Reading Groups

Library moulding

Fall 2019 - Spring 2020

What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech and Song
Edited by Amy Kass, Leon Kass, and Diana Schaub
Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2013

About the book (from ISI Books):

Concerned about rising cynicism and apathy, more and more Americans lament the decline in patriotic feeling and civic engagement. Fortunately, this wonderfully rich anthology is here to help all Americans realize more deeply—and appreciate more fully—who they are as citizens of the United States.

At once inspiring and thought-provoking, What So Proudly We Hail explores American identity, character, and civic life using the soul-shaping power of story, speech, and song. Editors Amy Kass, Leon Kass, and Diana Schaub—acclaimed scholars who among them have more than a century of teaching experience—have assembled dozens of selections by our country’s greatest writers and leaders, from Mark Twain to John Updike, from George Washington to Theodore Roosevelt, from Willa Cather to Flannery O’Connor, from Benjamin Franklin to Martin Luther King Jr., from Francis Scott Key to Irving Berlin.

Featuring the editors’ insightful and instructive commentary, What So Proudly We Hail illuminates our national identity, the American creed, the American character, and the virtues and aspirations of active citizenship. Every American has a stake in the questions explored in this volume: Who are we? How do we identify ourselves, as individuals and as a people? What do we look up to and revere? To what larger community and ideals are we attached and devoted? For what are we willing to fight and to sacrifice? And finally, how can we produce good citizens?

Developing robust American citizens involves the heart as well as the mind. It is not enough to understand our nation’s lofty principles or know our history; thoughtful and engaged citizens require cultivated moral imaginations and fitting sentiments and attitudes—matters both displayed in and nurtured by our great works of imaginative literature and rhetoric.

Spring 2019

A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law
by Antonin Scalia
Princeton University Press, 2018

Marc DeGirolami, 2018-19 Spring Visiting Fellow at the Madison Program and Professor of Law at St. John's University School of Law, will be leading an informal reading group through A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law.

About the book (from Princeton University Press):

We are all familiar with the image of the immensely clever judge who discerns the best rule of common law for the case at hand. According to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a judge like this can maneuver through earlier cases to achieve the desired aim—"distinguishing one prior case on his left, straight-arming another one on his right, high-stepping away from another precedent about to tackle him from the rear, until (bravo!) he reaches the goal—good law." But is this common-law mindset, which is appropriate in its place, suitable also in statutory and constitutional interpretation? In a witty and trenchant essay, Justice Scalia answers this question with a resounding negative.

In exploring the neglected art of statutory interpretation, Scalia urges that judges resist the temptation to use legislative intention and legislative history. In his view, it is incompatible with democratic government to allow the meaning of a statute to be determined by what the judges think the lawgivers meant rather than by what the legislature actually promulgated. Eschewing the judicial lawmaking that is the essence of common law, judges should interpret statutes and regulations by focusing on the text itself. Scalia then extends this principle to constitutional law. He proposes that we abandon the notion of an everchanging Constitution and pay attention to the Constitution's original meaning. Although not subscribing to the “strict constructionism” that would prevent applying the Constitution to modern circumstances, Scalia emphatically rejects the idea that judges can properly “smuggle” in new rights or deny old rights by using the Due Process Clause, for instance. In fact, such judicial discretion might lead to the destruction of the Bill of Rights if a majority of the judges ever wished to reach that most undesirable of goals.

This essay is followed by four commentaries by Professors Gordon Wood, Laurence Tribe, Mary Ann Glendon, and Ronald Dworkin, who engage Justice Scalia’s ideas about judicial interpretation from varying standpoints. In the spirit of debate, Justice Scalia responds to these critics.

The Vanek Plays
by Vaclav Havel
Theater 21 Press, 2012

Flagg Taylor, Associate Professor of Government at Skidmore College and 2018-19 James Madison Program Visiting Fellow, will be leading an informal reading group through The Vanek Plays by Vaclav Havel.

Introduction to the Vanek Plays

Fall 2018

Thomas More’s Utopia

The James Madison Program’s associate director, Dr. Matthew J. Franck, joined by visiting lecturer Mr. David Oakley, will be leading an informal reading group through one of the foundational texts of Western thought, Thomas More’s Utopia. Although this work gave us the word “utopia”—which More himself coined—it stands in an older tradition of political philosophy, traceable back to Plato’s Republic, in which philosophers strove to understand what a perfect political order would look like. As with Plato, however, so with More we must ask, what did he really mean? What is the serious teaching of More’s Utopia? Where does “utopian” thinking lead us? Thomas More, knighted by the king who would later have him executed, and canonized by the Catholic Church in the twentieth century, was an active man of affairs as well as a man of letters. So his work may speak to us on multiple levels.

Elizabeth Anscombe’s Intention

Dr. John P. DiIulio *18, postdoctoral research associate in the James Madison Program, will lead a reading group taking up one of the most important twentieth century works of moral philosophy, G.E.M. (Elizabeth) Anscombe’s Intention. First published in 1957 and later revised slightly by the author, Intention is a now regarded as a landmark in the study of human action. Anscombe begins with such disarmingly simple questions as “how do we tell someone’s intentions?” and “What distinguishes actions which are intentional from those which are not”? From here it is but a short step to doing serious philosophy, in a brief book that is accessible but repays careful study.