Sunday, August 13, 2006
I picked up an old book about the history of the National Lawyers Guild recently. I'm not sure why, but I'm fascinated with the Ossified Left. They remind me that there really are people who used to (and some at least apparently still do) believe very scary things.
Lots of young lawyers today have never heard of the NLG. It's been a long time since its heyday. But when I first started law school in the late 1970s, I used to hear a lot about them. I thought of myself as a liberal then, so when I first saw their advertisements for new members, I thought maybe I should join them. I soon learned these guys were not your average, everyday Democrats. Their idea of a good leader wasn't Hubert Humphrey (let alone one of my Democratic heroes like Scoop Jackson, George Meany or Daniel Patrick Moynihan). They preferred Fidel. I figured I wouldn't fit in.
The book--written by two NLG leaders--freely admits that the NLG leadership was for many decades largely Marxist. That doesn't seem to be a problem for them. They discuss an incident early in the NLG's history that to my mind at least defined the organization for many years to come:
In 1939, some liberal members became concerned that the NLG was attracting a lot of Stalinists. As the news from the Soviet Union became more and more frightening, they decided that the NLG really should disassociate itself from what was going on there and the effects it was having here in America. They proposed a resolution that read,"The National Lawyers Guild is deeply concerned at this time with the organized attacks which are being made in this country upon the fundamentals of our democratic processes. We therefore reaffirm our faith in the Bill of Rights, in freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religious worship. We are opposed to dictatorship of any kind, whether Left or Right, whether Fascist, Nazi or Communistic."
It didn't pass. Some members complained that it was "a form of red-baiting." Others complained that the resolution wasn't sufficiently inclusive--to use the modern jargon. As a result, many liberals abandoned the NLG, leaving it largely to hard left, which dominated the group for the rest of its history.
As a result, the late 1980s and the 1990s were largely wilderness years for the NLG. They'd spent decades insisting that Amerian Cold War policy was the leading cause of unhappiness in the world. Then they woke up one morning and the Berlin Wall had fallen. During the 1990s, I never heard a word about them. The Left on law school campuses was represented by identity politics groups, which were often more booster groups than anything else.
Judging from its web site, the NLG is enjoying something of a resurgence. I think they've even got a chapter here at USD now (while as far as know the liberal American Constitutional Society doesn't). Maybe the NLG has changed. But I doubt it. From where I'm sitting it looks like just another part of Kos-ification of the left half of the political spectrum.