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Tag: "books"

The Death of Sherwood Anderson

[ 51 ] July 29, 2013 |

I just finished re-reading Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio for the first time in many years. While I’ve been in Mexico, I’ve reacquainted myself with the literature of the Gilded Age, largely because I am using the Kindle feature on my ipad for the first time and so I didn’t want to invest in newer books until I knew I liked it. It’s been a useful exercise. Read Great Expectations for the first time since high school. Read A Doll’s House for the first time. Same with Wister’s The Virginian (a very silly novel but useful for me as a teacher of the period). Found Howells’ The Rise of Silas Lapham fascinating in the first time I’ve read it since college. Total Gilded Age fantasy that capitalists wanted to tell themselves about making moral decisions when everyone else (including themselves) were swindling as many people as they could. Some other good stuff as well. So it’s been great. But reading Winesburg, Ohio again was like a slap in the face. What a brilliant piece of literature. So true and direct. Talking about sex and loneliness and obsession in a real, straightforward way that previous American authors really couldn’t do.

Anyway, I was reading Anderson’s Wikipedia page and came across this, a truly unfortunate way to die:

Anderson died on March 8, 1941, at the age of 64, taken ill during a cruise to South America. He had been feeling abdominal discomfort for a few days, which was later diagnosed as peritonitis. Anderson and his wife disembarked from the cruise liner Santa Lucia and went to the hospital in Colón, Panama, where he died on March 8. An autopsy revealed he had accidentally swallowed a toothpick, which had damaged his internal organs and promoted infection. He was thought to have swallowed it in the course of eating the olive of a martini or hors d’oeuvres.

I’m not sure how one swallows the toothpick off a martini olive unless you were very drunk, which is always possible. That’s a pretty tough way to go. I mean, I don’t mind too many martinis killing me, but I’d prefer the slow death of liver destruction to puncturing my innards with a bloody toothpick. Let’s at least hope the olive was good.

Also, I feel there’s a non-zero chance that this is the way Farley will go out.


One Way to Celebrate July 4 is to Take Action Against This Travesty

[ 115 ] July 4, 2013 |

And by this travesty I mean the threat of Steven Spielberg directing a remake of The Grapes of Wrath, a movie I would like to think exactly 0 people would find necessary or interesting, but then again Esther Zuckerman seems excited about it in the linked article so I just don’t know what’s wrong with people.

I mean really, a Grapes of Wrath distanced from the political connotations but wrapped in more sentiment? Gross.

In less disturbing artistic news, here we have a list of the 100 greatest American novels written between 1893 and 1993, with a limit of one book per author. Good for argumentation. I’d question the inclusion of Goodbye Columbus as the Philip Roth entry over Portnoy’s Complaint. Or about 7 or 8 others actually, though I have nothing negative to say about the book. Some of the more recent books feel a bit questionable to me. Is Roots that great of a novel? Or is it just very important? Of course, given that The Fountainhead is on here, it’s clear the list is emphasizing important above good. Or readable.

Best Selling Books, August 8, 1969

[ 72 ] June 14, 2013 |

I found this interesting.

1. Susann, The Love Machine
2. Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint
3. Puzo, The Godfather
4. Nabokov, Ada
5. Crichton, The Andromeda Strain
6. Davis, The Pretenders
7. Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
8. Macdonald, The Goodbye Look
9. Woiwode, What I’m Going to Do, I Think
10. West, Except for Me and Thee

1. Peter and Hull, The Peter Principle
2. Talese, The Kingdom and the Power
3. White, The Making of the President ’68
4. Hellman, An Unfinished Woman
5. Ginott, Between Parent and Teenager
6. Baker, Ernest Hemingway
7. Martin, Jennie
8. Salisbury, The 900 Days
9. Guiles, Norma Jean
10. Craig, Miss Craig’s 21 Day Shape-Up Program for Men and Women

Given the cultural importance of so many of these authors, titles, or at least subject matter, I thought it was worth reprinting. It’s also remarkable that Vladimir Nabokov had the #4 book on the best-seller list. And it’s not like Ada is a light beach read either.

Got this from Time Magazine.

LG&M Podcast: Ari Kelman & Erik Loomis on A Misplaced Massacre

[ 4 ] April 2, 2013 |

[ERIK SAYS] This podcast discusses Ari Kelman’s new book, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek. It explores how different groups contest the historical meanings of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. We then go on to talk about the contested memory of Howard Zinn and the contentiousness within discussions of his famous A People’s History of the United States.

[SEK SAYS] There is an outtake at 1:12:00 and that is all.

Download Erik and Ari’s this podcast here.

….EL–The Zinn stuff starts at about 45 minutes if anyone is interested.

Sunday Book Review: Viper Pilot

[ 36 ] December 2, 2012 |

DoD photo by Senior Airman Greg L. Davis, U.S. Air Force.

Dan Hampton, author of Viper Pilot, doesn’t sound like a pleasant man.  This requires qualification; I suspect he’d be a lot of fun for a night of drinking, but he doesn’t sound pleasant to work with for a prolonged period of time. It’s not just that Hampton has contempt for people who aren’t pilots; he has contempt for just about everyone who doesn’t fly an advanced, single seat fighter-bomber specializing in “Wild Weasel” or SEAD missions. The reviews over at Amazon are interesting to read; some of the one stars seem to be written by people who disliked Hampton personally. If you’re fine with this (and frankly, the arrogance is mildly charming) then Viper Pilot is a pretty interesting read.  Hampton is convincing on the point that it is extremely, extremely difficult to become a single-seat fighter pilot in the United States Air Force today. As simple arithmetic this isn’t surprising, but Hampton explains how he made it through ever cull along the way, and explains why it was necessary to use such a fine toothed comb.

The Wild Weasel plays one of the most critical roles in modern airpower operations, the defeat of enemy air defenses.  In context of a balance of technology and military power that heavily favors modern Western airpower, advanced air defense systems, most often purchased from Russia or China, represent the only effective defense for second-tier states. The most important enabler for modern airpower operations isn’t the air superiority fighter, because modern Western air forces rarely have to fight air-to-air combat. Rather, it’s the SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) team, which kicks the door open and holds it open long enough for all the other elements of an air operation to do their jobs.

Hampton’s battle accounts are genuinely gripping.  He never becomes involved in actual air-to-air combat, but he’s very convincing on the danger and excitement of the Wild Weasel mission, not to mention the close air support runs he occasionally has to make.  Moreover, Hampton’s battle accounts connect well with his earlier discussion of training.  An F-16 pilot needs to be able to conduct an enormous number of intellectual tasks simultaneously, from managing his fuel to assessing threats to organizing her command to paying attention to where all the weapons are going, all while flying an aircraft that, aerodynamically, would prefer to be on or in the ground. Hampton suggests that flying an F-16 under combat conditions is akin to playing several musical instruments at the same time, which sounds about right. Hampton’s accounts of non-combat missions (coordinating the landing of a squadron during a sandstorm, test-piloting a poorly maintained Egyptian F-16) are equally compelling.

At the same time, Hampton admits not the faintest grasp of or interest in grand strategy or international politics. He only occasionally comments on the geopolitical realities of the wars that he fights in, and then usually without much insight. In this he fits the stereotype of the Air Force fighter pilot who is interested, above all, in flying fighter aircraft in wartime conditions.  The rest (why he’s there, what he’s doing) is relatively incidental. He enjoys utilizing the killing power of the F-16, even on missions (such as close air support) that the Air Force as a whole is altogether unenthusiastic about.

Viper Pilot is a quick read; Hampton is a good writer, with a sound grasp of what should and shouldn’t become part of the narrative.  He knows that no one has bought Viper Pilot to read about family. There’s a fair amount of interesting trivia about the Air Force and about F-16s; I’ll confess that I had never quite understood the Viper vs. Fighting Falcon debate, or the role that the original Battlestar Galactica plays in that conversation, but it makes sense in context.  If you like fighter pilot narratives, you’ll probably like this book.  If you don’t, you won’t.


[ 67 ] November 9, 2012 |

Philip Roth, the greatest American writer of his era, claims to have retired.

In the end, this might be a good thing, assuming he really retires. While his 90s and early 2000s resurgence was brilliant, his last novels were, uh, not very good. I had a couple of hours to kill in a library this summer and so I grabbed The Humbling off the shelves. To say the least, it was the worst Roth I’ve ever read. I mean, it’s one thing to be a misogynist in a brilliant novel. But in a bad novel, the misogyny is just unacceptable. That doesn’t take anyway from his 10-15 very good to amazing books. But maybe it is time.


[ 86 ] October 11, 2012 |

Ta-Nehisi Coates is correct. The attacks on Lena Dunham as the ultimate purveyor of white privilege in the arts are utterly bizarre. This isn’t to say Dunham doesn’t benefit from white privilege or shouldn’t think of casting non-whites in her show, but she hardly benefits more than anyone else and is hardly more guilty than anyone else.

The Evolution of Blood Meridian

[ 11 ] October 10, 2012 |

Must reading for all you McCarthyites out there.

Graduate Reading List for The American West

[ 68 ] September 7, 2012 |

This fall, I am teaching graduate students for the first time. I am teaching our senior capstone course, which graduate students can sign up for. My course in on the history of the American West. Usually 1 or 2 graduate students sign up, but I have 6 for whatever reason–my charming personality no doubt. So I’m having them meet separately (in part) for a mini-seminar. As Farley does with the Patterson reading list, I thought people might be interested in the readings I chose. Some of you will disagree with some of the readings, or I hope so anyway.

In a normal graduate seminar, I’d assign a book a week. This isn’t quite that, so some weeks there are books and other weeks a couple of book chapters or articles.

The theme of the course is power. Of course power relations define all history, but because of aridity, racial tension, and the dominance of the region by extractive capitalism, power relations in the West take on a special tone. I can’t truly provide a comprehensive history of the topic in a semester, but this is what I have. There are only 11 weeks of readings because of holidays and plans on other days, so it’s more limited than I’d like.

Week 1: Overview
Richard Etulain, Did the Frontier Experience Make America Exceptional?
This is my coverage of Turner’s frontier thesis and his critics. Get it out of the way and move onto something more interesting. I always hated dealing with these debates but it’s inevitable I suppose.

Week 2: The Indigenous West
Pekka Hämäläinen, The Comanche Empire

Week 3: The Incorporation of the West
William Cronon, “Annihilating Space: Meat” from Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West
Richard Maxwell Brown, “The Gunfighter: The Reality Behind the Myth,” from No Duty to Retreat: Violence and Values in American Society
William Robbins, “An ‘Equilibrium of Chaos’: External Control and the Northern West” from Colony and Empire: The Capitalist Transformation of the American West

Week 4: Tourism and Conservation
Theodore Roosevelt, “The Vigor of Life,” “In Cowboy Land,” and “The Natural Resources of the Nation,” from An Autobiography
Chris Wilson, “Romantic Regional Architecture, 1905 to 1930,” from The Myth of Santa Fe: Creating a Modern Regional Tradition
Louis Warren, “’Raiding Devils’ and Democratic Freedoms: Indians, Ranchers, and New Mexico Wildlife,” from The Hunter’s Game: Poachers and Conservationists in Twentieth-Century America

Week 5: The Working-Class West
Richard White, “Workingmen” from Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America
Cecilia Tsu, “’Independent of the Unskilled Chinaman’: Race, Labor, and Family Farming in California’s Santa Clara Valley,” Western Historical Quarterly Winter 2006
Gunther Peck, “Manhood Mobilized,” from Reinventing Free Labor: Padrones and Immigrant Workers in the North American West, 1880-1930

Week 6: Water, Natural Resources, and the West
Donald Worster, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s

Week 7: The Gendered West
Virginia Scharff and Carolyn Brucken, Home Lands: How Women Made the West

Week 8: Urbanization and Suburbanization
Read: John Findlay, “Sun City, Arizona: New Town for Old Folks, from Magic Lands: Western Cityscapes and American Culture after 1940
Mike Davis, “The Case for Letting Malibu Burn” from Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster
Quintard Taylor, “Facing the Urban Frontier: African-American History in the Reshaping of the Twentieth-Century American West” Western Historical Quarterly Spring 2012

Week 9: Postwar Social Movements in the West
Josh Sides, Erotic City: Sexual Revolutions and the Making of Modern San Francisco

Week 10: Environmentalism and the Modern West
Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire, p. 1-67
Darren Speece, “From Corporatism to Citizen Oversight: The Legal Fight over California Redwoods, 1970-1996,” Environmental History October 2009
Jake Kosek, “Smokey the Bear is a White Racist Pig” from Understories: The Political Life of Forests in Northern New Mexico

Week 11: Migration and Borders
Monica Perales, Smeltertown: Making and Remembering a Southwest Border Community

Week 12: The West Today
Students search out recent articles and make short presentations connecting to the historical themes of the semester.
Given that this is the last day of classes, I don’t feel I can really assign real readings in this week. Particularly since they will be in the hell of writing their 20-30 page historiographical paper for me.

I see the strengths of this syllabus as a real focus on the relationship between diversity and power and that the major themes are woven through the weeks and not just confined to one week.

Weaknesses include not enough on Native Americans in the second half of the course, the lack of a specific week on the rise of conservative politics (if I had one more week, I’d solve this problem), and not enough works by women, which is annoying and snuck up on me as these things will. But what would I cut out?

Thoughts? I’m actually open to suggestions since I don’t have to teach until Monday afternoon and won’t print off the syllabus until a couple of hours beforehand. The books can’t change obviously, but the articles and book chapters certainly could.

Book Review: Pakistan: A Hard Country

[ 4 ] July 30, 2012 |

This is the third in an eight part series on this year’s Patterson School Summer Reading List:

  1. Jason Stearns, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters
  2. CJ Chivers, The Gun
  3. Anatol Lieven, Pakistan: A Hard Country

Anatol Lieven’s Pakistan: A Hard Country tries to change the extant Western narrative on Pakistan. Lieven has travelled extensively in Pakistan over the course of several decades, and is familiar with virtually all of the major political factions. Lievan’s most important point, made repeatedly for emphasis, is that the social structures that undergird Pakistani society (primarily kinship structures, along witha  melange of tribal and ethnic affiliations) are far too robust for either radical Islamists or the Pakistani state to disrupt. While Pakistan may in some ways resemble a “failed state” (itself a dreadfully over and mis-used term), there is little prospect for any kind of transformational change of state structures. Pakistan is here to stay, and will likely remain genuinely “Pakistani” for the foreseeable future.

Lieven makes clear that a surface analysis of Pakistani politics, even one that takes into account the interplay between the major political parties and ethnic groups, lends little understanding as to how the political system actually functions. He makes clear that party politics fails to adequately describe the interactions of the Pakistani political class, and that the extant parties are themselves little more than broad-based patronage networks with a thin ideological veneer. Not all parties are equally part of this system, although most of those that see any kind of prolonged success find themselves in a system which strongly rewards a kinship-patronage based program. This makes it difficult for political parties to take advantage of broader identifications, including ethnic attachment or class consciousness. These attachments surely exist, but their impact is muted by the deeper social structure. For example, even parties interested in agrarian reform have rarely had much success penetrating the networks of obligation, and have earned enduring hatred from what amount (in some ways) to feudal agrarian lords. However, Lieven makes clear that the feudal model also misses much; rural conditions are less drastic than statistics indicate because the upper classes are themselves bound by these systems of obligation.

State capacity problems extend to tax collection, infrastructure projects, management of the local police, and basic governance of the more restive provinces. Nevertheless, Pakistan has managed to construct a well trained, technological advanced, competent army, albeit one that consistently rejects civilian supremacy. Pakistan has also managed to build itself ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs, both of which are centralized, capital intensive endeavors. Consequently, Pakistan only approaches being a “failed” state on certain metrics of domestic governance; its central government can consistently draw on the resources necessary to projecting a powerful international image.

Lieven rejects the argument that Pakistan is likely to fall to the Taliban, or to undergo an Islamic revolution similar to Iran’s.  It’s not just that secular institutions are too strong, although in the case of the Army this is surely true.  More importantly, the network of identities that bind Pakistani society together are too strong for revolutionary forces to tear apart.  While the Taliban has prospered in some parts of Pakistan and has periodically won certain forms of official sanction, it has also discovered hard limits on its appeal, not to mention the tolerance of Pakistani security institutions. The Army and intelligence services have been happy to make limited use of the Taliban and Taliban allies to conduct proxy wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir, but have moved quickly to crush any serious threats to the Pakistani state.

Lieven repeatedly returns to concerns about climate change.  He argues that climate change could destabilize Pakistani society in ways that neither the state nor the Taliban can match, by undermining the fundamental economic substructure. Indeed, next to climate change Lieven sees only a US or Indian ground invasion and occupation as events that could bring about revolutionary change in Pakistan.

The weak state, strong society dynamic helps explain the problematic nature of Pakistani civil-military relations.  Built on a British model perfected during the Raj, the Pakistani Army is a strong institution, capable of managing itself in a more or less meritocratic fashion, of building a security strategy that informs (and to some degree constitutes) Pakistani foreign policy, and of commanding all of the resources necessary to a modern, effective military organization.  It is nearly the only institution in the country that operates on such a Weberian logic. Thus, the military tends to hold a great degree of legitimacy (although this varies across region), and tends to have strong attitudes about the nature and conduct of the civilian Pakistani state.  At the same time, the civilian state remains remarkably corrupt and incapable of reforming either itself or life in the countryside.  Consequently, the military often had both an interest in political intervention and the social capital to undertake such intervention.

Lieven notes on several occasions that the Pakistani public sphere is rife with conspiracy theory.  These include a widespread belief that Jews were behind the 9/11 attacks, that the United States and India support Al Qaeda, as well as a few others.  Lievan makes a good case that these beliefs go beyond what we might account as typical nationalist/political paranoia (such as American beliefs on climate change, President Obama’s religion, etc.) and have a detrimental effect (although perhaps not a significant detrimental effect) on Pakistani public life and foreign relations.

Pakistan: A Hard Country isn’t quite “everything you know about Pakistan is wrong,” but rather “most of what you know about Pakistan needs to be viewed in different context.” To be sure, while Lievan makes certain that his readers get the point, the argument occasionally comes across as repetitive. In part this is because Lieven previews certain discussions in the course of engaging other topics; given that national political problems are often inter-related, there’s nothing particularly wrong with this. However, there’s a degree of truth to the claim that you can get most of Lievan’s argument from his first chapter. You’d miss out on a tremendous amount of supporting evidence and detail, but nevertheless could probably get a grip on his key assertions. Altogether, it’s a worthwhile volume.

Sunday Book Review: Mind of War

[ 9 ] April 8, 2012 |

When I assembled a syllabus for this semester’s Airpower seminar, I noted that there appeared to be a pair of biographies of John Boyd; Grant Hammond’s Mind of War, and Robert Coram’s Boyd. Brief reading of reviews and cursory investigation didn’t reveal much in terms of how the differed, so I sought the last refuge of the scoundrel: twitter.  My twitter people told me that both volumes were solid enough, with Coram concentrating more on Boyd the airman and Hammond on Boyd the man.  Given that this was an Airpower seminar, there were obvious reasons for choosing Coram.  However, I thought that after a long semester of delving through the dry texts of airpower theory, my students might have preferred a more personal approach.


Mind of War isn’t an awful book.  There are compelling elements to it, and it certainly paints an interesting picture of John Boyd Polymath.  It describes elements of his thought in great detail, and ably presents his contribution to a number of important projects. But it’s also obvious that the biographer was, in this case, far too close to his subject.  I hasten to add that this was an assessment that my students shared; they still joke about how Boyd was kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being etc. etc.

John Boyd surely did some phenomenal things in his career.  He was a remarkable fighter pilot, both in tacit and explicit senses.  He was able to draw sufficiently robust lessons from air combat to integrate them with physics and engineering know how, thus producing the foundations for two of the most impressive fighter aircraft of the 20th century.  The OODA loop remains a genuinely fascinating and productive theoretical device; for my own part, it helps me understand the effectiveness of the Oregon Ducks offense under Chip Kelly.  For the most part, Hammond doesn’t bother apologizing for the fact that Boyd was apparently a colossal asshole; I’ve read few biographies (short of the obvious, Mussolini et al) where I had less interest in meeting the subject in person.

Hammond goes into a great deal of depth about Boyd’s ideas regarding warfare, competition, conflict, and systems integration. There’s a lot to be learned, unfortunately Hammond often seemed more interested in telling the reader how edgy and insightful Boyd was than in showing it.  To be sure, he did a lot of the latter, but there’s so much of former that it sometimes feels as if we’re getting an argument from authority regarding the genius of John Boyd.  Another way to put it is that Hammond doesn’t seem to trust that the reader will be smart enough to understand just how smart John Boyd was, and therefore he needs to reaffirm the genius of his subject at every turn.  Again, there’s something to this; the reader probably won’t ever produce work as insightful as Boyd’s, but there needs to be a limit to the commitment of a biographer to the subject’s legacy.  It doesn’t help when Hammond carefully concludes, in the final chapter, that Boyd met all of Clausewitz’ criteria for “military genius.”

Here’s a question.  I’m sure that some would disagree with the suggestion that John Boyd and John Warden are the two pre-eminent American airpower theorists of the post-war age, but there’s at least a compelling case to be made for the prominence of each. Part of the point of creating an independent air force was to give aviators and enthusiasts the freedom to develop platform, doctrine, and strategic insight regarding the utility of airpower.  Only by freeing the air force from its support role for the Army, the logic went, could the true potential of airpower be reached.  I have to wonder, then, why both Boyd and Warden had such rocky Air Force careers.  Neither made flag rank, and Hammond argues that Boyd was persona non-grata with the Air Force until very near his death.  Comparatively, the most important theorists of the USAAC and USAAF period seem to have done very well; Billy Mitchell was court marshaled (after reaching flag rank), but Hap Arnold and many of the others associated with the Air Corps Tactical School continued to play very important roles into the Second World War.  Off the top of my head the only really important USAAC officer to resign/get chased out was Claire Chennault, and his fight was more against the bomber mafia than the ground army.  I’d be curious to see whether people think a) I’m misreading the history, b) a maverick career always comes with a cost, service independence notwithstanding, c) there’s a genuine problem with how the USAF approaches innovation, or d) some of the above.

Hammond hedges a bit on Boyd’s legacy. He certainly wants to argue that Boyd had a critical impact on a wide variety of affairs, from corporate governance to military doctrine to aircraft design.  However, the lines are often sketchier than Hammond appears to draw. the story Hammond tells about Boyd’s impact on the Army and the Marine Corps is far too simple; Boyd surely supplied some of the ancillary logic for the return to maneuver warfare after Active Defense, but then the latter was never popular in the Army, and in both the 1980s and 1990s there were many sources of innovation.  By Hammond’s own account the military reform movement failed to bring about much reform. If we are to believe the rest of the Fighter Mafia, Boyd would have loathed both the F-22 and the F-35. Moreover, it’s interesting that the primary utility of F-15 and F-16 now appears to be in their multirole capability; they surely remain excellent air superiority platforms, but they now act mostly as fighter-bombers (and even light strategic bombers in the service of the IDF).

Mind of War is perhaps the only biography I’ve ever read that has made me really, really want to read another biography of the same subject.  It’s not a bad book, exactly, but it works best as a useful supplement for those already deeply steeped in the history of late Cold War airpower, and the fighter mafia in particular.  If I had it to do over again, I’d assign the Coram book in a heartbeat.

Scalia and the Reactionary Mind

[ 15 ] October 20, 2011 |

I promised to say more about Corey Robin’s assessment of Antonin Scalia in The Reactionary Mind, some of which is excerpted here. Before I get to that, I should say that it’s an excellent book I strongly recommend. And one initial complaint notwithstanding, the Ayn Rand chapter (“St. Petersburg in revolt gave us Vladimir Nabokov, Isaiah Berlin and Ayn Rand. The first was a novelist, the second a philosopher. The third was neither but thought she was both…”) is particularly good. Since Bernstein uses both the “could you do better?” and the “but Rand sells lots of books!” arguments, I suppose this goes without saying. You think Dan Brown is a hack? Sorry, but unless you’re Alice Munro I’m afraid you’re not allowed to say it.

On Robin and Scalia, a few reflections:

  • Paul has also discussed this recently, but the relish Scalia often takes in getting things to come out wrong is a particular trademark.   As Robin says, one of the things that make Scalia a more interesting figure  (as well as a marginally better Supreme Court justice) than Alito is that he doesn’t always relish unpleasant results in a conservative direction.   His confrontation clause jurisprudence is another good example.  There is a certain conservatism inherent in Scalia’s distinctive preference for struggle and tough choices based on clear rules, as John Holbo’s classic review of Dead Right reminds us vividly.  But sometimes it actually constrains what we might expect are his policy preferences.   (Just as, for that matter, Frum is a lot more interesting that Bill Kristol.)
  • It should be noted, however, that there are distinct limits to Scalia’s duresse oblige.  This is most visible is most visible in his Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence, which is a complete mess even if we leave Bush v. Gore out of it.  (Which we shouldn’t; as Robin says Scalia’s telling people to “get over it” as if his lawless expedience represented a tough choice required by law is a defining moment.)     When the amendment that defines the post-Civil War constitutional order is concerned, Scalia makes sure everything comes out right — in the sense of preserving traditional racial and gender hierarchies.
  • To the extent that I have a different take, then, it’s that I don’t think that originalism is very important to Scalia’s jurisprudence at all.  Tradition, yes, but not originalism.   Scalia’s dissent in U.S. v. Virginia has a lot to say about how discrimination against women is deeply rooted in American political culture (and is, therefore, constitutionally self-justifying) but very little to say about the text, structure, and purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment.   Like most  “originalists,” Scalia has rarely shown a deep or sustained interest in constitutional history.   Even the law-office history in Heller isn’t all that common to his jurisprudence.    Much more instructive is his conduct in the follow-up case McDonald v. Chicago, in which both at oral argument and his separate opinion Scalia was contemptuous of Thomas’s arguments that the Court should try to correct the hash the Court made of the privileges and immunities clause in the Slaughterhouse Cases.
  • To put it another way, Robin argues that “Scalia’s philosophy of constitutional interpretation — variously called originalism, original meaning, or original public meaning — is often confused with original intention.”   As I’ve argued in more detail before, I think that in practice this is meaningless distinction; essentially, “original meaning” involves consulting the same sources of evidence and making the same types of arguments as “original intention.”   The only difference is that the former is superficially more plausible.   It’s relevant only because 99% of the time invocations of originalism are a rhetorical strategy — a way of implying that opponents are just ignoring the Constitution — rather than a grand theory that governs judicial interpretation.   Scalia — who gets credit for being a principled originalist even though originalism doesn’t have a lot to do with his actual jurisprudence — is a case in point.

At any rate, almost any part of the book inspires a lot of thought, so it’s definitely worth checking out.

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