Thursday, April 2, 2009

Lovely to be Here

I want to thank Mary and Dan for the opportunity to spend some time at LHB. This is a serious forum that values ideas, the transformation of ideas, and the human beings involved in the interpretation of ideas and events over time. I am honored and tickled to be here.

So I should probably begin by praying that my shabby treatment of the Framers has not degraded this forum. I can only plead temporary insanity on account of April Fool's Day.

I'll let that post speak for itself, other than to make two observations. First, one of the neat things about satire is that if it works at all, it works on multiple levels. One may be critiquing a discipline, an art form (e.g., the business of reviewing books), a particular event, a particular trend or mood, or even oneself. If satire works, one isn't entirely sure which of these is happening: it could be some, it could be all. Which is what makes satire so dangerous and worthy of suppression. Satire ridicules and in poking fun subverts the conventions governing the enterprise of truth-seeking, but in the hope of achieving some deeper insights.

Second, in critiquing the business of book reviews, I purposefully included at least one factual error, since no review is complete without some factual inaccuracy (can you guess what it is?). I would feel terrible about perpetuating inaccurate understandings of the past even in the name of satire, so after an appropriate period of time I'll set the record straight (in the meantime, feel free to guess).

Now, on to the serious business of legal history. What to expect from my posts? I have a soft spot for synthetic work, by which I mean scholarship that is neither strictly theoretical nor strictly historical in the who, what, where, why sense of the word. Synthetic work faces some interesting challenges, so I hope to prompt some reflection on the contributions and difficulties presented by this type of scholarship. My own work focuses on constitutional process (writ large), conceptual transformation, institutional culture and mindset, and the formation and diffusion of political knowledge. On these questions, I can be quite taken with everyone from radicals and outsiders, to mainstream politicians and judges, to presidents and their aides. Of late, I have become fascinated with the late 1930s and 1940s as a period of intense political and legal ferment and institution building. Like Mary, Chris, and others, I am interested in war as a vehicle for mobilizing governing ideals. I plan to share some of my findings as well as the puzzles that keep me up late at night.