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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"The Blogger as Public Intellectual": A fun conversation with Paul Horwitz

Notre Dame's Institute for Advanced Study is hosting this week an interesting conference on "public intellectuals" and, this morning, the featured paper was from our own Paul Horwitz, whose topic was "The Blogger as Public Intellectual."  (For one blogospheric reaction to his presentation, go here.)  Paul was, as per usual, interesting and thoughtful, and I hope he'll post his paper, or a summary of it, soon.

I was the "commenter" (or "commentator"?) who followed Paul and I spent most of my time talking about and reflecting on my experience with my "other" blog, "Mirror of Justice."  And, here's some of what I said:

What “stand outs” in my mind, about the “Mirror of Justice” effort – in addition to its relatively distinctive subject-matter – is that it is both a “group” blog and one whose contributors disagree strongly about a lot of pretty important things . . .

Our hope, when we started – and when we very deliberately assembled Catholic law professors from a variety of disciplines and from across the political spectrum – was the same one that University admissions officials cite when they do their work, namely, that the diversity would enrich the conversations that took place.  It did, and it has . . . but we’ve also fought a lot . . .  Our arguments are, almost always, fairly regarded as “fights among friends”, but they happen “in front of” strangers, which is a bit unsettling (at least for me).  They flare up and are resolved “in public” – the sharp elbows are thrown, and the sincere apologies extended, “in public.”

And so, over the years, I’ve come to think of our role less in terms of “providing for the world a coherent Catholic legal theory”, and also less in terms of contributing to (or imposing on) the world various pieces of “public intellectualism.”  Instead, . . . I’ve tended to think about what we do more in terms of “modelling.”

It seems to me that what we provide, or offer (or fail to provide or offer) to readers is not so much the discrete work product of a dozen “public intellectuals” as a conversation – an illustration or example – that is, depending on the day, more or less edifying and productive.  When I’m blogging now (and this was not always true), I’m thinking not so much of “my own” readership, the way I might if I were a regular columnist for the Washington Post, as I am of my students, and my fellow bloggers’ students, who might be thinking hard about what it means to have a vocation in the law and to aspire to integrate that vocation with one’s religious faith and traditions.

Whether we on the blog are talking or arguing about the election, or immigration reform, or the philosophical anthropology underlying and animating the law of torts, I find myself these days thinking less about the importance of persuading as about the “way the conversation is going.”  Don’t get me wrong: My fellow bloggers and I have views (often strong views) and we all want, I am sure, for those who disagree with us to yield to our superior arguments.  (We’re lawyers, after all.)  Still, and without being too polly-annish or precious, I have found myself in recent years more focused on the community-building and community-maintenance dimension of my blogging than on its evangelical or propagandizing aspects.

I hope no one thought or thinks that my point was that MOJ is somehow more of a "community" than is Prawfs or other group blogs -- that's not it.  It was, instead, just that my own experiences over there have, over the years, prompted me to think differently about the blog's "mission" and about what I'm doing over there, and maybe over here, too ("albeit in a boring way until recently").  I have to admit, I worry more about the times I fall (well) short in terms of the "modelling" thing than I do about whether or not X reader changes his or her mind after reading my 143rd post on the ministerial exception!

Posted by Rick Garnett on April 23, 2013 at 02:31 PM in Blogging, Rick Garnett | Permalink


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