Amherst College Professor Hadley Arkes Considers Natural Rights in New Book

December 19, 2002
Director of Media Relations
413/542-8417

AMHERST, Mass.- In his new book, Natural Rights and the Right to Choose ($28, 316 pp., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York, 2002), Hadley Arkes, the Edward N. Ney Professor in American Institutions (Political Science) at Amherst College, argues that that the "right to choose an abortion has been the device that has shifted the political class from the doctrines of natural right."

Over the last thirty years American politics has left the doctrines of "natural rights" that formed the main teaching of the American founders and Abraham Lincoln. "With that move, [the American political class] has removed the ground for its own rights," Arkes says. "Ironically, this transition has been made without awareness, with a serene conviction that constitutional rights are being expanded. In the name of "privacy" and "autonomy", new claims of liberty have been unfolded, all of them bound up in some way with the notion of sexual freedom."

By the "political class" Arkes has in mind the most politically active people, the people who not only fill the offices of state and the courts, but also take a leading role in the schools of law, the professions and the media. They are the people whose opinions shape the orthodoxies that seem to govern us. This new right overturned the liberal jurisprudence of the New Deal, placing jurisprudence on a different foundation. Of Natural Rights and the Right to Choose James Bowman, of the Times Literary Supplement (London), offered the opinion that "with wit and energy and coruscating intelligence, Hadley Arkes has written the most persuasive argument I have yet read for return to natural law and the first principles of the American founding."

At the conclusion of Natural Rights and the Right to Choose, Arkes narrates his role as advocate and architect of the Born-Alive Infants' Protection Act, signed into law by George W. Bush in an August ceremony, which Arkes attended. Arkes first suggested this legislation as part of the debating kit assembled for George H. W. Bush when he was running for president in 1988. Arkes proposed a "most modest first step" in legislating on abortion, opening a conversation even with people who called themselves "pro-choice." Arkes proposed to begin simply by preserving the life of a child who survived an abortion-contrary to the holding of one federal judge, that such a child was not protected by the laws.

Arkes, a member of the Amherst faculty since 1966, was educated at the University of Illinois and University of Chicago. A past fellow of the Brookings Institution, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Woodrow Wilson Center, he has written many books, among them The Philosopher in the City (1981), First Things (1986), Beyond the Constitution (1990) and The Return of George Sutherland (1994). He contributes to The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, National Review, Crisis and First Things, the journal that took its name from his book of that title.

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Fredric Cheyette's Ermengard of Narbonne Wins 2002 Phi Beta Kappa Book Award

December 19, 2002
Director of Media Relations
413/542-8417

AMHERST, Mass.-Fredric L. Cheyette, professor of history at Amherst College, has received the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award for the humanities and social sciences from the Phi Beta Kappa Society for his latest work, Ermengard of Narbonne and the World of the Troubadours ($35, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 2001).

Ermengard earlier received three other awards: an Honorable Mention (History) from the 2001 Association of American Publishers Awards Program for Excellence in Professional/Scholarly Publishing; the David Pinkney Prize for the outstanding book in French history published in 2001, from the Society for French Historical Studies; and the 2001/2002 Eugene M. Kayden Book Award, given by the University of Colorado at Boulder for the best book in the humanities published by an American university press.

Cheyette's book tells the story of a 12th-century woman in the south of France who "was born into a world of politics and warfare." Viscountess Ermengard, no stranger to power politics, ruled the major medieval port of Narbonne and much of present-day Languedoc for 50 years. She led her armies personally on several campaigns, joining her soldiers on bivouac before the walls of besieged cities. The medieval warrior princess Ermengard cuts an obscure figure today. Yet "it was among the poets and songsmiths of her own lands that Ermengard was best known, among the troubadours," Cheyette writes, asking what role the love poetry of the troubadours might have played in this aristocratic world of war and diplomacy. "The earliest passions she may have learned were the passions for power and for the friendship and loyalty needed to sustain that power."

Cheyette describes a world in which beautiful women were powerful lords, maintaining the equilibrium of a stateless society through loyalty and family ties, but also preserving their realms by playing pragmatic political games. The cosmopolitan world of Ermengard and the troubadours came to an end when the established church launched the Albigensian Crusade to destroy the heretics in the region and ended by destroying an entire aristocratic way of life. This is the exciting story that Cheyette brings to life.

Cheyette, who has taught at Amherst since 1963, received an A.B. from Princeton University and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University.

Panels of scholars selected three Phi Beta Kappa book award winners from among 102 books submitted by 66 publishers this year. Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation's oldest academic honor society, with chapters at 262 colleges and universities and half a million members. These awards are part of the Society's mission to champion liberal arts education, recognize academic excellence and foster freedom of thought and expression.

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