Law in Contemporary Society

As I can now see clearly, the first draft of this paper was an exercise in attempting to meet a conclusion I already held as truth. For obvious reasons, that failed. But the conclusion, that religiously-founded arguments have no place in the context of the United States’ governmental policy, has become no less true to me, despite my inability to find evidence that the “founding fathers” shared this conviction. I’ve come to realize that my desire to prove this idea is very connected to one of the important reasons I ended up at law school. My dad, whose temperament I increasingly seem to have inherited, resides, ideologically, in the camp of the enemy. He gets his news from Fox and listens to Rush Limbaugh daily; one summer he even offered to pay me California’s hourly minimum wage to tune into Rush daily. That didn’t work out.

When I registered to vote senior year of high school, I joined the Green party, had a Nader button on my backpack, and suddenly couldn’t sit through dinner at the table without getting into a fight with my dad about politics. I was woefully uninformed, beautifully idealistic, and he smugly told me I’d get smart and get Republican when I grew up. So ever since, I’ve been attempting to elevate the debate. I used to try to win our arguments, but once I left for college, and realized how little time I’d probably spend with my parents, comparatively, from that point on, it became about finding common ground, and if not, avoiding the subject altogether. After a post-Thanksgiving screaming match on the subject of Sarah Palin (he flabbergasted me with that one), he’s started to realize just how much some of his views upset me, and he’ll mostly consent not to engage

What we do have in common that’s relevant to our arguments, so far as I know, is a total lack of religious affiliation. I think the term ‘atheist’ is probably the ideological equivalent of ‘communist’ to him, but I’ve never once heard him mention God. He scoffed along with me the few times my mother tried to get us to go to church on Easter. So my conclusion about religion in government was meant to serve as common ground for discussing things like gay marriage, reproductive rights, and other areas where I think Republicans are hardly the classic definition of conservative. In my view, once they’ve exhausted the (ir)relevant bible passages, and the question-begging “thousand years of tradition,” there are no other rational arguments for restricting access to marriage, contraception or scientifically accurate sex education. And I thought that if I framed the issues just so, my dad might acknowledge that my positions had legitimacy.

This course has tended to make me think that my campaign to get my dad to respect my opinion in matters of politics and policy is, while futile, a valid exercise in and of itself. I’m not likely to convert him on any issue of even the smallest relevance to party platforms, though I can get him to laugh a bit at the expense of easy targets on the right (except Palin, sadly). But it’s been valuable to consider issues in terms of the factors that my dad, and other conservatives, hold as important. For example, when talking to him about the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, I would cite personal responsibility for unexpected costs that the uninsured currently shift to tax payers, the mandate passed in the earliest years of the American government that all males of legal age must purchase a musket for the common defense of the citizenry, and the fact that it actually facilitates personal freedom in that people no longer have to depend on their employers for affordable healthcare—they have more mobility because they can leave a job without worrying about the difficulty of obtaining permanent replacement coverage; it lowers the risk for those who want to work freelance or start a business (entrepreneurship being a key tenet in the right-wing case for helping the wealthy become more wealthy through government policy).

The thing is, outside the context of the Obama-branded ACA, all of these principles would be supported by my father as sacredly American. But partisan polarization, among other things, has ensured that principles are subsumed by politics. Common ground is now filled, if at all, by those unfortunate ousted politicians who weren’t quite quick enough to catch on to the fact that it’s now just fine to publicly elevate politics over principles (a policy made brazenly explicit by Senator Mitch McConnell? ). The right’s skepticism of intellectuals also reflects this; it’s not enough to say that statistics and findings about climate change are inconclusive or biased—the scientists themselves are liberal elitist socialists who want to destroy economic growth, kill industry, and unacceptably apologize for human behavior. My dad will tell you these things, even if you didn’t ask.

The funny thing is, politically, my dad’s principles indeed seem subsumed. But I’ve realized they’re expressed in everything else he does. An unspoken principle of his seems to be the determination to be beyond reproach in all of his work. He’s always expected something similar from me. . Leaving on a light in an empty room, a open window open when the air conditioning is running, needing a reminder to feed the animals—these weren’t minor mistakes (though they also weren’t punishable mistakes, I should note). They were evidence that I wasn’t being observant, careful and thorough enough. And they mattered to him because the habits they represent—thriftiness, awareness of my environment, and personal responsibility as the essential counter to personal freedom—are so crucial to professional success and, I suppose, success as a citizen. I’m at law school because of my dad’s principles, but I’ve let go of the idea that things I learn here can alter his politics. What they can do is provide common ground outside of politics, I hope.

995 words.

I think the reflective nature of this draft was precisely the right step. You've seen why "proving" a constitutional proposition on an originalist premise, whether tendentiously or not, isn't much of a contribution to the political conversation with your father. This led you to a deeper conclusion, partly emotional and partly intellectual, wholly correct, that political conversation with your father deprives you of connection rather than contributing to it. Both of these are valuable steps, in differently important directions.

I don't know whether you care to continue on this line. If so, I think the next draft would deal not with the substance of your political differences, and not even with the underlying similarities in commitment to what you call "principle" in daily life (what on the basis of your examples I think Veblen would have called "instinct of workmanship). It is rather the different roles that thinking about politics plays in your two lives that would be the additional subject.

Your father has accepted an invitation offered by forms of mass media that grew up after the demise of the Fairness Doctrine: he has made politics the domain of team confrontation. He brings to the interpretation of politics around him the same unmeasured emotional investment, the same external projection of visceral motivations, that twentieth-century American men largely invested in spectator sports. This is not a characterization he would accept: he is, after all, The Thinking Man. That he is manipulated, in his role of Republican-rooting Thinking Man, into supporting governments and policies that are not only bad for him but bad for you, is what he must not allow himself to see. This is achieved via the process Arnold described. Creed, which defines the boundary between inside and outside social organizations, is redefined to put "outside" anyone who would challenge the thinking man's "conclusions." The "libs" become not merely people with different ideas, but people trying to destroy what can only be kept safe by not thinking too hard.

Your emotional structure for thinking about politics is different. I leave you to characterize it for yourself, if you're so inclined.


Webs Webs

r7 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:10:36 - IanSullivan
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM