Sandy Levinson’s mea culpa on The Spirit of Compromise

Over at Balkinization, Sandy Levinson clears the air about The Spirit of Compromise by Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson:


In my interview with Scott Horton, I noted that I had not yet read Amy Gutmann’s and Dennis Thompson’s new book The Spirit of Compromise: Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It (Princeton University Press, 2012).  What I said in particular was

I haven’t yet read the Gutmann and Thompson book,. but I’m not sure, at the end of the day, that one can make very useful general arguments about compromise. All of us, presumably, recognize that there are occasions for drawing lines in the sand, even as we also must, unless we’re truly fanatics, recognize that politics requires a willingness to settle for significantly less than we might wish, not least in order to preserve social peace.

I have now read the book, and I would have answered the question differently, for one of the striking things about their book, written, of course, by two world-class political theorists, is the degree to which they seem to agree that it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to make “general arguments about compromise” in the sense of providing algorithms for when one should or should not compromise. Indeed, one of their major contributions, which has important ramifications for jurisprudence as well as politics, is a critique of theorists like Ronald Dworkin, who proffers a notion of “integrity” that depends on a strong notion of philosophic coherence—and a concomitant rejection of what he disdainfully calls “checkerboard compromises.”


The article is quite long and the discussion continues into the comments. I encourage you to click over to Balkinization to read it all.