October 1, 2008


Alexander, Jeffrey C., The Civil Sphere (Oxford & New York: Oxford U. Press, 2006) (“The premise of Civil Sphere is that societies are not governed by power alone and are not fueled only by the pursuit of self-interest. Feelings for others matter, and they are structured by the boundaries of solidarity. How solidarity is structured, how far it extends, what it’s composed of—these are critical issues of every social order, and especially for orders that aim at the good life. Solidarity is possible because people are oriented not only to the here and now but to the ideal, to the transcendent, to what they hope will be the everlasting.” Id. at 3.).

Alexander, Jeffrey C., The Meaning of Social Life: A Cultural Sociology (Oxford & New York: Oxford U. Press, 2003) (“[T]he task of a cultural sociology… is to bring the unconscious cultural structures that regulate society into the light of the mind.” Id. at 3-4. “In our postmodern world, factual statements and fictional narratives are densely interwoven. The binaries of symbolic codes and true/false statements are implanted one on the other. Fantasy and reality are so hopeless intertwined that we can separate them only in a posthoc way…. One needs to develop an alternative, more cultural sociology because reality is not nearly as transparent and rational as our sociological forefathers believed.” Id. at 5-6.).

Bacevich, Andrew J., The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 2008) (“Today, no less than in 1776, a passion for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness remains at the center of America’s civic theology. The Jeffersonian trinity summarizes our common inheritance, defines our aspirations, and provides the touchstone for our influences abroad.” Yet if Americans still cherish the sentiments contained in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, they have, over time radically revised their understanding of those ‘inalienable rights.” Id. at 15. “If one were to choose a single word to characterize that identity [i.e., “what it means to be an American in the twenty-first century”], it would have to be more. For the majority of contemporary Americans, the essence of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness centers on a relentless personal quest to acquire, to consume, to indulge, and to shed whatever constraints might interfere with those endeavors. A bumper sticker, a sardonic motto, and a charge dating from the Age of Woodstock have recast the Jeffersonian trinity in modern vernacular: ‘Whoever dies with the most toys wins’, ‘Shop till you drop’, ‘If it feels good, do it.’ Id. at 16. “Few, however, have considered how an American preoccupation with ’more’ has affected U.S. relations with the rest of the world. Yet foreign policy implications of our present-day penchant for consumption and self-indulgence are almost entirely negative. Over the past six decades, efforts to satisfy spiraling consumer demand have given birth to a condition of profound dependency. The United States may still remain the mightiest power the world has ever seen, but the fact is that Americans are no longer masters of their own fates.” Id. at 16-17. “Paradoxically, the belief that all (or even much) will be well, if only the right person assumes the reins as president and commander in chief serves to underwrite the status quo. Counting on the next president to fix whatever is broken promotes expectations of easy, no-cost cures, permitting ordinary citizens to absolve themselves of responsibility for the nation’s predicament. The same Americans who profess to despise all that Washington represents look to–depending on a partisan affiliation–a new John F. Kennedy or a new Ronald Reagan to set things right again. Rather than seeing the imperial presidency as part of the problem, they persist in the fantasy that a chief executive, given a clear mandate, will ‘change’ the way Washington works and restore the nation to good health. Yet to judge by the performance of presidents over the past half century, including both Kennedy and Reagan (whose legacies are far more mixed than their supporters will acknowledge), a citizenry that looks to the White House for deliverance is assured of disappointment.” Id. at 171-172. “Pick the group: blacks, Jews, women, Asians, Hispanics, working stiffs, gays, the handicapped–in every case, the impetus for providing equal access to the rights guaranteed by the Constitution originated among pinks, lefties, liberals, and bleeding-heart fellow travelers. When it came to ensuring that every American should get a fair shake, the contributions of modern conservatism has been essentially nil.” Id. at 26.).

Barbery, Muriel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog translated from the French by Alison Anderson (New York: Europa Editions, 2006, 2008) (This is a thoughtful novel. "As for me, I implore fate to give me the chance to see beyond myself and truly meet someone." Id. at 145.).

Bauer, Susan Wise, The Art of the Public Grovel: Sexual Sin and Public Confession in America (Princeton &Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2008).

Darwall, Stephen, The Second-Person Standpoint: Morality, Respect, and Accountability (Cambridge, Ma. & London, England: Harvard U. Press, 2006).

Friedman, Thomas L., Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008) (For those who actual read more than the just the headlines and the sport section of The New York Times, or a comparable alternative, most of the facts and their implications should be known to you. Then again, what percentage of us read The New York Times, etc., and read beyond the sport sections and the headlines? Thus, Friedman and his book(s) serve an important function, collection and synthesize of a lot of important materials and presenting it in a fashion that even a third grader should comprehend. “I have already mentioned one disturbing trend: Post-9/11, we as a nation have put up more walls than ever, and in the process we have disconnected ourselves emotionally, if not physically, from many of our natural allies and our natural instincts to embrace the world. In the process, America has shifted from a country that always exported its hopes (and so imported the hopes of millions of others) to one that is seen as exporting its fears.” “The other disturbing trend has been building slowly since the 1980s. It is a ‘dumb as we wanna be’ mood that has overtaken our political elite, a mood that says we can indulge in petty red state-blue state catfights for as long as we want and can postpone shoring up our health care system and our crumbling infrastructure, postpone addressing immigration reform, postpone fixing Social Security and Medicare, and postpone dealing comprehensively with our energy excesses and insecurity—indefinitely. The prevailing attitude on so many key issues in Washington today is ‘We’ll get to it when we feel like getting to it and it will never catch up to us, because we’re America.’” Id. at 8.).

Gelman, Andrew, David Park, Boris Shor, Joseph Bafumi, & Jeronomo Cortina, Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2008) (“It is middle- and upper-income voters who drive the political culture war, and it is in this upper stratum of society where rich states and poor states have their political differences, at least when it comes to national politics.” Id. at 20. “In poor states, rich people are very different from poor people in their political preferences. But in rich states, they are not.” “Part of the story is race. In poor southern states such as Mississippi, the rich-poor divide coincides with a racial divide, which, given the differences between the two parties on racial issues, will lead to bigger differences between the voting patterns of rich and poor. Beyond this, race is tied to economic issues and policies: given the high correlation of income and race, redistribution often looks like a racial policy.” Id. at 22. ‘The rich Northeast and West of the United States, along with much of Europe, seem to have moved toward what might be called a postindustrial politics in which supporters of liberal and conservatives parties differ more on religious than on income, and politics feels more like a culture war than a class war. Meanwhile, poorer states in the South and middle of the country look more like Mexico, with a more traditional pattern of votes of the rich and poor.” Id. at 106.).

Ghilarducci, Teresa, When I’m Sixty-Four: The Plot Against Pensions and the Plan to Save Them (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2008).

Gourevitch, Philip and Errol Morris, Standard Operating Procedure (New York: The Penguin Press, 2008) (“There is a constant temptation, when rendering an account of history, to distort reality by making too much sense of it. This temptation is greatest when the history is fresh and deals with crises that are ongoing—crises that mold our understanding of our world and ourselves. Surely, if you have come this far in this sordid tale, you must crave some relief, some release, from the relentless, claustrophobic annihilation of the dungeon: a clear and cleansing note of sanity, an interlude of avenging justice or an eruption of decency, the entry of a hero. But surely you don’t want to be deceived. There is no such solace or sanctuary in this story. Abu Ghraib was bedlam, and the MI block was its sick, racing heart. There was no excuse for it, and there was nothing to show for it either, no great score of useful intelligence, no ends to justify the means. Nobody has ever bothered to pretend otherwise. The horror of Tier 1A was entirely gratuitous, and it just kept getting worse.” Id. at 159. I have a question. What does it say about us, that is, we Americans, that Abu Ghraib is, pretty much, removed from our collective memory already?).

Grewal, David Singh, Network Power: The Social Dynamics of Globalization (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 2008) ("The idea of network power argues that we are pulled by our choices along avenues smoothed by the prior choices of others. In an age of accelerating globalization, these social dynamics are ever more central and ever more apparent. It is our very sociability that draws us out of ourselves and into conventions that regulate our access to others--access based on standards that at once free us and entrap us, binding us in ongoing histories only partly of our on creation. Or, as Marx put the matter famously and succinctly: 'Men make their own history but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.'" Id. at 140 (citation omitted). A worthwhile read. I thought of assigning it, or at least chapters 8 and 9, for my class in International Trade Law.).

Kmiec, Douglas W., Can A Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question About Barrack Obama with an Introduction by Martin Sheen (Woodstock & New York: Overlook press, 2008) ("Senator Obama's historic quest for the presidency hinges on the Catholic vote and whether Catholics feel themselves free to vote for him under the teaching of the Church. We should. Seldom has a non-Catholic candidate been so taken with the Catholic social justice tradition. Obama's worldview reflects Dorothy Day's Catholic spirit of hospitality and the search for common ground pursued by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago..." Id. at 21. "When the senator met with me and about thirty other religious leaders, he was asked by the eminent Dr. Franklin Graham whether he believed that 'Jesus was the way, the truth, and the light.' Senator Obama paused and looked Reverend Graham in the eye. 'Jesus is my way,' said Barack. 'No,' said Reverend Graham, 'do you accept Jesus as the way?' 'You know, Reverend, the most Christ-like person, the person of most generous heart I've ever encountered in my life, was my mother. She did not have the benefit of baptism and I cannot believe in a Christianity that would exclude her fro eternity. Jesus is my way and I believe completely that I will see my mother again.'" Id. at 123.).

Levy, Bernard-Henri, Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism translated from the French by Benjamin Moser (New York: Random House, 2008) (A defense of a melancholy as opposed to a lyrical) left, or in America a melancholy liberalism. "Not sadness, of course./And even less the indifference and tepidity of a person who no longer does anything because he no longer hopes for anything./But the initiative, to the contrary, the Prometheanism of one who--precisely because he has no other hopes; precisely because heaven is empty and because he knows he has nowhere else to turn; precisely because the world has nobody but him, now, to light it a bit--is going to take up that practice, which after all is rather improbable, which is the child of human abandonment, and which is called politics./That was the motto of William of Orange: 'One need not hope in order to undertake, nor succeed in order to persevere.'" Id. at 211-212.).

Lichtman, Allan, White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement (New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 2008) (“Recent pathbreaking research by behavioral scientists John Alford, Carolyn Funk, and John R. Hibbing has shown that individuals attracted to right-wing politics had strongly genetic and to a lesser extent socially conditioned attitudes that inclined them to creedal, not temperamental, conservatism. According to their work, the conservative disposition was ‘absolutist.’ Conservatives were ‘characterized by a relatively strong suspicion of out-groups (e.g., immigrants), a yearning for in-group unity and strong leadership…a desire for clear, unbending moral and behavior codes (strict constructionists), a fondness for swift and severe punishment for violations of this code (the death penalty), a fondness for systematization (procedural due process), and an inherently pessimistic view of human nature.’ Consistent with the thesis of this book the researcher also argue that the attitudes held by today’s conservatives were ‘remarkably similar‘ to those held by conservatives ‘ at earlier times in American history.’” Id. at 453 (citations omitted)).

Noll, Mark A., God Race in American Politics: A Short History (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2008) (“This book offers a simply stated thesis about an immensely complicated history. First, race has always been among the most influential elements in American political history, and in many periods absolutely the most influential. Second, religion has always been crucial for the workings of race in American politics. Together, race and religion make us, not only the nation’s deepest and most enduring moral problem, but also its broadest and most enduring political influence.” “Yet how race and religion have interacted to shape politics has differed dramatically over time and by community.” Id. at 1. The following passage triggered thoughts about Sarah Palin’s characterization of Barack Obama’s experience as that of a mere ‘community organizer.’ “The second effect of the civil rights movement for white evangelicals was political. With exceptions in some southern locales, the most important factor in realigning evangelical political allegiance throughout the nation was not race directly. It was rather the expansion of central governmental power that, to be sure, had been demonstrated forcibly in the enforcement of desegregation. As several sociologists ... have shown, the great political complain of modern evangelicals have been directed against what is perceived as a federally sponsored intrusion of alien moral norms into situations where local mores and local leaders once dominated.... Especially critical was the fact that evangelicals perceived the national mandates imposed by the federal government in the wake of civil rights initiatives as offensive intrusions attacking the family, gender, and sex.” Id. at 157 (italics added). So, the comment about ‘community organizer’ is not essentially about Obama’s level of experience. Rather it is a comment about community organizers and, by extension, Obama, as outsiders, outside agitators, etc., who would engage in “offensive intrusions attacking” of “local mores and local leaders.” This allows McCain-Palin to be the outsiders relative to the federal government, but insiders relative to local communities;, while insinuating that Obama-Biden are the outsiders relative to the local community and the stand in for the big, bad, Washington-based federal government. It did not work as Palin and McCain had hope because they did not anticipate the emergence of a call-in to a radio talk show that Jesus Christ was a community organizers, which undermined some of the rhetorical force of the description. That does not mean that it did not work at some more fundamental level in the minds of the base McCain’s pick of Palin was meant to energize.).

O’Connell, Mary Ellen, The Power and Purpose of International Law: Insights from the Theory and Practice of Enforcement (Oxford & New York: Oxford U. Press, 2008).

Pyle, Kenneth P., Japan Rising: The Resurgence of Japanese Power and Purpose (New York: Public Affairs, 2007).

Roberts, Russell, The Price of Everything: A Parable of Possibility and Prosperity (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2008) (This is nice little effort of explaining economics through fiction. Might be helpful in easing into law and economic course those law students with no economics background.).

Summers, John H. ed., The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mill (Oxford & New York: Oxford U. Press, 2008) (“The positive question for us is not so much whether we are losing our sense of belonging as whether we can help build something that is worth belonging to. Perhaps that has always been the major social question for men and women shaped by the big discourse. For just as freedom that has not been fought for is lightly cast off, so belonging that does not require the building and the maintaining of organizations worth belonging to is often mere a yearning for a new bondage.” “ To really belong, we have got, first to get it clear with ourselves that we do not belong and do not want to belong to an unfree world. As free men we have got to reject much of it, and to know why we are rejecting it.” “Wee have got, second, to get it clear within ourselves that we can only truly belong to organizations which we have a real part in building and maintaining, directly and openly and all of the time.” “And we have got, third, to realize that it is only in the struggle for what we really believe, as individuals and as members of economics, political and social groups, that the sense of belonging befitting a free man in an unfree world can exist. In such a world, only the comradeship of such a struggle is worth our loyalty; and only to truly human associations, which we ourselves create, do we,, as rational men, wish to belong.” From the essay‘Are We Losing Our Sense of Belong?’, id. at 87, 92-93.).

Steidle, Brian and Gretchen Steidle Wallace, The Devil Came on Horseback: Bearing Witness to the Genocide in Darfur (New York: Public Affairs, 2007) (Though others have done better, and still others will do it better still, this short book on the genocide in Darfur is a worthwhile introductory read. It would be 100 percent better were the author(s) able to narrate from a third-person perspective.).

Von Mises, Ludwig, Planning for Freedom: Let the Market System Work: A Collection of Essays and Addresses edited by Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008) (“Laissez faire does not mean: let soulless mechanical forces operate. It means; let individuals choose how they want to cooperate in the social division of labor and let them determine what the entrepreneurs should produce. Planning means: let the government alone choose and enforce its rulings by the apparatus of coercion and compulsion.” From 'Laissez Faire or Dictatorship,' id. at 15, 21-22.).

Zak, Paul J., ed., Moral Market: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2008) (This collection of essays is a disappointing, yet not without merit, read. Chapter Nine, titled ‘Trustworthiness and Contract,’ will be of more immediate interest to law students and lawyers. “This chapter explores the relationship between trustworthiness and contract law, paying particular attention to how contract damages rules interact with interparty trust and trustworthiness. Its central claim is that the optimal contract damages rule provides substantial but not complete protection against braches of contract.” Id. at 173, 175. However, in reading this collection of essays, I could not help but think the role of values in lawyering, and how poor a job legal academia does in fostering the characteristics of trustworthiness, honesty and fairness in our students. Yes, there are the courses, e.g., : Legal/Professional Ethics/Responsibility, but for the most part these are courses without substance or, where there is substance, courses on how to stay just inside the lines. Most members of the legal academy have abdicated a core responsibility: to be the objective, but brutally honest, critics of the law, lawyers, and the legal profession. There is a deceit in the Uniform Commercial Code’s requirement of good faith. Section 1-203 reads as follows: “Obligation of Good Faith. Every contract or duty within this Act imposes an obligation of good faith in its performance.” Yet, when one reads the Official Comment to 1-203, it is made clear that “This section does not support an independent cause of action for failure to perform or enforce in good faith. Rather, this section means that a failure to perform or enforce, in good faith, a specific duty or obligation under the contract, constitute a breach of that contract or makes unavailable, under the particular circumstances, a remedial right or power. This distinction makes it clear that the doctrine of good faith merely direct a court towards interpreting contracts within the commercial context in which they are created, performed, and enforced, and does not create a separate duty of fairness and reasonableness which can be independently breached.” Thus, when section 1-201(19) states that “’Good Faith’ mans honesty in fact in the conduct or transaction concerned,” a fair bit or moral discretion has been given to the parties and their respective (e.g., their lawyers). Funny the things one thinks about when trying to see the broader connections and implications.).

A Film Worth Another Viewing and Further Discussion:
Lars von Trier's Dogville (2004).