The New York Times has an article about the movement by environmental groups and organic farmers to require that products with genetically modified ingredients include a label mentioning this (hat tip: Tyler Cowen): If the California initiative passes, “we will be on our way to getting GE-tainted foods out of our nation’s food supply for good,” Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, wrote in an letter in March seeking donations for the California ballot initiative. “If a company like Kellogg’s has to print a label stating that their famous Corn Flakes have been genetically engineered, it will be the…
Archives for May 2012
Law and Revolution
In the first post I introduced Berman’s overall project. Now I would like to explore Berman’s volumes in Law and Revolution which critique dominant views of the relation between law and society. Berman saw law as a reflection of society’s most profound beliefs rather than simply a mirror of its economic or technological structure. Because the most fundamental beliefs in the West were Christian, law thus necessarily depended on developments in Christianity. As law is refracted through such beliefs, it then shapes the structures that define the exercise of political power. Thus, Berman turns Marxist analysis on its head. It is not the social and economic structure that determines beliefs through power relations. Fundamental beliefs shape the social and economic structure through law.
My buddy (and former AEI colleague) Ted Frank, who blogs at Point of Law, runs the Center for Class Action Fairness. CCAF’s sole and wholly salutary purpose is to blow up collusive, plutocrats-of-the-world-unite-and-screw-the consumers settlements between class action lawyers and corporate defendants who, if it weren’t for the trial bar, would deserve everything the trial lawyers dish out to them (and then some). (Disclosure: I serve on CCAF’s Board.) The world hates Ted but once in a while, he finds an impartial forum, as here. To summarize one of the funniest appellate arguments I’ve yet heard: Mr. Frank: Your Honors (Judges Bauer,…
Today’s Washington Post features a front-page article on “A legal case that’s not so open and shut,” featuring a challenge to a Louisiana state law requiring casket sellers to obtain a license that, inter alia, demands a layout parlor, an embalming room, and the employment of a state-approved funeral director. Plaintiffs are monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey, which lacks any and all of those accoutrements. Still, the monks find both economic and spiritual fulfillment in building caskets. It’s what they do when they’re not in prayer or lounging around the pool: blessed are you a monk swimming. (Belated Catholic joke alert.) What the monks demand to know, along with the rest of us, is where the heck the state gets off passing a law like that.
In a series of posts, I will discuss the great enterprise of the late professor Harold Berman. That enterprise was nothing less than to relate fundamental developments in Christianity and other core beliefs to fundamental developments in law. In this post I will introduce Berman and his project. In the second, I will summarize some of the most important themes of his books. In the third and fourth, I will offer my own views on some of the implications of his narrative for liberty.
Just out from Cambridge University Press: When States Go Broke, a fine volume on “The Origins, Context, and Solutions for the American States in Fiscal Crisis” edited by Peter Conti-Brown and David A. Skeel, Jr. Skeel had an excellent essay in 2010 in The Weekly Standard that explored some of the thinking in this volume “Give States a Way to Go Bankrupt.” The insane price ($99) may reflect the publisher’s judgment that if states go broke, they might as well take book buyers and libraries along for the ride. ‘Tis a pity, because the volume is unusually timely and thought-provoking. A few notes on some of the essays, with no prejudice to the other contributors:
A word of advice about Rev. Robert Sirico’s just released Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy: Do not tell yourself that you will “just read a chapter” in your office before settling down to do the work that you absolutely must do before your week begins. I made that mistake, and read about two-thirds of the book in one go. I only stopped reading because there was nothing left to read; I finished the book.
Sirico at one point says that a favorite compliment is “being told that I have put into words what someone has thought for a long time but never been able to articulate” (106). I can’t pay him that compliment; I can say something stronger: Sirico puts into words things I’d never thought of, but wish I had. I found myself, while reading the book, trying to take a mental note of some of his very best one liners, turns of phrase, and examples, in an effort to store them for future use.
Sirico shows repeatedly, and even doggedly, that the enemies of free markets have it exactly wrong. One doesn’t have to choose between helping the poor and markets; between health care and markets, or between protecting the environment and markets. On the contrary, as he puts it, if you want to help the poor, start a business; if you want people to receive health care, then don’t let a state-funded bureaucracy suck the compassion out of medicine, and, if you want to save tigers and elephants, then give people property rights in them, etc.
Richard Reinsch recommends this review of Peter Berger's intellectual autobiography, which I also recommend. Berger is an interesting thinker. One bit from the review illustrates one of the major vices of intellectual endeavor -- confirmation bias -- which is clearly part of the problem that prevents the progress that the Enlightenment envisioned from occurring: One of [Berger's] female friends was very supportive of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He decided to introduce her to a Latvian couple capable of describing the persecution they had endured at the hands of Communist enforcers. After a certain point in the conversation, the…
The Enduring Importance of Willmoore Kendall
Once upon a time in America, conservatives celebrated Congress as the last best hope to preserve the authentic traditions of republican government. As recently as the 1960s, it was “conservative” to look to the first branch of government as the indispensable bulwark against the Imperial Presidency, Supreme Court activism, plebiscitary democracy, and federal social engineering programs. As long as the American people also looked to Congress to play this defensive role, the political system would remain intact.
No postwar conservative was more optimistically wedded to this perspective than Willmoore Kendall (1909-1967). Kendall, a defender of majority-rule (with some qualifications), particularly stood out among conservatives of his time as a fervent believer in the good sense of his fellow Americans to elect the “best men” to office. Americans were at least capable of being the “virtuous people,” who would insist that Congress preserve the traditions of the Founding. The principal evidence to which Kendall referred here was The Federalist, a text that he treated as political scripture for Americans. Kendall insisted that the Federalist provides the best possible interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. In his 1965 essay, “How to read ‘The Federalist,’” (which can be conveniently found along with his other major political essays in Willmoore Kendall Contra Mundum, edited by Nellie D. Kendall, University Press, 1994), Kendall explained why this great work of political philosophy laid out what conservatives ought to be busy conserving: a particularly aristocratic version of majority-rule. “Publius,” the famed pseudonymous author of The Federalist, teaches
On this Memorial Day weekend we do well to reflect on those near perfect displays of patriotic love that evidence the American soldier’s responsibility to defending our constitutional republican government. To be sure, failures recent and ancient abound in the imprudent use of martial force that does not consider its capabilities and limitations, nor its larger connection with the protection of American constitutionalism. American foundations, however, in this regard, provide resources for nobility in the service of the constitutional ideal of the American republic.
Present at the creation, Amy Kass, Leon Kass, and Diana Schaub remind us in their wonderful volume of American civic education What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song, was General George Washington and his prudential and decisive scuttling of the little-discussed Newburgh Conspiracy of 1783.