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I just read a great piece in the July 13 issue of Time magazine, Free Speech on Campus.
It noted there are some college campuses where a robust freedom of speech still exists. That is, there are notable exceptions to those college campuses – especially lately – where demonstrations disrupt controversial speakers. (As show at left.)
Law school conditions you to know the difference between righteousness and self-righteousness. That’s why lawyers know how to go to war without turning the other side into an enemy. People love to tell lawyer jokes, but maybe it’s time for the rest of the country to take a lesson from the profession they love to hate.
Put another way, law schools teach people – and hopefully lawyers as a profession – how to zealously argue the merits of an issue without demonizing their opponents, name calling, or character assassination. And that’s something we could use in this era of polarized politics. That is, in this time where “moderate voices often lose power and influence.”
The article noted the telling example of Charles Murray, shown at right. He’s a conservative political scientist who argued – for example – “that all social welfare programs cannot be successful and should ultimately be eliminated altogether.”
When he tried to speak at Middlebury College last March 2, he got shouted down. Rather than listen to his controversial ideas, students chanted “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Charles Murray, go away” and “Your message is hatred. We cannot tolerate it.”
Compare that with Murray’s reception at Yale Law School, where Murray spoke “twice during the past few years,” with a different reception:
Students and faculty engaged with him, and students held a separate event to protest and discuss the implications of his work. But he spoke without interruption. That’s exactly how a university is supposed to work… People love to tell lawyer jokes, but maybe it’s time for the rest of the country to take a lesson from the profession they love to hate. (E.A.)
And speaking of lawyer jokes: That brings up Dick the Butcher, a character in Shakespeare‘s not-so-well-known play, Henry The Sixth, Part 2. He’s the character who famously said, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” (The quote is more famous than the play…)
I wrote about Dick the Butcher in On Reagan, Kennedy – and “Dick the Butcher.” That post from April 2016 noted a number of things about that infamous quote. But the main point was that maybe people don’t like either lawyers or politicians mostly because they are an accurate reflection of themselves. (As shown at left; “Mirror, mirror, on the wall…”)
That is, maybe there are too many nasty-bastard lawyers and politicians precisely because there are too many nasty-bastard clients – and voters – who hire them. “The problem with lawyers is – after all – that they’re only doing what their clients want them to do.”
Which leads to my better quote: “The first thing we should do is, let’s kill all the clients.”
Or the nasty-bastard voters who keep electing nasty-bastard politicians to represent them.
But the better course would be to bring back respect for the “professionalism” shown by old school lawyers and politicians. (The term old school is “commonly used to suggest a high regard for something that has been shown to have lasting value or quality.”) In this case, it could refer to the kind of professionalism shown by the likes of Ronald Reagan and Ted Kennedy.
For example, even though they were political arch-enemies, Kennedy admired Reagan:
He [Reagan]’s absolutely professional. When the sun goes down, the battles of the day are really gone. He gave the Robert Kennedy Medal, which President Carter refused to do… He’s very sure of himself, and I think that people sense that he’s comfortable with himself… He had a philosophy and he’s fought for it. There’s a consistency and continuity at a time when many others are flopping back and forth. And that’s an important and instructive lesson for politicians, that people admire that.
Even though he’s a fictional character, one law-school professor wrote that “the most influential textbook from which he taught was To Kill a Mockingbird.” Another wrote that “Atticus has become something of a folk hero in legal circles.” And no small wonder:
The folk hero often begins life as a normal person, but is transformed into someone extraordinary by significant life events… One major category of folk hero is the defender of the common people against the oppression or corruption of the established power structure.
It is true that Atticus Finch is a fictional character. And it’s also true that far too many lawyers fail to live up to the standard of “defending the oppressed” that he set. But the main truth is that lawyers as a whole have made him the kind of folk hero they try to imitate. And they are willing to listen to and “engage” with people they disagree with, sometimes vehemently.
People like Charles Murray. Yale law students disagreed with him, some vehemently. But they were willing to hear him out, to listen to him and engage with him. And people like Ronald Reagan and Ted Kennedy, political arch-rivals who could “fund-raise” together, back in 1985.
So as I noted in closing the post on Reagan, Kennedy – and “Dick the Butcher:”
Now that’s what I would call True Conservativism…
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Two lawyer-like political rivals – in the old days when they could “sup with their enemies…”
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The upper image is courtesy of gospelcoalition.org/blogs … atticus finch. And as to Atticus Finch – the fictional lawyer in Harper Lee‘s To Kill a Mockingbird – a Michigan Law Review article said “No real-life lawyer has done more for the self-image or public perception of the legal profession.”
The full title of the Time article, Yale Law School Dean: Free Speech on Campus | Time.com. For an opposing point of view, see No, Law School Didn’t Teach Us to ‘Engage’ With Racists, and Yale Students Demolish A Dean’s Weak Argument | Above the Law:
Confronting racism is difficult, but essential, work. Promoting civility can undermine this work by policing the tone and speech of those who are oppressed, diverting our attention away from efforts to combat ongoing white supremacy.
Re: The True Conservativism link: The article linked-to began by saying that in the last 50 years “the word conservative has undergone diverse changes in meaning and value… in short, a word reduced in quality of character and integrity.” The writer – George Panichas – added this:
…our conservatism is ultimately the moral exemplification of our conservatorship; that the conservative as conservator guards against violations of our reverent traditions and legacy, and is, in fine, a preserver, a keeper, a custodian of sacred things and signs and texts…
All of which led me to the home page for The Imaginative Conservative. (Which to some people may seem a contradiction in terms.) The key difference: That site offers a “conservatism of hope:”
Far too often, those who call themselves conservative offer nothing in the realm of art, literature, or theology, choosing instead to adopt the petty practices of modern American politics, interrupting questioners and hurling epithets at those who dare to disagree with them. In addition, an essential part of true conservatism … is a commitment to liberal learning. [“Be still, my beating heart…”]
Another point of view: “Moderation is the true conservatism.” See for example, A Conservative’s Case for Moderation | RealClearPolitics.
The lower image is courtesy of www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/08/senator_ted_kennedy. The caption: “Senator Edward Kennedy talks with President Ronald Reagan, left, on June 24, 1985, as they look over an American Eagle that graced President John F. Kennedy’s desk during a fund raising event for the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library at McLean, Virginia. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi).”