Born: March 1, 1927|
Lawyer, Federal Judge, Author
Like his intellectual hero, Sir Thomas More, Robert Heron Bork has taken on the burden of opposing the forces of cultural disintegration.
For Bork, the causes of our chaos are clear: liberalism. Afterall the liberals came up with the self-esteem movement in the field of education. The liberals are responsible for judicial activism. The liberals created "radical individualism" which is a code phrase for hedonism, moral relativism and the unfettered freedom to pursue personal gratification. In short, the liberal, in pursuit of selfish satisfaction, is in the midst of selling the culture down the river.
Bork has had a distinguished and controversial career. He was born in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and as a child he was close to his mother with whom he would stay up late debating intellectual concepts. After finishing high school at age 17 he wasted two semesters at the University of Pittsburgh by spending most of his time partying and not going to classes. In 1945 he enlisted in the United States Marine Corp (USMC), just as the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ending World War II. As an adolescent Bork claims he was a socialist. He gave some thought to becoming a journalist or perhaps a labor lawyer. After his short hitch in the Marines he enrolled at the University of Chicago. He graduated in 1948 and went back into the Marine Corps this time for training as an officer. By now his adolescent socialism had been replaced by a more conservative ideology. He considered becoming an anti-trust lawyer. He returned to the University of Chicago and entered its law school. He received his Juris Doctor degree in 1953.
After spending a year as a research associate at the University of Chicago's law school he took a job with the law firm of Wilkie, Owen, Farr, Gallagher, & Walton in New York City. (Incidentally, while at this firm he worked for six months on a case involving the reserve clause and Major League Baseball.) In 1955 he joined the Chicago law firm of Kirkland, Ellis, Hodson, Chaffetz & Masters. He earned a reputation for being a first-rate litigator.
In 1962 Bork took a job teaching law at Yale. The students in his constitutional law class would include the future U.S. president and first lady Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Years later Bork would quip, "I no longer say they were students. I say they were in the room." He claims, at the time, to have been the only conservative on the Yale law school faculty. Even so, Bork enjoyed teaching at Yale. But then the student demonstrators arrived. Bork says, "the '60s rebellions ended the fun."
In 1972 President Nixon asked Bork to become the U.S. Solicitor General, the nation's senior litigator responsible for arguing the U.S. government's positions in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. He joined the administration just as the Watergate scandal erupted. It was Bork who actually fired the special prosecutor Archibald Cox in what has been called the "Saturday Night Massacre." Bork returned to teaching at Yale to sit out the Jimmy Carter years. In 1981 he returned to private practice at Kirkland, Ellis and in 1982 Ronald Reagan appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
On July 1, 1987 Reagan nominated Bork for the seat on the Supreme Court vacated by Justice Lewis Powell. On October 23, 1997 the U.S. Senate voted 58-42 to reject Bork's nomination. The reasons for Bork's rejection had little to do with his professional qualifications. Bork was rejected on purely ideological grounds. A relentless media barrage portrayed Bork as a radical conservative and way too far outside the traditional mainstream to be granted a seat on the highest bench in the land. The process of vilification was so successful that a new verb entered the political lexicon: to reject someone on ideological grounds is "to bork" them.
Bork is right wing, very right wing, there's no disputing that fact. And since his Supreme Court rejection he has spent quite a bit of time borking the liberals who borked him. He has been called a racist but that doesn't appear to be accurate. He does advocate censorship, at least of popular culture much of which he finds distasteful and immoral. He advocates censoring "rap" music that advocates the shooting of police. Explicit sexual and lascivious content on the internet also justifies censorship. Bork thinks the resulting legacy of the social upheavals of the 1960s is contemporary liberalism. He bluntly and repeatedly says that liberalism is destroying the moral fabric of the United States and much of the so-called Western world. He believes that there is a relationship between illegitimate births and crime rates. He thinks the rise of unilateral no-fault divorce laws has hastened the decline of our society. He rails against feminism as being one of the most perverse residues of the 1960s. His conservatism is passionate.
One result of the vilification campaign to keep him off the Supreme Court was that Bork became a martyr to conservatives. And no doubt his unpleasant and unfair nomination experience radicalized his conservatism. In 1996 he published Slouching Towards Gomorrah- Modern Liberalism and American Decline. One reviewer described it as "a bitter book from a passionate man who has very little good to say about the world he lives in."
The bitterness is understandable. But Bork's intolerance and distinct authoritarianism is not. When has humanity benefited from censoring popular culture? Maybe his analysis of the "me-generation" is accurate and selfishness is a problem; but let all the arguments be heard. The leaders of the so-called "self-esteem" movement in education may be wrong: superficial self-confidence and open-mindedness are not the same things. But Bork's remedies are not sound or fair.
Perhaps those students who disrupted his idyll at the Yale law school in the 1960s closed a sharp and curious man's mind. Thomas More would not have approved of such intolerance.
It is a sign of our distemper that Thomas More is today so often regarded as a hero of civil disobedience, a man who refused to obey law with which he was in profound moral disagreement. That is a considerable distortion of the truth, and it was not Moreís understanding of his motives. For him, in a very real sense, law was morality. It is equally true that for More morality was superior to law and was the standard by which law must be judged. If that seems a paradox, I do not think it truly is one.
For More, morality was superior to both human law and the will of the sovereign in that it could be used to shape or to alter that law and that will, though not to justify disobedience to it. This clearly appears in Utopia, where he argued that it was a manís duty to enter public life despite the evil necessarily entailed, saying, "That which you cannot turn to good, so to order it that it be not very bad." In a word, try to make law as moral as you can, More constantly argued, but when it is made, whatever it commands, morality lies in obedience. If disobedience is ever justified, it is only when the issue is of transcendent importance and when you are absolutely sure of the right and wrong of the matter. In a democratic polity there can be such occasions, but they will be extremely rare.
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