Not So Pretty In Pink
Quick Thoughts

Hey, Moses! Head Out to the Lawn!

Justice Antonin Scalia is a brilliant jurist, but he is no philosopher; indeed, he is more casuist than thinker. Armed with his prejudices and preconceptions, he is cutting, incisive and provacative in support of his private preoccupations. Sort of like Rush Limbaugh in a robe.

Take for instance today's dissent in the Kentucky courthouse case, in which he contends that the United States, unlike France, was not founded as a secular state.

Just what does that mean?

The sources of the American constitution are not found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. No, the founders looked to Polybius for guidance on mixed constitutions. They were familiar with the work of Aristotle. And, like or not, Machiavelli played a pivotal role in our founding conception of republicanism. (Perhaps the best book ever written on the sources of early American political thought is J.G.A. Pocock's The Machiavellian Moment.)

Scalia has all the intellectual appeal of William Jennings Bryan when he argues as a later-day fundamentalist that we are a Christian republic. Do most, even the overwhelming majority of, Americans believe in God? Of course. So what? The Bill of Rights protects minorities. That's the point of republicanism, Nino; or don't members of Opus Dei support that notion?

I can understand why Scalia's frothing at the mouth. Today's rulings does marginalize faith, making it more of a tourist attraction than a national creed. No Ten Commandments in the courthouse? Fine. But OK on the lawn? The only principled distinction must be that the lawn is a fine place for appreciating private conceptions of the good, true and beuatiful. The courthouse, on the otherhand, is no place Moses.

I am not offended by Moses on the statehouse lawn. I am not forced to pray; nor am I compelled to pay obeisance. Beholding such a statute reminds me of a pivotal source of inspiration for many of our founders. There's nothing wrong with that. But it does not make this a "Christian" nation, whatever that is.

The same Englightenment feuled revolutions in France and the United States. No amount of judicial thumb-sucking will change that fact.

Comments