Lacking a Moral Consensus, We Do ... What?

FORMER federal judge Robert H. Bork is promoting some compelling political assertions. Certainly they are not new assertions, but are most notable in his hands because Congress denied him a seat on the United States Supreme Court. Judge Bork's new book, ``The Tempting of America'' (subtitled ``The Political Seduction of the Law''), maintains that a powerful ``revisionist liberal culture'' is altering the intent of the US Constitution and that the ``ideas of the law'' have been taken over by ``robed politicians'' and ``left wing'' academics (the intellectual class) who are subverting the foundations of law with politics. Bork also extends his argument to include the arts and humanities.

He is too intelligent to suggest a secret, coordinated conspiracy, but concludes this influential and intellectual ``left'' is fundamentally alienated and regards American society as ``illegitimate.'' He does not see mere persons with differing opinions at work, but men and women fitted into the grip of an old-fashioned ``class'' struggle.

Given the degree to which he believes his argument, Bork's view of man is ultimately nihilistic because he concludes, in our present circumstances, that men and women (classes aside) are unable to arrive at a consensus over moral issues. ``There is no longer a consensus about what man should become,'' says Bork.

His answer to any judge faced with court cases involving tangled moral issues is to ``take as his guide the original understanding of the principles stated in the Constitution'' and therefore he will ``face none of the ... difficulties'' in deciding a case.

Finally, Bork concludes, that where the ``real Constitution is mute, we should vote about these matters [moral issues] rather than litigate them.''

On the issue of the fundamental importance of the US Constitution, Bork writes with clear and persuasive eloquence. He may be absolutely right in his arguments.

But as a public servant who views the law as apolitical, Bork is appalled at the roughhouse politics that came into play and denied him a seat on the Supreme Court.

Unfortunately, in his book he resorts to using the same kind of labeling, name-calling, and slogans that the ``left'' has hurled against the ``right'' for years. Bork contends that apart from judging his credentials, the ``left'' unfairly challenged his motives as highly suspect. Yet he regards the motives of the ``left'' as being nothing short of scurrilous.

Such dueling arrogance simply contributes further to the political and moral standoff over so many contemporary issues. Says Bork with disdain, ``If the greatest minds of our culture have not succeeded in devising a moral system to which all intellectually honest persons must subscribe, it seems doubtful, to say the least, that some law professor will make the breakthrough any time soon. It is my firm intention to give up reading this literature.''

Well enough. Bork is entitled to his say. But far beyond the arrogance and weariness of the politics of ``left'' and ``right'' we await the arrival of men and women who, in the poet Rainer Maria Rilke's words, ``must begin to do some of the neglected things,'' to make the breakthroughs which will unbind us from a host of limitations.

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