Judges and partisans

ScreenShot164This is certainly on point:

It has long been frustrating to me that the only criterion by which Americans — almost without exception — evaluate judges is: Did he or she make decisions that produce results I’d like to see? Virtually no one asks whether the judge has rightly interpreted existing law, which is of course what the judge is formally required to do. Americans — again, almost without exception — want judges to be politicians and advocates. The idea that a judge should strive to interpret existing law regardless of whether it does or doesn’t promote politically desirable ends never crosses anyone’s mind, and if by some strange chance it did, the person whose mind was so crossed would reject the proposal indignantly. Americans in this respect resemble toddlers and their own President: they evaluate everything in terms of whether it helps or hinders them in getting what they want.

This devaluation of interpretation amounts to a dismissal of the task of understanding: everything that matters is already understood, so the person who would strive to understand is not only useless, but an impediment to the realization of my political vision. To the partisan, the absence of partisanship is always a sin, and perhaps the gravest of sins.

Alan Jacobs, “Judging Judges,” Snakes and Ladders (Jan 31, 2017) [link].


ScreenShot164Alan Jacobs writes this recent post:

“My friend Ross Douthat disagrees, mostly, with Avik Roy’s contention that the Republican Party is dead, but by contrast I suspect that Roy is too optimistic. He thinks that some kind of renewed GOP will eventually rise from the ashes, but I doubt that. I don’t think that the rise of Trump marked the end of the Republican Party as we know it, but rather that the party’s incoherent and brainlessly reflexive responses to Trump, whether positive or negative, were the equivalent of the last few electrochemical twitches of a corpse. The current donor base will pay for one or two more decades of artificial respiration, but no more, and I suspect that as early as 2024 the GOP will be completely irrelevant to American politics, at least at the national level.

At that point we’ll still have a two-party system, but the two parties will be the Neoliberal and the Socialist — basically, the two main wings of the current Democratic Party. And I’m not sure that, when that happens, we’ll be any worse off than we are now.

Alan Jacobs, “Two parties,” Snakes and Ladders (July 25, 2016) [link].  (That last line may be fairly discouraging to many, but I think AJ means it to be encouraging — it is not going to be much worse.)

Jacobs is referring to an article in Vox about Republican strategist Avik Roy’s dismal predictions regarding the GOP:

“The work of conservative intellectuals today, [Roy] argues, is to devise a new conservatism — a political vision that adheres to limited government principles but genuinely appeals to a more diverse America.

“I think it’s incredibly important to take stock,” he says, “and build a new conservative movement that is genuinely about individual liberty.”

Zack Beauchamp, “A Republican intellectual explains why the Republican Party is going to die,” Vox (July 25, 2016) [link].

I think believers can pray that an American political party will rise from the ashes that is committed to social justice as well as limited government.  I wonder what it will be called?  Compassionate Realism?

The conscience of the Court

Critics of Justice Scalia often accused him of inconsistency. And insofar as he was a methodological originalist he sometimes was inconsistent. But I think the heart of his jurisprudence was disciplinary originalism, and with his death the most powerful embodiment of that vital principle was lost. I do not think we shall look upon his like again. And that means that our Supreme Court will continue to make the kinds of decisions it has been making for decades, but will have no one on its bench to remind it of what it’s really doing. Antonin Scalia was the conscience of SCOTUS, and I don’t see how it’s going to get another one.

Alan Jacobs, “Scalia and Disciplnary Originalism,” The American Conservative (Mar. 7, 2016) [link].

Jacobs makes the point that if we want the Constitution to mean anything at all in our conversation, we have to allow it “to speak” to us.  There is a followup at [link].

More on Dr. Hawkins

larycia-hawkinsMore careful irenic writing on the Wheaton College/Larycia Hawkins matter:

  1.  Tracy McKenzie, “Academic Freedom in a Christian Context” Faith & History (Jan. 18, 2016) [link], and (of course)
  2. Alan Jacobs, “Once more on the Academic Freedom Merry-Go-Round” Snakes & Ladders (Jan. 19, 2016) [link].

Jacobs is more or less critiquing a response which McKenzie got to the original piece.  Each writer is calmly thinking through the issues, which seems very appropriate, under the circumstances, and unusual, compared with the rest of the blogosphere.

Joy to the world

Christian teachers and students alike can never forget that their views are not widely shared in the culture as a whole. We read a great many books written by people who don’t believe what we believe; we are always aware of being different. This is a tremendous boon to true learning, because it discourages people from deploying rote pieties as a substitute for genuine thought. No Christian student or professor can ever forget the possibility of alternative beliefs or unbeliefs. Most students who graduate from Christian colleges have a sharp, clear awareness of alternative ways of being in the world; yet students at secular universities can go from their first undergraduate year all the way to a PhD without ever having a serious encounter with religious thought and experience — with any view of the world other than that of their own social class.

Alan Jacobs,”Christian Education and ‘Intellectual Compromise’” The American Conservative (online post 12/18/2015) (link).

At this time of the year, it is well for Christian students and professors (and shouldn’t we all be both?) to recall that we are called to be “different.”  “Different” does not (of course) mean angry, or rude, or insecure.  It does not mean ignorant or lacking in humility.  It means loving the world in truth, and that invariably means going out into the places where the world lives.

Physics & empathy

Dark MatterDark matter’s existence perplexes people who find it implausible that the vast majority of matter in the universe would be undetectable by our senses and their technological extensions. Some even wonder if it’s a sort of mistake. To me it would be even more astonishing if the matter we can see with our eyes were all the matter there is. You might have thought such hubristic beliefs were upended by the Copernican Revolution. After all, the history of physics is the history of revealing how much is deceptive, or is hidden from view.

Most people mistake their own perspective, shaped by their subjective and limited perception, for the absolute reality of the external world. Questioning this assumption is what advanced our research on dark matter. It is also the only thing that has ever advanced human empathy.

Lisa Randall, “Seeing dark matter as the key to the universe — and human empathy,” Boston Globe (October 26, 2015) (https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2015/10/25/seeing-dark-matter-key-universe-and-human-empathy/NXNMBXAa7WEWejN63fFCNL/story.html).

Lisa Randall is a physicist at Harvard University.  This article was brought to my attention by polymath professor Alan Jacobs of Baylor, at more than 95 theses. who queries “I wonder if Randall (professor of physics at Harvard) thinks that this insight should have any influence on how atheists treat theists?”

A use of fiction

Fiction is, among other things, an aid to reflection: a means by which we can more vividly and rigorously encounter the world and try to make sense of it, to confront “the problems of being” as freshly as we can. But we vary in our interpretative needs: the questions that absorb some of us never occur to others. Each of us has her own labyrinth . Every genre of fiction puts certain questions in brackets, or takes their answers as given, in order to explore others. Not even the greatest of writers can keep all the balls in the air at once: some have to sit still on the ground while the others whirl. People who come to a book by Murakami, or Neal Stephenson, or even Ursula K. LeGuin with the questions they would put to a Marilynne Robinson novel are bound to be disappointed and frustrated. But if we readers attend closely to the kinds of questions a book is asking, the questions it invites from us, then our experience will be more valuable. And the more questions we can put to the books we read — in the most generous and charitable spirit we can manage — the richer becomes our encounter not just with the books themselves but with the world they point to.

Alan Jacobs, Reverting to Type: a Reader’s Story, loc. 561-570 (Kindle ed., 2012).

Learning to learn

“Another fantasy of liberal education is that the student who advances to the university should take up the study that interests him most. For a small number of students this is in the main right. Even at a very early stage of school life, we can identify a few individuals with a definite inclination towards one group of studies or another. The danger for these unfortunate ones is that if left to themselves they will overspecialize, they will be wholly ignorant of the general interests of human beings. We are all in one way or another naturally lazy, and it is much easier to confine ourselves to the study of subjects in which we excel. But the great majority of the people who are to be educated have no very strong inclination to specialize, because they have no definite gifts or tastes. Those who have more lively and curious minds will tend to smatter. No one can become really educated without having pursued some study in which he took no interest – for it is a part of education to learn to interest ourselves in subjects for which we have no aptitude.

— T. S. Eliot (1932) reblogged from Alan Jacobs, More than 95 Theses (http://ayjay.tumblr.com/).

If you aren’t already watching out for anything Alan Jacobs writes, you should be.  (This quotation of Eliot’s reminds me of something C.S. Lewis wrote about the test of being well read being whether you could find something to interest you on the discount table at any used bookshop.)