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Letter from Ronald Sokol to Daniel Meador, Monday, December 29, 1969

29 December 1969

Dear Dan,

I have just returned from London where I learned from Lyn Mostyn of your
replacing Dillard. Does this mean you are taking over his chair? To return to
Charlottesville under any conditions gives me great pleasure as it means you
will he more accessible. If you are taking over Dillard’s chair, then this is
truly splendid. You know my feeling that teachers should teach. There are so
damn few of them as it is that when one runs off to administer or judge or
practice or whatever it may be and understandable as it may be, it is a grievous
loss for students, and from a public point of view a bad allocation of resources
as administrators are more common than teachers. Alabama, because of its peculiar
intellectual and cultural geography, is no doubt a special case in which simply
to administer well probably requires promethean talents. I am sorry the new Ala-
bama president did not come through for you. I presume that is what happened. It
is sad but with Alabama what it is, hardly surprising. I take it you are following
your “principle of maximum effectiveness” and the limit has been reached. I am
glad you found the courage to leave.

The Haynsworth illness ran its course with no glory to anyone. I wrote him
in August congratulating him on the appointment and then again more recently a
letter of condolence and urging him not to resign. Since then I have been thinking,
and my reflections are not yet ended. I have at least come to this: Once he admit-
ted that part of what he did was a mistake (which he admitted before Committee),
then he ought to have insisted his name be withdrawn, regardless of what the Presi-
dent said. Fortas showed more character. He accepted a legal fee while on the Court,
in effect practicing law while on the bench. Though he was, to my knowledge, in no
danger of impeachment, he recognized his error (after it had been pointed out to him)
and resigned, thus re-establishing his own integrity and that of the court. He purged
himself, but Haynsworth did not. There is a kind of moral insensitivity in the actions
of both Portas and Haynsworth which I daresay is widespread in American political
life, certainly in the Congress at any rate. I don’t know if it is any worse now
than it has ever been. Darrow used to say, “the legislature is bad; it is always
bad except in times of some great moral crisis when it is worse.” Whether Haynsworth
should have gone further and resigned from the 4th Circuit, I haven’t yet decided. I
suppose that is the logical extension of my position, but logic is not necessarily
compelling. I lean towards a “charitable inconsistency” and think perhaps he was
right not to resign. What do you think? On Haynsworth’s judicial philosophy, to the
extent that he has one, I found the whole debate ludicrous and delightful. While not
an Arthur Goldberg, Haynsworth is a liberal judge. To see him next to Strom Thurmond
and championed by the arch-conservatives whet my appetite to see what would happen
once he was on the court. Disappointment there.

How was your trip through East Germany? Your “long-standing ambition to go
travel through East Germany” mystifies me. Why should an Alabaman whose military
experience was in Korea and whose historical interests I thought lay more in the
Anglo-Saxon world have an ancient ambition to visit Eastern Europe? There must be
influences and interests operating here of which I know nothing. But I am curious.

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I value your comments on my “Federal Habeas Corpus.” I did quote you ex-
tensively early in the book because of the pithiness of your Magna Carta essay.
If I were not so lazy I would review the essay as it is really a jewel. The book
has been selling well, but otherwise I think I have had just one letter from a
law clerk saying he found the book very helpful. I have seen no reviews.

1969 is about through. During this year my celibate state ended, and I mar-
ried a Japanese girl whom I met a little over two years ago in Tokyo. We have now
been together in Paris one year, and Junko’s French is pretty well along. By the
end of 1970 she will be fluent. Then she will begin English, We shall probably di-
vide that task between England and the United States. As you can deduce, I now
speak Japanese and French. As there are 72,000 Japanese in Paris of which few speak
French, this gives me a peculiar status and accounts for my stationery. I am not
actively practicing law, but I find miscellaneous problems falling into my lap,
mostly from impoverished Japanese students and artists. Once I collected a couple
of portraits as a fee. Occasionally a solvent Japanese pays me for doing some odd
task. I probably could develop a thriving practice if I were more ambitious, but at
the moment I am not. I am also counsel for a charitable foundation in Wisconsin and
am slowly developing some expertise in this field which is a rather interesting one
and one with potential for fostering one’s ideas on society. I rewrote this year “The
Law-Abiding Policeman” for the second edition which appears this month. I wrote one
non-legal piece which three publishers in their own inimitable fashion praised and
then rejected. I read a magnificent biography of Tolstoi by Henri Troyat which I recom-
mend and then proceeded to reread War and Peace and a couple of other Tolstoi novels
and stories as well. I read two of DeGaulle’s three volumes of memoirs. They were very
interesting and clarified the war years in French history for me but also turned me
from an admirer to an anti-Gaullist. He convicted himself. The other major book I read
was Wm. McNeill’s “The Rise of the West” (Mentor, 1963), a book written with great
scope and imagination and historical insight. It is surely one of the major books I have
read in the past five years. On my desk now a stack of books by and about Wittgenstein.
I did read a few volumes on law, all bad. I thought Archibald Cox’s little book on “The
Warren Court” undistinguished and mediocre, and Levy’s “Origins of the 5th Amendment,”
which won a Pulitzer prize, I found unreadable.

Your letter of early September comparing my musing on the futility of success and
ambition to Lamar’s just before he launched out on some worldly enterprise greatly amus-
ed me, no doubt because I was considering launching myself. From time to time I muse
about a “re-entry” to use your term which somehow conjures up an image of some remote
asteroid in outer space to which I have been confined. Yet Paris is hardly an asteroid
in outer space, and from what I have seen of the world, what goes on here must indeed
pass for civilization for want of anything better elsewhere. A re-entry would probably
involve leaving Paris which is an immediate and heavy, though perhaps not fatal, strike
against it. More importantly I can’t seem to find my constellation. Here I am weightless
in this remote spatial station from which even DeGaulle has disappeared, and whether I
should be teaching (and if so, what?) or practicing (and if so, what sort of practice?),
writing, studying, or something altogether unimagined is as mysterious to me now (perhaps
more so) as it was three years ago. Much of the time I rest relatively easy with this un-
certainty, comforting myself with the belief that time will straighten things out and
with Gide’s statement that anyone who sets out following his own compass must be content
to lose sight of shore for awhile. Yet at other times like Walter Mitty I launch myself

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imaginatively into vast projects which end always in a cloud of mist and musing
about the folly and vanity of success and ambition. At one of which points your
September letter arrived and gave me much pleasure.

Our present plans are to spend July and August in Wisconsin. There will thus
be a fair possibility that I shall hop down to Charlottesville for a few days or
more. When do you expect to be there?

Please accept my congratulations on your return to Virginia and warmest
wishes to you and Jan and your family for the new year.

Sincerely,

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