So Brad DeLong is wondering whether he should write to William Drummond, Chair of the Berkeley Division of the University of California Senate, and ask him “to convene a committee to examine whether John Yoo’s appointment to the University of California faculty should be revoked for moral turpitude.” The only thing holding DeLong back is the example of Ernst Kantorowicz, who, as a University of California faculty member in 1949, refused to sign — and eloquently defended his refusal to sign — an anti-Communist loyalty oath which was being presented to the faculty as a requirement for employment. Kantorowicz’s defense of the necessary intellectual independence and free discernment of the professoriate is indeed stirring, but DeLong doesn’t explain exactly why he thinks it bears on the very different case of Yoo. Presumably he is suggesting that it might not be wise to try to fire or punish professors because one disagrees with their politics, or rather, on grounds that might readily be interpreted as partisan.
Needless to say, DeLong’s commenters — and those on Crooked Timber, where Henry Farrell has raised the issue — are having none of it. They want blood (and Farrell does too). To some extent this is understandable: those memos of Yoo’s are horrifying, to me anyway, and I would like to see him, and everyone else in the Bush administration who was involved in the creation and maintenance of a regime of torture, subjected to whatever legal and judicial scrutiny it is possible to subject them too.
But that doesn’t mean that it makes sense to use the workplace — and especially the academic workplace — as a substitute for the legal system when you think that system isn’t getting the job done, whether through corruption or through red tape. This is a little too close to vigilantism to suit me; and the advocates for getting Yoo fired assume — as cheerleaders for these kinds of campaigns always assume — that their own profession will forever be controlled by people who think like them. DeLong’s Kantorowicz analogy may be flawed, but at least it can remind us that that confident assumption is an untenable one.