PolySciFi Blog

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Hardly an Originalist

Who says activist judges have all the fun? This is from last spring, but I just saw it for the first time. Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber notes that Judge Janice Rogers Brown, the paleoconservatives' dream candidate for the Supreme Court, ended a speech she gave back in 2000 with a reading of Samuel Beckett that's somewhat... questionable.
Freedom requires us to have courage; to live with our own convictions; to question and struggle and strive. And to fail. To fail. Recently, I saw a quote attributed to Samuel Beckett. He asks: “Ever tried? Ever failed?” Well, no matter. He says, “Try again. Fail better.” Trying to live as free people is always going to be a struggle. But we should commit ourselves to trying and failing, and trying again. To failing better until we really do become like that city on the hill, which offered the world salvation.
Never mind for the moment that Judge Brown also argues in the speech that the belief in human perfectability is the first step on the road to destruction. And never mind the question Farrell poses ("What would that city on the hill look like if Beckett were the architect?" Ed: Houston). I'd like to defend Brown, because I believe she was using the quote correctly, but not for the reasons she thought she was. For someone who stresses the primacy of the original text, she could have done a better job of checking out her sources here (the speech footnotes everything else she quotes, but not the Beckett). Although Beckett was not much of an optimist, and not much of a motivational speaker, the "Fail Better" line, in the book where it's found, actually does a pretty good job of describing the conservative project, the construction of that "city on the hill." That book's title (and theme?): Worstward Ho.


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