Companion site:


Google search...


Christopher Edley is better than you, if he does say so himself
Daily Howler logo
KAGAN’S KIND! Christopher Edley is better than you, if he does say so himself: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MAY 17, 2010

KAGAN’S KIND: Elena Kagan may turn out to be a superb Supreme Court Justice. That said, an odd situation will obtain is she gets confirmed. In Sunday’s Washington Post, Christopher Edley explained what that oddity is in a long, unintelligent “Outlook” submission:

EDLEY (5/16/10): If Elena Kagan is confirmed, we will have an entire Supreme Court educated at Harvard and Yale law schools, demonstrating again the grip that academic elites have on the levers of power. Some worry this homogeneity is too anti-democratic, even for our most anti-democratic of institutions. I don't hear a claim that even knuckleheads deserve a spot on the court, but surely some brilliant possibilities attended, say, Berkeley? Or Tulane?

Since Edley is dean of the law school at Berkeley, you might think that he might spot a potential problem here. But if you thought that, you’d be wrong. On-line, Edley’s underwhelming piece appears beneath this headline: “Why elites do belong on the Supreme Court.” And make no mistake—Christopher Edley sees himself as one of those powdered “elites.”

As a matter of fact, Christopher Edley thinks he’s one of your “betters.” It’s hard to believe, but that’s the exceptionally low-IQ framework this self-proclaimed member of the elite enunciated in Sunday’s piece. According to Edley, rubes like us should want our “betters” in important posts, like the post in which Kagan will serve:

EDLEY: The tension between elitism and populism is embedded in our national DNA because America rejected the model of a monarch ruling by divine right in favor of an iffy experiment in democratic self-governance. So now you are responsible for choosing your leader. Do you want someone like you or someone better than you?

What an astonishing framework! But so it goes when people like Edley spends decades inside institutions like Harvard, convincing themselves that they and their peers are “better” than all the rest of us rubes.

(In Sunday’s hard-copy Post, this sub-headline appeared: “Do you want someone like you, or someone better than you?:” We assumed the editor must have made mincemeat of Edley’s ideas. No such luck, it turned out.)

Is Elena Kagan “better than you?” Let’s start by answering the highlighted question from the passaged we’ve quoted above. When it comes to Supreme Court positions, do we want someone like us—or do we want someone better than us?

Please. Ideally, we’d like someone whose basic values resembled our own, while being expert in the law. (We are not legal experts.) In the minds of pampered people like Edley, that latter stipulation turns into the thought that these people are “better” than us! In this way, the brains of our pompous Harvard “elites” get turned into mush over time.

Do you want some one “better than you?” An Edley-defender might claim that The Dean was just speaking ironically. But there’s little in Edley’s piece that makes us think any such thing. And there’s little in Edley’s piece that makes us think he remains truly “elite” after decades of being praised and puffed by his own self-impressed kind.

You see, Edley may be at Berkeley today, but it wasn’t ever thus. As he informs us in his piece, he went to Harvard Law School himself, then became a professor at Harvard Law, serving for 23 years. During those years, he voted to have Kagan join the Harvard faculty, he says.

There’s nothing “wrong” with that life history—until you see the frame of mind such history can leave among the “elites” who live such cosseted lives.

Is Christopher Edley “better than you?” So it seems the great man thinks. Is this inflated opinion justified? Not if you’ve read his Outlook piece, which reflects the rot of brain created by decades in high places. Consider the most comical part of his piece—the part where Edley explains the way our great law schools provide diversity among the ranks of their elites. At Berkeley, the campus community is almost as exciting and diverse as our nation, Edley says. Here’s why:

EDLEY: The gatekeeper power of such institutions is why it was so important to desegregate them (using affirmative action, among other tools) and why virtually all leaders of great universities talk about diversity and access.

For about 40 years now, all the top law schools have tried to pick students who are not just brilliant but who have the potential to be outstanding leaders from and for all of America's communities. Today, "elite" doesn't carry the old-boy, classist, midcentury sense.

In fact, law schools strive for an elitism that is quite democratic in comparison with many other fields. As at Yale and Harvard, we at Berkeley seek to build a campus community that is as exciting and diverse as our nation. That means a New Jersey physics major who models underwear. A single-parent firefighter medievalist from Denver. A former Navy Seal, a software designer, a late-blooming high school dropout, a dancer with published poetry. And when they are here, they teach each other, they learn to understand each other, and then they remember each other.

I write this just hours after our law school graduation ceremony. Elite? You bet. These graduates are exactly what our toughest problems demand. But beyond the paper credentials and the academic pedigree, they are more diverse in aspirations and passions than can be imagined.

In that highlighted passage, you see the clownish work our “elites” produce, after spending decades hearing their brilliance vouched for by other club members.

According to Edley, citizens shouldn’t worry if the whole Supreme Court comes from two elite law schools. We shouldn’t worry because schools like Harvard and Yale work so hard to enroll the nation’s entire elite population. When it comes to the nature of their diversity, Edley does manage to note that such schools have been desegregated. Beyond that, his idea of what makes a class diverse is recorded in that highlighted passage. Is Edley a dean, or is he a clown? Edley, who is better than you, lists six examples of the kind of diversity great men like him recruit to Berkeley. According to this brilliant mind, “a campus community as exciting and diverse as our nation” includes such people as these:

Can be found at Berkeley law school:
A New Jersey physics major who models underwear.
A single-parent firefighter medievalist from Denver.
A former Navy Seal.
A software designer.
A late-blooming high school dropout.
A dancer with published poetry.

It takes a very weak mind to offer that list as the model of modern diversity. But people tend to end up silly when they spend their adult lives in the ways to which Edley admits—pandering hard to cloistered “elites” while being praised in turn.

Sorry, but this is a weakly-reasoned article, written by a weak, elitist mind. How do good brains get turned into mush over the course of many years? In this passage, Edley describes the way brilliant people like him end up in elite institutions:

EDLEY: At the Supreme Court level, it's all about finding oracles for Olympus. While it's frowned upon when judges fire spitballs at colleagues, what matters is intellectual horsepower, not office-chat charm. It is wisdom and analysis, not personal experiences. If a judge's life is elite in the sense of excellence, that's fine. In fact, that may be the point. At every turn the nominee has excelled in a meritocratic system, one that is selective yet far more open than in generations past. But if a judge is elite in an exclusive and exclusionary sense, then we have a problem that's both political and jurisprudential.

Here at THE HOWLER, we have no idea what most of that paragraph means. For a person who is “better than us,” Edley writes rather unclearly. But the highlighted passage describes the potential problem with a world run by a narrow sampling of Harvard/Yale Law School types. “At every turn the nominee has excelled in a meritocratic system?” Let us translate this self-pimping pap, describing life in the real world:

EDLEY REWRITTEN: In many cases, the nominee has excelled in a world built around ass-kissing, respect for authority and careful coloring within prescribed lines. The Harvard Law professor, like his kissing cousin the Rhodes Scholar, will often be the kind of self-promoter who keeps his head down and keeps his mouth shut until it is safe to speak. He or she will behave in the manner of Kagan—failing to speak even during the years when American norms are being torn limb from limb. Her friends and associates will then write letters to major newspapers, explaining this silence away. She would have spoken, they will explain, but she wanted to get the big job.

“Elites” like Edley will come along and tell us such people are “better.”

Alas! Self-proclaimed “elites” have served you poorly over the past several decades. In particular, they have refused to speak, again and again—about the ugly war against Clinton; about the uglier war against Gore; about the move toward war in Iraq; about the dismantling of legal norms. And then, when it’s time to claim the good jobs, along will come the Edleys. Don’t worry your pretty little heads, they’ll proclaim. Our class is “better” than yours.

For our money, Edley’s piece was poorly reasoned and poorly written—the work of a mind which has gone to seed. So why is such silly piffle published? Of course! Because Edley is an “elite!” In the passage we’ve quoted above, Edley explains the process by which people like him, once bright and promising, end up serving poorly, for life:

EDLEY: And when they are here [at our “elite” institutions], they teach each other, they learn to understand each other, and then they remember each other.

Let’s say that in a less polite way: At Harvard and Yale, they become a self-promoting clan—a clan which has been utterly useless, again and again, over the past thirty years.

David Brooks described this class in that column last week about Kagan (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/12/10). Kagan may turn out to a be great Justice. But as a group, the class of which Edley speaks simply isn’t very impressive. Their one great skill is group self-promotion. In all other relevant ways, they’re another D-plus elite.

Concerning modern diversity: To Edley’s dumbed-down mind, “diversity” is somehow addressed by bringing in an underwear model—even a softwear designer! In fact, one diversity problem which threatens the nation involves the nation’s diverse political cultures, which are increasingly coming into active conflict. In any large continental nation, different cultures will always be in play. A nation’s ability to grow and prosper will turn, in large part, on the skill with which its leaders can engineer understanding and compromise between those dueling cultures.

Unfortunately, our nation is getting dumber—and more dysfunctional—as pseudo-elites from the left and the right train their followers to hate The Other. People like Edley don’t know about that, or so it seems in this piece.

How can you write such low-grade twaddle while staying “elite?” Darlings! It’s done the way it has always been done! Being “elite” is still a matter of membership. In modern times, you join the club in new, different ways. But the club remains strikingly dumb.