Jeff Goldstien, a sort of happy-hour Derrida who fancies himself a vulgar conservative, or a conservative vulgarian, has discovered a Denver Post columnist perseverating wildly about Barack Obama's "radical judicial philosophy." This in response to some standard proggie-woggie boilerplate about lookin' out for the little guy, a couched suggestion that equal protection requires "economic and social justice," etc. etc. blahgity blahg. I do not endorse this view, being of the opinion that the best policy for the Supreme Court would be self-abolition, but I can't get too worked up about it either. Anyway, Goldstein sez:
Of course, herein lies the problem: who is left to judge the judges, save for the documents that are supposed to constrain them in scope and power in the first place, and against which they pit themselves as active agents of change?Oh, fuckin, yeah, dude, quis custodiet ipsos custodes, an shit. I do love it when this finally dawns on the dim and the slow, as what they take to be a novel idea has been the central question in the organization of societies since we started organizing socieites. It gets better:
When you have successfully turned all meaning into something that in in the abstract “context-specific” while simultaneously bracketing the intent that governed the original context through which interpretation must necessarily be filtered — what you have done is, in essence, turn interpretation into a game of pure semantic word play, one that allows the clever or the mischievous or the otherwise willfully motivated to forge just about any “meaning” that the intersection of context, signifier, and current connotation (as it relates to signifieds) allows.The best rejoinder is probably a resounding, "SIC!" but I'm going to try to hack away at this Gordian knot as best I can. Jeff has never gained fluency in deconstructionist jargon; he speaks it the affect of schoolboy French. The conjugations are mostly corret, but the idiom is off. What's especially cute is that he wants to use the self-reflecting language of indeterminacy to make an argument for original intent. He wants to deploy an academic discourse dedicated to the proposition that all meaning is contingent, whose central epistemological premises all have to do with mutability, in order to make an argument about immutability. Really:
And to do that, under the false assertion of “interpretation,” is to render any kind of legal “constraint” obsolete — save for the wink and the nod given it by those who would rather not admit publicly that what they are doing, when they rewrite the law (and that is precisely what they’re doing if their interests go anything beyond sussing out original intent, though that intent itself be tied to ratification, oftentimes) is to create new texts out of the marks of extant texts whose actual meaning was, at the time these texts became law, fixed and (at least theoretically), immutable.New texts out of the marks of extant texts. Eat your heart out, Gertrude Stein. I've always found it a charming characteristic of conservative thought, that they view judges as a class of priestly explicators leading a national course of bible study, only using our secular, civic texts in place of holy writ. I equally enjoy the notion, widely shared apparently, that until some dark day between Dred Scott and the nomination of Nino Scalia, the American judiciary and the Supreme Court in particular were minor, scholarly figures, monastic and slightly odd in their funny robes. The conservative complaint about "activism" in the judiciary is a poorly concealed rage at the Marshall doctrine of judicial review. Well, challenge it in court. You could easily assign five justices to every target and still have a very effective reserve force for any contingency, to paraphrase Buck Turgidson.
Anyway, the idea that Barack Obama has some sort of coherent--and radical!--philosophy to remake the judiciary as an instrument of social revolution would be silly were it not so sad. Conservative hoi polloi are as deluded in their estimation of Democratic leftism as the Democrats' own erstwhile netroots. Obama is an agent of "change" insofar as he repeats the word with fair frequency, but the notion that in four more years we're all going to be organic farming on kibbutzim and laboring mightily under a policy of--what did Bulworth call it?--a "free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction," is daffy as the Duck. In four more years, America will still have an unhealthy interest in "intervening" abroad, an overreliance on personal vehicular transportation and long-haul trucking, an immense foreign debt, and a rickety, speculation-based economy. If it doesn't, it'll be because the whole thing blew up on us, not because Barack Obama sparked a glorious cultural revolution. Here's a paper bag, Jeffy. Breathe deeply. It'll pass.
Update: You can just call me Philosophy Expert!