Sunday, January 29, 2006


I have almost finished reading Akhil Reed Amar’s America’s Constitution: a Biography. Reading the book is a detour from a reading program I had set myself at the beginning of the year although the first two books on my list were Democracy in America and the Federalist Papers, so it is relevant.

Amar’s book contains an overwhelming amount of legal and historical scholarship on the Constitution even though it is pitched at a general public. The book allows some insight into the political philosophy and thinking of those who framed the Constitution and amended it.

Despite the scholarship in a book like Amar’s, I am not off the hook for doing my own thinking about the philosophical ideas and ideals contained in the Constitution.

I have these two strong forces inside me pulling me in opposite directions. One force wants me to be engaged, and to speak even if my thoughts are not fully formed or consistent. The other force, a strong metaphysical fatalism, wants me to view politics from nowhere, let other people argue and fight, note what they say, tell disputants when they are inconsistent, inform them when they have failed to persuade, but continually remind myself that events will necessarily be as they will.

It is a natural tension between ideas and ideals. Ideals are ends to be achieved and often motivated by passions. Ideas are objects to be dispassionately understood and sometimes admired.

Meanwhile, the rain is falling on a relatively warm January Sunday. All too soon I’ll be gone before I want.


Despair’s advantage is achieved
By suffering—Despair—
To be assisted of Reverse
One must Reverse have bore—

The Worthiness of Suffering like
The Worthiness of Death
Is ascertained by tasting—

As can no other Mouth—

Of Savors—make us conscious—
As did ourselves partake—
Affliction feels impalpable
Until Ourselves are struck—

Emily Dickinson


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