Principalities & Powersrnby Samuel FrancisrnFirst Things LastrnIf the election of 1996 turned out to bernan even bigger snore than most citizensrnanticipated, the fall of the year was neverthelessrnenlivened by a dangerous outbreakrnof something resembling actualrncogitation on the American right. Givenrnthe mentally paralytic cast of the Dole-rnKemp campaign and much of the partyrnthat nominated it, the continuingrnsparkle of neurons among conservativesrnwas surprisingly refreshing, not least becausernit immediately provoked a hostilernresponse from some of the major illuminatirnof the “conservative movement.”rnThe November issue of the neoconservativernjournal First Things published a collectionrnof essays that tried to raise somernserious questions about the future ofrnAmerican government. The illuminatirndon’t much like serious questions, letrnalone serious answers, and for severalrnweeks afterwards, it seemed that organizedrnconservatism in America wasrnabout to experience yet another of its periodicrnpurges in which those who commitrnThought-Crime are quickly and quietlyrnremoved to the American equivalentrnof Siberia.rnFirst Things is a journal devoted to therndiscussion of religion and public affairs,rnfounded and edited by Father RichardrnJohn Neuhaus, a gentleman in betterrndays associated with The Rockford Instituternwho more recently has buzzedrnabout the neoconservative hive in Manhattan.rnFather Neuhaus and his colleaguesrnhave long been preoccupiedrnwith the role of religion in public life andrnmore particularly with such issuesrnas abortion, euthanasia, and sexualrnmorality. The November symposiumrnconcerned itself with these very subjects,rnbut in a way that was distinctly out ofrncharacter for neoconservatives.rnThe symposium consisted of an introductoryrnessay by Neuhaus himself andrnother contributions by Robert Bork,rnCatholic legal scholar Russell Hittinger,rnHadlcy Arkes of Amherst, RobertrnGeorge of Princeton, and Charles Colson,rnonce of Watergate but now called torna rather more ethereal vocation as thernchairman of Prison Fellowship, an evangelicalrnorganization that preaches thernGood News to convicted felons. Concentratingrnon recent Sujjreme Court decisionsrnon abortion, euthanasia, and homosexuality,rnthe symposium proceededrnto raise some very hard questions aboutrnwhat the contributors kept calling “thernlegitimacy of the regime.”rnAs Neuhaus himself rather breathlesslyrnphrased it in his introduction, “Thernquestion here explored, in full awarenessrnof its far-reaching consequences, isrnwhether we have reached or are reachingrnthe point where conscientious citizensrncan no longer give moral assent to the existingrnregime.” The general conclusionrnof the symposium is yes, we are reachingrnthat point, and the closer we get to it, thernmore seriously we have to address thernnext question, what are we supposed torndo about it?rnWe are approaching that point—ofrnthe illegitimacy of the American governmentrnor at least of its judicial branch—rnfor several different reasons. Judge Borkrnseems to have reached the point forrnlargely procedural reasons—that therncourts are handing down blatantly falserninterpretations of the Constitution andrnimposing them in blatantly illicit ways.rnThe other participants tend to dwell onrnthe substantive content of the decisionsrnthemselves. Thus, Russell Hittinger, mrnwhat is perhaps the most closely reasonedrncontribution, argues that not onlyrndo recent court rulings violate traditionalrnreligious and moral taboos on abortion,rneuthanasia, and homosexuality butrnindeed go much further and insinuaternthat any law or policy based on religiousrnor moral principles is illegitimate. ProfessorrnGeorge argues that the courts’ rulingsrnon abortion “have imposed uponrnthe nation immoral policies that pro-lifernAmericans cannot, in good conscience,rnaccept.” Mr. Colson perhaps goes evenrnfurther in arguing that in the event of thernlegalization of homosexual marriage,rn”Christians . . . would be forced to livernunder a government whose actions violaternthe biblical ordering of social life andrnthreaten the first institution ordained byrnGod,” that the Supreme Court’s upholdingrnof a ruling prohibiting statesrnfrom preventing euthanasia would meanrn”that the medical murder of the sick andrnelderly has become our government’srnnational policy,” and that PresidentrnClinton’s veto of the partial birth abortionrnbill last summer “is tantamount tornthe affirmation of infanticide.” “Itrnwould be hard to imagine,” writes thernman who once expressed willingness tornmurder his grandmother for Nixon,rn”that a Christian in good consciencerncould swear to uphold the Constitutionrnor laws of a nation that practices the horrendousrnoffense against God of takingrnthe defenseless lives of the weakestrnamong us; babies, the elderly, and thernsick.”rnThe symposium at once caused a fit ofrnhiccups, not least because such desperaternconclusions are not typical of thernrather humdrum ruminations that habituallyrnfill the pages of First Things, butrnmore especially because of the reactionrnthe symposium immediately provokedrnamong the magazine’s senior editors.rnGertrude Himmelfarb, Peter Berger, andrnWalter Berns, three major neoconservativernfigures and longtime collaborators ofrnNeuhaus, at once sent in their resignationsrnand removed themselves from thernmagazine’s masthead. Even more significantly,rnNorman Podhoretz, the OldrnMan of the neoconservative Mountainrnand long Neuhaus’s major patron amongrnneoconservative bigwigs, also wrote arnquite snotty letter to Father Neuhausrnabout the symposium.rnHimmelfarb and Berger as well as Podhoretzrnall wrote letters to Neuhaus elaboratingrntheir objections, which consist ofrnthree main points: (a) the symposiumrnuses the term “regime” to describe therncurrent system of government in thernUnited States, (b) the symposium concludesrnthat the “regime” is “illegitimate,”rnand (c) Neuhaus in his essay hadrnsuggested a comparison of the contemporaryrnand future United States withrnNazi Germany. “America,” Neuhausrnwrote, “is not and, please God, will neverrnbecome Nazi Germany, but it is onlyrnblind hubris that denies it can happenrnhere and, m peculiarly American ways,rnmay be happening here.” Berger wroternto Neuhaus that this is “the most offensivernpassage” and “perhaps the most convolutedrnsentence you have ever written.”rnIn the words of the Great Pod himself, “Irnam appalled by the language the two ofrn32/CHRONICLESrnrnrn