Road Trip With Judge Robert Bork

Elizabeth Nowicki —  27 July 2006

I was in the car for 10 hours this weekend, driving from Richmond, VA, to upstate New York.  Though Judge Robert Bork was not technically in the car with me, I spent most of my driving hours listening to his book, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, on tape.  (I borrowed the book on tape two or three years ago.  Many thanks to its patient lender, who wishes to remain anonymous.)

I am finding the book to be a fascinating listen (I have not yet finished the tapes), and, for that reason, I wanted to mention the book here.  I imagine there are still a few folks out there who have not yet taken a summer vacation and might want something interesting to listen to or read while vacationing.  I recommend this book.

A few thoughts regarding the book, for what they are worth (note that the book is about a decade old, so I am sure the internet is rife with reviews of the book –of course, this does not deter me from sharing my thoughts):

1.  Bork on Bork:  In my experience, information about Judge Bork and his views is usually proffered by someone with a slant (either in support of Judge Bork or against him).  It is incredibly interesting, then, to hear about Judge Bork’s views in his own words, to get a sense of what he really believes.  Whether the reader agree with his views and his politics or not, the reader will at least be clear on what Judge Bork does and does not believe after reading or listening to his book.

2.  Why:  In his book, Judge Bork is generally very specific in explaining why he believes what he believes.  Again, regardless of where you come out on the substance of his beliefs, his articulation of his reasons for holding the views he holds is fascinating.

3.  The 1960s:  I was not a faculty member at Yale Law School during the period of unrest on college campuses in the 1960s.  Judge Bork was.  I found his description of his experiences during the 1960s (both at home and on campus) riveting.  The details he provides about his perspective as a “conservative� (my word) in a fairly “liberal� environment during that tumultuous period are much more interesting than anything I read about in a textbook in high school.  Whether or not a reader likes what Judge Bork recalls, the Judge’s recitation of his recollections at least allows the reader to create a vivid mental picture of how Judge Bork viewed the situation.

4.  Writing Style:  As one could imagine, Judge Bork takes strong positions on certain issues in his book, and he tends to use unequivocal language to support his positions.  Yet, based on what I have listened to so far, he is able to take aggressive positions on difficult issues without regularly lapsing into what I view as irrelevant, mean-spirited attacks on his naysayers.  (To be sure, he does not mince words, but he also does not say things such as “liberals are a bunch of crazy peopleâ€?).  In almost all cases, Judge Bork’s articulation of his views and why he holds them, while unapologetic, are at least directed toward the goal of explaining why he believes what he believes, as opposed to simply slamming those who hold the opposite views.Â

On a related point, based on the recent outrage at Ann Coulter’s book, I wondered more than once while listening to Slouching Towards Gomorrah how the language Coulter uses in her book would compare to Judge Bork’s language in his book.  Was Ms. Coulter attacking and belittling to no good end, as the media has led me to believe, or was she explaining (albeit directly and . . . perhaps abrasively) the reasons underpinning her views?  I have no idea – I have not read her book.

5.  Bork Then, Bork Now:  The passion with which Bork expresses his views in the book made me wonder what the pre-tenure Judge Bork at Yale was like.  Did he express his views back then in the way he expresses them in his book?  Was he that “convincedâ€? back then?  Moreover, was he openly taking the positions then that he takes in his book?  I muse on this issue in part because an anecdote was recently relayed to me regarding the faculty of one fairly highly ranked school law school taking *huge* issue with a faculty appointments candidate who had listed the Federalist Society on a resume.  The Fed. Soc., not “Child Pornography Fans United” or something equally reprehensible.

6.  Labels:  One might maintain that some groups of scholars, members of the judiciary, political associations, etc. can be reduced to labels – liberal lefties, the radical right, whatever the moniker might be.  Listening to the book is raising my awareness of the nuances on the issues agitating the left/right divide, such that I now think that no label duopoly will ever capture the divisions across some issues.

7.  Results or Principles:  As noted above, Judge Bork takes no prisoners with the language he uses in his book.  He lays things out exactly as he sees them, it seems, with no apologies.  I admire the fact that he does not try to sugar-coat his beliefs, as I am a huge fan of being direct.  At the same time, however, I found myself thinking as I listened “would Judge Bork have achieved more toward the things that he believed in, had he taken (even with his nose plugged) a slightly more moderate view?  Would that have been the right thing to do, as a means to an end, to broaden his audience and the scope of his influence?�  Mind you, I mention this rhetorical question with all due respect.  Judge Bork has a level of influence and power than few ever achieve.  Therefore, I am not trying to criticize how he conveys his views in his book.  I am merely musing.

(Apologies for dropping this book discussion into the midst of a super affirmative action discussion, by the way, Josh.)

2 responses to Road Trip With Judge Robert Bork

  1. 

    No apology necessary, of course! Bork is a fascinating figure and a dominant one in my field of choice. I do not know of many antitrust scholars who cannot recite to you Bork’s position on just about any antitrust practice (whether or not they find it persuasive). Unfortunately, Bork’s reputation for strict adherence to principles took a pretty drastic hit in the antitrust world during his involvement in the Microsoft trial.

  2. 

    There is a law faculty out there that took an issue with a candidate’s Fed-Soc membership???