Hofstra Law Review


David Barnhizer


There has been an erosion of the ideal of truth as a guiding force for what we do. This includes a dishonoring of the tradition of the truth-seeking function of scholars. For the university-based intellectual, including legal scholars, the problem with commitments to ends other than truth-seeking is that once we accept a mission distinct from the pursuit of truth and honest discourse, most of the remaining options are suspect - including falseness, hypocrisy, self-deception, subordination of self to a collective, profit, dogmatism, devotion to tradition, and propaganda.

Although what we intend by the idea of truth - legal, scientific, political and otherwise - is obviously subtle, wide-ranging, functionally disparate and perhaps impossible to make entirely concrete, this essay concentrates on the complex and beleaguered phenomena of truth and truth-seeking within academia and the noncumulative disciplines of which law is a part. This focus is chosen because of the belief that a society without commitment to the ideal of truth with integrity and honesty (even if not entirely real or provable) is not a community but only a collection of disparate people seeking to take advantage of each other while never being able to trust the validity of anyone or anything. A society without the ability to negotiate reliable terms of what will be considered true and thus authoritative is one in which promises are meaningless, nothing is reliable, and betrayal is a predictable and even inevitable condition of relationships. Western societies grounded on the Rule of Law cannot afford to surrender such a basic principle without devolving into a system operating on increasingly prevalent use of force and Machiavellian machinations by fragmented but powerful political cliques.

Camus warns of the distortion that occurs when individuals engaging in the struggle to achieve what they think to be social justice simultaneously try to be clear-thinking scholars. Consider his poignant observation in the context of the creativity of the artist and the need to keep sufficient distance from the heated conditions of society in order to retain a clear perspective. He writes: [I]t is not possible to be a militant in one's spare time. And so the artist of today becomes unreal if he remains in his ivory tower or sterilized if he spends his time galloping around the political arena. Yet between the two lies the arduous way of true art. It seems to me that the writer must be fully aware of the dramas of his time and that he must take sides every time he can or knows how to do so. But he must also maintain or resume from time to time a certain distance in relation to our history. We have lost the distance and are increasingly consumed by ideology and the narrowness of political perspective. A result is that much of what is said in noncumulative academic disciplines such as law is suspect.

Included in

Law Commons