the deplorable, philosophical consequences of which find expression in Kant’s and Hegel’s dismissive caricatures of both the Old Testament and Judaism; and a conceptually crude, but nonetheless fashionable, contrast between reason (of the university) and revelation (of the Church), between Athens and Jerusalem—a contrast that leaves one incapable of understanding not only the Hebrew Bible and the traditions of Jerusalem, but also religion in general (and reason, too).

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Politics, Law, and the Hebrew Bible

In God's Shadow

The understanding and practice of law and politics in the Hebrew Bible: How long a shadow did God cast? In the introduction to In God’s Shadow: The Politics of the Hebrew Bible, Michael Walzer rightly observes that the Hebrew Bible is about “a people who have leaders and laws, who experience bitter internal conflicts and wars with other nations, who disagree about authority and policy, who listen to public criticism of their government and society” (p. xi). He continues by alerting the reader of his intention to investigate “a set of questions [that] arise: How much room for politics can there…

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The Common Law and Western Liberty

9780865978072More than twenty years ago, a young man of fine character visited me to describe what he had been learning, as a graduate student studying political philosophy, at one of this country’s better universities. He began with understandable enthusiasm (for he—a modest person—was rightly proud to be studying at a distinguished university) by telling me about what he thought was Thomas Hobbes’ new view of sovereignty, explaining that, according to Hobbes, laws are (can only be) the commands of the sovereign. Before he could proceed to describe Hobbes’ account of the individual’s fear of death leading to an original contract where the individual transfers authority and power to a sovereign so that the individual’s life may be better protected, I interrupted him with this question, “What did this view of sovereignty have to do with the Magna Carta?”