In 1880, in The Common Law, Holmes famously wrote, “The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience.”
In yesterday’s Washington Post, Joseph H. Cooper, a gifted teacher and writer, like Holmes trained in but not suffocated by the law, demonstrated, in a perhaps unexpected but highly valuable way, why Holmes’ statement is true and ought never be forgotten. You can find Cooper’s article here.
Cooper is one of the few first-rate writers whose columns speak to the reader without regard to political party or class or personal circumstance. In a thoughtful, unassuming, unfailingly polite way, Cooper gives voice to what many, many people have experienced in life. Sometimes his readers immediately identify with what he writes about, which can be a wonderful gift for the reader who unexpectedly realizes that he is not alone. Other times Cooper writes about what life is like for others, for people easily forgotten, but who, when Cooper brings their voices forward, we can begin to appreciate as having a lot in common with us in terms of humanity if not circumstance.
I don’t know what Cooper’s intent is. There is absolutely nothing snarky or preaching or mean about what he writes. I am sure he means to be interesting and clear and respectful of both his subject matter and of his readers. For me, he always succeeds. In addition, whether this is what Cooper intends or is merely a by-product of his skill as a writer, his columns always give me an opportunity to reflect on and to care about things matter.
Cooper is or should be a national treasure. I wish his columns appeared regularly. I think they would “work” (i.e. be greatly appreciated and regularly anticipated) in newspapers of all kinds all across the country. As it is, his columns appear in papers large and small. I just wish I could count on seeing one of his columns every week.