Up in Arms About a Coat of Arms

harvard ls

Harvard Law School, in abject surrender to student activists, is about to change its escutcheon because its design was derived from that of Isaac Royall, Jr., who endowed the first chair at the school. Royall’s father made the family fortune from slave plantations in the West Indies and Massachusetts, a fortune that was therefore tainted (as Balzac said that all great fortunes are).

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Can Social Justice Be Rescued?

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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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Should Law Schools Pursue “Social Justice”?

Many, if not most, law schools proclaim that they will advance “social justice.” My own law school recently pledged to use part of the generous 100 million dollar gift from the Pritzkers to do just that. Generally the pursuit of such justice is done through clinics, which represent clients, but have larger objectives in their choice of representation, such as ending the death penalty, protecting rent control, or increasing environmental regulation.

A commitment to social justice creates some tensions with the ideal of a university as a place of open inquiry. First, clinics are enterprises of political action. But the essence of a university is the production of ideas, and political aims are not easily made compatible with purely intellectual ones. Politics, including the politics of litigation, requires one to take positions with a view to success. The university, in contrast, prizes ideas that are novel, coherent and logically consistent, regardless of the immediate real world impact.

Beyond this abstract tension, the pursuit of a particular vision of justice can make it harder for research faculty to pursue opposing viewpoints.

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Obama’s Nod to Crony Philanthropy

Golden Icon of Heart in the Hand on Compass.

In his January 21 column for Forbes (Obama’s SOTU Surprise: A Break for Charity”) Manhattan Institute Vice President Howard Husock speculates that the Obama Administration may at last be coming round to better appreciate the role of philanthropy in American flourishing.  The Obama Administration is now proposing to shrink the “trust fund loophole” in favor of nonprofits, meaning that heirs would be subject to capital gains taxes on the original basis of the assets while charities would not.

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Impoverished Pontifications, Part I


If there is one thing that religious leaders around the world seem to agree on today, it is the evils of income inequality stemming from a globalized economy.

Pope Francis said last year in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium that “we … have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”

In a 2008 speech at George Mason University, the Dalai Lama asserted: “Economic inequality, especially that between developed and developing nations, remains the greatest source of suffering on this planet.”

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew wrote in his 2012 Christmas encyclical that “the gloomy consequences of the overconcentration of wealth in the hands of the few and the financial desolation of the vast human masses are ignored. This disproportion, which is described worldwide as a financial crisis, is essentially the product of a moral crisis.”

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Escaping Havana

Una NocheUna Noche captures a defining moment in the lives of three adolescents in today’s Cuba. It narrates the existential predicament of Raul and his best friend, Elio, seen from the point of view of the third adolescent, Lila, who is Elio‘s twin sister.

But as the director has pointed out in an interview, there is another main character in the movie: the city of Havana. Una Noche is filmed entirely in Cuba’s capital, and the city functions not only as a space for the story, but as part of it, contributing to the film’s powerful impact on an audience.

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Law, Legislation and Liberty

Friedrich HayekThis Liberty Law Talk is with philosopher Eric Mack on Friedrich Hayek's 1973 magnum opus, Law, Legislation and Liberty. Hayek's significant trilogy distinguishes between law and legislation, considers the appropriate rule of judges within a spontaneous order, observes the difficulties of even defining social justice, and attempts to set forth the principles of a new constitutional order for a free people. This conversation considers at length the major ideas that Hayek advances in his incredible work on the principles of law and just order.

Social Justice and the Silence of Modern Constitutionalism

In this month’s Forum Samuel Gregg revives “the meaning of social justice in the classical tradition of natural law reasoning, with particular reference to Roman Catholic pronouncements about this subject.” Social justice strives for the common good.  Two learned commentators provide vigorous, reasoned dissents, economist David C. Rose maintaining that this defense of social justice is “both misguided and dangerous.”   Philosophy professor Eric Mack thinks the notion of social justice “necessarily champions extensive state authority.” Though he allows Gregg’s understanding is not egalitarian, he nonetheless seeks to “weigh [social justice] down and sink it.”

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Friday Roundup, April 5th

April's Liberty Forum attempts to answer the question What is Social Justice? Essays from Sam Gregg, Eric Mack, and David Rose evaluate this question from various philosophical, economic, and political perspectives. Gregg's lead essay opens as follows: Few terms have assumed more prominence in public discourse, especially that emanating from the left, in recent decades than “social justice.” It has now become part of the rhetorical apparatus of virtually all center-left, social democratic and labor political movements as well as central to the language of modern liberalism. In Western Europe, the term has also been embraced by more-than-a-few center-right, Christian Democrat,…

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The Poor Are a Gold Mine

A scheme by the British government to reduce unemployment benefits of those who refuse to take jobs at a rate of pay equal to their full benefits has been overturned by the courts. The judges did not deny the right of the government to institute such a scheme; the problem with the current one, they said, was that it was instituted by ministerial fiat rather than by direction of parliament and was therefore an exercise of arbitrary power. In this, I think, they were right: a minister should not be able to alter the conditions of life of large numbers of people by the stroke of his pen and without any oversight. But those who seek the unlimited extension of trade union and government power over society regarded the ruling as an absolute triumph: they think that the more people who are dependent on government handouts the better, and this ruling went some way to maintaining, at least temporarily, such dependence.

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