Robert Bork: Give Me Liberty, But Don't Give Me Filth
Slouching Towards Gomorrah
Bork, Robert H.
June 1, 1996
400 pp., $25.00
Almost a decade after his bitterly contested nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, Robert H. Bork remains one of America's most prominent legal theorists. His ordeal transformed him into a public figure and an outspoken observer of American political, legal, and cultural life. With the recent publication of his Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline (Regan Books/Harper Collins), Bork, who taught constitutional law at Yale Law School, attempts to chart our nation's transformation into a culture that rewards self-gratification and equality without merit. Describing himself as a "generic Protestant," he warns that "large chunks of the moral life of the United States have disappeared altogether, and more are in the process of extinction."
CT advisory editor Michael Cromartie visited with Bork in his Washington office at the American Enterprise Institute, where Bork is the John H. Olin Scholar in Legal Studies.
Your book describes the role the Supreme Court has played in promoting cultural decline in America. How has that happened?
Consider Cohen v. California (1971), a case in which a young man wore a jacket into a courthouse that had obscenities written on the back that suggested performing an implausible sexual act with the Selective Service System. He was arrested, and the Supreme Court said he couldn't be convicted. One of the reasons given was "Who was to say what was obscene?" The majority opinion actually said, "One man's vulgarity is another man's lyric." If you want radical individualism and moral relativism, there you are.
You write that "Sooner or later censorship is going to have to be considered as popular culture continues plunging to ever more sickening lows." Are you advocating censorship?
What fine distinctions do you make?
I don't make any fine distinctions; I'm just advocating censorship. It's odd that we've grown so sensitive about the topic of censorship that if somebody mentions it everybody begins to shake all over and say, "Oh my! That's an unthinkable thought." We had censorship in this country up until the last couple of decades. Almost all of our national existence we had censorship. When I was practicing law in Chicago as a young lawyer, the city of Chicago had a censorship board for movies. It didn't suppress any good art, it didn't eliminate any ideas; but it did keep a certain amount of filth out of the theaters.
How would this censorship actually work?
We don't have to guess how censorship would work; we've seen it work. It's just like any other law. You get the elected representatives to write a code about what is obscene and can be prohibited, and then an executive branch official applies the code to some instance. If the person involved thinks the code has been misapplied, or that the code itself is defective, he goes to the courts for relief.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court, in the service of radical individualism (I am talking about Cohen v. California), has set up three tests you have to get through to prosecute obscenity, and it's almost impossible to satisfy those three tests. The Court became very nervous about allowing any prohibition of offensive sexual acts in public, though as recently as 1942 the Court said unanimously that of course there was no constitutional problem with barring the lewd, the profane, or the obscene, because they weren't ideas.