Monday, August 01, 2005

Guilt by the Books You Read?

Guilty by their reading!

In an article on the proposed appointment of a new member of the Supreme Court the witch-hunt is on – as per usual. This year it is an in-depth research into John Roberts, jr, a nominee of a Republican President, to find reasons why he should be castigated and not appointed. Some years back it was into a nominee from a Democratic President – the worst they came up with was his alleged habit of ‘making passes’ at women.

In the Washington Post we find a most serious charge against a nominee – he read certain books and discussed them with others while a recently graduated law student in a lowly job in the West Wing of the White House. They couldn’t script it better for the fictional presidency of ‘President’ Bartlet – perhaps, it could feature in an episode of the sixth series.

Not wishing to intrude on the internal affairs of the Washington, DC, I am compelled to make a comment because one of the heinous books the young man read and discussed with others (he could hardly discuss it with himself) was the “Wealth of Nations”!

How this amounts to evidence of his unsuitability for the US Supreme Court is not stated, but does not have to be because the writers – and no doubt Post readers – will have sufficient lack of knowledge of Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” to draw the conclusion that reading such a book is proof positive of a proclivity, not for ‘truck, barter and exchange’, but for evil, extremist rightwing judgements against all things decent in America.

The Post reports:

“Many, like Roberts, [the Nominee] had attended premier law schools, surrounded by liberal students and professors. Now, they were side by side with people who shared their own views. They read and discussed books such as Plato's "Republic," the Federalist Papers and Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations," and contemplated "how to leave a legacy that goes beyond passing this bill or that," Fein said.”

“A Charter Member of Reagan Vanguard Court Nominee Was Part of Legal Team Seeking to Shift Course on Civil Rights Laws” By R. Jeffrey Smith, Amy Goldstein and Jo Becker Washington Post Staff Writers, Monday, August 1, 2005

Bruce Fein, the informant ('fink' is too strong a word) was an associate deputy attorney general at the time - it is not reported what books, if any, Fein read and discussed]

As for Plato’s “Republic” (surely read and discussed at Law School?) and the “Federalist Papers” (surely mandatory reading among young people seeking careers in US government, the courts and politics?), the mind boggles as to what sinister meaning can be attributed by their informant on their private behaviour in the West Wing. I would consider it a sign of their diligence as young lawyers working for senior counsel in the White House that they spent social time discussing such texts. That it was President Reagan’s team they worked for is another attempted slur on their guilt by association.

All in all a disappointing piece, sloppily compiled (was Fein questioned as to what interpretation he put on Roberts reading “Wealth of Nations”, a book written by someone passionately dedicated to liberty, good government and opulent economies)?

Adam Smith was well qualified in jurisprudence (he received his law doctorate in 1763 for his work on the legal history of jurisprudence at the University of Glasgow, 1752-1764) and he was an admirer of the American constitution (the subject of the Federalist Papers). He too had studied Plato at Oxford University and no doubt discussed his works and other classics in his many private conversations (Plato features in “Moral Sentiments”, 1759).

Shame on Bruce Fein, the reporters and the editor of the Post.


Blogger mus said...

Of course, Smith himself got in trouble as a student for reading Hume.

11:37 pm  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

Excellent point which I completely missed. In my view this incident tipped young Adam into his decision not to pursue ordination; he went on to become a philosopher instead.

Thank you bsf for drawing this to our attention.

3:15 pm  

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