Harvard Law goes sensible

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Here's an interesting article from the New York Observer on Harvard Law School. . It seems that Dean Elena Kagan has been—gasp!—hiring conservatives as well as liberals to the law school faculty. Even more amazing than that, she has come forward and appeared as an introducer at a Federalist Society event.

I don't know Dean Kagan, but one of my Federalist Society friends told me that they knew her as a law professor and that she was open to conservative as well as liberal arguments. She was nominated for a judgeship on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and her nomination never went forward because Senate Republicans opposed it. Shame on them, I say, and good news for Harvard Law School. At a time when liberals say they want diversity in our universities—when in fact what they want is uniformity in opinions—it seems that Dean Kagan is interested in genuine intellectual diversity and is ready to hear and consider seriously opinions and arguments which may be very different from her own.

I am reminded of my onetime (1982-89) boss Meg Greenfield, editor of the editorial page of the Washington Post. Meg was much less interested in hearing affirmation of her mostly (though not entirely and not unalloyed) liberal opinions than she was in hearing and exposing to others opinions coming from various points on the ideological spectrum (including the conservative) that she thought were intellectually interesting and thought provoking. Meg gave George Will space on what was then the most valuable intellectual real estate space in Washington—on the Washington Post editorial page—because she thought he had many interesting things to say. She had a sense, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, that conservatives probably had more interesting things to say than the liberals with whom she had mostly agreed since her days in journalism in Greenwich Village in the 1950s and early 1960s and in Georgetown starting in the late 1960s.

I sense that there is something similar about Meg Greenfield (born circa 1931) and Elena Kagan (born circa 1960). A hunger for stimulating intellectual argument, a fearlessness about where disagreement with their own starting assumptions may lead, a readiness to engage, seriously and without condescension, with those whom they had assumed were in unreachable disagreement, on the merits of the case. Meg Greenfield, as the mostly liberal editorial page editor of the Washington Post, gave space to conservatives to advance their arguments; Elena Kagan, as the mostly liberal dean of the Harvard Law School, seems to be doing the same. If this is right, they share the liberal faith—too often these days not shared by people who call themselves liberals—that free exposure of all sensibly articulated views gets us closer to truth, to understanding how society really works and how we should sensibly respond to it. I thank Elena Kagan for following Meg Greenfield's example. Let's talk about things, and see what we can learn.