Tackling the Foundational Issues at Public Discourse

Today Public Discourse (published by my employer, the Witherspoon Institute) begins a daily series lasting two weeks, under the common theme of “Liberty, Justice, and the Common Good: Political Principles for 2012 and Beyond.”   As PD’s editor Ryan Anderson puts it:

With a view to the next election, we’ve commissioned ten essays, each covering one of the major policy areas that scores of Public Discourse pieces have examined, to give us a survey of the landscape as we scrutinize the candidates who inhabit it. We also hope these articles will prompt the candidates themselves to think through these issues more thoroughly, as they look to enact good policy and not just curry favor with various factions

Today’s essay is by Notre Dame law professor O. Carter Snead, and it’s a searching examination of “the primacy of the life issue,” under the title “Protect the Weak and the Vulnerable.”  As Carter writes:

At bottom, the “life issues”—including especially the conflicts over abortion and embryo-destructive research—involve the deepest and most fundamental public questions for a nation committed to liberty, equality, and justice. That is, the basic question in this context is who counts as a member of the human community entitled to moral concern and the basic protection of the law? Who counts as “one of us”? Equally important is the related question of who decides, and according to what sort of criteria? These are not narrow concerns commanding only the attention of a small number of highly motivated activists at the fringes of our society. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a public matter that is more important than this “question of membership.”

Heading into the 2012 election, nothing could be more important than these questions.  Read the whole thing, and come back each day over the next two weeks to read the rest of the series.  Princeton’s Robert P. George (a Witherspoon Senior Fellow) will be joining Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Steve King at the Palmetto Freedom Forum two weeks from today, on Labor Day, to probe the thinking of the leading Republican candidates for the presidency, and will be relying in part on these Public Discourse essays to help shape his questions to the candidates.  I hope readers will find them useful for shaping their own thinking as well.

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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