Orestes Augustus Brownson (1803-1876), one of the most prominent public intellectuals in America in the 19th century, is hardly a household name today. The late Peter Augustine Lawler, a brilliant political scientist, saw much of value in Brownson, and thought him sorely neglected. In fact, the fate of the Vermont-born journalist and autodidact has been a bit more complicated. There have been periodic rediscoveries of Brownson, especially during turbulent times. Consider Brownson’s resurgence in the 1930s. At the end of that decade, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress: Orestes A. Brownson (1939). In the 1950s, political science journals published…
The Industrial Revolution resulted from a repudiation of the ancients—but not just the ancients. The “Great Enrichment” of the late 18th and 19th centuries was a fully “modern” rejection of the cultural inheritance of the Renaissance, to say nothing of the medieval synthesis. The product of cultural innovations in Western Europe, and particularly England and Scotland, a new and paradigmatic culture took form that would produce a global revolution. Human history had witnessed nothing like this cultural rupture that, in an epochal blink of an eye, rendered so much of the past irrelevant. This is the story told by Joel Mokyr…
The right and left wings of the Republican and Democratic Parties do not appear to have symmetrical tactics. The right, usually in the House but often in the Senate, refuses to compromise even when that refusal will generate a worse short-term result from their perspective. For instance, the right in the House has refused to vote for federal spending bills even if they were written by the Republican leadership. In 2012, the most conservative caucus refused to vote for a bill that would have limited tax hikes to those earning over a million dollars a year. And they have blocked some of the compromises that might smooth the passage of a partial Obamacare repeal and health care reform.
As a result, the Republican leadership has had to rely on Democratic votes for the budget, leading to higher spending. Without the leverage of the House bill taxes went up on couples earning over $450,000. The prospects for any substantial legislative reform of health appear dim.
In contrast, the Democratic left is willing to compromise. They all voted for Obamacare, even if it was not a single-payer plan. And I do not recall any substantial opposition to budgets passed in the Democratic Congress. What explains this difference?
Even before reading it, I knew in outline what the article in the June 8 New England Journal of Medicine would say. This could be seen from its title: “Heath Effects of Dramatic Societal Events—Ramifications of the Recent Presidential Election.” Still, I was taken aback by some of its assertions and reasoning.
If President Trump’s indefensible and equivocating response to Charlottesville demonstrates anything, it is something of which conservatives—and originalists in particular—should have needed no reminder: Words, the vessels of truth for those burdened with this mortal coil and of political life for those living in a constitutional republic, matter.
Trust a Jesuit to split hairs. In This Economy Kills: Pope Francis and Social Justice, the Rev. Fr. Professor Diego Alonso-Lasheras SJ of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome is quoted as saying that Evangelii Gaudium, Francis’ first apostolic exhortation, is not as anti-market as people think. Note its use of indefinite articles, he urges, for instance in “an economy of exclusion” (“una economía de la exclusión” in the original Spanish) and “a financial system which rules rather than serves” (“un dinero que gobierna en lugar de server”). According to Fr. Alonso-Lasheras, if Francis had really meant to sock it to the capitalists, he “would have used the definite article la or el, thus conveying the idea of a more general, categorical, and absolute condemnation.”
Be that as it may, the expression “Such an economy kills” (“Esa economía mata”) packs quite a rhetorical punch even without a definite article. No doubt this is why Andrea Tornielli and Giacomo Galeazzi, two Italian journalists, have chosen it for the title of their new book.
Over at National Review, Nicole Gelinas is critical of James Damore’s memo to Google. It is disturbing that a conservative magazine like National Review should decide to publish a piece making the points that this one does. If Damore can’t get a fair hearing for his views at National Review, then things are pretty bad. Gelinas takes the view that Google was wrong to fire Damore, because Google says it encourages internal dissent. But Gelinas then criticizes Damore’s memo. I agree that Google is being hypocritical here. But Gelinas’s critique of the memo is unfair and weak. Gelinas appears to have two…
Ilan Wurman joins this edition of Liberty Law Talk to discuss his new book, A Debt against the Living: An Introduction to Originalism.
A recent prediction in this space turned out to be premature. In my post about the Seventh Circuit’s en banc decision in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College—which held that the word “sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964  includes “sexual orientation”—I forecast that the U.S. Supreme Court would grant cert and reverse the Seventh Circuit. For unknown reasons, the defendant-employer in Hively decided not to seek appellate review of the controversial ruling, foiling my prophesy. Instead, Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana will defend Hively’s employment-discrimination lawsuit on the merits.
The Department of Justice under Attorney General Sessions has been criticized for changing its positions in litigation from those taken by the Obama administration on such questions as whether Title VII prevents discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Some of the criticism has been on the merits of the new position, but others have complained about the wisdom or propriety of changing a position that the government has already advanced in court.
This latter kind of complaint is wholly without merit. The Department of Justice is not like a private litigant and should change positions to reflect the jurisprudential stance of the President and his new administration. Unlike a private client, the President has taken an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” and must “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” Thus, as I have noted long ago, the Attorney General and his subordinates have obligations that no private lawyer has: not simply to prevail in litigation, but to advance the President’s interpretation of the Constitution and the laws made under it.
To the objection that President Trump, a non-lawyer, has no jurisprudence, the Attorney General and his subordinates should ask themselves what the President would do if he knew as much about jurisprudence as they do. With President Trump, they are substantially aided by President’s own actions. His list of potential Supreme Court justices were to a person committed originalists and textualists.