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The James Wilson Foundation on Natural Rights and the American Founding

“David French Channels Monty Python: A Response from Hadley Arkes” – The American Mind

JWI Founder and Director Hadley Arkes addresses and challenges the arguments of David French in a essay titled, “David French Channels Monty Python: A Response from Hadley Arkes.” Posted in The American Mind, Prof. Arkes questions French on how far French would be willing to argue with real moral substance in the culture war. French has argued for a position of viewpoint neutrality for conservatives as a positive good. This conflating of true liberty with license means that conservatives can offer no argument against Nazis, Fascists, or even Satanists in the public sphere. Referencing the Department of Arguments from Monty Python, Prof. Arkes points out that French has given only contradiction, not argument in this debate. The rights that David French is attempting to protect are only for legitimate associations and real moral judgement both can and should be applied to decide if an association is truly legitimate.

Some excerpts from the work:

“What is running through French’s commentary is the refusal to recognize the oldest axiom of reasoning in classic thought and the American regime: the difference between liberty and license. We affirm liberty for those being called ‘moral agents’ who have reasons for their acts; but every exercise of liberty is properly open to the question of whether that liberty has been used to engage in wrongful acts, as opposed to acts that are rightful or innocent of wrongdoing.”

“When David French refuses to rule out Satanism under the rubric of legitimate religions, is it because he has receded altogether from the very possibility of judging practices as ‘barbarous’ and ‘savage’ as long as they are done under the name of ‘religion’?”

“It is not fitting for a writer of David French’s caliber to suggest that if we insist on our capacity for moral judgment—if we reject, as we must, moral relativism—then we must be against freedom of speech and religion.”

David French remains my friend, but it is time for him to stop treating contradiction as though it supplied the reasoning of an argument. And beyond that, it is time to get past the caricatures, the straw men, and the affectations of moral relativism; it is time to get on with facing those challenges that were posed: Is he willing to wage the argument in the culture war by making the case for marriage again in the courts and the Congress? Would he have the conservative party appeal to the country over this matter of transgenderism, with its war on parents, its disfiguring of children, and its coercion of the rest of us? In the style of Lincoln, would he be willing to engage the powers of Congress on the matter of abortion to restore protections for those human lives residing for a while in wombs?”

Read the whole essay here.

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Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.
— James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1790