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A Time to Speak: Selected Writings and…
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A Time to Speak: Selected Writings and Arguments

by Hon. Robert H. Bork

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This hefty tome (715 pages) brings together essays and legal opinions written by Bork over a period of 45 years. It will undoubtedly help to seal Bork's standing as one of our era's foremost commentators on law and culture--particularly the struggle to preserve Western culture against its postmodern detractors.

Bork identifies one of the foundations of the postmodern attack as the uneasy alliance of individualism and egalitarianism. As he writes in his essay "Hard Truths About the Culture War" (1995):

"Individualism and egalitarianism may seem an odd pair, since liberty in any degree produces inequality, while equality of outcomes requires coercion that destroys liberty. If they are to operate simultaneously ... [they] must operate in different areas of life, and that is precisely what we see in today's culture. Radical egalitarianism advances, on the one hand, in areas of life and society where superior achievement is possible and would be rewarded but for coerced equality: quotas, affirmative action, income redistribution through progressive taxation for some, entitlement programs for others, and the tyranny of political correctness spreading through universities, primary and secondary schools, government, and even the private sector.

Radical individualism, on the other hand, is demanded when there is no danger that achievement will produce inequality and people wish to be unhindered in the pursuit of pleasure. This finds expression particularly in the areas of sexuality and violence, and their vicarious enjoyment in popular entertainment."

The union of radical individualism and radical egalitarianism have succeeded handsomely, says Bork, in eroding the foundations of our society. Authority is absent where it should be present, and vice-versa. This produces "cultural and moral relativism, whose end products include multiculturalism, sexual license, obscenity in the popular arts, an unwillingness to punish crime adequately and, sometimes, even to convict the obviously guilty."

And thus we arrive at the paradox that is all too familiar in the contemporary Western world: Those who complain about "oppressive" "right-wing" "fascism" (i.e., ordinary law enforcement) are those most in love with the power of the state. This is because the radical egalitarian project, so at odds with a free society, depends for its success on the deployment of the full coercive force of the state. Bork summarizes beautifully this road to totalitarianism:

"Modern liberalism presses our politics to the left because egalitarianism is hostile to the authorities and hierarchies--moral, religious, social, economic, and intellectual--that are characteristic of a bourgeois or traditional culture and a capitalist economy. Yet modern liberalism is not hostile to hierarchies as such. Egalitarianism requires hierarchy because equality of condition cannot be achieved or approximated without coercion. The coercers will be bureaucrats and politicians who will, and already do, form a new elite class. Political and governmental authority replace the authorities of family, church, profession, and business. The project is to sap the strength of these latter institutions so that individuals stand bare before the state, which, liberals assume with considerable justification, they will administer. We will be coerced into virtue, as modern liberals define virtue: a ruthlessly egalitarian society."

Bork then probes the nature and roots of these authoritarian administrators who would refashion society according to their notions of virtue. He notes that Joseph Schumpeter "first articulated the idea that capitalism requires and hence produces a large intellectual class." The members of this New Class are not geniuses or scholars, they are simply those who transmit ideas: run-of-the-mill journalists, academics, teachers, lawyers, and bureaucrats. They became jealous because society traditionally bestowed its rewards and prestige on the doers, those who built the world: inventers, entrepreneurs, military heroes, and the like.

Matters are made worse because the New Class are petty intellectuals in search of something to think about. Bork cites Max Weber in this regard:

"Max Weber noted the predicament of intellectuals in a world from which 'ultimate and sublime values' have been withdrawn: 'The salvation sought by an intellectual is always based on inner need...The intellectual seeks in various ways, the casuistry of which extends to infinity, to endow his life with a pervasive meaning.' ... Richard Grenier observes that among those intellectuals 'most subject to longings for meaning, Max Weber listed, prophetically: university professors, clergymen, government officials... coupon clippers ... journalists, school teachers, wandering poets'."

Bork illuminates an even deeper level of the crisis:

"The root of egalitarianism lies in envy and insecurity, which are in turn products of self-pity, arguably the most pervasive and powerful emotion known to mankind. The root of individualism lies in self-interest, not always expressed as a desire for money but also for power, celebrity, pleasures, and titillations of all varieties. Western civilization, of course, has been uniquely individualistic. Envy and self-interest often have socially beneficial results, but when fully unleashed, freed of constraints, their consequences are rot, decadence, and statism."

What I have summarized here is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Robert Bork's analysis of law, culture, and the central dilemmas of our time. His writing is witty and insightful; deep but never divorced from reality. There could not be a better antidote to the raging winds of nihilism that batter us from all sides. ( )
2 vote GaryWolf | Mar 7, 2009 |
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