Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Away From Carleton

I'm taking a swing through the University of Virginia from Thursday through Saturday. My computer will tag along, but I have a pretty full schedule while I'm there, so if I don't communicate, see you next week!

Don't You Get It?

I think this is every blogger's life. I know it's mine.

Professor Congressman

Eugene Volokh reports that two law professors are either contemplating or participating in Congressional runs. First, the cool one, Stanford's Larry Lessig, who's filed an exploratory committee to possibly go for the late Rep. Tom Lantos' (D-CA) seat in California. You can see his introductory video here. Normally, I'd be skeptical of an outsider like Lessig's chances in a district where one has to think there are many, many well-entrenched Democrats looking for a promotion, but as Paul Gowder notes, this is Silicon Valley, where Lessig's status is somewhere between icon and demi-god. So he's got a shot.

The second candidate is Rutgers' Michael Livingston, who has announced his Republican candidacy to try and knock off Philadelphia Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah. I only know Livingston from his blistering attack on affirmative action hiring at his law school -- an attack that seems to be compromised by the fact that the at least some of those minority faculty seem more qualified than he is. Oops. I also love his instincts in decrying the reduced "civility" in his department, which is due apparently to affirmative action, and not to his own screed against the qualifications of a huge chunk of his co-professors.

Anyway, Fattah's district is one of the most heavily Democratic in the country, so Livingston should be returning to his minority-dominated offices soon enough. And Lessig's election to the Congress would represent a major boon to the institution, which could use someone with his expertise on issues of copyright and intellectual property.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Where Did All The Nationalism Go?

Scott at LGM provides a quote from the first Justice Harlan's dissent in the Civil Rights Cases:
With all respect for the opinion of others, I insist that the national legislature may, without transcending the limits of the Constitution, do for human liberty and the fundamental rights of American citizenship what it did, with the sanction of this court, for the protection of slavery and the rights of the masters of fugitive slaves. If fugitive slave laws, providing modes and prescribing penalties whereby the master could seize and recover his fugitive slave, were legitimate exercises of an implied power to protect and enforce a right recognized by the Constitution, why shall the hands of Congress be tied so that -- under an express power, by appropriate legislation, to enforce a constitutional provision granting citizenship -- it may not, by means of direct legislation, bring the whole power of this nation to bear upon States and their officers and upon such individuals and corporations exercising public functions as assume to abridge, impair, or deny rights confessedly secured by the supreme law of the land?

Scott goes on to point out that "federalism" claims, outside a narrow swath of academics, have always been mere facades for substantive state interests and are thrown away at the drop of a hat when the national government is doing something the "federalists" like. Fugitive Slave Act on the table? National power! Civil Rights Act? But what about states rights? Oh boo hoo.

Incidentally, while I give Harlan credit for his dissent here, he's still no hero.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Why Say Sorry?

One of the typical arguments trotted out against official apologies for historical atrocities (slavery, genocide, apartheid, etc.) is that "we" (that is, the folks still alive) weren't the ones who did the wrong. Indeed, often times we're not even descended from the wrongdoers. So why should we say we're sorry?

In his discussion about Australia's upcoming apology for "the lost generation" (where Aboriginal children were forcibly taken from their families on the grounds that the Aborigines were going to die out soon anyway), John Quiggin flagged the best response to that argument I've heard yet, from Raimond Gaita's book A Common Humanity. Simply put, "any moral position allowing pride in the achievements of our forebears and our community necessarily entails shame in their failings."

So, if I express pride in America's fight for freedom in WWII, or the emancipation proclamation, or the development of democratic political theory as part of my identity as an "American", then I similarly as part of that identity must express shame for the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of Black Africans, and the other myriad failings of American society. They're part and parcel of the same commitment I have as a member of this community. But too many people want the sweet without any of the sour.