BY MATTHEW HUTCHINS
As the twenty-first century waxes into its second decade, clouds are gathering over the American Republic. A faltering economy, stymied foreign policy, and rising specter of corporate domination of life at home and authoritarian domination of nations abroad has put the public in a state of dissatisfied disillusionment. We need leaders to step forward with a straightforward elaboration of the principles that unite our interests across party lines, but the collected inertia of the two-party oligarchy and the sensationalistic media manages again and again to steamroll over the voice of the individual in favor of the talking head, the rehearsed and scripted speech, and the ten second sound-bite.
The Greatest Generation has been put to bed, and the Baby Boomer experiment has once again overdosed on its own hedonistic excesses. Now we tread in a desolate chasm while the next generation prepares to stand up and have its voice rise above the noise of the aging demagogues that have populated the media landscape during the Clinton-Bush era.
But are we entering an even darker chapter in America’s degeneration into demagoguery? Glenn Beck’s recent appearance at CPAC offers surprising evidence of the fervor excited by base appeals to the anger and resentment of the crowd. More disturbing yet is the shift from a Republican ideology of veiled elitism toward overt anti-socialist fascism. Beck has begun an escalating revisionist campaign against the core of progressivism and all of its historical proponents, including Roscoe Pound and the Legal Realists. In his mind and rhetoric, the gilded age of the 1920’s provides a model for America’s True Destiny, and rather than retreating from the seemingly discredited Reganite philosophies, Beck elevates them to mythical status.
Harvard Law School should be outraged at this campaign, not because Beck himself is a significant figure, but because the public is playing directly into the hands of this charismatic fool and turning against every concept that this institution has spent over a century developing and deploying into the legal culture of the nation. And while we sit comfortably in the halls of Langdell pondering with glee the control of the White House by Barack Obama ’91 and Cass Sunstein ’78, the policies so virulently condemned when practiced by Cheney-Bush are silently tolerated under our chosen President.
The missing element in the Thunderdome of present-day discourse is an overarching conceptual framework within which the course of the nation can be justified according to a set of consistent guide posts. That is not to say that we need to search through history like Beck to invent a lost gospel that will guide us into the future. Rather, we must look at the new circumstances of technology, economic reality, international relations, civil rights, human rights, and environmental concerns and assemble a vision of our future that is more than a grab bag of buzz words to be exploited in talking points. And to do this we must step out of our overly intellectualized artificial domain and down into the hedge rows of the public discussion of government and the law.
Our nation needs genuine leaders who can navigate the uncharted highway of our future and lead us toward solutions that are based on logical argumentation, common sense, and the spirit of participatory democracy that has sustained our Republic during its darkest nights. We are the ones to take up this responsibility. It is our time to take up the torch and charge forward.
Matthew W. Hutchins is Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Law Record.