Magazine | August 13, 2012, Issue

Letters

Must We Think of the Author to Read?

I admired Ryan T. Anderson’s review of Natural Law and the Antislavery Constitutional Tradition (“Written on the Mind,” June 25), but I found one point unclear. Summarizing Justin Buckley Dyer’s views, Anderson writes that Lincoln’s arguments against slavery “require a certain metaphysics of morals,” one according to which moral principles are “binding because of God’s design.” But “Dyer quickly adds that one need not start with belief in God and then work toward morality. Instead, the intelligible order of nature, our ‘grasp of human goods,’ and the ‘distinction we draw between right and wrong’ are themselves ‘evidence for the existence of such a providential God.’”

So people can consider themselves bound by moral law without believing in God. This suggests that, even if it is an intellectual error for such people not to believe in God, a theistic metaphysics is not, after all, required for a political consensus against slavery (although it might make that consensus more likely, by allowing people who do not directly recognize the moral law as law to reason in the opposite direction, from God to morality).

I wondered if Mr. Anderson could clarify Dyer’s and/or his own position on this matter. When he says that the metaphysics is necessary, does he mean that we need explicit agreement on it to bring about the political result? Or does he acknowledge that we might get the result without the metaphysics but hold that, in this case, some of the people who opposed slavery would be failing to recognize one of the consequences of their moral beliefs (namely that God exists)?

Ogden Smith

Ely, Nev.

Ryan T. Anderson replies: Justin Dyer’s view, with which I am in agreement, is that knowledge of the content of the natural law does not require one to know that God exists. But a fully coherent philosophical account of the natural law does require acknowledging a natural lawgiver, God. Political consensus, though proving fragile and insecure, would require only knowledge of the natural law, not the broader metaphysic that makes such knowledge coherent—and binding.

Race to the Finish

Claire Berlinski’s review of David P. Goldman’s How Civilizations Die (“Decline All Around,” June 25) is a model of clarity. My knowledge of demographics is insufficient to challenge Goldman’s thesis that the Islamic world is also in a population decline. But it may not matter.

Perhaps you recall the joke about two hikers who are attacked by a huge bear. They run a short distance, then one sits down on a log and exchanges his boots for running shoes. His companion remarks, “You fool! You can’t outrun a bear.”

The man replies, “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I only have to outrun you.”

Even if the Islamic world is in a population decline, the Western European population is in a steeper decline, and one that began earlier.

David C. Stolinsky

Los Angeles, Calif.

NR Staff — Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

In This Issue

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Calling Cal

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Features

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Books, Arts & Manners

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Green Shift

This review should begin with a confession: I badly underestimated Roger Scruton. When I heard two years ago that Scruton was coming to the American Enterprise Institute to write a book ...
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A Knight to Remember

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Country Life

Flash of Light

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Sections

Politics & Policy

Poetry

IMAGINE THE UNFALLEN If this old fallen world can look so great, If even fallen birds can have such state They land their narrow fingers on a tree, And make a stem a stage ...
Happy Warrior

In Search of ‘Why’

The media conventions are pretty much chiseled in concrete by now. If a guy guns down large numbers of people while shouting “Allahu akbar!” don’t worry, it’s a one-off, part ...
Politics & Policy

Letters

Must We Think of the Author to Read? I admired Ryan T. Anderson’s review of Natural Law and the Antislavery Constitutional Tradition (“Written on the Mind,” June 25), but I found ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ They’ll stop at nothing, those Republicans — even quoting the president’s words. ‐ At the moment, the Obama campaign’s major message appears to be that Mitt Romney is an outsourcer ...
Athwart

Funeral Audit

Wandered through a few European museums last month. You find yourself looking at the 435th Annunciation, this time by Giovanni Battisti Garbonzo DiLavatrini, and the eyes start to glaze. If ...

Most Popular

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Students’ Anti-Gun Views

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PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More
Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

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U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More