Archive for October, 2008

Toynbee, the Court, and the sweep of History

October 2, 2008

“In London in the southern section of the Buckingham Palace Road, walking southward along the pavement skirting the west wall of Victoria Station, the writer, once, one afternoon not long after the end of the First World War – he had failed to record the exact date – had found himself in communion, not just with this or that episode in History, but with all that had been, and was, and was to come. In that instant he was directly aware of the passage of History gently flowing through him in a mighty current, and of his own life welling like a wave in the flow of this vast tide.”

So did Arnold J. Toynbee describe his almost spiritual union with History. And so it was with me and the rich tapestry of two centuries of Supreme Court decisions. The mere mention of the Supreme Court by Katie Couric triggered a flood of thoughts and associations within me, like the madeleine in À la recherche du temps perdu (incidentally, do not waste your time with the various English translations; nothing can compare to Proust’s original prose). In an instant my mind was saturated by the vicissitudes of our highest court’s past: key precedents, long-dead Justices, blistering dissents, the watershed 5-4 decisions, the rise of judicial review, the debate over “original intent.” I paused for a moment of reflection, mesmerized by this astonishing legacy of jurisprudence.

I kept my thoughts to myself, as instructed. But even so… Cite a single decision? It would be akin to citing a single publication I read.

That interview: What I was really thinking

October 1, 2008

Couric: And when it comes to establishing your worldview, I was curious: what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?

Me: [In any given week, Katie, I read more journals than you did all last year. And I annotate the margins.]

Couric: But, like, what ones specifically? I’m curious.

Me: [Journal of Comparative Demographic Trends, Parameters of Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Pacific Rim Public Policy Review. Familiar with any of those? I didn’t think so.

[Ask me instead whom I have ghostwritten for: the Economist Intelligence Unit, Current History, Jane’s Defence Weekly…]

…Oh yes, and Foreign Affairs. Its standards certainly have been slipping lately. Sometimes, when I fall under the sway of what William Styron memorably termed “darkness visible,” I ask Piper to pull out the October/November 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs and read me the Rudy Giuliani essay. What preposterous tripe. Giuliani actually writes that maintaining international security is like policing a city. And he thinks the North Vietnamese insurgency was crushed by 1972!

Piper knows which passages I find especially ludicrous, and she makes googly eyes while she reads them. And we laugh and laugh.