A Celebration of Professor Steve Smith's New Book: The Disintegrating Conscience and the Decline of Modernity

A Celebration of Professor Steve Smith's New Book: The Disintegrating Conscience and the Decline of Modernity

Date and Time

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

This event occurred in the past

  • Wednesday, November 29, 2023 from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.


Warren Hall, Grace Courtroom, USD School of Law

5998 Alcala Park San Diego, CA 92110




Join us for a discussion and celebration of The Disintegrating Conscience and the Decline of Modernitythe latest book by Steven D. Smith, Warren Distinguished Professor of Law, co-executive director of the Institute for Law and Religion, and the co-executive director of the Institute for Law and Philosophy at the University of San Diego. 

From the Publisher - Notre Dame Press:

This book considers how the modern concept of “conscience” turns the historic commitment on its head, in a way that underlies the decadence of modern society.

Steven D. Smith’s books are always anticipated with great interest by scholars, jurists, and citizens who see his work on foundational questions surrounding law and religion as shaping the debate in profound ways. Now, in The Disintegrating Conscience and the Decline of Modernity, Smith takes as his starting point Jacques Barzun’s provocative assertion that “the modern era” is coming to an end. Smith considers the question of decline by focusing on a single theme—conscience—that has been central to much of what has happened in Western politics, law, and religion over the past half-millennium. Rather than attempting to follow that theme step-by-step through five hundred years, the book adopts an episodic and dramatic approach by focusing on three main figures and particularly portentous episodes: first, Thomas More’s execution for his conscientious refusal to take an oath mandated by Henry VIII; second, James Madison’s contribution to Virginia law in removing the proposed requirement of religious toleration in favor of freedom of conscience; and, third, William Brennan’s pledge to separate his religious faith from his performance as a Supreme Court justice. These three episodes, Smith suggests, reflect in microcosm decisive turning points at which Western civilization changed from what it had been in premodern times to what it is today. A commitment to conscience, Smith argues, has been a central and in some ways defining feature of modern Western civilization, and yet in a crucial sense conscience in the time of Brennan and today has come to mean almost the opposite of what it meant to Thomas More. By scrutinizing these men and episodes, the book seeks to illuminate subtle but transformative changes in the commitment to conscience—changes that helped to bring Thomas More’s world to an end and that may also be contributing to the disintegration of (per Barzun) “the modern era.”


Warren Hall Grace Courtroom, followed by Reception and book signing, Faculty Reading Room, University of San Diego.

This event is free and open to the public, but registration is appreciated.

About the University of San Diego School of Law

Each year, USD educates approximately 800 Juris Doctor and graduate law students from throughout the United States and around the world. The law school is best known for its offerings in the areas of business and corporate law, constitutional law, intellectual property, international and comparative law, public interest law and taxation.

USD School of Law is one of the 84 law schools elected to the Order of the Coif, a national honor society for law school graduates. The law school’s faculty is a strong group of outstanding scholars and teachers with national and international reputations and currently ranks 30th nationally among U.S. law faculties in scholarly impact and 41st nationally in past-year faculty downloads on the Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN). The school is accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools. Founded in 1954, the law school is part of the University of San Diego, a private, independent, Roman Catholic university chartered in 1949.


Steve Smith book image

This event is open to the public

Post Contact

USD Law External Relations


Contact Us

View Directory

83° 61°

Visit Campus

5998 Alcalá Park
San Diego, CA 92110