The current issue of the New York Review of Books contains a delightful yet potentially bewildering interview with Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer on the pleasures of reading Proust and other French writers in their original language. Long obsessed with all things French, Breyer has consistently endorsed the incorporation of European jurisprudential insights into American constitutional decision-making in an attempt to refute originalist interpretations of the American legal and political tradition. Judge Richard A. Posner, in a now-famous critique of Breyer, correctly suggests that what is ultimately at stake is a disavowal of the “liberty of the ancients” for a new and “active” liberty and theory of unrestrained democracy embodied in recent studies of European law and political thought.
I write from the Washington, DC suburbs, now quivering in fear from the violence of the last few weeks, from madmen, our police, and our Redskin-baiting politicians. But a Canadian immigrant (and I don’t mean Mark Steyn) relieves some discontent while producing even more.
In furious rage against the Cruz-sade, this weekend’s New York Times regular op-ed page columnists sputter about President Obama resorting to sinking aircraft carriers; Washington DC Hunger Games workouts led by Paul Ryan; and our sick politics that has produced gerrymandered red-lite districts. But there is an adult in the room, Times writer-at-large and sadly, former Book Review Editor Sam Tanenhaus, who gets to the heart of the crisis in his op-ed, “The Benefits of Intransigence.”
Commentators have missed the most significant element of Sam Tanenhaus’s controversial essay “Original Sin: Why the GOP is and will continue to be the party of white people.” Unfortunately both Tanenhaus and his critics have missed the major point about John C. Calhoun—Tanenhaus by overstating his influence on the right and him and his critics by missing Calhoun’s influence on our political understanding generally.