Bork Chop: The Good Judge Has Gone Global

By Pomper, Stephen | The Washington Monthly, November 2003 | Go to article overview

Bork Chop: The Good Judge Has Gone Global


Pomper, Stephen, The Washington Monthly


Coercing Virtue: The Worldwide Rule of Judges By Robert H. Bork AEI Press, $25.00

A professor once told me that one of the key lessons of history is never to bet on the apocalypse. Somebody better tell Judge Bork! In three grimly titled books--The Tempting of America, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, and Coercing Virtue, his latest--Bork has made it his mission to place America at various way stations along the road to perdition. A museum-quality curmudgeon, Bork places great stock in our country's traditional social, sexual, and religious values, and profoundly mistrusts change. But clearly our values have changed over time, and Bork is looking for someone to blame. In Coercing Virtue, he focuses his wrath on judges, portraying them as stealth fighters racking up win after win in the culture wars while the complacent public snoozes.

Given Bork's history with the liberal establishment, perhaps it's therapeutic for him to write on the same angry theme over and over again. But honestly, what's in it for us readers? In a world where the Woodstock generation is dosing on Riopan Plus, Fox is the top-rated cable news network, and Republicans control Congress, the presidency, the Supreme Court, and 10 out of the 13 federal courts of appeals, does Bork really think people are going to have the patience for yet another book about the perfidy of liberal judges? Not likely. So in this latest work, he's thrown in a new angle: He's gone global.

Coercing Virtue is about how judges both in the United States and abroad are goading the entire Western world over the decadent edge. Sometimes in evaluating a project like this, it's best to start by trying to put ideology more or less to one side. But in this case, even if you do, the book comes up short.

Problem number one is that, from the perspective of anything other than gimmickry, Coercing Virtue is a strangely conceived book. It ranges broadly from a discussion of international law and institutions to separate chapters on the United States, Canada, and Israel. The bits on international law and institutions are at least interesting--they echo provocative conservative scholarship on the political content of international law and its proper role in the domestic sphere. But the other parts of the book neither hang together nor stand up particularly well on their own. The U.S. discussion is merely predictable: Bork marches out a standard litany of perceived liberal outrages concerning sexual, religious, and minority rights. But the chapters on Canada and Israel are difficult to digest. While Bork may know a fair amount about the case law in those countries, it's not at all clear whether he has a handle on Israeli or Canadian culture. This is a real problem. After all, aren't at least some areas of these cultures considerably more liberal than American culture? Without knowing the baseline, how are we to take seriously the idea that Israeli and Canadian judges are torpedoing their societies' traditional values?

Bork's response might be that he cares less about the particular values of those countries than the institution of democracy--and its general decline in the West. But that brings us to a bigger problem. Bork professes to have great admiration for the elected branches of government--the democratic institutions that he praises for their capacity to "allow compromise, to slow change, to dilute and tame absolutisms:' But it turns out that his respect for those institutions finds its limits when they produce results he doesn't like. …

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