Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


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Tuesday, July 09, 2002
My good friend (and soon-to-be Chicago Law faculty member) Adam Cox wrote in with a riposte on my pledge piece:

I liked your essay (and how much time did you spend working on your site that day, I should ask?), but the above snippet shows that the end result of your theory is to provide a nice doctrinal hook for the libertarian dismantling of much of the welfare state. It's quite clean analytically: you just (1) bust the boundary between "religion" and ethics/politics/morality/etc., and (2) on the basis that there is no boundary declare any state action that deals in ethics, politics, morality, etc. to be unconstitutional. The problem is that step one is a pretty difficult one to swallow.

If you disagree that your theory dissolves the religion/politics boundary, then, as an alternative description, I'd say that what you've done is to construct a framework for the religion clauses that proscribes the government from taking any actions that offend a person's (or citizen's, depending on your feelings about such matters) religious beliefs, even when the action doesn't have anything to do with religion. To take one of your examples: it looks like you agree that the federal government's providing food stamps has nothing to with religion, but I might claim that food stamps offend my Church-of-Christ-based belief in church community support and bootstrap ethics. Should that make the entire food-stamp program unconstitutional?

Or, to put it one more way, I think that you've claimed to take a position that permits you to be agnostic about the tension between the free exercise clause and the establishment clause, while in fact you've actually taken a position that collapses the latter into the former.

Thanks for playing, Adam! I'll respond as soon as I can. (Yes, I know you've heard that before.) As you seem to have surmised, I really do have to buckle down and dig myself out of the hole at my day job before indulging this hobby to that extent again. But this way I've given myself a spur to get around to it as soon as possible--because until I do, you get the last word.

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