Judicial Review: Birth of a Notion

The members of the U.S. Supreme Court have different ideas about what constitutes good judicial policy as well as how best to achieve that policy. From where do these ideas originate? Professor Kevin T. McGuire (PoliSci, UNC Chapel Hill) explains: Evolutionary psychology suggests that an answer may lie in early life experiences in which siblings assume roles that affect an adult's likely acceptance of changes in the established order. According to this view, older siblings take on responsibilities that make them more conservative and rule-bound, while younger ones adopt roles that promote liberalism and greater rebelliousness. Applying this theory to the…

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Remembering Forrest McDonald


Though modern Americans spend many years as students, most will readily admit that a good teacher is rare and thus memorable. I had the good fortune to have a great one in Forrest McDonald, who passed away last month at the age of 89. Others more qualified than I can speak of his tremendous scholarly achievements; and his personal friends, I am sure, can praise his virtues. I wish to honor Professor McDonald as a teacher. He was great because of his devotion to the discipline of history and his generous spirit.

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Comparing Traditionalism and Originalism II

In my last post, I explored the interpretive method of the majority opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway, describing it as traditionalist though with interesting connections to certain strands of originalism. In this post, I’ll take a look at another traditionalist decision, NLRB v. Noel Canning. As with the post on Town of Greece, the object is simply to individuate the opinion as distinctively traditionalist, not to defend it.

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Neoplatonism, Christianity, and Camus


Few Master of Arts theses enter the history of ideas. Indeed, seldom is it that anyone but the examiners read them. Designed to consolidate undergraduate learning, few such writings have intrinsic worth. That a publisher of authors like Pierre Manent, Roger Scruton, and René Girard should print a Master of Arts thesis is a rarity. Then again, the strangeness evaporates on learning that the student work is that of Albert Camus. But not entirely, for the title of this 1936 thesis is Christian Metaphysics and Neoplatonism.

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The Political Dangers of Rising Political Correctness

When I was inducted into the academic honor society at the Phillips Exeter Academy, we heard from an outside speaker, an academy graduate and a professor who happened to be an African American. Among various inflammatory remarks, he said he was surprised to hear an Irish name on the list. I shrugged off his comments, and my father, only a generation removed from the old country, still treasures this anecdote more than any other from my education.

At Phillips Exeter today, there is less tolerance for certain kinds of provocations—or even pre-provocations—than others. Last month an academy graduate and former Congressman was prevented from teaching a guest seminar because he was alleged to be an Islamophobe based on his connection with a Washington think tank. although his proposed seminar had nothing to do with Islam. (I would link to discussion of the matters in the student newspaper, but references appear to have been deleted recently—itself perhaps a sign of censorship and cover-up). On the other hand, one of Exeter’s own teachers penned an essay attacking “white privilege.” Thus, I guess it is not entirely clear how the comment at my ceremony would be treated today.

That’s one of the problems with political correctness: its high double standards informed by Left identity politics. And PC seems to be becoming a much greater problem at our high schools.

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Can Social Justice Be Rescued?

equality loading, progess bar illustration

The book Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is isn’t what you think it is. The dust jacket of the latest from Michael Novak (with coauthors Paul Adams and Elizabeth Shaw) promises to rescue the term from “its ideological captors” by clarifying “the true meaning of social justice.”

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The Donald, the Impartial Spectator, and the Command of the Passions

Adam Smith statue in Edinburgh's High Street.

I spend the better part of my professional life teaching “Great Books.” This semester’s lineup so far has included Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Second Discourse (1775), Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), John Milton’s Areopagitica (1644), John Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), and Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince (1532). I’m committed to the proposition that these old books continue to speak to us, if only we have ears to hear.

My students don’t always agree, but they really perked up when I speculated about how Adam Smith would approach the phenomenon—the yuuge phenomenon—of Donald Trump.

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Clean Power, Dirty Hands

Washington, DC - Environmental Protection Agency

The brawl over the Obama EPA’s “clean power” plan—an ambitious design to de-fossilize the entire economy and to make Planet Earth spin westward for a change—has reached the Supreme Court.

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A Time for Congressional Hardball

American flag in front of US Capitol dome

The fundamental constitutional question presented by the case of United States v. Texas is not whether the President is constitutionally required to enforce immigration laws (he is), but whether the Supreme Court is constitutionally empowered to police every constitutional dispute. If it decides to do the work of Congress and restrain the executive, it will, more than it did in Cooper v. Aaron (1958), proclaim a doctrine of judicial supremacy over constitutional questions.

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The Unnatural State

The Economist reports that in five nations net transfers (private plus public) go from the young to the old rather than the other way around. Some of these nations are deeply social democratic (Germany, Austria, Slovenia). Some are thought to be conservative (Hungary, Japan). But all have in common large social entitlements.

This trend shows show how welfare states can reverse the natural order of things, where the old give more to the young than the young can ever repay. Families exemplify this principle. Socially too, the intergenerational flow of resources is what creates civilization as each generation receives benefits from the previous one.

Now to be sure, not everything that is natural is good. But few people criticize the special solicitude parents feel for their children or the old feel for the young generally. And entitlements to the elderly cannot easily be justified by abstract appeal to the justice of redistribution. It is simply not the case that the elderly as class are poorer than the young.

The social consequences of this unnatural flow are deeply unfortunate.

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