Stephen L. Carter

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Stephen L. Carter in 2015

Stephen L. Carter (born October 26, 1954) is an American law professor, legal- and social-policy writer, columnist, and novelist. He is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale Law School, where he has taught since 1982. He earned a B.A. from Stanford University in 1976 and a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979. After graduation, Carter clerked for US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.



The Emperor of Ocean Park (2002)

  • But that is the way of the place: down our many twisting corridors, one encounters story after story, some heroic, some villainous, some true, some false, some funny, some tragic, and all of them combining to form the mystical, undefinable entity we call the school. Not exactly the building, not exactly the faculty or the students or the alumni — more than all those things but also less, a paradox, an order, a mystery, a monster, an utter joy.
    • Ch. 9, A Pedagogical Disagreement, II
  • Depression is seductive: it offends and teases, frightens you and draws you in, tempting you with its promise of sweet oblivion, then overwhelming you with a nearly sexual power, squirming past your defenses, dissolving your will, invading the tired spirit so utterly that it becomes difficult to recall that you ever lived without it...or to imagine that you might live that way again. With all the guile of Satan himself, depression persuades you that its invasion was all your own idea, that you wanted it all along. It fogs the part of the brain that reasons, that knows right and wrong. It captures you with its warm, guilty, hateful pleasures, and, worst of all, it becomes familiar. All at once, you find yourself in thrall to the very thing that most terrifies you. Your work slides, your friendships slide, your marriage slides, but you scarcely notice: to be depressed is to be half in love with disaster.
    • Ch. 12, A Special Delivery, II
  • You should never fall in love with your own press clippings, because it is very much the nature of the beast that the same journalists who build you up between Monday and Friday tear you down for weekend fun...My family's habit of living in the past seems to me pathological, even dangerous. If all greatness lies in the past, what is the point of the future?
    • Ch. 17, The Brass Ring, II
  • True love is not the helpless desire to possess the cherished object of one's fervent affection; true love is the disciplined generosity we require of ourselves for the sake of another when we would rather be selfish; that, at least, is how I have taught myself to love my wife.
    • Ch. 17, The Brass Ring, IV
  • We live so much of our lives in chaos. Human history can be viewed as an endless search for greater order: everything from language to religion to law to science tries to impose a framework on chaotic existence. The existentialists, sometimes wrongly described as disbelieving in an underlying order, saw the risks and the foolishness of the obsession with creating one. Hitler showed the risk, as did any number of populist tyrants before him. I teach my students that law, too, shows the risk, when we try to regulate a phenomenon—human behavior—that we do not even understand. I am not arguing against law...but against the Panglossian assumption that we can ever do law particularly well. The darkness in which we live dooms us to do it badly.
    • Ch. 18, More News by Phone, III
  • Although every believing Christian understands that God guides our steps, fewer and fewer emphasize the point. A God working actively in the world makes us uneasy. We tend to like our God distant and a bit malleable, ready to bend to every new human idea. A God with a will of his own is too scary, and, besides, he might get in the way of our satisfaction of immediate desire.
    • Ch. 25, A Modest Request, I
  • "These children...well, they have no concept. None. All they want to do is win. That is your culture. America spoils chess, as it spoils all things. Art? What art? Winning, all you Americans can think of is winning. Winning and getting rich. Your country is too young to have so much power. Too immature. Yet, because of your power, everybody pays attention. Everybody. You are teaching the world that only one thing matters!"
    • Karl, Ch. 26, Sam Loyd's Challenge
  • "We live today in a world in which nobody believes choices should have consequences. But may I tell you the great secret that our culture seeks to deny? You cannot escape the consequences of your choices. Time runs in only one direction."
    • Jack Ziegler, Ch. 44, Stormy Weather, III
  • Rumor is rarely more interesting than fact, but it is always more readily available.
    • Ch. 46, Resting Places, I
  • A cemetery is an affront to the rational mind. One reason is its eerily wasted space, this tribute to the dead that inevitably degenerates into ancestor worship as, on birthdays and anniversaries, humans of every faith and no faith at all brave whatever weather may that day threaten, in order to stand before these rows of silent stone markers, praying, yes, and remembering, of course, but very often actually speaking to the deceased, an oddly pagan ritual in which we engage, this shared pretense that the rotted corpses in warped wooden boxes are able to hear and understand us if we stand before their graves.

    The other reason a cemetery appeals to the irrational side is its obtrusive, irresistible habit of sneaking past the civilized veneer with which we cover the primitive planks of our childhood fears. When we are children, we know that what our parents insist is merely a tree branch blowing in the wind is really the gnarled fingertip of some horrific creature of the night, waiting outside the window, tapping, tapping, tapping, to let us know that, as soon as our parents close the door and sentence us to the gloom which they insist builds character, he will lift the sash and dart inside and...

    And there childhood imagination usually runs out, unable to give shape to the precise fears that have kept us awake and that will, in a few months, be forgotten entirely. Until we next visit a cemetery, that is, when, suddenly, the possibility of some terrifying creature of the night seems remarkably real.

    • Ch. 50, Again Old Town, I

Trump and the Fall of Liberalism (November 11, 2016)

Trump and the Fall of Liberalism, Bloomberg L.P. (November 11, 2016)
  • The racists are having their revenge.
  • Liberalism, for all its virtues, has begun to develop a sense of entitlement, and needs time to rediscover its soul.
  • Liberalism in its political instantiation, for all of its appeal, is so powerful a theory that it probably works better in opposition than in government. Modern liberalism has become what liberal philosophers not long ago would have derided as a “comprehensive view” -- a theory that believes itself able to give an account of how every institution of the society should operate, and even, alas, how people should think. Add to that a dash of triumphalism, and you wind up with a government impatient with the tendency of human beings to resist having too much forced on them at once.
  • The mark of a healthy democracy is the preference for argument rather than invective. Those are the roots the left must reclaim.
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