Deion Kathawa

2021 John Marshall Fellow

What is your current position?

I’m a law clerk to Justice Brian K. Zahra of the Michigan Supreme Court.

What inspired you to choose this career path?

I decided to go to law school after taking two fantastic courses taught by Charles Adside, III, a lecturer at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor—and now a good friend. He ran those courses similar to 1L year: Socratic method, case briefing, in-class debate, the works. I loved the process of preparing for class each week by wrestling with the arguments in the Court’s opinions. Even if I disagreed with the bottom-line result, I was forced to think carefully about why that was, which was a lot of fun. Through those experiences, especially the process of crafting term papers, it became clear to me that it would be a good idea to apply to law school. That door opened, and I walked through the one that led to Notre Dame because I wanted to be a student somewhere that would foster my vocation in the law, somewhere that would form me well to be a member of this ancient and noble profession.

What are you currently working on?

I took a break from writing for Advent so that I could better contemplate the entrance of the Son of God into human history as a real man, Jesus of Nazareth, and grow in the theological virtue of hope.

When I get back into it, I expect I’ll be thinking through the impact of technology on the human soul, assessing social issues like transgenderism and abortion in contemporary society, and examining political philosophy’s application to the current, critical moment in the life of the West—in particular America, “the last best hope of earth.” (If you’re so inclined, you can subscribe to, follow, and spread the word about that work, which is happening at my substack, “Sed Kontra.”)

How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?

I cold-pitched an article to American Greatness while I was an undergraduate (read it here). The masterminds behind AG are Claremont trained (and are also now dear friends of mine, which is a huge blessing). In a certain way, it was inevitable that I was slowly but surely trained in the (depending on your political perspective) dark and nefarious / excellent and true ways of the Claremont school. And because I agree with the great statesman Winston Churchill that “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often,” I’m hesitant to label myself as anything except “Catholic.” However, as far as these things go, I’m pretty comfortable with being a “Claremonster.” (For those unfamiliar with such online lingo, it translates roughly as, “A based, red-pilled, and extremely-fun-to-be-around terror of GOP positivist squishes like David French, Jonah Goldberg, and Bill Kristol.”)

What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?

Easy—my time as a 2021 John Marshall Fellow. I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that my JMF experience was one of the absolute highlights of my life—and not just my intellectual life. I truly can’t speak highly enough about the excellent, faculty-led class sessions during the days, and the incredible camaraderie in the evenings, which often stretched deep into the night and always had to give way to (some) sleep, to my great sadness. I remain close to everyone from my cohort, and I’m blessed to have been selected.

There are all sorts of educational programs out there for current and rising conservative professionals. What do you think makes the Claremont Institute’s Fellowships unique?

The institutions of the house kept establishment Right regularly preen about their so-called dedication to principles. In reality, however, what they usually peddle are their preferred policy outcomes—which turn out to be little more than direct expressions of the ruling class’ interests (but watered down so they’ll be more easily accepted by the Right’s voters)—clumsily disguised as prudential applications of high principle.

On the other hand, Claremont and its scholars understand better than anyone else in the business the proper relationship between first principles and practical action. Claremont’s “north star,” if you will, is the unchanging natural law and natural right embodied in the Declaration of Independence. But they’re not so naive to think that the application of principle in a particular historical moment is mechanistic, like solving an equation. Hence, the Institute’s full name: the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy. As the Institute’s own John C. Eastman put it recently, “Statesmanship is the political skill of advancing principle to the fullest extent possible given the circumstances.” Or, said another way, doing the most good and the least harm in light of the circumstances of the moment.

So, the choice for Claremont becomes self-evident once one realizes that basically all of the other institutions on our “side” are little more than grift machines that are more interested in carving out a niche for themselves in “beautiful loserdom” and being eaten last by the Left rather than committed to the serious work of re-founding America and defending her from her numerous and powerful enemies, detractors, and skeptics.

Who would it be, why, and what would you discuss, if you could have a conversation with an American Founder, or any great thinker?

I’m going to cheat a bit and give both an American answer and a general one.

I would love to talk with John Marshall, the judicial statesman par excellence. I’d ask him about how he’d deal with modern-day legal academia, the birthplace of critical race theory and so much other chaos. I’d also ask him how he’d steer the Supreme Court—which has an elevated stature in our constitutional order relative to his time as its chief justice—through our current moment’s fractious politics.

I’d also want to talk with St. Augustine because he lived through the collapse of his own time’s social order. From a certain angle, I think it’s fair to say we’re undergoing a kind of slow-motion implosion of our own, though, of course, many of its elements are wildly unprecedented.

Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Why?

That’s a bit like asking whether Christmas or Easter is more important. From a certain perspective, it’s Christmas. After all, if God never becomes incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, then our salvation doesn’t come (at least not that way). But, from a more holistic perspective, it’s clearly Easter, in which Christ’s victory over sin and death is made manifest. I see Washington as being akin to Christmas (though of course imperfect in being part of permitting slavery to enter the Union in the name of political prudence) and Lincoln as being akin to Easter (though of course imperfect because mere mortals cannot secure ultimate victories, especially in the realm of morality, see here, paragraphs 24 and 25). That is, Washington established the (moral) conditions of Lincoln’s victory, and for that we are of course deeply grateful to Washington, but there can be no mistake: The victory was in fact Lincoln’s.

Looking back on history, in which one of the original 13 colonies would you have wanted to live and why?

As a Catholic, I have to say Maryland.

What Amendment do you believe is in the greatest danger of being lost and why?

They’re all in danger of being lost, but the one in the greatest danger, because it’s one of the least flashy and so least well known and appreciated by we the people, is the Sixth Amendment. According to it,

[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Don’t believe me? Talk to a 1/6 detainee, many of whom still haven’t been to trial a year later—even though the Speedy Trial Act of 1974 guarantees that defendants generally have a right to be tried within 70 days of indictment.

What qualities do you believe will make outstanding statesmen/women in this century?

Most of all we need leaders who understand and love the Permanent Things, are unafraid to defend them publicly in their own voices, and have the skill to rally the people to that excellent cause. Courage is in too short supply these days, and it shows.

What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing the United States?

Civic unity. In his First Inaugural Address, President Lincoln pleaded: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” It’s difficult to resist the conclusion that the “mystic chords of memory” that he invokes in the very next sentence have been severely strained, if not wholly shattered.

In his Second Inaugural Address, President Lincoln described the path that the nation had taken to its bloody civil war, noting that “[b]oth [sides] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” If fellow countrymen who shared such fundamental things—a common love of the Bible and the God Who inspired it, and the culture and social mores they produced—could nonetheless come to such a terrible place, then how much more dangerous is it for us who have long since discarded such shared, foundational loves in favor of being-true-to-yourself autonomy?

What do you believe has led to our established culture redefining itself in the 21st Century?

We’ve forsaken and forgotten God. To quote loosely The Brothers Karamazov: “If there is no God, everything is permitted”—including rejecting the notion that we’re all “created equal” as children of God and so deserve to be treated equally under the rule of law.

That way lies madness, as anyone with eyes can see.

What book, speech, or movie has left a lasting impression with you and why?

I’m going to cheat a little bit (again) and answer with a TV show: Breaking Bad. It’s a profound meditation on the progressive damage inflicted upon the human soul by repeated, unrepented-of sin, as well as a devastating rebuke of consequentialism and so necessarily also a brilliant vindication of Socrates’ and St. Paul’s axiomatic teaching that we may not do evil that good may come of it. Walter White—who transforms slowly and then all at once into a meth-dealing kingpin to provide financially for his family in the teeth of a serious cancer diagnosis—learns that lesson the hard way. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in a serious moral investigation into the nature of evil.

What books are you currently reading?

I’m (slowly) working my way through Harry V. Jaffa’s Crisis of the House Divided. His A New Birth of Freedom is the logical follow-up read.

Do you have a favorite quote? Why does it resonate with you?

It’s so amusing how easily I blank once someone puts a question to me about a favorite this or that. I’ll go with Jesus’ stirring words in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (Lk. 22:42.)

So much of the Gospel and sacred Tradition catalogs Jesus’ divinity, and it’s really easy and natural to fixate on that part of Him. But it’s important to remember, especially in this Christmas season, that Jesus, in the words of the Chalcedonian Creed, is one divine Person “to be acknowledged in two natures, unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably”—He is fully God and fully man. I often forget this truth on the hectic rollercoaster ride of everyday life. But Jesus’ plea to His Father before He is handed over to death by his friend and disciple, Judas Iscariot, always brings it back front and center.

Jesus, like me, wrestled, at some level, with truly desiring to do the will of God. He was, at some level, afraid of His impending crucifixion and, at some level, preferred that the cup of suffering from His Father might pass from Him. But even in that trepidation, that fear and anxiety so common to human life, Jesus made a self-giving act of will and committed Himself to His Father’s gracious and generous plan for His life, abandoning Himself, trustingly, to divine Providence—even unto a gruesome and torturous death. In this, He provides a beautiful, worthy model of holy obedience to God’s compassionate designs.

What is your favorite cultural/recreational pastime (or hobby) and why?

Ice hockey; I’ve played since age two.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

God willing, holier than I am today. Otherwise, who can say, really?