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How Very Communitarian of You



I was very pleased to see Spotlight win on Sunday. Don’t let the one scene of Sorkinian didacticism they (natch) used as Ruffalo’s clip or the Middlebrow Doorstop taint that the Best Picture statue normally carries disuade you from seeing it if you haven’t — it’s really good.

Speaking of which, here’s a telling detail from an entertaining profile of Marty Baron:

Occasionally I have been asked what I would have liked to see in the movie that was not portrayed. One answer, I confess, is a product of my own anger that the years have yet to extinguish.

I’m referring to a Nov. 4, 2002, speech given by Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard law professor who would later become U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. “All I can say,” she declared before a conference of Catholics, “is that if fairness and accuracy have anything to do with it, awarding the Pulitzer Prize to the Boston Globe would be like giving the Nobel Peace Prize to Osama bin Laden.”

Aesthetically, McCarthy’s choice actually makes sense — if you didn’t know better, you’d assume this “Glendon” character was a little too on-the-nose.

If you missed that brief time when “communitarianism” was a thing…well, first, congratulations, but second Glendon was one of the most prominent public intellectuals associated with that school. Her most famous book, Rights Talk, was essentially one long bait-and-switch. The ostensible thesis was that the nature of rights discourse had changed and for the worse, but when you sifted through the random anecdotes what you saw was that what changed was not rights discourse per se but the identity of the rights claimants — in a nutshell, the less privileged they were, the less Glendon liked them claiming rights. From my perspective, even more annoying was her book about abortion and divorce law, which made sweeping comparisons of American and European abortion policy while scrupulously ignoring how formal statutes actually operated in their particular political contexts. Glendon begat lazy and disingenuous arguments about abortion that plague us to this day. You know the routine: “Even France requires two doctors to formally approve of abortions after 12 weeks! So American pro-chociers should be completely fine with taking this regulation from a context in which 1)there is universal health care and first-trimester abortions are easily obtainable from public hospitals, 2)more than a sixth of the national population lives in a single metro area, and 3)0% of the population lives in jurisdictions where anti-abortion legislators are dedicated to using every arbitrary regulatory obstacle to thwart access to abortion that they can and applying it to the American case, where I’m sure it would function in exactly the same way. What’s that, should we repeal the Hyde Amendment if French abortion policy is so great? Sorry, my earpiece is malfunctioning, and I’m too busy drafting a statute requiring every door at every abortion clinic in the state to be able to accommodate three double-wide trailers.”

Anyway, I would advise not sitting still for any further lectures from this great moral sage.

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