Thursday, April 08, 2004

Playing Catch-Up

It's been a busy week--I went out to Chicago for a job interview, and I've spent a good part of my work days helping out students with their papers, meaning less time at the office to get everything else done. Plus Easter is coming up, and there's a lot I need to finish up before the holiday (for my own mental and spiritual health, if not for any other reason). So rather than giving any of the following the sort of attention they deserve, let me just link to them, with a few comments:

Months ago, I wrote on the effort of Governor Bob Riley of Alabama to inject some Christian social justice concerns into his state's tax code. That effort was a failure, but the ideas and inspiration behind the governor's actions live on. Now, in the most recent issue of Dissent, Stephen L. Newman defends Governor Riley from a different direction: against secular liberals who tended to "regard Riley's biblically inspired case for tax reform with suspicion" solely because it was biblically inspired. Newman goes on to dissect the liberal hostility to public arguments which do not fit the criteria of "public reason": that is, "one[s] that can be affirmed by all citizens, whatever their conception of the good." He criticizes this Rawlsian obsession with "neutral" reasoning; distinguishing between motivations and ends, Newman argues that "so long as the policy objective is within the scope of the state's authority, its sponsors' motives are irrelevant....So long as Christians and liberal secularists hold the end [in this case, a concern for the tax code] in common, and so long as what is proposed constitutes a legitimate governmental objective, it hardly matters that [these groups would] defend it in completely different ways." This is, as one might expect, a huge argument among political and legal theorists, and Newman isn't saying anything especially new here (see Michael Perry, Stephen Carter, David Smolin, and quite a few others), but that hardly undermines the important point he makes. It should go without saying, of course, that I basically agree with him.

Some people are under the impression that I'm a defender of Samuel Huntington and all he stands for; I'm not. I've been more than adequately convinced that Huntington's arguments supporting his thesis about the uniqueness of Hispanic immigration are flawed and even myopic. But that still doesn't change the fact that Huntington is willing to think about what it means to be a civilization, and what it means to be a nation; however clumsy or borderline xenophobic his thinking, he at least must be given credit for considering the nature and dynamics of identity-construction and maintenance, and what that may or may not mean for economic and social policy. In this article, also derived from his forthcoming book, Huntington further elaborates on what he understands to be the requirements (culturally, linguistically, religiously, and so forth) on preserving the "national" character of American society, as opposed to the cosmopolitan or imperial options presented by the left and the right. Is it "conservative" to even hypothetically consider such requirements? If so, then I have to say that, at the very least, "conservatives" of this sort seem to be ones uniquely able to ask truly interesting questions. And without such questions, I wonder if important considerations of population, assimilation, and language can even be properly grasped, much less coherently dealt with.

Finally, I have to announce the existence of a wonderful blogger I just discovered yesterday: Hugo Schwyzer. He describes himself as a "progressive, consistent-life ethic Anabaptist Democrat"--that is, he pro-life and pro-union, a Christian who takes social justice and moral order equally seriously. I found myself in near-total agreement with his many posts as I read through them; this one in particular, on sex, shame, and the plastic surgery women submit themselves to for the sake of social approval, is a must read.