Author: Rick Garnett

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“Mutual Adjustment” as (merely) congruence delayed

I am delighted by and grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Concurring Opinions symposium on Jim and Linda’s engaging, important, and challenging new book, Ordered Liberty.  And, the contributions so far have managed the tough task of enriching what was already the very welcome opportunity to read and think about the book.

I have — like Linda and Jim, though I’m sure not with their success — tried to think and write about “civil society” and “seedbeds of virtue” (here), about the tension and even conflicts between liberty and equality (here), and about the moral and legal rights of parents to direct and control — within some limits — the education of their children (here). Ordered Liberty has given me a needed opportunity to re-visit and re-think some of what I’ve said and thought, and I’m sure that process will continue.

At the end of the day, and at the end of the book, I suppose there’s no avoiding the fact that I continue to have doubts about “constitutional liberalism” as Jim and Linda present and defend it; I continue to think that the Constitution is best regarded primarily, and more prosaically, as a mechanism for (limited-purpose and limited-reach) lawmaking, the operation of which is constrained by “negative” rights-protections; I think that the claims of families, associations, and churches to remain out-of-sync with current political majorities, or with liberalism more generally, are even stronger than Jim and Linda acknowledge; and I think that those scholars who “are preoccupied with the limited institutional capacities of courts” are, well, probably right to be so.  But, it probably does not add much to this symposium simply to report my hard-headedness or general reservations.

So, a more focused thought on a particular part of the book:  In Chapter 6 (“Conflicts between Liberty and Equality”), Linda and Jim use four familiar cases (Roberts, Dale, Bob Jones, and Christian Legal Society) to “illustrate the struggles between the formative projects of civil society and government and between competing visions of diversity and pluralism.”  Fair enough — these case do indeed illustrate these struggles.  But, at the end of the chapter, and at the end of book, I didn’t feel like I had been given or had found what I thought was promised, i.e., “a framework for resolving clashes of rights so as to promote ordered liberty and equality citizenship for all.”  That is, despite the use of the term “mutual adjustment”, it did not appear to me that what was presented in the concluding pages and paragraphs of the chapter was so much a “framework” for resolving the described clashes through pluralism-appreciating “adjustment” as it was a declaration that the ultimate and to-be-desired resolution of these clashes in favor of the “liberal” position will often be facilitated by “prudential” “interim” strategies like religious exemptions.  To be told by the liberal-constitutional state that — not to worry — it is willing to go slow in bringing dissenting or just different associations into congruence will not, I imagine, be very comforting to those who wonder why that state assumes it has the legitimate authority to insist on congruence now or later.