The other day I was chatting with one of my more successful friends about her career. She’s worked in international development for a global foundation, corporate strategy at a Fortune 500 company, and is now the director of product at a startup. She explained that she moved to the startup partly because people who stay in strategy get tagged as smart visionaries who can’t do anything. There’s synergy between strategy and operations of course. But ultimately someone has to build and execute.
The pressure on the category of “religion” raises another question that Smith takes up in Rise and Decline: the notion of “conscience.” Smith notes that at the time of the Framing, the “free exercise of religion” was “virtually synonymous with freedom of conscience.” As a purely linguistic matter, the word “conscience” would have been a better fit than “religion” for the trajectory of “belief” that we have witnessed in American society. It would have more easily encompassed all kinds of non-religious but deeply held beliefs that we see today.
This piece, along with much of Inazu’s writings, shows the beginning of a strategy: freedom of religion is really freedom of conscience. But how would we take this abstract concept and operationalize it? What should I do with Inazu’s ideas?
I have a similar critique for David French:
Conservative intellectuals and conservative activists are digging in for the long fight. I know I’m biased, but NATIONAL REVIEW has posted one great piece after another. God bless Dana Loesch for taking the lead in reaching out to Memories Pizza. Ross Douthat has been invaluable from his lonely outpost at the New York Times. There is simply to much good material to name-check it all.
I wonder how, exactly, intellectuals and activists are “digging in.” What are they doing? This paragraph gives the impression that the intellectuals write and produce ideas. But do these ideas influence activists’ work? How so? I hope French realizes that intellectuals must write with concrete activism in mind.
I know this post has a whiff of hypocrisy because all I do is write in my spare time. So I contribute very little to the intellectual work and nothing to execution. With that admission, let me start sketching out a strategy that I think has a chance of being operationalized.
To continue with the loose business analogy, I see a product gap in religious freedom arguments (RFA). RFA now offer nothing for a few growing markets. There are at least two ways to deal with this gap. We can create completely new RFA. Or we can have the same product but package and sell it differently. (I have some personal experience in the second approach.)
Here’s what I see missing:
- RFA for people who are secular / not religious. I think Inazu has the start of something important with freedom of conscience. But it needs to be fleshed out.
- RFA for non-Christians. Put another way, RFA needs some good old-fashioned left-wing diversity. Where are my Hindus and Muslims in these conversations? I’ve previously discussed conservatives and diversity. People like French should do more here for no other reason than they’re losing potential allies.
I think Inazu would agree with me on these two points (not so sure about French). But in either case, I hope they both recognize the importance of executing on their ideas. Writing and thinking are not enough.