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It’s pretty simple: like a lot of conservatives, Richard Neuhaus wants to arrest judicial activism. In 1996 First Things ran a symposium called “The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics.” It argued that when judges start ordering our lives, democracy suffers — and taken to an extreme can be lost. The most stark example of this is abortion.
In fact, Neuhaus was arguing the exact opposite of what Linker claims. Linker writes that Neuhaus sees an America “in which moral and theological absolutists demonize the country’s political institutions.” He was, in fact, calling for a revitalization of those very institutions. Linker says Neuhaus wants a public able to “make nonnegotiable public demands under the threat of sacralized revolutionary violence.” No, he was calling for the negotiable demands of a democracy that arranges its public life through debate, not judicial fiat. In Neuhaus’s dystopia, warns Linker, “citizens flee from the inner obligations of freedom and long to subordinate themselves to ecclesiastical authority.” In fact, Neuhaus was calling citizens to precisely exercise their inner obligations of freedom — obligations which have been purloined by judges. As for a world in which “traditionalist Christianity thoroughly dominates the nation’s public life,” this is just a mindless abstraction. What, exactly, does Linker mean by this?
Leftist Christians like Linker — and leftists in general - can easily get away with their prevarication; the high of a rhetorical blast like the one Linker delivers above is just too sweet to let the truth get in the way. Linker will no doubt find a home in the mainstream media, and among liberal Christians suffering from similar addictions. In a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, liberal Catholic historian Garry Wills, author of a new book about Jesus, revealed that there is a conservative Catholic fringe group that is pulling the levers of power in the church and the government. Specifically, there are four men: George Weigel (whose terrific new book God’s Choice is required reading for serious Catholics), Joseph Fessio, Michael Novak, and (cue scary music) Richard John Neuhaus. Perhaps suffering from a Da Vinci Code-like fever dream, Wills charges that these men, well, run the country. They are connected with Karl Rove (natch), and guide their nefarious neocon policy from the fringe. They are, that is to say, an anti-democratic oligarchy imposing its will on a public that does not support them.
The problem is, aside from his paranoid style of politics, Gary Wills is a liar. In his piece he claims that the Catholic cabal, realizing that most Americans disagree with them, have formed their own little revolutionary government. As a primary example, Wills cites the 1996 symposium, “The End of Democracy? The Judicial Usurpation of Politics,” that was sponsored by First Things. The symposium’s point was that an activist judiciary had overtaken the role of politics, subverting — even eliminating — democracy itself. As a result, Americans might have to refuse to obey immoral laws, change the constitution and possibly engage in civil disobedience.p>Wills offers the symposium as exhibit A of the right’s desire to undemocratically take over politics. He does so by selectively quoting, for example, Judge Robert Bork’s piece ” Our Judicial Oligarchy .” In it Bork argues that activist courts can and should be reined in by the democratic process. But it’s useful to let Bork explain and then show Wills’s deception. Bork: br> /p>
On the evidence, we must conclude, I think, that this tendency of courts, including the Supreme Court, is the inevitable result of our written constitution and the power of judicial review. Even in the depths of the Warren Court era some of us thought that the Court’s performance, though profoundly illegitimate, could be brought within the range of the minimally acceptable by logical persuasion or the appointment of more responsible judges, or both. We now know that was an illusion. A Court majority is impervious to arguments about its proper behavior. It seems safe to say that, as our institutional arrangements now stand, the Court can never be made a legitimate element of a basically democratic polity.br> The way to fix this, writes Bork, is through democracy: br>
Only a change in our institutional arrangements can halt the transformation of our society and culture by judges. Decisions of courts might be made subject to modification or reversal by majority vote of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Alternatively, courts might be deprived of the power of constitutional review. Either of these solutions would require a constitutional amendment. Perhaps an elected official will one day simply refuse to comply with a Supreme court decision That suggestion will be regarded as shocking, but it should not be.br> Completely clear, right? However, in his piece Wills accuses Bork et al. of a “quiet extremism” hidden behind “a quiet air of reasonableness.” They want nothing less than armed rebellion and the refusal to obey the Supreme Court. Then Wills quotes Bork this way:
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?