We like to consider totalitarianism a thing of the past, at least in Western countries, but its temptations are permanent and its justifications never very far away. Since no man is an island, no human action concerns only the actor himself. John Stuart Mill’s famous principle in On Liberty (1859) that the only good reason to interfere with someone’s freedom is to prevent him from doing harm to others is therefore as effective a barrier against totalitarianism as tissue paper against a tsunami. Potential harm to others can be alleged in practically any human action.
Final grades were due a few days ago, and for those of us who teach, grading season has just come to a close. With visions of student papers dancing in my head, I can’t keep from thinking, Rashomon is a perfect movie for our culture.
Recently I stayed a few weeks in a small town in Somerset, England called Yeovil, pronounced Yoville. The satellite navigation system in my car, however, was programmed wrong and pronounced it You-evil. To judge from the weekly local newspaper, it might have had a point.
Every week that newspaper devotes a page to short reports from the local courts, the small change of crime as it were (murder, arson and such like made the front page). One of the stories on that page took me back to the hospital in which I worked until my retirement, where I heard such a story, and often more than one such story, every day. The story was headlined ‘Threat to put cat’s head through door.’ I knew at once, without having to read further, that it was a love story – of a kind.
I’m quite grateful to Michael Ramsey for his engagement with the arguments in my book, Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law. I appreciate, of course, his praise of the parts that alone, he says, would be “worth the purchase price of the book”—the parts on those landmark cases of Near v. Minnesota, the Pentagon Papers and the Snepp case—perhaps with the iconic case of Bob Jones University thrown in. But I’d record a special gratitude for a move of his that has become regrettably rare in the review of books: a willingness to cite extended…