Berkeley then and now

The Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald must recently have visited the Berkeley campus of the University of California. In her Winter 2017 City Journal essay “From culture to cupcakes,” Heather takes note of two long quotations in Bauhaus-era typography that adorn the facade of Berkeley Law, as the law school now calls itself. On the left is a passage by Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo, from a 1925 speech at the Albany Law School:

You will study the wisdom of the past, for in a wilderness of conflicting counsels, a trail has there been blazed. You will study the life of mankind, for this is the life you must order, and, to order with wisdom, must know. You will study the precepts of justice, for these are the truths that through you shall come to their hour of triumph. Here is the high emprise, the fine endeavor, the splendid possibility of achievement, to which I summon you and bid you welcome.

On the right are somewhat enigmatic words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose seat on the Supreme Court Cardozo filled in 1932. The passage comes from an 1885 address to the Suffolk Bar Association:

When I think thus of the law, I see a princess mightier than she who once wrought at Bayeux, eternally weaving into her web dim figures of the ever lengthening past—figures too dim to be noticed by the idle, too symbolic to be interpreted except by her pupils, but to the discerning eye disclosing every painful step and every world-shaking contest by which mankind has worked and fought its way from savage isolation to organic social life.

Both Cardozo and Holmes are Progressive heroes of ages past, yet Heather observes:

No law school today, if erecting itself from scratch, would think of parading such sentiments on its exterior. They are as alien to the reigning academic ideology as the names of the great thinkers, virtually all male, carved into the friezes of late-nineteenth-century American campus buildings. Cardozo’s and Holmes’s invocation of “mankind” is alone cause for removal, of course, but equally transgressive is their belief that there is wisdom in the past and not just discrimination. They present learning as a heroic enterprise focused not on the self and its imagined victimization but on the vast world beyond the self, both past and present. Education is the search for objective knowledge that takes the learner into a grander universe of thought and achievement. Stylistically, Cardozo’s elevated tone is as old-fashioned as his complicated syntactical cadences; his exhortation to intellectual mastery is too “masculinist” and triumphal for today’s identity-obsessed university.

Before attending Stanford Law School Heather took a graduate degree in English literature. In the City Journal essay she brings her skills in literary analysis to bear in measuring Berkeley’s descent. Read the whole thing here.

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