Question: What are the great issues facing the legal system today?
Stephen Carter: I don’t share the same view that a lot of law professors have that somehow the court’s the place to resolve important issues. The issues that the court solves are important. I’m not saying that the court’s unimportant. I’m saying the great issues that face our society are not issues that are susceptible to judicial resolution. So for example . . . Let me give examples of two of the great challenges the courts knew nothing about. They’re very different. One is the challenge of race and poverty in America. The reason that race and poverty continues to be a challenge is largely because politics left it behind. It’s politics that will help solve this, not courts. And politicians of both parties have long ago left race for issues that they find more interesting. They may give lip service to it, but it’s not high on anyone’s agenda at all. I was on a TV talk show . . . oh it must have been a year ago. And we were supposed to talk about the issues we thought were really important in the coming couple of years. And I kept saying race and poverty, and I was shouted down almost by acclamation by everyone else on the show. They said there are all these other things we have to get to first. And in the green room afterwards, this one person . . . this one liberal activist started yelling at me basically saying how could I bring this up when there are really important things to fix like global warming and the war and so on. I’m not saying those aren’t important issues. It’s just that what’s happened over the last 30 years is every time one wants to talk about race and poverty; every time one wants to bring up race or poverty, it always turns out there’s something more important that has to be done first. That’s one kind of issue. There’s an entirely different kind of issue. Some of the writing I’ve done . . . the non-fiction writing I’ve done has been about ethics in private rather than in public life – integrity and civility for example. I really believe we have reached a crisis point in America in our treatment of other people, particularly people we disagree with. I worry greatly about our inability to sustain conversations across our differences; about our deterioration of a bumper sticker society. Here I agree with what a lot of sociologists and historians wrote half a century ago; that if you have a politics that is mainly about who to hate and who to love; that’s mainly about slogans, and applause, and emotional appeal; it’s not a democratic politics – it is a fascist politics. It is a deeply reactionary politics. It’s a politics about rule, and I worry about that in America – that on left and right, we’re so caught up in who to love and who to hate, who to cheer for and who to boo, and what bumper sticker to put on our car that we have no interest in politics and the sense of the give and take of difficult decisions where you’ve gotta please both sides. We’re interested in winning, and we’re interested in putting together a bigger mob. That absolutely terrifies me for the future of this country because it has nothing to do with democracy.
Recorded on: 7/25/07