March 9, 2006

"The rule of law is a cathedral we have to build brick by brick."

Religious imagery from John Roberts, giving his first major speech since becoming Chief Justice. Do you like the building metaphor for law? If you do, do you see any reason why the building should be a cathedral? If you do, do you think the Chief Justice should nevertheless have rejiggered the metaphor to remove the religion? If you do, what building would you suggest?

ADDED: Here's the link to the video of the entire speech, which is brilliant, with terrific delivery, especially for the comic parts, which are many. I locked onto the quote that made the news report, but hearing the whole speech, I find many things I would just as well have blogged about. So please, just go look at the speech!

FURTHER: The comic timing reminds me of Bob Newhart.

53 comments:

Fran said...

I think the comment is in sync with the approach of the man who appointed him and maybe his own beliefs.

It seems a little late to begin worrying over the melding of govt and religion in this country.

Bezuhov said...

"Do you like the building metaphor for law?"

Compared to?

"If you do, do you see any reason why the building should be a cathedral?"

Because that's the one Chief Justice Roberts chose in this instance?

"If you do, do you think the Chief Justice should nevertheless have rejiggered the metaphor to remove the religion?"

If choosing the one he did implied others should be excluded. Did he do so?

"If you do, what building would you suggest?"

Cathedral has some nice connotations. Are we talking ideal or real? For the latter, I'd say the Hearst Castle would be most appropriate currently.

Ann Althouse said...

By the way, have you ever seen a brick cathedral.

The suggestion of Hearst Castle gives me the idea of suggesting the House on the Rock. (Wisconsinites know what I'm talking about.)

Icepick said...

I just glad he didn't choose abattoir!

chuck b. said...

"I'd say the Hearst Castle would be most appropriate currently."

lol!


Temple would have been an interesting choice, and it would sound fine in Roberts' sentence. Lots of great temples in Western history. Kind of a pagan or Jewish sounding word when you think about it alone tho'. I can't think of any famous Christians temples.

jakemanjack said...

HA! I've seen the "House on the Rock" outside of Spring Green, Wis. That place is freaky. The mannequins on the ceiling, the red carpet, the indoor carousel, the dolls, the ramps, the bizarre crap, the mechanical drums - it's like hell on acid.

Much better to skip that and see Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin. Brilliant.

jakemanjack said...

I've toured the Hearst Castle as well.
Yes, it's lavish, but it's also splendid! Julia Morgan did a fantastic job. Amazing.

Palladian said...

I think if you're going to use the "rule of law as a building" metaphor, the cathedral is a good choice for the symbolic edifice. Cathedrals are powerful symbols, not only the religious traditions of the West but of the systematic rationality that underlies their structure and engineering. Building a cathedral was the most massive undertaking of pre-Modern Western people, a project of great complexity requiring the effort of countless people over a long period of time. Take, for example, Chartres Cathedral, built beginning in 1145, mostly destroyed by fire in 1194 and rebuilt, largely completed by 1220, and worked on sporadically (including adding the tallest spire in the 16th century) ever since. No other edifice produced by the West has the endurance of its cathedrals, enduring over centuries, watching political factions come and go, mostly surviving times of turmoil and times of peace. I also like that, using the central metaphor, you can tie the care and upkeep of the cathedral over centuries to the jobs of judges, though the frequent reconstructions and giant additions made to cathedrals may be a worrisome part of the metaphor for those who don't like the idea of judges acting as law makers rather than stewards.

The only other edifices that one could use for this "rule of law" as building metaphor would be the Pyramids, but as they are the work of a dead society, not to mention that they are tombs, I don't think that would have been a good idea.

I suppose that cathedrals are somewhat Eurocentric. The foundations of America were built for the most part by people who found cathedrals distasteful symbols of sects that they had been persecuted by and escaped from. Perhaps Justice Roberts could have used early American meetinghouses in his metaphor, as they were places of not only worship but of civic dialogue, the seedbed of our democratic system, whose power and authority came not from the fabric of a building but from the actions of the people inside it. But then that sort of invalidates the point of the metaphor, doesn't it? The society created in the meetinghouses far outlasted the often makeshift wooden buildings. Perhaps that would have been a better image to use.

But I think we're probably reading too much into a standard and marginally creative metaphor.

Dave said...

Idiotic reference.

Does it bother me?

Not especially.

Steve Lubet said...

In Western culture, "cathedral" has taken on a secondary, secular meaning -- sort of like "crusade" or even "priest."

The main academic building at the University of Pittsburgh is the completely secular "Cathedral of Knowledge." The Crusade of Mercy is a nonreligious charitable campaign. The "high priests of popular culture" have nothing to do with religion.

So this secular humanist thinks that CJ's metaphor was just fine.

Aspasia M. said...

Temple would have been an interesting choice, and it would sound fine in Roberts' sentence. Lots of great temples in Western history. Kind of a pagan or Jewish sounding word when you think about it alone tho'. I can't think of any famous Christians temples.

I agree. I like temple much more then cathedral. And I would have said stone rather then brick. That has both classical and Temple of David imagary that seem more in synch with legal imagry. In terms of free association:

Greece - temples/ classical western thought/ origin of democracy or

David/ King/ law/ a King who follows a sacred book of laws/ just government

Wheras for me, my free association for cathedral is:

Notre Dame/ France/ St. Peters/ beauty/ God/ Holy/ Rome/ Catholic Church/ art

(And besides, I'm trying to think of red brick cathedrals - aren't they usually made of stone anyways?)

Palladian said...

I think he was probably using the word "brick" loosely to mean "big ass cut stone blocks". Standard mortared brick wasn't really used extensively until I think the Tudor era, and is not a good choice for eternally enduring buildings because bricks weather fairly poorly and the mortar has to be patched and replaced all the time. In fact, "brick" is a sort of terrible word choice since the bricks are almost never load-bearing- you couldn't have built a cathedral such as Chartres out of bricks without an underlying structure. So if you think about it all too much, the use of the word "bricks" conjures a facade, a skin that looks solid but can't really bear any weight, wears down with time, has to be re-mortared and re-pointed, and exists to cover up an underlying structure. What a terrible set of images for the rule of law!

Palladian said...

Temple is not a good choice! For the most part, ancient temples are all ruins, the bleached bones of dead cultures. And the Temples of Jerusalem are not good metaphorical images for the rule of law either, since both of them were destroyed and there is a big mosque built upon their ruins...

johnson said...

"Have you ever seen a brick cathedral?"

Well, no. But the Chester Cathedral is brick-colored, as I recall. (Sandstone, maybe?)

Aspasia M. said...

Take, for example, Chartres Cathedral, built beginning in 1145, mostly destroyed by fire in 1194 and rebuilt, largely completed by 1220, and worked on sporadically (including adding the tallest spire in the 16th century) ever since.

Palladian,

I would love to see Chartes. When I hear the word cathedral I think of "The Dynamno and the
Virgin" in the _Education of Henry Adams_. I read it years ago, but didn't Adams set the beauty and symbol of Chartes against the dynamno spirit of America? I suppose that's another reason the word cathedral is a little off for me when I think about law.

Although, I suppose he was trying to say - here's a beautiful structure - just like the law?

However, I would love to see Chartes.

Ann Althouse said...

Palladian is right about the aptness of cathedral once you're going with a building metaphor. It's a big project, that takes centuries, and involves many individuals, who are rather selfless artisans. That gives a good yes to question 2 of the 4 questions.

Chuck makes a good point re question 3. It might be good to get the religion part way out, so that it just doesn't favor a particular religion. That would make temple the better choice.

Aspasia M. said...

Totally off subject:
My grandfather was a stone cutter and a brick layer.

I like stone better then brick.

I still like Temple - you can still see the beautiful lines of temples in Greece. And we have drawing of the classical lines and mathematical beauty of the temples. Doesn't everyone have a picture in their head of the Parthenon?

Aspasia M. said...

Oh - and temple makes me think of classic early Republic architecture, like Monticello.

Baronger said...

brick by brick like a ....

*ponder*

How about like a courthouse? Or maybe the supreme court which is really just a big courthouse, that was designed to look like a temple.

John(classic) said...

I think Robert's allusion is to this story:

A traveller, heading out into the world, comes across three bricklayers on a scaffold, working away.

The traveller asks the first bricklayer, “What are you doing?”
The first responds dryly, “I am earning a wage”.

The traveller then asks the second bricklayer, “And what are you doing?”
The second responds with a shrug, “I’m building a wall”.

The traveller then turns to the third and last bricklayer and asks, “And what are you doing?” The third turns with a wink and a smile and responds, “Me, my friend? I’m building a cathedral”.



Unfortunately Google failed me. Though one can find many recountings of the story with Google none I found gave its origin.

There are brick cathedrals in No. Germany (no stone) and I suspect other places that are alluvial. I wonder about them because of the crushing strength of bricks, but downtown St.Louis suggests you can go pretty high with brick.

I think I recall the cathedral in Savannah as a brick structure, and I think the cathedral in Dubuqe Iowa is brick.

Simon said...

I join Palladian's comments entirely, but for primarily sentimental reasons (I grew up there), I would offer Gloucester Cathedral rather than Chartres; it was constructed over a period of some four hundred years, beginning in the late tenth or early eleventh century A.D., and closely fits Roberts' metaphor insofar as it is massive, magisterial, took an immense time to build and drew on many distinct traditions.

Palladian said...

And don't forget the flying buttresses! Would those be, in the structure of this metaphor, akin to "emanations and penumbras"?

CB said...

I second Palladian's thoughts, and would emphasize that Robert's metaphor was architectural, not religious.

Jen Bradford said...

Oh - I'm trodding on someone... I'll post anyway, since someone might have better luck finding it than me. This is the one place I've seen it. Shahn's Norton lectures.

In The Shape of Content, Ben Shahn tells the story about three workers carrying stones. The first two describe their labor literally "I'm earning money to feed my family.. etc." and the third man says, "I am building Chartres Cathedral."

It's a cliche and all that, but that's what sprang to my mind - the notion of worthwhile or even virtuous labor/drudgery. Pretty sure Ben Shahn wasn't a Bible thumping conservative when he used it.

John(classic) said...

Alright , I admit it. I am a google junkie and always interested in the history of figures of speech.

Brick Gothic is a recognized cathedral style, complete with wikipedia entry


I found two references to the law being built like a cathedral, brick by brick.

One is an address to entering law school students at the University of Chicago, the other in a eulogy to a former Sergeant of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (I love Google!)
http://www.law.uchicago.edu/news/new-students_speech.html
http://www.tombguard.org/eldredge_pix.htm

The story of the three bricklayers in reference to the law is apparently told in this book by Judge Lavine on Advocacy (see the comments):
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/155681769X/103-8840783-9507000?v=glance&n=283155


Finally C. Vittal the Central Vigilance Commissioner in India attributes the story of the three bricklayers to Sir Christopher Wren in 1666.
http://cvc.nic.in/vscvc/cvcspeeches/98nov2.html

DEC said...
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Palladian said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Palladian said...

Brick gothic! Interesting- a style that basically resulted from inadequate access to stone. If you look at the wikipedia entry for Brick Gothic, you'll see that it really restrained the ability to build soaring cathedrals with the great balance between lightness and mass that exists in the best proper Gothic and Romanesque cathedrals. The brick cathedrals seem fairly squat and rather modest in design. We want our "rule of law" edifice to soar, not be restrained from lack of resources!

Johnny Nucleo said...

To me, temple sounds more religiony than cathedral. In modern parlance, cathedral is used more often than temple to describe big, majestic structures. Castle sounds too martial. Same with citadel. The only other big, majestic, purely secular structures that immediately come to my mind are skyscrapers and sports arenas.

"The rule of law is a Superdome we have to build brick by brick."

I don't think that would work.

Riane said...

cathedral makes sense simply because of the hundreds of years it can take to build a cathedral - it implies the patience necessary to build said law - not necessarily a religious basis

vbspurs said...

Religious imagery from John Roberts, giving his first major speech since becoming Chief Justice.

Architectural imagery, I would've said.

And very apposite, at that.

Do you like the building metaphor for law? If you do, do you see any reason why the building should be a cathedral? If you do, do you think the Chief Justice should nevertheless have rejiggered the metaphor to remove the religion? If you do, what building would you suggest?

Hmm.

First, this kind of question implies that there is something wrong with religious imagery in (a) his first major speech as CJ (b) when speaking about the Rule of Law.

I understand that that is not the point of your question, a critique, but rather to analyse his usage carefully, but still the pause to consider his choice smacks of political correctness.

Lots of people have already said what I was going to, although I believe no one has as yet mentioned that he is a devout Roman Catholic, to whom perhaps a cathedral is the ne plus ultra of solidity and grace combined.

I'm sure no one would've been today, to build on the point already mentioned of Temple, upset had Ruth Bader Ginsberg used "temple" in a similar fashion.

Democracy, rule of law, and the foundations of our society are not about ignoring the religious.

They're about being at ease enough to mention them, without being worried that government will tell us something is wrong with our beliefs, if we do.

It's great that he can use a baseball analogy in his Confirmation Hearings, likening a judge or justice as a baseball umpire -- fairly calling balls and strikes as he sees 'em.

But there's nothing intrinsically wrong with envisioning the rule of law as a stable edifice whose magnificence is divine, even without considering that its intent is to be the House of God.

It shows you how very important law to him is, that he should reach for such an example, to convey just how much it means to him.

Nicely played, Mr. Chief Justice.

Cheers,
Victoria

Ann Althouse said...

Althousefan: Good point. I see that the Woolworth Building has long been called "The Cathedral of Commerce. And the expression "Cathedral of Justice" -- is sometimes seen to refer to a courthouse. I also found a Cathedral of Learning.

Johnny Nucleo said...

Victoria,

I think you're right that it's no problem if Robert's faith influenced his choice of imagery. I don't think anyone would have a problem if a Buddhist or Hindu justice used imagery that was in an indirect way related to his faith.

As long as we're talking about words and imagery, may I just say that "ne plus ultra" is the coolest Latin phrase ever?

chuck b. said...

Any temple of mine would absolutely, positively have flying buttresses, and lots of them.

Aspasia M. said...

Finally C. Vittal the Central Vigilance Commissioner in India attributes the story of the three bricklayers to Sir Christopher Wren in 1666.

One of the buildings at The College of William and Marry is named after Wren. It's a beautiful building.


After all this talk I really want to go on a tour of cathedrals in Europe.

Paul Sand said...

I'm impressed by the lofty tone of the comments, but when I was thinking about alternate buildings, the phrase that leapt immediately to my mind was "built like a brick _______"

So maybe a cathedral really is the better metaphorical building.

Truly said...

What about palace? Isn't the French high court called the "palace of justice"?

Here's my favorite brick cathedral: St. Mary's in Gdansk (the loveliest city in Poland--but don't tell Krakow!): http://www.nevozhay.com/pictures/ba/gdansk/021.jpg

SteveWe said...

There is an impressive brick basilica here in Asheville, NC
(http://www.massintransit.com/nc/stlawrence1-nc/stl3.html). It's oblate dome is unusual.

Ann Althouse said...

Why isn't the White House called the White Palace? (It would have had the jump on the hamburger chain, so don't give that as a reason.)

ShadyCharacter said...

"White Palace" doesn't really fit into the whole Republican historical narrative our founders were crafting. Part of the George Washington story is that he refused an offer of Kingship - and if you're not a king, why would you need to live in a "palace"?

Plus, "palace" conjours up images of opulance and even decadence that wouldn't really have appealed to our yeoman farmer founders (or even modern middle America).

brylin said...

I loved Roberts quoting Reagan: "Being a judge sometimes requires the lonely courage of a patriot."

From the linked story, another reason not to trust a spell checker: "associate council."

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Smilin' Jack said...

Ann Althouse said...
Palladian is right about the aptness of cathedral once you're going with a building metaphor. It's a big project, that takes centuries, and involves many individuals, who are rather selfless artisans.


So the "selfless" artisans of the law would be...politicians and lawyers! ROTFL

House on the Rock is very apt though....

Richard Dolan said...

Roberts' use of a religious methaphor certainly makes sense in this context, although I agree that a "temple" or "church" would have been a better choice here.

As others have noted, there is a strong analogy between the "rule of law" that Roberts said he would be devoted to during his confirmation hearings, and the codes of law and moral teaching that believers find in the Bible. Both involve written texts that have been applied over long periods of time to many different situations, resulting in a body of interpretative writings that themselves have considerable but not conclusive authority as new situations arise. The images called up by "temple" or "church" certainly bring with them those traditional notions. Contemporary biblical scholars have also shown a keen interest in a form of "originalism" and "original intent," seeking to determine the authentic sayings of Jesus and to tease out of an often ambiguous biblical text his original meaning. (I have in mind such scholars as John P. Meyer, Raymond Brown, JD Crossan, Jaroslav Pelikan, Geza Vermes, the many scholars interested in the "Q" source, and many, many more -- all of which I suspect Roberts is quite familiar with.) Devotees of the Da Vinci Code can have fun trying to discern whether there was a hidden "originalist" subtext in Roberts' metaphor here.

While the religious metaphor is apt, the reference to a "cathedral" is less so. A "cathedral" is not an architectural term at all, and does not refer to any particular style or size of church building. Rather, it is a specific reference to the bishop's throne ("cathedra"), from which he speaks with authority as a successor to the Apostles -- as when, for example, the Pope is said to speak "ex cathedra," meaning with the full authority of his position as the successor to the "seat of Peter." While the bishop's church is typically grander than an ordinary parish church, that is not always the case, but it does account for the common association of "cathedral" as meaning "a big church of any style." While there is an analogy, albeit a strained one, between the bishop's "cathedra" and a judge's bench, it's quite unlikely that Roberts had anything of the sort in mind.

As for brick cathedrals, St. James Cathedral in Brooklyn, NY is a nice blend of federalist brick style with white-and-gold trim.

John(classic) said...

"Central Vigilance Commissioner" passed without comment.

Are you people stunned by Spring?

Doesn't everyone want to a Central Vigilance Commissioner, or at least have the badge?

They even have a "Vigilance Manual". Where is our newly reform minded Congress on having a Vigilance Commission?

peter hoh said...

Smilin' Jack wryly commented: So the "selfless" artisans of the law would be...politicians and lawyers!

I'll counter by observing that the rule of law doesn't rely on politicians and lawyers. It takes people willing to live by the rule of law.

The lofty ideals laid out by the architects of law are made real by the actions of the many.

Balfegor said...

re: shadycharacter

"White Palace" doesn't really fit into the whole Republican historical narrative our founders were crafting. Part of the George Washington story is that he refused an offer of Kingship - and if you're not a king, why would you need to live in a "palace"?

Plenty of non-kings live in Palaces. Blenheim Palace, for example, one of the most attractive bits of palladian architecture in England, and seat (I think) of the Dukes of Marlborough, is a Palace, but is not inhabited by a royal personage.

Besides, I don't think Washington ever lived in the White House, did he? I thought it was built after he was dead.

Plus, "palace" conjours up images of opulance and even decadence that wouldn't really have appealed to our yeoman farmer founders (or even modern middle America).

That sounds plausible to me. Also, the White House is kind of small for a palace. It's more on the scale (and style) of a plantation manor house, I think.

Re: Palladian
No other edifice produced by the West has the endurance of its cathedrals, enduring over centuries, watching political factions come and go, mostly surviving times of turmoil and times of peace.

What about the Imperial Roads? Or the Pantheon in Rome? Or even Caracalla's Bathhouses -- didn't those even get converted to churches in the Middle Ages? I suppose there's a whiff of ruin and sic transit gloria mundi about all of them, so it's a more melancholy metaphor than the cathedral. But they are great, grand, massive, and enduring. Mementos of Eternal Rome.

(Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!)

Simon said...

"Besides, I don't think Washington ever lived in the White House, did he? I thought it was built after he was dead."

He did not. The first President to move into the Executive Mansion, as it was then called (neither palace nor house, but mansion) was John Adams.

Jacob said...

Roberts was quoting Justice Robert Jackson. It would have been insanely PC to change "cathedral" to "temple".

OddD said...

If I'm not mistaken White Palace was a movie.

The burger joint was featured in another movie, though: Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle

If there's another burger place by the former name, I apologize.

Ann Althouse said...

Oddd: There really are burger chains called White Castle and White Palace -- quite outside of the movies.

Robert R. said...

I have no problem with the use of Cathedral especially in the context it was used. Monument would probably have been just as appropriate.

In my more sarcastic moments, I'd suggest the Winchester Mansion as an appropriate metaphor.

Alan Hurst said...

I know I'm coming to this a couple years too late, but if any of you check this post again, I thought you might want to know that the "Cathedral" metaphor for law is not the Chief Justice's invention but has a proud history in legal academia, including most prominently Guido Calabresi and Douglas Melamed's article, "One View of the Cathedral" (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Property_Rules,_Liability_Rules_and_Inalienability:_One_View_of_the_Cathedral)