Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Does Personal Identity Survive The Death of One's Culture?

When cultures die the individuals who inhabit the culture survive, don't they? Well, of course, the biological individuals survive, but do the people as culturally constructed selves survive? In Jonathan Lear's remarkable new book, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation, the reader is introduced to Chief Plenty Coups (Many Accomplishments), the last great chief of the Crow Indians, who stated in his autobiography that after the buffalo went away "nothing happened." Since the buffalo were essential to the Crow's hunter-warrior society, Lear interprets this comment as signifying the end of Crow culture, and the end of Crow culture meant the end of Crow history. Lear acknowledge that Plenty Coups might have meant something else by this remark, but finds enormous interest in the possibility that the Crow Chief was revealing that he was a witness to the death of his culture and that without one's culture, one's personal identify also dies. The locution "nothing happened" means that it was no longer possible to be a "Crow" or to live a "Crow's life. Lear explores that this is what Plenty Coups meant, and discovers that the Chief''s life is a testimony to a special kind of hope that can emerge when facing cultural distinction.

The results of Lear's inquiry have consequences for legal theory, especially constitutional theory. Do legal cultures die? Can legal scholars and judges witness the moment the legal culture they inhabit is lost? Because of its philosophical approach, an authentically inspiring philosophical approach, this book might not be everyone's cup of tea. However, legal scholars would be wise to give Radical Hope a chance, not only because it tells a fascinating story about an inherently intriguing topic, but also because its relevance to conceptual and institutional change in legal theory cannot be overestimated.


Blogger Alfred L. Brophy said...

Thanks for this, Robert.

3/16/2007 2:25 PM  

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