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"Indeed, the rage of theorists to make constitutions a vehicle for the conveyance of their own crude, and visionary aphorisms of government, requires to be guarded against with the most unceasing vigilance."
     -- Joseph Story
     Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States
     Book III, § 1857.
 

Monday, January 12, 2004

Here it is again: Glenn Reynolds really likes Cryptonomicon. (Via The Volokh Conspiracy)

Eugene Volokh was in ecstasy over it too, as I recall. And I find this really strange, given that the plot driving the "modern" thread of the novel is basically one meritless legal action after another. A person looking for successors in the tradition of Bleak House would have to look long and hard to find another book as well done as this one, and with as low a view of the legal profession. Every plot-complication device impinging upon the progress of Randy Waterhouse comes in some form or other of high-stakes legal action, devoid of merit but still potentially ruinous, each more vexatious, more outrageous, and more extortionate than the one before.

(The sole exception is Randy's side trip to Washington to participate in the division of his grandmother's effects. The remarkable thing about this episode -- well, setting aside the bizarre means the family chooses for dividing her chattels -- is, there are no lawyers involved; I invite the reader to consider what that scene would have been like if there had been.)

Let's see. We have Attorney Alejandro, whose urbanity is the only thing he has to offer his client, since his skills at bribery are unavailing; in this book, Attorney Alejandro is the high point of his profession. We have Randy's ex-girlfriend's palimony attorneys, who crank out false community-property claims upon Randy's assets; we have Loeb Sr., whose all's-fair-in-love-and-war approach to a custody battle with his wife, involving "therapy" to "recover" memories of satanic ritual abuse, is presented as a large part of the cause of his son's mental illness; we have Andrew Loeb himself, a crusading barrator specializing in legalized extortion, psychotic enough to be credibly suspected of being the Digibomber, and whose graphic death, as the penultimate act of the "modern" thread, has the reader cheering. So thoroughly and unremarkably corrupt is the legal profession in this book that when the Dentist, visiting Randy in a Philippino prison, says to him, "I know you think I had you framed," there is nothing jarring about it.

Such is the luster the legal profession adds to the dramatis personae, and yet here are two lawyers who really like the book. Maybe it's one of those things like the joke about the Russian Jew who, when asked why he was constantly reading the anti-semitic press, responded, "to find out how powerful I am."

-- posted by Clayton 1/12/2004 10:51:00 PM


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