Law and culture stand in a complex dialectical relationship. Neither comes first; neither comes last. Law contributes massively to the formation of culture; culture influences and shapes law. Inescapably, inevitably, law and culture stand in a mutually informing, formative, and reinforcing relationship. For this reason and many others, the liberal ideal of governmental .neutrality. on contested cultural-moral issues, allegedly leaving everyone free to pursue their own private visions of the good and thus attain personal fulfillment, is an illusion. It amounts either to nonsense, or it masks an ideology of social engineering.
Even by its absence, law can shape culture in destructive ways. The law.s refusal to interfere with the institution of slavery helped to establish and maintain a culture corrupted by an ideology of racial superiority and inferiority. The law.s refusal to protect the unborn similarly shapes and hardens a culture corroded by the treatment of
unborn human beings as nonpersons, lacking the right to life that for the rest of us is protected by law.
It is simply a myth to suppose that the retreat of law necessarily enhances freedom. The cultural structures people sometimes face in the absence of law can leave them anything but free. Is your teenage daughter truly free to engineer her own pattern of courtship? Can she call forth a corresponding attitude on the parts of the young men of her acquaintance who are potentially eligible to her as mates? How free is she to be the chaste young woman she should be and you want her to be? Would she not be freer in a world in which accepted understandings and expectations supported, rather than hindered, her natural desire to be treated with dignity by young men who present themselves to her as possible romantic partners?
Francis Cardinal George, "Law and Culture," Ave Maria Law Review(PDF)
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Against A Content-Free Legal Regime
A worthy article from Cardinal George: