Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Reading Is Fundamental

Courtesy of Patterico we have this link to Patrick Semmens, who found a small, but telling, Harriet Miers nugget:
On lines 15 and 19, as a response to questions about whether she has read books on the subject on which she is being questioned, Miers answers:

“I probably can shorten this line of questioning… if you just asked me when’s the last time I read a whole book.”

Compare that with George W. Bush's pre-presidential remark to Tucker Carlson: When asked what activity he didn't excel at, Bush replied, "Sitting down and reading a 500-page book on public policy or philosophy or something."

Yeah, baby! Books are for elitists!

It would probably be impolite to point readers to the November issue of First Things, which features a long and typically brilliant Antonin Scalia essay on "The Language of Law," which is a review of Steven D. Smith's book, Law's Quandary. No vapid abstractions here. (And I'll bet Scalia even read the whole book, which is about both policy and philosophy! How does he do it?)

It might be even more impolite to point out Scalia's conclusion on Law's Quandary:
Steven Smith is a diligent observer of academic correctness. This is evident in the fact that his book has at least as many shes as hes ("So the hiring partner said, 'I'll call you,' did she?")--excluding, of course, those pronouns referring to antecedent proper nouns that are masculine, for which Smith can hardly be blamed. One would never expect Smith to violate the "norm prescribing that religious beliefs are inadmissible in academic explanations." Vining (with appropriate disclaimer) is about as far as one can go without offending the proprieties. Could it be, however, that Smith is inviting, tempting, seducing his fellow academics to consider the theological way out of the quandary--the way that seemed to work for the classical school?

As one reaches the end of the book, after reading Vining's just-short-of-theological imaginings followed by Smith's acknowledgment of "richer realities and greater powers in the universe," he (she?) is sorely tempted to leap up and cry out, "Say it, man! Say it! Say the G-word! G-G-G-G-God!" Surely even academics can accept, as a hypothetical author, a hypothetical God! Textualists, being content with a "modest" judicial role, do not have to call in the Almighty to eliminate their philosophical confusion. But Smith may be right that a more ambitious judicial approach demands what might be called a dues ex hypothesi.

Read that last bit again: Textualists, being content with a "modest" judicial role, do not have to call in the Almighty to eliminate their philosophical confusion. So why, then, is the White House insisting that their nominee's evangelical Christianity is important?

In addition to being a wonderful essay, Scalia's piece is a rebuke to the religiosity and anti-intellectualism of the last two weeks. Those who voted for George W. Bush were promised a mind like Scalia's for the Supreme Court. Instead, they've been given a mind like George W. Bush's.


Anonymous said...

An unfair post Jonathan, since he was elected GWB has taken up reading rather large and involved books on history and liberty. There is little evidence Miers has.

Anonymous said...

GWB should have read large and involved books on history and liberty BEFORE anyone elected him as President of our nation.