February 27, 2010


It would be great were readers of the Cosmopolitan Lawyer to be subscribers to The Atlantic. If they were, then they would have seen (and read?) Don Peck, "How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America," The Atlantic, March 2010, at 42. It is a much overdue wake-up call, at least for those able to see themselves as potential statistics. In America, where most everyone has bought into the myth of individualism, it is difficult to see ourselves for what we are: creatures subject to impersonal social, economic, and political outside forces larger and stronger than ourselves. Perhaps in these challenging times Americans will rediscover other myths. Especially ones from classical mythology, such as the three goddesses who determine the course of human life: The Fates.

February 18, 2010


Cavell, Stanley, Cora Diamond, John McDowell, Ian Hacking & Cary Wolfe, Philosophy and Animal Life (New York: Columbia U. Press, 2008) (Before reading this collection of essays, one probably should have read J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace and his Lives of Animals. After that, I would recommend beginning at the end of this collection by reading the concluding essay by Ian Hacking "Deflection." As he notes, "None of the three essays [by Cavell, Diamond, and McDowell] collected here is about animals." Id. at 140. The essays are about the nature of philosophical discourse, philosophical skepticism, and the role of ethics in Coetzee's fiction.).

Dobbin, Frank, Inventing Equal Opportunity (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2009) ("The agents of change were civil rights activists and then politicians, but the people who invented equal opportunity--decided what it would mean on the ground--were personnel managers. After the Civil Rights Act [of 1964] was passed, social movement activists played bit roles. Members of Congress, judges, federal officials, and presidents had parts in the drama, but it was personnel experts who concocted equal opportunity programs, and later diversity management programs, in the context of changing ideas about discrimination. Public officials approved some new programs and rejected others, but it was personnel experts who put the programs together. Some of the changes were visible and dramatic, as when firms struck rules reserving good jobs for white men or wrote rules against trading jobs for sex. But many of the changes were subtle, as when firms began advertising every open job or set up written performance evaluation systems, and their origins in civil rights law were soon forgotten." Id. at 1. Though this is not a great read, it is definitely a worthwhile read for two reasons. First, it provides a nice short history of the processes which brought about where we are today with respect to equal opportunity. Needless to say, equal opportunity remains a work-in-progress. Second, and I think more interesting, the book is a reminder that lawyers--notwithstanding what they are told when in law school--are often not at the center of social change. Though they may not be mere bit players, lawyers (and the law) are often playing catch up to changes that others (here personnel managers) have already brought about. This point gets missed because, in part, of the continuing false idea that law is primarily what judges do.).

Grandin, Greg, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009) ("Fordlandia is indeed a parable of arrogance. The arrogance, though, is not that Henry Ford thought he could tame the Amazon but that he believed that the forces of capitalism, once realized, could still be contained." Id. at 365.).

James, Rawn, Jr., Root and Branch: Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and the Struggle to End Segregation (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010).

Hardt, Michael & Antonio Negri, Commonwealth (Cambridge: Belknap/Harvard U. Press, 2009) ("With the title of this book, Commonwealth, we mean to indicate a return to some of the themes of classical treatises of government, exploring the institutional structure and political constitution of society. We also want to emphasize, once we recognize the relation between the two terms that compose the concept, the need to institute and manage a world of common wealth, focusing on and expanding our capacities for collective production and self-government. The first half of the book is a philosophical and historical exploration that focuses successively on the republic, modernity, and capital as three frameworks that obstruct and corrupt the development of the common. On each of these terrains, however, we also discover alternatives that emerge in the multitude of the poor and the circuits of altermodernity. The second half of the book is a political and economic analysis of the contemporary terrain of the common. We explore the global governance structures of Empire and the apparatuses of capitalist command to gauge the current state and potential of the multitude. Our analysis ends with a reflection on the contemporary possibilities for revolution and the institutional process it would take up from a different and more philosophical perspective a central issue raised in the body of the text. . . . These together with the Intermezzo can also be read consecutively as one continuous investigation." Id. at xiii. Commonwealth is the concluding volume of Hardt and Negri's trilogy with includes Empire (2000) and Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (2004).).

Kleiman, Mark A. R., When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2009) (Good public policy read. “Developing a consequence-focused approach to crime control would require that we blunt the emotional edge that debates about crime often have and ask the simple question: what are the stakes in crime control? If for a moment we thought about ‘crime’ as something bad that happens to people, like auto accidents or air pollution or disease, rather than as something horrible that people do to each other—if we thought about it, that is, as an ordinary domestic-policy problem—then we could start to ask how to limit the damage crime does at as little cost as possible in money spent and suffering inflicted.”. Id. at 2.).

Ripstein, Arthur, Force and Freedom: Kant’s Legal and Political Philosophy (Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England: Harvard U. Press, 2009) ("My aim is this book is to develop and defend Kant's own statement of his political philosophy, particularly as he articulates it in the Doctrine of Right, the first part of his Metaphysics of Morals. I intend it as a work of political philosophy, which engages with Kant's ideas, in part through a consideration of them in light of trends in political philosophy in the two centuries since he wrote. Most of those trends have been hostile to Kant's central ideas: the claim that it is possible to construct a system of equal freedom has been the target of many attacks, as has his focus on coercion as the distinctive feature of legal systems; his further identification of a system of equal freedom with a system of reciprocal limits on coercion forms as sort of double-sided target. His functional distinction between private and public law is also widely rejected as indefensible. More generally, even Kant's admirers often doubt the possibility of articulating requirements of justice without recourse to views about human inclinations and vulnerabilities. It is now thought that these ideas cannot be even given a coherent statement. . . . My development of Kant's view will show that his ideas can be coherently stated, and that they are both conceptually powerful and normatively appealing. Kant is most resolute in is development of these ideas in the Doctrine of Right. . . . Id. at ix-x. "Kant invokes the Latin maxim Quilibet praesumitur malus, donec securitatem dederit oppositi ("Everyone is resumed bad until he has provided security to the contrary"), not because of any views about the 'radical evil' of human beings, such as those he defends in his Religion, but because the alternative is a merely material principle based on the particular motives of those you interact with. All they can force you to do is enter with them into a rightful condition, and that authorization obtain 'no matter how good and right-loving human beings might be.'" Id. at 163-164.).

Roth, Randolph, American Homicide (Cambridge, Massachusetts, & London, England: Belknap/Harvard U. Press, 2009) ("It will become evident that homicide rates among adults are not determined by proximate causes such as poverty, drugs, unemployment, alcohol, race, or ethnicity, but by the factors that seem on the face of it to be impossibly remote, like the feelings that people have toward their government, the degree to which they identify with members of their own communities, and the opportunities they have to earn respect without resorting to violence. History holds the key to understanding why the United States is so homicidal today." Id. at 3. As they say, it is the journey, not the arrival that matters. Roth takes us on a wonderfully horrid journey, where we arrive at this unsettling conclusion: “It would have been nice to be able to end this book on a hopeful note: But we humans are, as primatologist Frans de Waal observes, a ‘bipolar’ species. Our capacity for cooperation, teamwork, friendship, empathy, kindness, forbearance, forgiveness, compromise, and reconciliation is unparalleled, because our happiness and survival depend on the strength of our social groups and on our commitment to them. But we also have an unparalleled capacity for competition, factionalism, hostility, sadism, cruelty, intransigence, and domination. If we feel that our social groups are threatened, if a power struggle is under way within them, or if we have no social group to protect us, we can be violent—perhaps more ruthlessly and willfully violent than any other species. Which side of our nature prevails depends on historical circumstances. . . . [T]here is no certainty that any nation, however low its murder rate, will remain nonhomicidal forever.” Id. at 474.).

Sen, Amartya, The Idea of Justice (Cambridge: Belknap/Harvard U. Press, 2009) ("In contrast with most modern theories of justice, which concentrate on the 'just society', this book attempts to investigate realization-based comparisons that focus on the advancement or retreat of justice. It is, in this respect, not in line with the strong and more institutionalism celebrated tradition of transcendental institutionalism that emerged in the Enlightenment period (led by Hobbes and developed by Locke, Rousseau and Kant), but more in the 'other' tradition that also took shape in about the same period or just after (pursued in various ways by Smith, Condorcet, Wollstonecraft, Bentham, Marx, Mill, among others). The fact that I share a point of departure with these diverse thinkers does not, of course, indicate that I agree with their substantive theories . . ., and going beyond the shared point of departure, we have to look also at some points of eventual arrival. The rest of the book will explore that journey." "Importance must be attached to the starting point, in particular the selection of some questions to be answered (for example, 'how would justice be advanced?'), rather than others (for example, 'what would be perfectly just institutions?'). This departure has the dual effect, first, of taking the comparative rather than the transcendental route, and second, of focusing on actual realizations in the societies involved, and second, of focusing on actual realizations in the societies involved rather than on only on institutions and rules. Given the present balance of emphases in contemporary political philosophy, this will require a radical change in the formulation of the theory of justice." Id. at 8-9. An interesting "theoretical" read.).

February 6, 2010


Armstrong, Karen, The Case For God (New York: Knopf, 2009) ("We have become used to thinking that religion should provide us with information. Is there a God? How did the world come into being? But this is a modern preoccupation. Religion was never supposed to provide answers to questions that lay within the reach of human reason. That was the role of logos. Religion's task, closely allied to that of art, was to help us live creatively, peacefully, and even joyously with realities for which there were no easy explanations and problems that we could not solve: mortality, pain, grief, despair, and outrage at the injustice and cruelty of life. Over the centuries people in all cultures discovered that by pushing their reasoning powers to the limit, stretching language to the end of its tether, and living as selflessly and compassionately as possible, they experienced a transcendence that enable them to affirm their suffering with serenity and courage. Scientific rationality can tell us why we have cancer; it can even cure us our our disease. But it cannot assuage the terror, disappointment, and sorrow that comes with the diagnosis, nor can it help us to die well. That is not within its competence. Religion will not work automatically, however; it requires a great deal of effort and cannot succeed if it is facile, false, idolatrous, or self-indulgent." Id. at 318.).

De Beauvoir, Simone, Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre translated from the French by Patrick O'Brian (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984) ("SARTRE: God is a prefabricated image of man, man multiplied by infinity; and men stand before this image, obliged to labor to satisfy it. So it is always a question of a relation with oneself, a relation that is absurd, but that is also enormous and demanding. It is that relation that must be suppressed, because it is not the true relation with oneself. The true relation with oneself is with that which we really are, and not with that self we have formed roughly in our own shape. DE BEAUVOIR: Have you anything else to say? SARTRE: Yes and no. Chiefly that this fact of living very close to people who do not themselves believe in God completely does away, between them and oneself, with that infinite intermediary who is God. You and I, for example, have lived without paying attention to the problem. I don't think many of our conversations have been connected with it. DE BEAUVOIR: No, none. SARTRE: And yet we've lived; we feel that we've taken an interest in our world and that we've tried to see and understand." Id. at 445.).

Goldstein, Rebecca Newberger, 36 Arguments For the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction (New York: Pantheon Books, 2010) (From the book jacket: "After Cass Seltzer's book becomes a surprise best seller, he is dubbed 'the atheist with a soul' and becomes a celebrity. . . ." "36 Arguments for the Existence of God plunges into the great debate of our day: the clash between faith and reason. World events are being shaped by fervent believers at home and abroad, while a new atheism is asserting itself in the public sphere. On purely intellectual grounds the skeptics would seem to have everything on their side. Yet people refuse to accept their seemingly irrefutable arguments and continue to embrace faith in God as their source of meaning, purpose, and comfort." "Through the enchantment of fiction, . . . Rebecca Newberger Goldstein shows that the tension between religion and doubt cannot be understood through rational argument alone. It also must be explored from the point of view of individual people caught in the raptures and torments of religious experience in all their variety." "Using her gifts in fiction and philosophy, Goldstein has produced a true crossover novel, complete with a nail-biting debate ("Resolved: God Exists") and a stand-alone appendix with the thirty-six arguments (and responses) that propelled Seltzer to stardom." This is a work worthy of thoughtful reading. That said, I chuckled at the following passage on another type of 'false god,' the academic god. [Y]ou and I both know that this boon you're enjoying has nothing to do with science. I know that the psychology of religion is topical, but it is soft, and it's shoddy, and if the world hadn't suddenly gone made on religion, no one would be lauding you like this. It's deplorable that academia should prostitute itself, but there it is. Not even Harvard is above it. In fact, Harvard least of all, with that ludicrous delusion of self-importance that makes every Harvard professor feel he's a public intellectual, qualified to comment on issues far beyond his expertise. You'll do very well there." Id. at 331-332.).

Kant, Immanuel, Religion and Rational Theology (The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant) translated from the German and edited by Allen W. Wood & George Di Giovani (Cambridge: U. of Cambridge Press, 1996) (From the "Lectures on the Philosophical Doctrine of Religion": "The primary ground of proof for the existence of God is the ontological one from pure concepts. But the real possibility of a most perfect being must be proven before I can prove its existence in this way. For the dogmatic atheist absolutely denies the possibility of a God and asserts that there is no God. But here, where we have to do only with pure reason, denying the existence of an ens realissumum and denying its possibility are fundamentally the same thing. Hence of the dogmatic atheist denies that there is a God, he takes upon himself the obligation to prove that God is impossible. For all our a priori cognition is of such kind that, when I presume to prove from pure reason that something does not exist, I can do it only by proving that it is impossible for this thing to exist. The reason for this is that, since Here I can borrow no proof from experience either for or against the existence of the being in question, it follows that I have no other path before me but to prove from the mere concept of the thing that it does not exist, and that means proving that it contradicts itself. Hence, before he presumes the right to assert that no ens realissumum exists, the dogmatic atheist must show that an object corresponding to our idea of such a being would contradict itself in the unification of its predicates. On the other side, if it occurs to us to want to demonstrate a priori that God does exist, then we too must undertake the duty to prove through pure reason and with apodictic certainty that God is possible. But there is no way we can do this except by proving that an ens realissumum does not contradict itself in the synthesis of all its predicates. . . . But such a proof transcends the possible insight of all human reason. . . . Id. at 367-369.).

Noble, David F., The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention (New York: Knopf, 1998) ("It is the aim of this book to demonstrate that the . . . enchantment with things technological--the very measure of modern enlightenment--is rooted in religious myths and ancient imaginings. Although today's technologists, in their sober pursuit of utility, power, and profit, seem to set society's standard for rationality, they are driven also by distant dreams, spiritual yearnings for supernatural redemption. However, dazzling and daunting their display of worldly wisdom, their true inspiration lies elsewhere, in an enduring, other-worldly quest for transcendence and salvation." Id. at 3).

Rosenberg, David, A Literary Bible: An Original Translation (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2009) (From the "Preface": It's a commonplace of interfaith and multicultural dialogues today that you never known your own so well until you sympathetically understand another's. I'd take it further: you never know your secular culture well enough until you've understood its counter-culture text of religion. For us, it comes down to the Bible, yet I've rarely found its literary depth adequately conveyed to the secular reader. There is plenty of discussion about what makes a Jew or a Christian, an atheist or an agnostic, but rarely are the arguments traced back to their historical origin in the writers of the Bible. Instead, we have the latest talking points about DNA and theology. For uncanny answers, we need to envision the aspirations, inspirations, and intellectual conflicts of the biblical writers--to see them within their ancient Hebraic culture (and for the early writers of the New Testament, within their Jewish and Judeo-Greek culture) well before religious tradition edited them into a sacred canon." Id. at xi.).