Monday, October 31, 2005

Fo', fo', fo'

That Moses Malone line was the one running through my head today when I heard the President's speech nominating "Scalito" for O'Connor's Supreme Court spot. Four conservative Catholics on the Supreme Court, including the Chief? This is exactly why I voted for Bush; where some Evangelicals would have been anti-Catholic, he goes for the best guy rather than imposing any litmus test. Granted, there was that whole Miers thing, but that was almost certainly cronyism and the spoils system rearing its head rather than any vacillation toward neocon nuttiness. The most frightening prospect in the world would be if I actually thought that the Evangelical/neocon thinktanks actually were influencing Bush's policy (as opposed to the conspiracy theories of many Democrats, who falsely assert it). But I count this as a confirmation of Bush's character and judgment, a sign that he has faith in the innate human capacity for virtue and that he is concerned with allowing people to exercise that capacity rather than fruit-loop theonomy or social engineering. He and his advisors seem to have appreciated Leo Strauss's respect for classical concepts of virtue without falling into Machiavellian cynicism or the equally frightening Rushdoonyite Christian empiricism.

As a Catholic, I also think that the positioning of Catholic jurisprudes in this country has been helpful for the Church. Justice Scalia's willingness to talk back to the Magisterium on the death penalty is an example of precisely the kind of dialogue that defines the Catholic theological method, rather than simply being a case of "The Magisterium said it, so it's settled." Perhaps no figure in all of history crystallizes this idea of respecting authority enough to question it as St. Sir Thomas More, the Catholic patron of lawyers and politicians, who faced his own beheading with the immortal phrase "the King's good servant, but God's first." St. Thomas, as a Christian humanist in the finest sense of the word, who firmly opposed corruption within the Church, but at the same time, like his countryman St. Thomas a Becket, adamantly resisted those who would deny the authority on which it was founded. Because of their acute perception of the need to root politics in the dignity of the human person in the image of God, they were able to act as the "social conscience of the Church" with respect to the rightness of the Church's political actions, a role that is also played by Justices Scalia and Thomas, as well as the so-called Catholic Whigs. That tradition of reasoned defenses of liberty, in strong contrast with either the mere voluntarist assertion of liberty by default or the rationalist accounts of liberty (a la Locke, Reid, Hobbes, Rousseau, et al.), is a valuable gem of Christian Tradition of all sorts.