In chapter three of Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club we see Oliver Wendell Holmes in a generational shift of values, a contrast between the ideals of his youth i.e. individualism, humanitarianism and moralism with his new found reliance on professionalism/expertise and social interest. The Civil War and its intense bloodshed undoubtedly changed Wendell’s character by imprinting on him ideas of duty (that duty itself, the job itself as more important than abstract ideals or passionate impulses) and his later belief that violence serves as a foundation for government or authority. In this chapter titled The Wilderness and After we see Menand describe some of Wendell’s ideologies and philosophies, how they arose, and what decisions they led him towards.
These philosophies included Holmes’s rejection of generalism (as in appropriating, from personal choice, ideas/phrases from all literature/philosophy) and focus of professionalism which he would achieve through scholarship and analysis. This lead to his concept of ‘jobbism’—the belief that one’s job leads to practical altruism (unselfish concern with society/welfares)—as a means to true philosophy. Holmes developed an idea of certainty —imposing particular ideology, dogma, or from the sense of property/ownership is justified by the belief of righteousness—and is critical of the abolitionists, as well all as Calvinists who adopt certitude. Menand describes Holmes as recognizing the absurdity of absolute truth and a shift in understanding that concepts of “justice” and “fairness” which are no longer eternal principles but definable by society
Holmes in the Supreme Court is now an enforcer of his philosophies and is motivated by the beliefs that man is a product of his environment, that man is a self-interested being, but is also able to shape his own environment. The classic struggle between capital and labor arises both relying on certainty as justification and Holmes employs democracy as a means to determine prevailing interests. Holmes advocate of civil liberties were founded on social forces and not on a concern for the individual. He believed such civil liberties could only be achieved through legitimate social interest (socialist/pacifists). At the end of Holmes years on the Supreme Court he had defended economical reform, free speech, but had also accomplished a full reversal of youth, a rejection of the declaration of independence for a strict textual interpretation of the constitution. This meant a departure from the idea of man being entitled to natural or divine “rights”, rather “rights” are whatever a particular society dictates as such. Finally Holmes developed a greater appreciation for nationalism rather than Bostonian ideology.
-- Muhammad Haider