Saturday, July 10, 2004

Legal Realism.
Killing time, reading this. Linked here

Ideas come to maturity. They have their time. Someone should make a realist study of great works of art, and of the historical and material means of their production. Some idiot was on NPR last week talking up the 'radical middle' in the past and the present, claiming for example that Lincoln occupied the moral high ground vis-a-vis both abolitionists and slave holders. Crap. Lincoln's genius was in his ability to be both moral and amoral, idealistic and coldly practical, to function within ambiguity as he understood it. The abolitionists had the moral high ground, and without their extremism moderation would not have been redefined as quickly or as powerfully as it was. Lincoln's talent was political and formal, was in his ability to create an authoritative rhetoric that described, both made manifest and responded to, the contradictions faced by mainstream America. The 'core claim of realism' fits well with this. But all cultures are cultures of argument, of which legal arguments are only one example. And there can be no predictive principle for law any more than there can be a predictive principle for literature or culture at large. Only in retrospect can we understand which claims of authority were valid for any period. There is no way to avoid indeterminacy in acts of interpretation. And even if we allow realists their points, there is no way for us to determine which ideas will be seen as representative of us in the future. No one will ever be a better judge of us, of our morality or of our art, than our grandchildren.
Sun. 11AM: Logic would imply that a realist should spend his time observing the manners of his compatriots, and learning to understand their tastes and pleasures. Reading books, going to movies, walking in the park and listening to people talk would seem more useful to that end than science or analytic philosophy.

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