October 1, 2018

1. The Kavanaugh Confirmation

The Constitution says,

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

Treason is the only crime defined in the Constitution. The framers knew that charges of treason (lèse-majesté) were the scourge of ancient Rome; treason was a “vague indictment, under cover of which any unpopular person might be brought to court.”1 The framers wanted to make sure that treason wasn’t a vague indictment in the U.S., so they gave it a narrow definition. (Many sections of the Constitution are responses to specific problems experienced in the past.)

In our society, charges of sexual misbehavior have become as widespread as the charge of treason in ancient Rome. Those who are charged with sexual misbehavior are presumed guilty until proven innocent, and it’s usually impossible for them to prove their innocence. I don’t deny that sexual misbehavior occurs frequently, just as treason really did occur in ancient Rome. But the power of an allegation to ruin a person’s reputation, career, life, is a dangerous power. The framers feared nothing more than the power of allegations, and tried to limit this power.

Dr. Ford’s charge against Brett Kavanaugh fails the test established by the framers for treason, “the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act.” Some people say, “There are rarely multiple witnesses to sexual misbehavior.” But sexual misbehavior is usually a recurrent pattern, not an isolated event. In Kavanaugh’s case, there are numerous women who testify that he behaved properly over the course of decades.

“But Kavanaugh’s defenders can’t be certain that Ford’s allegation is false.” Yes, but should a last-minute, unsubstantiated allegation from 36 years ago be allowed to destroy an exemplary career, an exemplary reputation? It’s impossible for Kavanaugh to prove his innocence, but he did prove his decency and his competence.

2. Miscellaneous

A. Schiller said, “Only wholeness leads to clarity (Nur die Fülle führt zur Klarheit).” This is a good motto for philosophy — the type of philosophy that brings together different disciplines, that looks at the whole.

B. A passion for truth and a passion for justice are essentially the same thing, just as a taste for cookies and a taste for brownies are essentially the same thing.

C. Is there anything more dangerous than to trust someone? How many crimes begin with an act of trust!

© L. James Hammond 2018
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1. ljhammond.com/phlit/2015-03b.htm#9 back