Robert George and David Novak

I was going to post this in December and never got around to it. I taught David Novak today so it was important. The question is how much the Tikvah fund, A Jewish version of the Witherspoon institute, under Novak will create Jewish cadre of natural law theorists? Will this effect Jewish denominational lines? Will it create conservative Jewish thinkers who accept intermarriage because it is biological? I ask again – How much are Jews reading Novak?

The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker (Here are some selections)
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK NYT Published: December 16, 2009
Robert P. George, a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence and a Roman Catholic who is this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker.

George had drafted a 4,700-word manifesto that promised resistance to the point of civil disobedience against any legislation that might implicate their churches or charities in abortion, embryo-destructive research or same-sex marriage.

Two months later, at a Washington press conference to present the group’s “Manhattan Declaration,” These principles did not belong to the Christian faith alone, the cardinal declared; they rested on a foundation of universal reason. “They are principles that can be known and honored by men and women of good will even apart from divine revelation,” Rigali said. “They are principles of right reason and natural law.”
Even marriage between a man and a woman, Rigali continued, was grounded not just in religion and tradition but in logic. “The true great goods of marriage — the unitive and the procreative goods — are inextricably bound together such that the complementarity of husband and wife is of the very essence of marital communion,”

FOR 20 YEARS, George has operated largely out of public view at the intersection of academia, religion and politics. In the past 12 months, however, he has stepped into a more prominent role. With the death of the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran minister turned Roman Catholic priest who helped bring evangelicals and Catholics together into a political movement, George has assumed his mantle as the reigning brain of the Christian right.

As the first systematic rebuttal to Mario Cuomo and other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, the letter kicked off a now-familiar debate inside the church. “Whenever I venture out into the public square, I would almost invariably check it out with Robby first,” Myers, now the archbishop of Newark, told me. Many of the bishops, Myers says, rely on George as “a touchstone” and “the pre-eminent Catholic intellectual.”

Last spring, George was invited to address an audience that included many bishops at a conference in Washington. He told them with typical bluntness that they should stop talking so much about the many policy issues they have taken up in the name of social justice.
Conservatives, in contrast, speak from the high ground of nonsectarian public reason. George is the leading voice for a group of Catholic scholars known as the new natural lawyers. He argues for the enforcement of a moral code as strictly traditional as that of a religious fundamentalist. What makes his natural law “new” is that it disavows dependence on divine revelation or biblical Scripture — or even history and anthropology. Instead, George rests his ethics on a foundation of “practical reason”: “invoking no authority beyond the authority of reason itself,” as he put it in one essay.Aristotelians, like St. Thomas Aquinas, hold that there is an objective moral order. Human reason can see it. And we have the free will to follow or not. “

In practice, George and his allies have usually found the rules of sexuality quite absolute, while the church’s teachings about social justice come out more contingent. That may be why he is almost uniformly popular among evangelicals but controversial among many of his fellow Catholics, particularly those who prefer the church’s peace-and-justice liberalism to its conservative bioethics.
On the question of capital punishment, George says he is against it but he considers it a matter of interpretation about which Catholics can disagree. The intentional killing of innocent civilians in war is as grave a moral crime as abortion, George says, but what constitutes a “just war” is a more complicated judgment call.

The “rights” to education and health care are another matter, George told his seminar. “Who is supposed to provide education or health care to whom?” George asked. “Health care and education are things that you have to pay for. Resources are always finite,” he went on.
But the argument for banning abortion and embryo-destructive research is “straightforward,” George told me several times.
He admits the argument for marriage between a man and a woman can require “somewhat technical philosophical analysis.” It is a two-step case that starts with marriage and works its way back to sex. First, he contends that marriage is a uniquely “comprehensive” union, meaning that it is shared at several different levels at once — emotional, spiritual and bodily. “And the really interesting evidence that it is comprehensive is that it is anchored in bodily sharing,” he says. The second step is more complicated, and more graphic. George argues that only vaginal intercourse — “procreative-type” sex acts, as George puts it — can consummate this “multilevel” mind-body union.

It is safe to say that not many contemporary philosophers — whether secular or Catholic — agree with George’s marriage argument. Many balk at the mystical “unitive and procreative” qualities George ascribes to sexual intercourse. The idea of “one flesh” union seems far less obviously intelligible than other “basic goods” like friendship, knowledge or religion. Even fellow Catholic Thomists who oppose same-sex marriage question the esoteric quality of George’s argument.
George and his wife, Cindy, who is Jewish.

As a side show, over at the blog of predominately law professors, Mirror of Justice there were some blog posts about Novak and a letter from him and then a cat fight of posts betweeen Jan 29th and Feb3rd that were quickly taken down (I saved copies from cache). David Novak wrote a blurb for liberal pro-abortion theortist Martha Nussbaum. One of the bloggers questioned the hypocrisy and Robert George came to the defense of Novak, which lead to accusations of special pleading. By the time it was over, there was a new blog RelgiousLeftLAw.

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