Saturday, November 16, 2002 :::
AN ARTICLE in the New York Timesdescribing the trend of College undergraduates to have two, three or even four majors, apparently in an attempt to get the "edge" needed to find a job. It seems to me this is a typical instance of the over-achieving American student running so hard that he loses sight of what education is really all about. Not the fault of the student, for sure, but certainly one more addition to the long catalog of failure of parents, teachers, and other educators. College education should not be about getting a job. It's a common misunderstanding that education has something to do with transmitting knowledge or skills. It does not. Knowledge, especially in our rapidly moving world, is outdated very soon. Education is about the formation of the human character and person. It's about acquainting oneself with the wider tradition and civilization one inhabits. It's about becoming a good person -- and of course also an intellectually curious person who will learn how to learn (for the rest of his life, not just four isolated years in the beginning of one's career). The very existence of the "major" is cause for suspicion. What students really need is a proper liberal arts education. By definition, students cannot know what this means. Their elders must therefore prescribe the courses they need to take. We need fewer majors, and an expanded "Core."
Friday, November 15, 2002 :::
OUR MAN IN CHICAGO makes an interesting observation on "judicial activism", but we need to think a little bit more about this. You say that the U.S. Supreme Court may have acted unconstitutionally in giving itself the power to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional. But why? You are right, of course, that the Constitution doesn't give the Supreme Court the power to declare acts unconstitutional. But as you know the Constitution doesn't say very much about the Court. Article III of the constitution establishes the Court, says that the "judicial power of the United States" shall be vested in it, and that this judicial power "shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution....". That's all. So, the Constitution leaves it up to the Congress and the Court itself to determine its modus operandi. Under your reasoning, whatever the Constitution does not specifically allow the Court to do would be unconstitutional. Two comments: 1) I disagree with that interpretation and believe there is nothing in the Constitution to support that contention and 2) Even if that were so, then it still does not follow that Madison v. Marbury was wrongly decided. It was a case arising under the Constitution. According to the Constitution, then, the Court had the judicial power to issue a ruling. The Constitution also very specifically lists what Congress may do. Suppose that Congress passes an Act that does not fall under the purview of its narrowly defined powers. Someone is affected negatively by it -- he goes to court. What other Court could he go to than the Federal courts of the United States? And why should the Supreme Court not allow itself to do justice in such a case? As Marshall put it: "the very essence of civil liberty certainly consists in the right of every individual to claim the protection of the laws, whenever he receives an injury." Had the Court refused to rule in this case, it would have violated its duties. "Judicial activism" is a buzz word among conservatives, but some form of judicial activism is necessary. Otherwise courts would have no function.
Thursday, November 14, 2002 :::
I WISH TO RETURN briefly to our earlier discussion about the judiciary and the Supreme Court. Our friend in Cambridge, MA rightly says that the legislative branch needs to assert itself, whilst the Court needs to allow this by showing restraint. Nevertheless, the US Supreme Court has been walking on the slippery slope towards judicial activism from the moment that it gave itself the power to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional. Although Hamilton had set forth this doctrine in the Federalist papers, it cannot be found in the text of the Constitution. Paradoxically, it might therefore be said that the Supreme Court's move to give itself the power to pronounce upon the Constitutionality of Acts was itself unconstitutional. A similar grab for power has been made by the EU Court of Justice. It has declared that it can interpret all European law with an eye to the question whether it promotes an "ever closer union" between EU nations (as I type this from the top of my head, at the moment I am unfortunately unable to give you a more direct reference). Although the "ever closer union" phrase can be found in the preamble (second paragraph) to the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which is the beginning of the acquis communautaire (the corpus of EU law), nowhere in the Treaty is this linked to the mission of the Court. The actions of both the US and EU judiciary underline the fact that laws ultimately depend upon interpretation. No amount of ink can stop a judiciary determined -for whatever reasons, ideological or otherwise- to give laws a new meaning. This problem becomes all the more acute as it is more difficult for the legislature to remove judges. Such protection of justices should not be discarded lightly, however, in case the executive and legislative branches of government develop their own nasty traits. In the end, therefore, we cannot escape the ancient wisdom about the need for virtue. The buck stops with virtue: the virtue of members of government in either of the three branches to remain true to the spirit of the law, and the virtue of the public to maintain eternal vigilance to protect against government corruption.
Monday, November 11, 2002 :::
THE BRITISH AUTHORITIES have ruled that being incarcerated for heinous crimes does not limit one's right to sexual deviancy. Apparently, the 1998 Human Rights Acts protects access to hardcore pornography. Serial killer Dennis Nilsen (convicted of the murders of six young men) will apparently be the first to use this decision in justification of his request for homosexual magazines so vile that they are banned from sale in high street shops. No word yet on whether the tax payers are required to provide him with a high-speed internet connection for more, shall we say, stimulating material.
Sunday, November 10, 2002 :::
THE BOSTON GLOBE carries a story today on the success of Wellesley, a "Seven Sisters" women's college, in attracting a "majority-minority" student body. In normal language, this means that more than half the students are not white. The Globe, naturally, regards this as a fine and enviable thing -- as do Wellesley's competitors among selective liberal arts colleges. ''I would love to have that here,'' says an admissions official at Vermont's Middlebury College. But admidst all this praise what is inarguably an important -- and in some respects admirable achievement -- is any appreciation of the real explanation for Wellesley capture or the "[holy] grail for small liberal arts colleges." Wellesley has not been successful in attracting large numbers of minority students primarily because of its aggressive recruitment programs or policy of winking racial preferences. Rather, it reflects the steady decline in appeal of elite single-sex education since women were admitted to the Ivy League in the 60s and 70s. The students at Wellesley today are not those that it wants, but those that it can get -- i.e. young women from wealthy families who couldn't get into Yale but want the pedigree of a New England liberal arts education. That means, in addition to the daughters of the American upper-middle class, hundreds of women from Asian families in the United States and abroad. In fact, only six percent of Wellesley's student body is African-American, fewer than at Harvard. That may be a triumph for something. But hardly represents "diversity" in the ideologically loaded sense in which we are accustomed to use the term.