Postmodern Conservative

Worth Caring About (From Leo Strauss to Walker Percy and the Atlanta Hawks)

So a big question that’s been posed to me several times in last few days: What do I really care about?

Two (a lot!) people wrote me complaining that my “thoughtful” (which is never exactly a compliment) posts on the presidential candidates too obviously conveyed the message that I don’t really care about any of them. Got me there. None of them, in truth, seems to have the makings of executive greatness (by which I mean simply being a really, really good executive). That’s why I can’t get all psyched up about some candidate who might be better and more about reform we can believe in than the “probably pretty decent” Jeb Bush. But what do I know? Who could have had the Louisiana Purchase in mind when voting for that flake Jefferson in 1800? Who could have guessed that résuméless Lincoln would actually evolve into being a first-rate commander-in-chief? It’s far from unreasonable to hope in Walker or Rubio or several of the others. For now, I just don’t know.

The closest thing to a criticism in my student evaluations for my class in the rights or civil-liberties part of constitutional law was something like it sometimes showed that I liked teaching “great books” better than Court opinions. Got me again. But in this case it’s one of my “teaching objectives” to get students to see that too much judicial opining is bad philosophy. That’s not to say that the actual political opinions of various justices are necessarily worse than the political opinions of various philosophers. But it’s also not so clear that they’ve been better than those of our political leaders in general. I also admit that one of my teaching objectives is to demystify the study of constitutional law in general along the lines of the Constitution is not what the Court says it is. I even question the dogma that “judicial review” is or was meant to be an indispensable check on “majority faction.”

I regret that I have to miss a first-rate conference on something I do care about:  The relationship between Catholic thought and the political philosophy of Leo Strauss. You can attend, though. It’s at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., on June 4–6. The weather should be great. And you can hang out with and listen to our friends Dan Mahoney, Ralph Hancock (not a Catholic! But still the LDS Thomas Aquinas), Gladden Pappin, Jim Stoner, Marc Guerra (America’s greatest theologian), Philippe Beneton, and many others.

I also care about Walker Percy, and I will be giving three presentations at the Walker Percy Festival in Rod Dreher’s hometown of St. Francisville, La. on June 5–6. This highly popular and fashionable event is less an academic conference than a big party. Gentlemen will need to have a seersucker or linen sports coat for the cocktail party at the plantation on Friday evening. It will be very hot and humid, and all sartorial concerns fade away by the time of (and especially during) the Bourbon Walk on Saturday afternoon.

I also care about the journal I edit — Perspectives on Political Science. The next two issues will feature a brilliant and diverse array of responses to Arthur Melzer’s book on esotericism, or “reading between the lines.” Thanks to Peter Minowitz for doing such an expert job of bringing all that wisdom together in one place. I will write more about this later. Out of vanity, I will begin by letting you know that my contribution gratefully acknowledges that the tradition of esotericism is real and explains all kinds of stuff about the history of political philosophy but that finally, we Catholics have to say, has largely depended on false or incomplete views of who each of us is. If I could have made it to Assumption, that’s what I would have talked about that.

Finally, you probably noticed that I’m trying to care about the future of higher education in America. And so I will also be at the fabulous Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown on the morning of June 3 at the Bradley Symposium to try to explain why conservatives shouldn’t participate in the enthusiastic techno-war against the humanities in the name of efficiency and productivity.

One more finally: I really and truly don’t care about pro sports. I especially haven’t been able to get psyched up about the teams that represent Atlanta of my adopted state of Georgia. Two exceptions: The Atlanta Braves during the glory years of the great (and great-guy) pitchers — Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine. And the exciting journey of the overachieving Atlanta Hawks through the NBA playoffs this year.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...

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