Conn. state Sen. Bill Aniskovich said the best political advice he ever received came from his father, who ironically disapproves of his career choice.
“My father told me to beware the people who know the way,” he said.
In spite of his father’s advice, Aniskovich’s address to about 20 undergraduates Thursday evening in Linsly-Chittenden Hall –entitled “Cross Sections of Law and Politics” — attempted to elucidate the relationship that exists between law and politics by invoking a broad range of ancient and contemporary political philosophers who claimed to “know the way.” The talk was sponsored by the Yale Pre-Law Society.
Aniskovich centered his speech upon the philosophy of James Madison, made manifest in “The Federalist Papers”.
“Madison thought lawmakers wouldn’t stand for what’s good or right,” Aniskovich said. “Instead, he thought lawmakers were there to regulate a variety of commercial interests that arise before the public.”
Aniskovich proceeded to characterize Madison as the vanguard of the modern form of politics, which he said maintains that law and morality are separate entities. He contrasted this notion of politics with the ancient political philosophy of the likes of Aristotle.
“The purpose of law [in ancient times] was to make you happy,” Aniskovich said. “You were told what to do, and where to be — it was a very class-based structure. Aristotle believed that some were endowed to be rulers, while others were endowed to be ruled.”
But proponents of modern law are vehemently opposed to this view, Aniskovich said.
“The purpose of law [now] is to secure the conditions under which people would normally find happiness,” he said. “By making individual liberties paramount, people will find happiness.”
Aniskovich said although he adheres to the modern emphasis on individual liberties, he disagrees with Madison’s notion that morality is separate from law.
“Morality is law,” he said.
Aniskovich’s assertion led him to explore the roles of lawmakers in influencing public opinion.
“The law shapes our character and reflects the character of the people who create the law,” he said. “This leads to the question of whether lawmakers are reflecting or shaping what their constituents are doing.”
Aniskovich said lawmakers must strive to do both — they must do what they think is right while defending their actions to their constituents. The senator also advised students that in order to become effective legislators, they must understand what causes people to behave the way they do — “to attain an appreciation of human nature.”
“How you get human nature is up to you,” he said. “You can get an appreciation of human nature from reading great books and from your experiences with people.”
A graduate of Catholic University and University of Virginia Law School, Aniskovich is currently in his sixth term in the Conn. senate, and as Minority Leader Pro Tempore he occupies the second-highest Republican position in the legislative body.
Aniskovich’s open discussion of political philosophy was a source of contention among some audience members. Charlin Lu ’04 was one of several students who challenged the senator’s views in a debate that followed the speech.
“I disagreed with the part about how rights don’t make sense without religion,” Lu said.
But Yale Pre-Law Society President Sallie Kim ’05 said such discord among the audience only enhanced the lecture.
“I was glad that the talk provided a discussion forum for students,” she said. “People were actively engaged throughout the discussion. Overall, it was a wonderful exchange of ideas.”
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