Professor Stuntz replies

Bill Stuntz has responded to my post expressing deep skepticism about his claim that a coalition of liberal intellectuals and conservative evangelicals is in the cards. Professor Stuntz writes:

Thanks for the thoughtful post re my column. Thanks, too, for the very kind words. I’m grateful.
I think you’re mistaken about intellectuals and religion — at least, my own experience is very much to the contrary. I’ve been in law teaching for nineteen years, all at secular universities. The attitude toward people with serious religious commitments has grown steadily more tolerant during that time, not less so. Twenty years ago, Christians in secular universities had to keep their heads down (the real heroes are the ones who didn’t, and paid a price for it).
Today, it isn’t so. At lot of my church friends would be amazed at how friendly and respectful my colleagues are on this front.
Your other point, about liberal intellectuals’ hostility to American use of force, strikes me as more powerful. But what lesson do you draw from 1998, when Clinton threatened war with Iraq (on less solid legal grounds than Bush had in 2003), and the left lined up solidly in his corner? Maybe it was all a fraud. But I’m inclined to think it was for real.
The pacifism one sees on the left today is, I suspect, a consequence of irrational Bush hatred. Not so different from the irrational Clinton hatred that gripped the right a few years ago.
The real problem is cultural issues, and the big one is abortion. If I’m wrong, as I may be, that’s the place where I’m making a mistake. Plainly, there isn’t going to be some broad agreement about the moral status of the unborn. But why change the rules when you’re winning the game? And the pro-life movement is winning — hundreds of thousands of children are born each year who otherwise wouldn’t be, because of the cultural progress that movement has made. Keeping the culture wars about the culture, not about the law, is the key to maintaining that progress. At least so it seems to me.
I’m sorry for such a long e-mail message. Your post prompted me to think hard, which is always a good thing. Thanks.

This is a terrific response, but it leaves me unconvinced.
First, I am delighted to hear that Christians in secular universities no longer must “keep their heads down.” But I wonder whether this new spirit of tolerance is limited to Christians at secular universities, as opposed to evangelicals in “Jesusland.” The post-election contempt directed by certain liberal intellectuals at these red-state evangelicals was unmistakable. If intellectuals at universities have not succumbed, that’s great. But, as I said, I wonder. I also wonder whether liberal intellectuals on law faculties, where Stuntz resides, are considerably more prone to tolerate diverse opinions than the liberal professoriate as a whole. As reader Paul Stancil (a former student of Stuntz’s who could not have written more glowingly about the professor) states, “I have found left-leaning law professors far more receptive to reasoned argument, results-oriented policy prescriptions, and real-world pragmatism than their counterparts in other academic fields.”
Second, what of Stuntz’s claim that the left solidly backed President Clinton when he threatened to go to war with Iraq in 1998? I don’t recall the left doing so. I know that many liberal Senators lined up behind Clinton (for political reasons, I assume), just as many liberal Senators (including John Kerry) lined up behind President Bush in 2002 for political reasons. But did the intellectual left express enthusiasm for going to war with Iraq in 1998? I don’t think so, though I could be wrong.
Third, Stuntz attributes the hatred of Bush to irrationality rather than true pacifism (or, presumably, distrust of American power, which was my theory, in part). But, while the hatred may be irrational, it is not uncaused. Where does it come from? When people try to answer this question the words “religious fundamentalist” and “cowboy” are often invoked. This suggests to me that the sources are what I described — contempt or loathing of evangelicals and deep distrust of the self-interested exercise of American power.
Finally, Stuntz’s timely reference to the right’s hatred of Clinton represents further evidence that the coalition he posits is unlikely. The reference is timely because too many conservatives who decry the hatred directed at Bush forget how much many on the right hated Clinton. But where did that hatred come from? It certainly seems to have had little to do with policy — Clinton was essentially a centrist president. The hatred, I think, had mostly to due with values — the perception of Clinton as a draft dodger, libertine, hustler, and perjurer. If so, isn’t that further indication of the chasm that divides Christian evangelicals, who take values so seriously, and liberal intellectuals who were mystified (and horrified) that Clinton’s sex life could have become a public issue?
UPDATE: Here are two other posts expressing skepticism about the prospect of an evangelical-liberal intellectual coalition: one from Brothers Judd and the other from Fishkite.


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