P.S. to post below (and countless ones before that):
An example of the theoretical tire hitting the realistic road is discussed at Volokh Prompted by Neil Katyal’s “extensive review of Jack Goldsmith’s The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration in The New Republic. ” The comments cover familiar ground:
The trouble with academics giving advice is often that in the academy there is no such thing as failure. There are too often only ideas and various forms of mental gymnastics, where one performance, no matter how bizarre, tops another.
Without failures–of the sort that actual humans suffer in their work every day–important lessons cannot be learned, and it is that learning that guides good judgment and sensible action.
But, of course, interweaving the theoretical and the practical – and recognizing when the real disproves the theory – gives us the more broadly useful.
Sometimes I wonder if some of this isn’t represented by – or caused by – the refusal of academics to accept the fact that certain theories of government have proved in real world applications to fail after taking tragic tolls on the experimenters. In re to such theories, another commentor seems oblivious of the rather obvious fact that human nature longs for a strong man in times of uncertainty – something any reading of Sophocles might have helped us understand. The distinction between instincts which are universal and the cultural and individual application of those instincts will always be complicated; our generation seems to understand human nature little better than the Greeks did – perhaps because so many are convinced it doesn’t exist.