In university classrooms, and across campuses nationwide, we hear it repeatedly: Ever--increasing calls for “social justice.” But not everyone is on board:
Social justice, it is well to remind these “forward-looking” professors, means in practice class justice, class justice means class war, and class war, if we are to go by all the experience of the past and present, means hell.
Now there’s a perspective that most of today’s college students will never hear. In fact, you might suspect that this is a quote from some pundit lamenting, say, Occupy Wall Street or the Obama administration. But the statement is from academia itself; and although the literary critic and conservative scholar Irving Babbitt published Democracy and Leadership as long ago as 1924, his arguments predicting the decline of American morality and personal responsibility have proven alarmingly accurate.
Babbitt, born in Ohio in 1865, was inspired by one of the fathers of conservative thought, Edmund Burke. He was also motivated by his profound distaste for the Romanticism (what he calls sentimentalism) of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, among others.
All of Babbitt’s professional life was spent in the academy—notably at Harvard, where he joined the faculty in 1894 and remained until his death in 1933. But while his credentials as a true academician were impeccable, his ideas were comparatively divisive, and drew scathing responses from critics as diverse as H. L. Mencken and Ernest Hemingway. And yet, despite his many enemies, Babbitt profoundly influenced many of the great thinkers of the last century, including Russell Kirk, Peter Viereck, and Babbitt’s own student at Harvard, T. S. Eliot. Eliot wrote a critique of Democracy and Leadership in 1928, arguing against Babbitt’s idea that people can be ethical without religion.
Babbitt was probably best known in his time for this doctrine, which he called humanism, and which, in the political realm, differs greatly from humanitarianism. The central tenets of Babbitt’s humanismare judgment and self-control, irrespective of religion. While modern liberals would argue that the exercise of judgment makes one closed-minded, Babbitt demonstrated that establishing standards is moderation, and is in fact the foundation of civilized society. He argued that society does not become civilized by accepting all things and instituting overreaching tolerance, but by the individual man recognizing his ability to differentiate right from wrong: “It is well to open one’s mind, but only as a preliminary to closing it, only as a preparation in short, for the supreme act of judgment and selection.”
This may well be heresy to the modern academic, to whom tolerance is not only a virtue but the highest, and possibly the only necessary, virtue.
Though critical of religion—and quick to point out anti-intellectualism within religion—Babbitt credits Christianity, especially, for motivating man to curb his immoral desires and maintain traditional values. But he also argues that it is possible, through self-discipline and without religious faith, to maintain moral standards and to control man’s ignoble desires. According to Babbitt, religion tends to ignore man’s expansive desires, while humanism harmonizes them to the best advantage. This is a point on which many (including, especially, Eliot) disagree, although Babbitt himself noted that religious faith is primarily about individual commitment.
Nevertheless, Babbitt always contrasted his humanism with humanitarianism, which aims to serve man without concern for the development of inner character. It is a philosophy, he argued, that has repeatedly proven insufficient for controlling the unethical desire for power because it fails to instill a sense of humility, and seeks to replace traditional morals with pity for our fellow human beings.
And on the subject of humility, Babbitt said this of Rousseau:
Perhaps no doctrine has ever been more cunningly devised to fill the poor man and the plebian with self-righteous pride, and at the same time inflame him with hatred and suspicion of those who enjoy any social or economic superiority.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg talks about her work outs in an interview with the Washington Post. “When I started, I looked like a survivor of Auschwitz,” she tells the paper. “Now I’m up to 20 push-ups.”
The death of Robert Bork this past December brought forth tributes to a man bearing no resemblance to the grotesque caricatures that emerged during the long debate over his 1987 nomination to the Supreme Court. Widely noted were his unswerving loyalty to friends and principles, his seminal intellect, his acerbic but not unkind humor and wit, and his lifelong sense of service and duty to his country.
On the morning of January 21, just before President Obama’s second inauguration, Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman and House budget chairman who had run unsuccessfully as the Republican candidate for vice president, was roundly booed by the gathered crowd as he left the Capitol to attend the ceremonies on the Mall. Within minutes Daniel J. Freeman, a young career trial lawyer with the Voting Section of the U.S.
The Justice Department announced that 16 folks would be sent to prison for hate crimes against Amish folks. The defendants, who range in age from 23 to 67 and all lived in Ohio, were found guilty of "forcibly remov[ing] beard and head hair from practitioners of the Amish faith with whom they had ongoing religious disputes."
On Friday, a 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously declared President Obama’s “recess” appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to be unconstitutional.
Today, President Obama’s belief in a “living Constitution” came up against a ruling that enforced our fixed Constitution. A 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously declared Obama’s “recess” appointments to the National Labor Relations Board to be unconstitutional. In making those appointments when the Senate was still in session, Obama sought to do an end-around that deliberative body — a move made all the more striking by the fact that the Senate was, and is, controlled by his own party.
“There were giants in the earth in those days.” The death on December 19 of Robert Bork—superb legal scholar, preeminent constitutional thinker, principled public servant—calls to mind the other giants of American conservatism who have left us in the last decade: Bill Buckley and Irving Kristol, Milton Friedman and James Q. Wilson, Richard John Neuhaus and Jeane Kirkpatrick, Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. They were the greatest conservative generation. They rode into the valley of liberal orthodoxies and emerged sometimes triumphant, always unbowed. When can their glory fade? They left our nation stronger and better for their efforts.
Yesterday, we endured an esoteric debate over a jurisdictional statute that practically no one expects to actually affect the Supreme Court's review of Obamacare. Today, by contrast, was the argument we've all been waiting for: the challenge to the constitutional merits of Obamacare's individual mandate.
In order to make sure gays and lesbians are adequately represented on the judicial bench, the state of California is requiring all judges and justices to reveal their sexual orientation. The announcement was made in an internal memo sent to all California judges and justices.
There is no way around the contradictions and dangers inherent in Israel's decision to free over 1,000 prisoners in order to liberate Gilad Shalit. The only effect of a hard try to square the circle and make every contradiction disappear is a bad headache.