Lessig Blew It

When Harvard Lawprof Lawrence Lessig decided to invite Eliot Spitzer to speak at the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, it could have gone either way.  Sure, Spitzer’s one-time babe, Kristin Davis, took issue with the fact that she bore the consequences of his lack of zipper control, while he got to lecture at Harvard.  She asked some very good questions of Prof. Lessig, but as far as I can tell, Lessig never answered.

This could have been a winner.  After all, who better to discuss ethics than one who has sinned?

Alas, that wasn’t Lessig’s approach.

Professor Lessig said that until resigning in March 2008, Mr. Spitzer “inspired the very best in our profession” and is “the most important living prosecutor on a wide range of corruption.”
There is possibly nothing Lessig could have said that would have highlighted the blatant hypocrisy more. 

It’s certainly a professor’s job to teach a lesson to his students.  The lesson Larry Lessig taught was that cynics are right, that there is no reason why a person like Eliot Spitzer, who wielded his office like the sword of the avenging angel, shouldn’t be forgiven his own trespasses when he was incapable of showing the slightest empathy toward anyone else. 

Eliot Spitzer is an important prosecutor.  Not because he was so good at it, or that his investigation and prosecution of corporate corruption did much to help society.  He was important because he was the personal embodiment of the hypocrisy of the legal system.  How dare he go after others while engaging in criminal conduct himself?  How dare he be as harsh, as vicious, as unforgiving, while he was every bit as engaged in wrongdoing as those he targeted.

There was a wonderful lesson to be taught by Larry Lessig at Harvard.  And Lessig totally blew it.  Instead, the message was clear.  Neither honor nor integrity matter.  Just squint a bit and turn your head a little to the left, and all the deceit and hypocrisy magically disappears.  Then we can pretend whatever we want, as if reality is no constraint to the lesson plan.

That this lesson was taught by the director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard Law School leaves me to wonder: Is there anyone left who cares, who comprehends, what it means to possess ethics?  Clearly, Lessig hasn’t a clue.

4 comments on “Lessig Blew It

  1. RainerK

    “This could have been a winner. After all, who better to discuss ethics than one who has sinned?”

    Non sequitur.
    This could not have been a winner. What ever happened to the idea of promoting people who quietly have lived up to ethical standards as an example rather than those “fallen and redempted”? Instead we seek to deconstruct them. More often than not that supposed redemption is self-promotional make-belief.
    The topic is symptomatic of our times: Downplay high standards, seek to hype up the lowest common denominator. Convenient, but not constructive.

    The rest of your post is spot-on.

  2. SHG

    My experience is that we can learn from both failure and success.  Often, failure is the better teacher.

  3. John David Galt

    I disagree two ways.

    (1) Is adultery still against the law in New York? Or are you asserting that a prosecutor ought to be “morally” as well as legally perfect, for some religious definition of “morally”? Doesn’t the Constitution still prohibit religious tests for public office?

    (2) “She bore the consequences of his lack of zipper control”? What about her own?

  4. SHG

    The crime isn’t adultery, but Mann Act and/or patronizing, both very much crimes. And she bore the consequences of her own action, which under ordinary circumstances would have been a misdemeanor and two days community service rather than jail time.  Her point is that the other half of the tango team didn’t, and gets to lecture at Harvard.

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