Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Debriefing from NYC

As I expected, I had a wonderful time in New York, but the whole wedding thing left me a little conflicted. Not the fact that the celebrant was a woman or that it was a bit watered-down and ecumenical, because I was mostly happy to see two wonderful people who are extremely likely to stay together for the long haul dedicate their lives to one another. When a New York Jew marries a Southern Presbyterian, you've got to figure that the ceremony's going to be unique. No, what got to me was the presence of Dean Anne-Marie Slaughter as what you might call the secular officiant of the deal (and not just because she called me "Ms. Prejean" in her homily; I can't blame her for not remembering me, as I haven't spoken a word to her since 1998).

To give you a little bit of background, the friends of mine who were tying the knot had met in our Civil Procedure class in the fall of 1998, and they thought it would be sweet to have the professor of that class, who is now Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton, to say a few words. And I love that Dean Slaughter agreed to do it; I think it was a remarkably sweet gesture on her part. But I've gotta say that she is pretty much the epitome of what I hate about the American legal system: the deification of democracy. I mean, how ironic is it that I see her in this pseudo-religious role giving a pseudo-religious account of, as she described it, "life, love, and the law." This from the Dean of the Woodrow Wilson school, no less, as if there were a worse example of "evangelical democracy!"

What makes it worse was that I really liked this woman during the class. As you might expect, she practically comes off as a preacher of Americanism with an equally charming ecumenical bent, and heck, she's actually proud of her Virginia heritage (although I could name a hell of a lot of Southerners who would prefer that she weren't). It's beautiful rhetoric, but I realized at the end of the class (right about the final exam actually) that there was no there, there. I should've probably grasped that along the way, what with her having indicated some liking for the jurisprudence of Hugo "Klansman" Black and Harry "Judas" Blackmun (as I recall, Black was the Justice she most admired), two of the worst cultural positivists ever to ascend to the Court. But I didn't get it. And after having committed the classic error of actually attempting to make an argument from principle on an exam, I got my B and my hard lesson on how there are two kinds of people in this world: the virtuous and the positivists. One could say that the disillusionment with the law at that point began my long road to Catholicism, which is probably why I retain such venomous contempt for voluntarists, nominalists, positivists, and others who deny the foundations of natural law and virtue.

So that's my introspective lesson for the weekend, and I think that confronting my old "nemesis," as it were, simply reinforced my God-given paranoia about people who romanticize American culture (and its roots in Enligsh history). These people are dangerous, and they have a bad habit of getting people killed, people who are too often American soldiers on foreign soil. That's not to make any judgment about our current situation in Iraq, although there are things to be said, but only to point out that this ridiculous notion that democracy and freedom are some kind of gospel that America is bringing to the world is pure, dangeous madness. Confusing politics with religion is the world's oldest mistake, and contrary to the polemics you hear, Catholicism isn't responsible for originating that mistake. Indeed, Catholicism has been one of the only groups that has mounted any kind of defense against it, which is a large part of why I am Catholic.