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Ayaan Hirsi Ali

In her new book, Nomad, Hirsi Ali tells of escaping to America and says the Muslim world needs a revolution in how it treats women and modernity. Tunku Varadarajan salutes her necessary and powerful words.

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On a recent visit to Washington, I hopped into a cab at Union Station. Those who have used such transport in D.C. will be aware that the chances of landing an African cabbie are 9 in 10, and this African cohort is predominantly Eritrean, Ethiopian, or Somali. My driver on this occasion was Somali, and after a few pleasantries—How long have you lived in America? Do you still have family in Mogadishu? How old are your children?—I asked the man a less banal question: “What do you think of Ayaan Hirsi Ali… you know, the Somali lady?” He swiveled his head to fix me with his gaze, and then turned it back to the road. “Very bad person,” he said, after a strained pause. “We think she is a bitch. We hate her.”

“The Muslim mind needs to be opened. Above all, the uncritical Muslim attitude toward the Quran urgently needs to change, for it is a direct threat to world peace.”

We did not exchange another word for the rest of the brief ride to the Willard Hotel.

I had cause to recall this ugly episode when I read this week—in just one sitting, it is so brilliant—Hirsi Ali’s new book, Nomad: From Islam to America. (It is subtitled, with a very un-PC tip of the hat to Samuel Huntington, “A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations.”) If I had my way, and the resources to pull off the idea, I would commission translations of the book into Arabic, Urdu, Somali, Farsi, Turkish, Pashto, Kurdish, Bengali, and Bahasa, and air-drop thousands of copies into the Muslim lands (and arrondissements) where these languages are spoken. And with any luck, these books would find their way into the hands of some of the immiserated women who live there.

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 Nomad: From Islam to America, A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations. By Ayaan Hirsi Ali. 277 pages. Free Press. $27.

Women, as the historian Bernard Lewis once told me (probably echoing a desert proverb), “are half the population, and mothers of the other half.” Educated mothers, he said, make a great difference to a society, and the Muslim world’s great drawback is that its women are benighted. Hirsi Ali’s mother was one such woman. Uneducated—and as unenlightened as it was possible to be, on earth, in the 1970s—she hit Hirsi Ali when she first got her period, a sickening blow that was part of an ongoing pattern of violence and misogyny that holds sway not merely in every Somali family, but, in the author’s contention, in almost every Muslim family in the world.

After all, she writes, male domination and female subjugation are Quranically prescribed, and who is Man to challenge the immutable Word of God—especially when God’s arrangements ensure perpetual male domination? This punitive patriarchy is not confined to Muslims in their own lands; it thrives, she points out, in the West, in the lands to which Muslims immigrate, but whose “degenerate” and “sinful” societies they abhor. In a blistering passage, written with the forthright elegance that characterizes the book, Hirsi Ali asserts that “the subjection of women within Islam is the biggest obstacle to the integration and progress of Muslim communities in the West. It is a subjection committed by the closest kin in the most intimate place, the home, and it is sanctioned by the greatest figure in the imagination of Muslims: Allah himself.” It is easy to see why Hirsi Ali has bodyguards, and round-the-clock protection. She would be dead if she did not.

These are powerful, polemical words with which it is very hard, in our present circumstances, to disagree. There will be many, however, who will shriek loudly in outrage, and not all of the fulminators will be Muslim. My great fear is that people will react only to fragments of this passionate book without having read the humane whole, and this will lead to distortions and imprecations, maybe even to book-burnings and fatwas. I am mighty glad Ayaan Hirsi Ali has police protection. And I am gladder still that she lives in our midst, in America.

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May 29, 2010 Posted by | Book, Muslim world, Off Topig | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mark Wolverton, A Life in Twilight: The Final

Over the last decade, at least nine books have appeared with the name ‘J. Robert Oppenheimer’ in the title, and no doubt the trend will continue. Some are biographies, covering Oppenheimer’s life as family man, as physicist, as ‘father of the atomic bomb’, as victim of a witch hunt during the McCarthy era, and as Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton. Amongst them a clear winner emerged: Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s American Prometheus: the Triumph and tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, 25 years in the making and with the paperback version weighing in at 1lb 14oz. Marvellously researched and beautifully written, it likely will remain the definitive biography. Abraham Pais, who, with the help of Robert P. Crease, wrote J. Robert Oppenheimer: A Life, was a theoretical physicist who was Oppenheimer’s friend and colleague at the Princeton Institute. One of his aims was to write of ‘his major role as teacher of quantum field theory […] as well as his own scientific contributions, many of them brilliant.’ In this Pais succeeded, especially in respect to the many physics publications Oppenheimer produced during his pre-Los Alamos period at Caltech and Berkeley.

As a biography (note the title), however, it falls far short of the mark with Oppenheimer’s early life described in a cursory way. On specific aspects of Oppenheimer’s life: Sylvan S. Schweber at the beginning of the decade published In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist, and, more recently, Einstein and Oppenheimer: the meaning of Genius – both comparative studies of the contrasting personalities of two complex people, and therefore rather limited in the light they shine on Oppenheimer. Now comes Mark Wolverton’s A Life in Twilight: The Final Years of J. Robert Oppenheimer, which although confined to Oppenheimer’s last years, covers this period in greater detail than other works and throws an interesting light on his slow and painful return to the public stage.

All these books agree on one thing: Oppenheimer was an enigma. His complexity was such that he is variously seen as mystical and pragmatic, brilliant and naïve, transparent and opaque, a great leader and a maker of enemies, a security risk and a patriot. I had intended to write a review essay drawing on all the books mentioned above, but the task proved to be beyond me: the more I read, the more, well, enigmatic Oppenheimer became. It seemed impossible to do justice to his whole life and works. I was, though, attracted to Wolverton’s A Life in Twilight. Wolverton had the advantage of being able to draw on Bird and Sherwin’s excellent biography and so knew which gaps to fill. Taking a fresh look at Oppenheimer’s life after the removal of his security clearance by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1954, Wolverton takes us beyond the mistaken image of Oppenheimer as a broken, guilt-ridden man and sees ‘an example of grace, courage, and basic human dignity in the face of injustice, contempt, and exile.’ Wolverton writes with an engaging journalistic ease. Many of the chapters are prefaced by a facsimile of a short FBI document, tellingly revealing the paranoia of J. Edgar Hoover, the agents who kept Oppenheimer under surveillance until his dying day, and of members of the general public.

In early 1943 Oppenheimer was appointed scientific director of the Los Alamos Laboratory, charged with the development of an atomic bomb. Some thought it a strange choice. Although Oppenheimer was a brilliant scientist and a leading light in quantum mechanics, he had scant experience of administration. Now he had to build from scratch a massive organisation of scientists and engineers. The doubts soon faded. Thanks to Oppenheimer’s leadership two types of atomic weapons were developed in a little over two years. A uranium bomb, Little Boy, exploded over Hiroshima on August 6 1945; a plutonium bomb, Fat Man, was dropped on Nagasaki 3 days later. On August 10 a Japanese conditional surrender reached Washington. Oppenheimer became headline news. On August 8 the New York Times quoted a colleague as saying “Oppie is smart…he is the smartest of the lot in everything”. Oppenheimer received the United States Medal for Merit for “his great scientific experience and ability, his inexhaustible energy, his initiative and resourcefulness, his unswerving devotion to duty.” These words were soon to ring dismayingly hollow.

Oppenheimer returned briefly to academic life in California. When the Atomic Energy Commission was created in late 1946 he accepted a part-time appointment to its General Advisory Committee and soon became its chairman. Almost simultaneously he was approached by Lewis Strauss, acting as a trustee of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, to see if he would become the Institute’s director. After some delay, which greatly annoyed Strauss, Oppenheimer moved to Princeton in July 1947. Strauss was a self-made millionaire and ardent opponent of the New Deal. During the war he served as a special assistant to the Navy Secretary. With his far-flung connections he carved out a powerful position in Washington. And he soon came to despise Oppenheimer.

Inconsistencies in Oppenheimer’s security record, predating his arrival at Los Alamos, followed him into new appointments. The AEC, under the McMahon Act, was obliged to carry out strict reviews of all staff. Oppenheimer’s thick files were pored over but it was decided after long deliberation that there was nothing new and he was given top clearance. Oppenheimer emerged from the war a famous man but now problems were accumulating too. The GAC, for example, favored distribution of isotopes to Europe, and Oppenheimer made a presentation on these lines to the AEC. Most AEC commissioners favored the measure too, but Strauss vehemently disagreed. Strauss testified that the export of isotopes might be of military value to recipients. Oppenheimer dismissed this argument ‘with a swift rapier thrust’, but this, and similar displays of arrogance, ensured that he made very powerful enemies, perhaps unnecessarily.

In September 1949, the Soviet exploded their atomic bomb. Strauss instantly called for a crash programme to develop a hydrogen bomb. Oppenheimer and all other members of the GAC – the most informed and experienced atomic scientists in America – agreed that weapons of mass destruction could not be discussed in a military vacuum; moral considerations were as relevant as technical ones. They also argued that that accelerating production of fissionable material for small tactical atomic weapons, combined with a build up of conventional forces, would be a better deterrent against the Soviets. Early in 1951 Strauss told the AEC chairman that Oppenheimer was sabotaging the hydrogen bomb project and ‘something must be done.’ Strauss had been told by J. Edgar Hoover that Klaus Fuchs, a scientist in the British Scientific Mission who had joined Los Alamos in 1944, had confessed to espionage. Although Oppenheimer had had no hand in his appointment both Strauss and Hoover believed this nasty revelation demanded renewed scrutiny of Oppenheimer’s left-wing past. Oppenheimer believed that matters of nuclear strategy should be publicly debated, Strauss strongly disagreed. In January 1953, Strauss was appointed atomic adviser to the incoming president Eisenhower and in July he was elevated to chairman of the AEC.

Strauss obtained White House approval to conduct an administrative review of Oppenheimer’s security clearance. Oppenheimer would be offered a choice. He could quietly leave or he could appeal the suspension of his clearance before a panel to be appointed by Strauss. When Strauss put this to Oppenheimer he refused to resign. The AEC’s inquiry “in the matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer” (the Gray Board) began on April 12, 1954 and sittings continued for three weeks, and it is here that the ‘Twilight Years’ of Wolverton’s book kicks in. The proceedings, which were later published, are long and complicated and it is not possible to go into detail here. Wolverton summarises the manner of the inquisition:

For three weeks…every detail of Oppenheimer’s life, both public and personal would be subjected to the most painful scrutiny. Oppenheimer himself would spend hours in a witness chair grilled as ruthlessly as a murder suspect, despite the insistence of the hearing’s chairman that process was “an inquiry, and not in the nature of a trial”. The chairman was right. In a trial Oppenheimer would have been allowed to examine and question the evidence and witnesses against him. Instead, during the hearings, “Oppenheimer and his attorneys were deprived of vital documents freely available to the other side, denied the names of hostile witnesses, and forced to refute anonymous and hearsay evidence. In the name of national security, the internationally renowned and respected Oppenheimer was deprived of the basic rights enjoyed by the lowliest criminal in open court. According to one witness, former AEC director David Lilienthal, “There hadn’t been a proceeding like this since the Spanish Inquisition.”

Two members of the Board voted against clearing Oppenheimer, one voted in favour. When the report went to the AEC commissioners the majority decided against Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer would never again serve the United States in any official capacity. One solace for Oppenheimer was that the Institute for Advanced Studies kept him as director. It provided a refuge where he could feel secure, and was still free to do science. Still, his life after the hearing was one of ups and downs. He had been invited by the physics department of the University of Washington to deliver physics lectures. Those plans were cancelled by the university president on the grounds that the visit ‘would not be in the best interest of the university.’ An uproar followed both within the university and the wider scientific community. But the protests petered out largely because Oppenheimer refused to be drawn into it. The Oregon State Board of Higher Education sponsored lectures by Oppenheimer. They were enthusiastically received throughout the state; at Oregon State University the talks had to be moved from the home economics auditorium to the university’s coliseum. The audiences were captivated. There was strong, orchestrated opposition however when he was invited to serve as guest lecturer at Harvard – a prestigious appointment – but the Board of Overseers held firm and the series of lectures went ahead and were well received.

And then, Wolverton writes, ‘a 187-pound metal sphere came hurtling out of the steppes of Kazakhstan to change everything.’  Everyone knew that the United States would launch the first satellite, and believed it until the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into space on October 4 1957. It was a nasty shock to American self-confidence. “It is time to ask ourselves whether preoccupation with our ‘scientific secrets’ instead of science itself has not resulted in impairing the real sources of our strength and loss of supremacy we once could claim,” declared The Washington Post. “We have driven out of our laboratories a great many pre-eminent men of science; J Robert Oppenheimer and Edward U. Condon among them.” The point was driven home when at the beginning of November the Soviets launched a much bigger craft with a dog on board.   

Calls for action from newspapers was one thing, criticism from a former Air Force assistant secretary of that same administration was another. He told reporters that the White House should consider bringing Oppenheimer back into the fold. Imperturbable as ever Oppenheimer played it cool. Strauss continued to oppose him but in mid-1958 Strauss retired from the AEC and his successor had the files re-examined. He realised that what supporters of Oppenheimer had claimed was true. But the AEC could not act on its own initiative; Oppenheimer would have to request a new hearing. Oppenheimer, however, had no wish to go through that wringer again. Strauss himself was in trouble; he had made many enemies and in a manner of the downfall he had engineered for Oppenheimer, he was about to face a public and humiliating reckoning.

John F. Kennedy became the thirty-fifth president of the United States on January 20, 1961. Although there were now many Oppenheimer supporters in high places. A small gesture was made by inviting Oppenheimer to one of the distinguished guests at a White House gala state dinner and reception for American Nobel Prize winners. It was sure sign that in Washington he was no longer persona non grata. Oppenheimer was nominated for the prestigious Enrico Fermi Award presented annually to an individual who had made noteworthy contributions to nuclear physics or otherwise benefited humankind through the development and promotion of atomic science and technology. Recipients had to be formally nominated by the GAC and the White House quietly told the CAC that the award would meet with no resistance. The GAC unanimously nominated Oppenheimer. The award was to be presented by Kennedy on December 2. On November 22 Kennedy was assassinated. President Lyndon Johnson announced that he would be giving Oppenheimer the award on December 2 as planned. Standing next to the tall LBJ Oppenheimer appeared to look frail, small and humble. Oppenheimer concluded his short speech by saying “I think it is just possible, Mr President, that it has taken some charity and some courage for you to make this award today. That would seem to be a good augury for all our futures.”

J. Robert Oppenheimer died on February 18, 1967.

May 29, 2010 Posted by | Book | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In With Both Feet

They called it a “Brandeis brief.” When the great attorney Louis Brandeis wrote a legal brief in a constitutional case, it was short on legal theory and packed with so many facts that it required a sturdy binding and a solid arm for hefting. In 1908 the brief he submitted to the Supreme Court in Muller v. Oregon—he successfully defended that state’s ten-hour workday for women laborers against an industry attack—became an instant legend, running to 113 pages and reading like an earnest encyclopedic entry on the ills of modern factory life. Such a document necessarily relied on interdisciplinary research, which was one of the Brandeis brief’s main innovations. Economic data, labor reports, foreign sources, academic studies—the brief summoned an army of facts. This was highly unorthodox. Lawyers at the time were expected to make an argument, cite the pertinent cases and statutes and wrap things up.

When Brandeis joined the Supreme Court in 1916, at 59, he fashioned his opinions in the same exhaustive manner. He was officially the first justice to cite a law review article in an opinion, and unofficially the first to cite Bakers Weekly (in a case involving a law that standardized weights for loaves of bread). He once even cited The Nation in a dissent, if only for its convenient reproduction of one of Thomas Jefferson’s speeches. One Thanksgiving his law clerk (and a future secretary of state) Dean Acheson was over for dinner, and Brandeis sounded off about the French, who were trying to renegotiate loans entered into during World War I. Acheson considered arguing a little with his boss by pointing out France’s contributions to Western civilization but later admitted, “I knew he would floor me by quoting their export statistics for the same years, so I gave it up.”

Like Dickens’s Gradgrind, Brandeis wanted facts. He had a bathtub filled with clippings and articles—a reservoir of data waiting to be tapped. During his thirty-nine years as an attorney in private practice in Boston, he devised an arduous habit: upon taking on a new client, he holed up and learned everything he could about its business, and more important, its opponent’s. A masterful cross-examiner, Brandeis was able on more than one occasion to trip up a hostile witness, wielding a better understanding of the opposing firm’s affairs than its own president did.

As a constitutional matter a Brandeis brief—or opinion, or dissent—makes a certain amount of sense. After all, one of the ingenious hallmarks of the Constitution is its brevity: the text yields few ready answers and is frequently perceived by jurists as an invitation to make talismanic divinations. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”; “unreasonable searches and seizures” shall be prohibited; states shall deny no person “the equal protection of the laws.” What do these vague, Olympian commandments from the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments mean, exactly? Is it an “establishment” of religion to display a cross on public property? To allow an invocation before a high school basketball game? To print “In God We Trust” on the currency? To a certain extent these types of questions can be answered by studying the bedrock and sediment of the common law: look for what courts have done in similar cases and analogize from that. But in a novel case facts can be more helpful than precedents, as Brandeis demonstrated many times over.

He was also a lifelong champion of the “living” Constitution—the view that if the Constitution is to endure, it must evolve to meet society’s changing needs. Today this common-sense premise is hotly disputed by judges who seem to want to keep the gallows busy and the women in the kitchen. It was less controversial in Brandeis’s time, although it didn’t always carry the day. In Olmstead v. United States (1928), for instance, the Court held in a formalistic opinion that the police’s use of a new evidence-gathering technology called wiretapping was not a search or seizure under the Fourth Amendment, since no doors were kicked in or papers removed. In his dissent, Brandeis uncharacteristically put aside facts to summon the kind of stirring eloquence that his colleague Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. regularly brought to the bench:

The makers of our Constitution…knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone—the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men. To protect that right, every unjustifiable intrusion by the Government upon the privacy of the individual, whatever the means employed, must be deemed a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Melvin Urofsky, an academic historian, has written an extraordinary biography of Brandeis that devotes equal attention to his careers as attorney, reformer and justice. Topping out at nearly 1,000 heavily annotated pages, it is surely one of the most comprehensive legal biographies published in recent years. But Urofsky paces the narrative crisply, and his judgments are as briskly dispensed as they are trustworthy, often after a quick and skilled survey of the voluminous Brandeis scholarship. For example, here is Urofsky on whether Brandeis encouraged Franklin Roosevelt to nominate William (“Wild Bill”) Douglas to be his successor on the Court, as Justice Douglas later claimed: “No one has ever found evidence to back this up, and Douglas’s memoirs are full of exaggerations, misrepresentations, and out-and-out falsehoods.” Urofsky’s learned, confident and persuasive book is now the standard life of his subject. In authority and heft, it is equal to a Brandeis brief.

Before he joined the Court, Brandeis operated as a sort of roving moralist, earning the enmity of Boston’s financial community and the nickname “the people’s lawyer.” His reform causes—stopping a plan to run a trolley train through Boston Common; trust-busting among the Morgan concerns; refereeing major labor disputes like the 1910 New York City garment workers’ strike—allied him with progressive agitators like Wisconsin senator and presidential candidate Robert La Follette, whose invitation in 1924 to join the ticket Brandeis discreetly declined. In private practice, Brandeis often angled himself into the singular position of being “counsel to the situation” rather than advocate for one side or the other, working to find a solution that he deemed best for everyone. Urofsky observes that this arrangement may have been unethical at the time (it certainly would be today); and even if it reflected widespread trust in Brandeis’s judgment, it caused all sorts of problems and conflicts of interest.

The most important reform effort of Brandeis’s career concerned an issue that surfaced during last year’s debate over healthcare. At the beginning of the twentieth century, life insurance policies provided a financial safety net analogous to modern health insurance. But “term insurance” policies for the laboring class were canceled without refund if the policyholder missed a single payment, on the dubious rationale that the worker had chosen to let the policy lapse. Brandeis devised an alternative called “savings bank life insurance,” which offered policies through trusted community banks rather than insurance conglomerates. His efforts on this reform reveal a lifelong faith in markets, even while fighting for progressive change. Savings bank life insurance was not universal free insurance for all but an attempt to inject competition back into a complacent, monopolistic industry. This entrepreneurial bent also figured in Brandeis’s push to help Woodrow Wilson tighten anti-trust laws early in Wilson’s presidency. Monopoly was a type of cheating that offended Brandeis’s sense of fair play. Urofsky explains that Brandeis’s and Wilson’s “progressivism lay in their desire to favor popular democracy against wealthy elites, but they wanted to do so with minimal governmental influence and regulation…. Both feared big government as much as big business.”

Big government and big business: Brandeis frequently railed against “the curse of bigness.” He represented labor unions, including the United Mine Workers, but also distrusted large ones, siding with management against the Boston Typographical Union. He cheekily advised a former clerk to reject a position at Harvard, telling him “anybody can be a good Dean of the Harvard Law School. Why not take some smaller school and do something with it?” He took pride in the Supreme Court’s lean staffing, and opposed the Court’s move from the Capitol to fancier digs in 1935. In their own way, these hedges all sought to keep things small, local and responsive to the people.

Urofsky contends that a similar small-d democratic ethos informed Brandeis’s ardent Zionism. The first Jewish Supreme Court justice, Brandeis certainly suffered his share of anti-Semitism. To take the most appalling example, there is no official Supreme Court photograph for 1924 because Justice James McReynolds, a blazing bigot, refused to sit next to Brandeis as seniority dictated during that term. But Urofsky suggests, plausibly if creatively, that it was not anti-Semitism, religious fervor or cultural identity that led Brandeis to Zionism. Like the savings banks, Israel represented a chance to start over, applying American values and democratic principles on a smaller scale. If Brandeis was a capitalist, he was also a utopian, always on the lookout for the next small thing.

Despite Brandeis’s many reforms, his chief legacy is his work on the Court. He essentially invented the law of privacy (“the right to be let alone”), broadened the First Amendment’s protection of unpopular political speech, dissented vigorously when conservatives struck down New Deal legislation and strengthened the Court as an institution by joining his conservative brethren in opposing Roosevelt’s cynical Court-packing plan. For these achievements Brandeis is one of the four or five great jurists of the twentieth century. He happened to serve alongside two others, Holmes and Benjamin Cardozo, and one of the pleasures of Urofsky’s book is its gentle and generous chronicle of Brandeis and Holmes’s improbable friendship.

Holmes, the elder of the two, was for thirty years a reassuring liberal presence on a Court increasingly bent on inventing rights for the business community. With each annual Court photograph, his impressive mustaches seemed to grow a little broader, like two outstretched arms spread wide in the embrace of reason. Whereas Brandeis emphasized facts and championed social reform, the utilitarian and amoral Holmes dealt in abstractions. He didn’t even read the newspapers. If Holmes was the more principled voice for judicial restraint in their many joint dissents—Brandeis’s opinions occasionally betray his sympathy for the progressive laws his conservative colleagues were attacking—that is because Holmes had no opinion on the questions of the day, except as a philosophical matter. (Louis Menand contends in The Metaphysical Club that Holmes’s experiences as a Union soldier during the Civil War destroyed his “belief in beliefs.”) Nevertheless, the friendship was a warm one. The two walked home from Court together many evenings, sometimes arm in arm, and when Brandeis circulated opinions for his colleagues’ votes, Holmes’s “returns” were chummy and encouraging. “A sockdolager,” or “I am in it with both feet,” he might write. When the Senate voted to confirm Brandeis’s nomination to the Court after a difficult fight spearheaded by industry bigwigs he had humbled, he received a telegram from Holmes that read simply, “Welcome.”

By temperament, Brandeis was passionate but mild-mannered, idealistic but pragmatic, frugal but not austere. Like many crusaders, he was mostly humorless and occasionally an insufferable moralist. When his law clerks tried to arrange a reunion to celebrate his twentieth year on the bench, Mrs. Brandeis squelched the idea, saying, presumably at her husband’s request, that he would much prefer it if each of them “would sit down and write the Justice a letter telling him what we had been doing for the advancement of mankind.” Brandeis once complained that he could have turned more decisions his way had he horse-traded like the other justices, but “I would have had to sin against my light, and I would have hated myself.” Urofsky, who clearly admires his subject but knows how to call a foul, sees “a certain sanctimony” in this protestation from a savvy political operator who advised presidents and cabinet secretaries. Then again, perhaps Brandeis didn’t need to play politics. Even if it took a generation or two, most of his dissents were eventually adopted by the full Court as the law of the land.

May 28, 2010 Posted by | Book | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment