Concerned friends understandably ask: Dershowitz? Why would you be reading Alan Dershowitz? You're on vacation. Your dream cottage looks out across the tall beach grass onto the soul-soothing north Oregon coast. You can gaze for healing hours at majestic Tillamook Head cooling itself eternally like a giant buffalo in the great Pacific; listen sadly to Chopin nocturnes accompanied by the endless murmur of the waves; pick up the old Montaigne, Raymond Chandler, Sappho, Yeats. Hasn't Mark Helprin got something new out yet?
I could answer that duty calls and, like patriots of yore.... But you can't fool old friends. So I tell the truth. Towering like one of the lesser Sierras in the front yard, separating me from the surf and Montaigne, is about a ton of scientifically treated compost. If the rugosa roses, honeysuckle, Japanese anemone, alstroemeria, and other domesticated flora are to flourish, it is necessary every year to spread this beautiful life-giving stuff ankle deep across the gardens, because last year's lot has disappeared into the sands of oblivion. This means shoveling about twenty shovelfuls repetitiously into the wheelbarrow and barrowing or wheeling the loads around the quarter acre to locations thoughtfully specified by the lovely gardener who calls herself in weaker moments my wife, in whose eyes Sappho has long since ceased to be an excuse.
Did I ever talk to you for eight or 10 hours about how perfectly wheelbarrows are designed to direct pain precisely into that point in the lower back first discovered, I believe, by Tomas de Torquemada sometime in the 1480s? No? But I digress.
Alan Dershowitz spreads it wide and thin in his new book on the American Declaration of Independence. One reads the likes of Dershowitz not because his thoughtful and informed understanding of American political principles is so innovative or rare, but because his careless and uninformed misunderstandings are so drearily orthodox and common. Dershowitz is piously conventional, indeed, fundamentalist in his unreflecting faith in the academic religion of his time and profession—"legal realism."
For light reflections on the debilitating effects of this uncivil religion, may I modestly suggest my short review of Dershowitz's America Declares Independence, in the new, even bigger and better, Claremont Review of Books? It is a small morsel to whet the mind's appetite for the feast of robust thinking and delectable writing in the new issue: Mark Helprin, Angelo Codevilla, and Harold W. Rood on the war; Paul Marshall on the scads of books about Islam; Allen Guelzo on taking John Brown seriously; Harvey Mansfield on Ernest Fortin on Dante's divine mysteries; Mark Blitz on saving human nature from modern science; Nicholas Antongiavanni on queer fashions for straight men; and much more.
If you are not already a subscriber—and you should be!—visit the CRB's page on the Claremont Institute's website. To get your hands immediately on this large and lovely issue, check your local newsstand or bookseller in the next week or so. If they don't carry it yet, politely encourage them to remedy that—it will improve the neighborhood.
Now back to that wheelbarrow and vivid memories of Torquemada.