Sunday, September 14, 2014

Standing athwart history

The reviewer notes that Robert P. George has been called "[t]his country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker." The book is Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism, a collection of Professor George's essays. From that review:
George, who holds the McCormick Professorship of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, builds his conservatism around “three pillars” he says stand at the foundation of any decent society: respect for the human person, respect for the family, and a “fair and effective system of law and government.”

Respect for the human person means recognizing the profound, inherent, and equal worth of every member of the human family “irrespective not only of race, sex, or ethnicity but also of age, size, stage of development, or condition of dependency.” A community that fails to respect the basic human dignity of all persons, George contends, will sooner or later regard some “as mere cogs in the larger social wheel” and, therefore, as disposable. ....

.... He reminds us that individuals are born into families and, without properly formed families, individuals and society suffer. Family breakdown leads to the poverty and social pathologies that, in turn, lead to demands for big government. Those who want to limit the size and scope of government, not to mention protect the most vulnerable members of society, should strive to cultivate healthy, stable families. ....

The book’s essays supporting George’s third pillar of society, a “fair and effective system of law and government,” pertain to the political ecology needed to sustain a healthy liberal democracy. He reminds us that constitutional structures, important as they are, are not enough; citizens must understand them and possess sufficient virtue to live well within them. .... Far from leading to an intrusive or an overbearing state, the recognition of moral truths about the nature of the human person and the common good are the foundational principles for liberal democracy and establish the proper limits on governmental authority. ....

...[T]hose looking for a straightforward introduction to “the new natural law” will find the chapter “Natural Law, God, and Human Dignity” quite helpful. Finally, the book offers a very good essay on the value and purpose of a true liberal education, “Liberalism, Liberation, and the Liberal Arts.” Here, George nicely contrasts today’s impoverished version with an older, richer understanding. .... The older understanding, George explains, focused not on creating the self but on improving one’s soul. It upheld self-mastery—placing one’s desires under the control of one’s reason—as the mark of a true liberal education. It therefore sought to direct young minds toward the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. .... [more]