The Propriety of the Preemptive-Strike Book Review

Jason Lee Steorts, NR’s managing editor, posted a long discussion on the Corner, early this morning, of the forthcoming book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George.  Steorts read proofs of the book over the weekend, and reiterates criticisms of the authors’ previously published arguments that he made twice here months ago at NRO, with a bit of new criticism thrown in.

I think there is something improper about publishing what amounts to an extended critique of a book, three weeks before its publication date (and therefore still presumably under some embargo, stated or implied), when readers cannot readily consult the book for themselves.  (I couldn’t even find the book on the publisher’s website this morning, but Amazon will let you pre-order it.)  I hope NR’s book review editor, Mike Potemra, will still assign it for an appropriately timed review in the magazine.  This pre-review is regrettable.

Steorts directs readers to his two past writings on this subject (here and here), but he does not direct them to Sherif Girgis’s response, which came between his two (and to which Steorts’s second effort, in my opinion, does not effectively respond). This too would have been a proper thing to do, and Steorts’s lapse here as well is regrettable.

Finally, while I urge NRO’s readers to read What Is Marriage? as soon as they can, I urge them to consider in the meantime what to make of these lines by Steorts in his latest:

I think any claim that something is valuable—as distinct from the most precise possible description of what is valued—is nothing more than a say-so. So I don’t begrudge Girgis his say-so, at least on meta-ethical grounds. But I do think mine is more plausible.

If every claim that “something is valuable” is “nothing more than a say-so,” how can one view be held out as “more plausible” than another?  Steorts might want to reconsider whether relativism can be embraced and repelled at the same time.

Matthew J. Franck — Matthew J. Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.

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