Sunday, August 29, 2010

Two Books

Two important books I am reading. One is Christopher Wolfe's Natural Law Liberalism. Wolfe argues against Rawlsian liberalism, the prevailing form of intellectual contemporary liberalism that draws primarily on Rawls's theory of justice.

Wolfe analyzes the inadequacies of Rawls's theory and argues that liberalism "has to be freed of its insensitivity to the fact of the deep influence of the 'regime'--including liberal democratic political communities--on the formation of people's ideals and character: their thoughts, desires, attitudes." The "tendency of toleration to evolve into forms of skepticism and relativism (at least about the human good) and principled religious indifferentism, and the tendency of equality and freedom to evolve into an egoistic individualism that undermines the family and commitment to human goods beyond consumeristic well-being" (p.4)--all this has to be jettisoned.

Moderated in this way so that when it shapes citizens, as it must, "it does so in ways that are more fully compatible with important intellectual and moral goods: with reason and faith, and with the moral virtues that regulate the passions and promote individual and social well-being" (p.4). For its part,
Natural law, without disturbing its convictions that there is a truth, that human beings can know it, and that their well-being lies in finding and and living in accord with it, has to be so formulated to recognize, in ways that its historical representatives have sometimes failed to do, the intrinsic importance--the necessity--of human freedom and the limits of coercion and law.

Freed from their excesses and formulated correctly, Wolfe suggests, both natural law and liberalism, despite their historical antagonism, can reinforce each other's strengths and avoid their weaknesses.

The other book continues William Brennan's important work of exposing and dissecting the language games we play, the euphemisms, medical metaphors, and the like used to dehumanize the most vulnerable and desensitize us to the inhumane and oppressive way they are treated. In his earlier book Dehumanizing the Vulnerable, Brennan, professor in the School of Social Service at St. Louis University, examines the way language has been abd is used to justify horrendous treatment of women, Jews, Blacks, and unborn babies. His latest book, examines the same phenomenon through the lens of Pope John Paul the Great's teaching about the culture of life. John Paul, as Brennan describes, persistently and brilliantly showed how the distorting semantics of the culture of death dehumanizes those for whose killing--through abortion, embryo-destructive research, euthanasia, and assisted suicide--it apologizes.

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