George of the Neocon Jungle, Part II
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Nov 10, 2007 at 08:29:32 PM EST
Picking-up where we left off last week, what most struck me about Catholic Right neocon and Princeton law professor Robert George's approach to constitutional law was his referencing of "the Pope's teaching" or in making his trump argument: "for reasons the Pope makes clear."  
For Robert P. George liberty is evidently a proposition that falls narrowly within a neo-orthodox notion of "doing what one ought to do" -- as distinct from the foundational American constitutional tradition of freedom of conscience. With this in mind, next week, we will consider George's latest demagoguery concerning gay marriage, and then consider the type of society we will inhabit if he and his allies got their way.

But before we discuss the implications of living in Robert P. George's ideal society, let's first examine his latest project. He has recently joined forces with United Press Syndicate's columnist Maggie Gallagher in running a a 501(c)(4) calling itself The National Organization for Marriage. While Gallagher serves as its president, George serves as its board chairman.  

You may remember Gallagher from the 2002 scandal in which she landed a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help promote President Bush's National Fatherhood Initiative promoting marriage. According to the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, "Her work under the contract, which ran from January through October 2002, included drafting a magazine article for the HHS official overseeing the initiative, writing brochures for the program and conducting a briefing for department officials." When confronted with her failure to disclose the HHS contract, Gallagher coyly responded by asking, "Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing it?" Gallagher said yesterday. "I don't know. You tell me." She said she would have "been happy to tell anyone who called me" about the contract but that "frankly, it never occurred to me" to disclose it." Gallagher did eventually apologize for the non-disclosure .

But for Gallagher's fellow journalists, this was more than about disclosure; it was about using her independent status as a journalist to put out government propaganda for money (using her column to promote marriage at the time). She knew it was a relationship that should have been disclosed, but wasn't. And as we will see in a moment, failing to disclose political relationships is a recurring theme for Maggie.

George and Gallagher employ the National Organization for Marriage as a vehicle for targeting state legislators for defeat who support marriage equality.  Their method is simple: demonization. In this instance an incendiary roadside billboard -- and the threat of more -- further corroding our national discourse.  In October the group's first project -- a billboard  on I-91 in Springfield, Massachusetts targeted  Democratic state Rep. Angelo Puppolo.   As Fred Clarkson reported in a post here at Talk to Action:  

At issue is Pupplo's vote last June not to allow a state constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage to appear on the ballot in 2008. Titled "BETRAYED," the billboard has a vibrant yellow background and features illustrations - one depicting Jesus being betrayed by Judas, one of Benedict Arnold -- and a photo of Angelo Puppolo.

During the recent elections in New Jersey, the team of George and Gallagher were again mired in further allegations of non-disclosure. This time the target was Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, a marriage equality proponent. As the October 25, 2005 edition of Editor & Publisher reported:

A same-sex-marriage opponent who has hurt a "clean elections" effort in New Jersey is an officer of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) group headed by columnist Maggie Gallagher, The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., reported today.

Brian Brown, who chairs an organization called Common Sense America, is running a media and phone campaign against N.J. Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein -- one of the candidates in the state's 14th district who agreed to fundraising and spending limits in return for public financing. But the money Brown is spending to attack Greenstein (who reportedly opposes a constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage) is putting her at a disadvantage in the race.

Brown is also executive director of NOM, of which Gallagher is president. An E&P look at the NOM Web site this morning showed a "Stop Same Sex Marriage in New Jersey!" link. But Brown told Star-Ledger reporters Josh Margolin and Robert Schwaneberg that Gallagher isn't connected with Common Sense America.

This link takes you to the contributions page for their PAC. But there is more there than a link.  NOM now brags on its front page about how via its PAC it targeted pro-marriage equality state legislators and candidates in New Jersey and in Virginia.

NOM worked with other citizens groups, including Common Sense America (also chaired by Brian Brown), to expose one of the most extreme supporters of same-sex marriage, Linda Greenstein, assemblywoman for New Jersey's 14th legislative district....

Greenstein held on to her seat by a mere four points; NOM's state political action committee's efforts clearly impacted the campaign.

What is it that turns Princeton's Professor George into George of the neocon jungle? How is it that the seemingly mild mannered professor of both law and divinity allies himself shady characters in bare-knuckled political battles? Well, it seems whenever his vision of natural law is questioned, the ends justify the means.

The Nation's Max Blumenthal quoting from George's 2001 tome The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion and Morality in Crisis, observed : "The plain fact is that the genitals of men and women are reproductive organs all of the time--even during periods of sterility," This "plain fact" has apparently become the academic's neo-carlist battle.

What is astonishing is that George reaches this conclusion despite the fact many tenets of version of natural law have in fact been proven wrong, such Aristotle's belief in six-legged spiders.  History also reminds us of 500 years ago when a then-hostile Vatican vehemently opposed Galileo's affirmation of Copernicus's view that the Earth orbited the sun, instead of the converse. The Inquisition threatened Galileo with death at the stake, forcing him to recant his discovery. When more strident forces control the Vatican, as is now becoming the case today, dissent to orthodox notions of natural law is greeted with charges of heresy. And in his modern way, Robert P. George seeks to revive this ugly tradition.

Along this same line of thought, George who places such high faith in natural law principles conveniently overlooks the fact that Jesus Himself never once discussed homosexuality. This, however, does not give him pause not to engage in a Kulturkampf against those who reject his personal beliefs.

George is also the Director of the misleadingly named James Madison Program at Princeton. Max Blumenthal described its mission in his March 2006 article for The Nation:  

George has brought his conservatism to bear at Princeton through the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, an academic center he founded in 2000 "to sustain America's experiment in ordered liberty." On the surface, the program appears modeled after institutions like Princeton's Center for Human Values and New York University's Remarque Institute. However, it functions in many ways as a vehicle for conservative interests, using funding from a shadowy, cultlike Catholic group and right-wing foundations to support gatherings of movement activists, fellowships for ideologically correct visiting professors and a cadre of conservative students.

George's program has become the blueprint for the right's strategy to extend and consolidate power within the university system. Stanley Kurtz described the plan for National Review this past April: "Princeton's Madison Program is a model for solving the political-correctness problem in the academy as a whole. We may not be able to do much about tenured humanities and social science faculties at elite colleges that are liberal by margins of more than 90 percent. But setting up small enclaves of professors with more conservative views is a real possibility."


The "shadowy, cultlike Catholic group" Blumenthal cites is none other than Opus Dei.

Similarly, George is a Senior Fellow with Witherspoon Institute  (not to be confused with the more progressive Witherspoon Society, nor is it affiliated with Princeton University) -- a hotbed of advocacy for orthodox Catholic natural law in government. If either Madison or his influential teacher at Princeton, John Witherspoon were alive today, they would surely be outraged by the invocation of their names in the service of a distinctly Catholic theory of government.  

This would be especially true of Witherspoon, who in 1745 was imprisoned by pro-Catholic Stuart supporters during the Jacobite Uprising. It is safe to say that Witherspoon-a man for whom freedom of individual conscience was so central to his ideal of liberty that just prior the American Revolution he vehemently opposed a British attempt to install Anglican bishop for the colonies-would have wanted little to do with Robert P. George's belief in total obedience to the Vatican political directives (at least in George's case, when pre-emptive war and defending buccaneer capitalism are not involved). I believe that Witherspoon, the man who most influenced Madison's thought on opposing religious factions from imposing their will upon either the minority or the aggregate majority, would find this use of his name utterly repugnant.

Madison and Witherspoon were direct products of the Scottish Enlightenment -- who had faith in rationality and science. They were both aware of and repulsed by the Inquisition's attempt to silence the scientific minds of the likes of Galileo. And unlike George, they understood the dangers of inserting subjective religious moralities into pluralist governmental decisions. Madison believed that freedom of conscience was not only designed to free our government from the corruption of factions, but to also free religion from the corruptions of government.    He also knew that Christianity did quite well before it became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Even in the face of persecution, the faith grew by leaps and bounds. But entanglement brought about abuse and evasion from accountability. Unnecessary wars are all too easily explained away--then as now--as God's will.  

Anyone who cherishes true freedom of conscience should pause to ponder the consequences if Robert P. George were to succeed in recasting American jurisprudence in the mold of orthodox Catholic natural law principles. Do we want a society where one man's morality sets the standard for all? Do we want a society where certain sex acts, all abortion and birth control are criminalized?  That is what Robert P. George wants, and would impose on us -- whether we liked it or not.

As I have pointed out more than a few times, there is no single school of what constitutes "natural law." The more strident members of the current Vatican hierarchy of my faith (as well as their allies such as George Weigel, Richard John Neuhaus, and of course, Robert P. George) obfuscate by using the term as if the Catholic notion of natural law is the only one that exists. The Founders view of natural law did not come directly from St. Thomas Aquinas, but filtered through a reconsideration by Anglican theologian Richard Hooker.

But it is my fellow Catholic, historian Garry Wills who lays out the ultimate weakness of the neocon Catholic argument, even on abortion, in his most recent book, Head and Heart: American Christianities

Much of the debate over abortion is based on a misconception, that this is a religious issue, that the pro-life advocates are acting out of religious conviction. It is not a theological matter at all. There is no theological basis for either defending or condemning abortion. Even the popes have said that it is a matter of natural law, to be decided by natural reason. Well the pope is not the arbiter of natural law. Natural reason is.

Amen, Brother Wills. Amen.

A Note to All: I'll be off next week for some family business. The series will resume in two weeks with my review of Garry Wills' new book, Head and Heart: American Christianities.

The Catholic Right: A Series, by Frank L. Cocozzelli :

Part One  Part Two  Part Three  Part Four  Part Five  Part Six   Intermezzo   Part Eight   Part Nine  Part Ten   Part Eleven   Part Twelve   Part Thirteen   Part Fourteen   Second Intermezzo   Part Sixteen   Part Seventeen   Part Eighteen   Part Eighteen   Part Nineteen   Part Twenty   Part Twenty-one   Part Twenty-two   Part Twenty-three   Part Twenty-four   Part Twenty-five   Part Twenty-six   Part Twenty-seven   Part Twenty-eight   Part Twenty-nine   Part Thirty   Part Thirty-one   Part Thirty-two   Part Thirty-three   Part Thirty-four   Part Thirty-five   Part Thirty-six   Part Thirty-seven   Part Thirty-eight   Part Thirty-nine   Part Forty   Part Forty-one   Part Forty-two   Part Forty-three   Part Forty-four

When reading Max Blumenthal's piece on Robert P. George I was struck by this segment:

The Madison Program has made its presence felt beyond conservative circles through the often provocative lectures George convenes. Past events include "Contemporary Politics of Immigration in the United States," which, besides various academic experts on the topic, featured white nationalist author Peter Brimelow. Then there was "Lawrence v. Texas: The Worst Supreme Court Decision in History?" and most recently, "The Conservative Movement: Its Past, Present and Future," which George organized with Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School.

During the "Conservative Movement" conference, William Bennett touted his civil rights credentials while denouncing Democrats for being "against America." Seated beside George's mentor, James Kurth, neoconservative pundit Frank Gaffney held forth that "the metastasized danger we face today" from terrorism should be attributed to George Bush Sr. and the "left-wing" Bill Clinton. Gaffney also took time to promote his new anthology, War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World, in which an afterword states, "No more praise for those who dissent. When they ask, 'Wouldn't you fight for my right to dissent?' I have to answer, 'Not right now.'"

These folks just can't stand dissent, whether it be regarding natural law or pre-emptive war. And that is why this factious group, ready to impose its subjective view of morality on both minority and aggregate majority alike, must be exposed for the danger to our representative democracy that it truly is.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Nov 10, 2007 at 08:33:27 PM EST

Like you, I am one of those Catholics who can tolerate the fact that people dissent and disagree. That makes for a healthy society and for healthy discussion. I don't think George's belief that the Pope should be ultimate arbiter of morality would go over very well with their evangelical Protestant allies, non-Christian Americans, Orthodox Christians, or even very many Catholics, for whom conscience is the ultimate guide. Carpetbagger Report recently had a blog posting in which the writer noted that we seem to have retreated full-scale from the battle that Kennedy had to fight. JFK had to reassure Protestant Americans that he believed in the separation of church and state. Today's political candidates are asked about their respective religious faiths, and the Christian Right in both its Catholic and Protestant wings is trying to do all it can to join church and state.

I would also recommend Max Blumenthal's video of his visit to the Values Voters conference. Max performs a valuable service by letting us see these folks as the wingnuts they are.


by khughes1963 on Sun Nov 11, 2007 at 09:11:56 PM EST

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