Friday, February 15, 2008
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
A friend forwarded to me this morning a link to Cass Sunstein's essay in The New Republic about Barack Obama's unique appeal - he is a visionary minimalist who somehow manages to advance his own view of the right, while simultaneously crediting the good faith of those with whom he disagrees. Once again, Professor Sunstein (right) hits the nail on the head. Damn. He has no right to be so smart. (And a mutual friend who was an all-American collegiate tennis player told me he is a killer squash player to boot.)
I gave a talk yesterday in our Faculty Enrichment Series, in which I put forth my tentative hypothesis on those seemingly infinitely contestable concepts like justice, ones that we cannot define yet know when we are right and others are wrong. Because I'm prone to make allusions to things like the Kabbalah and the Tao in exploring very, very difficult and elusive concepts, one of my colleagues called me something that left me delighted and chuckling about it for the rest of the day: he said I was a "timid mystic."
I'll simply say that "visionary minimalism" is consistent with "timid mysticism" or what I would call my "minimalist monotheism." Minimalist monotheism only says that there's something there (the Kabbalahists call it in Hebrew "Ein Sof" or "there is no end") that is a singularity or unity beyond any ability to say what it is (Wittgenstein would then say we should be silent, right?). To borrow from Robert Cover in Nomos and Narrative, it is the DNA, so to speak, of all of our moral intuition. Recognizing that DNA in other moral agents, we should simultaneously heed our own moral voice as to the possibility of universals, be cautious about our ability to articulate those universals, and listening carefully to our opponents, as Sunstein says, "see, almost always respect, and not infrequently accept their deepest commitments." That's a hard place to live, isn't it? But I suspect many more of us than we think do, in fact, live there.
UPDATE: If you are interested in seeing the piece (it is only 14 pages) that got me called a "timid mystic," drop me an e-mail note. I have not yet posted it on SSRN.