THE MENTAL STATE OF M. TODD HENDERSON- by Elaine Ashe
*Part one was published here. I thought this installment was more appropriate to ATH than MGC. – SAH*
Todd Henderson is one of the only conservative law professors at the University of Chicago Law School. He’s the author of Mental State. This is an interview with freelance book editor, Elaine Ash.
They came like punches to the face. Message after message spitting hate, calling me vile names and wishing I were dead. Threats against me and my family—“You should die and your children too because you’ve probably polluted their minds with your racism.”
Elaine Ash: What’s it like being a conservative at the University of Chicago?
Todd Henderson: There are just a handful of professors at the top twenty law schools who would identify as conservative. Almost all of those are libertarians—pro-choice, for open borders, and pro-gay marriage. Social or religious conservatives on law faculties are like unicorns. Americans are split down the middle. So too are America’s judges and elected representatives—the people who make the law—and yet nearly every faculty member teaching future lawyers what the law is are far-left Democrats.
EA: That’s kind of shocking to me.
MTH: I’m not the only conservative here, but I am the most outspoken. I like and admire my colleagues, and almost all our students are extremely bright, hardworking, and decent people—but my habit of saying what I think has gotten me into trouble on more occasions than I’d like to recount.
EA: What’s the difference between you and a left-leaning professor?
MTH: I approach law very differently than a liberal does. I believe in individual liberty and view government actions under a presumption of error. When a liberal looks out the world and sees something falling short of Nirvana, they want to remake the world to fix it. They imagine remedies for it in their own mind—as if a single human can design a system to solve our social problems. Amazingly, these solutions always involve more government power. People are hungry—the government should feed them. People are ignorant—the government should educate them. People are sad—the government should make them happy. I am skeptical of government power, because at its core it relies on violence.
Liberal professors see the word as perfectible, while I think man’s ability to remake the world as largely a fool’s errand.
EA: Violence? Please explain.
MTH: Every law and every government action works only when people are threatened with the loss of their liberty or their life. If you don’t pay your taxes, you go to jail. Something as trivial as parking tickets are ultimately backed up by the violence of the state—we could ask Eric Garner, but he was choked to death by officers who found him allegedly violating a law against selling cigarettes without tax coupons required by New York. Laws ultimately rely on coercion and violence.
By contrast, I have more faith in families, associations, and markets. These things are more likely to capture all the information we need to make the world as good as it can be. And, most importantly, they are not based on threats of violence. Liberal professors see the word as perfectible, while I think man’s ability to remake the world as largely a fool’s errand. I think these instincts seep into my book, just as the instincts of liberals do when they write fiction. But, at the end of the day, the book is entertainment. People want to enjoy themselves not be lectured at.
EA: Ah yes, your novel, a political thriller. Any pressure from UChicago regarding that?
MTH: Yes. Many people told me not to publish the book, claiming it would hurt me and hurt the University. These requests came after people apparently received an electronic copy of the manuscript from others. They wanted me to change aspects of the plot and the details of characters and scenes, all as the book was about to go to press. The bad guys in the book are not straight from central casting—a female Democrat president, an ethnic minority nominated to the Supreme Court, and so on.
EA: That must have raised some eyebrows.
MTH: University administrators are scared. They were worried about the backlash from the PC police. Barbarians are at our gates. I’m still getting worried glances and expressions of concern about how people might freak out at a work of fiction. Publishers told me the book was too risky. Agents told me the book wouldn’t sell—not because of its quality but because of what it says. These days the bad guys can only be on one side.
EA: What side is that?
MTH: The side that’s not the left. Based on my tribulations, anyone who tries to push back against the cultural hegemony of cultural and political leftism is going to have a tough row to hoe. Don’t challenge liberal dogma if you want positive attention from the media. But, at the end of the day, the book is entertainment. People want to enjoy themselves not be lectured at.
EA: Tell me about the death threats.
MTH: On Twitter, I dared to compare Brett Kavanaugh, Supreme Court nominee, with Sonia Sotomayor, seated Supreme Court justice, in a discussion about how their personal lives and characteristics might be relevant. It didn’t go over well. I don’t get many voicemails at work anymore by virtue of email and mostly using my cell phone. And when the red light on my office phone is flashing, at most there are one or two messages—maybe from my mom or a reporter looking for a legal expert on a topic. So, when I went into my office a few weeks back and heard that I had nearly fifty messages, I knew something was afoot. I sat in my chair, pen in hand, and pressed play. They came like punches to the face. Message after message spitting hate, calling me vile names and wishing I were dead. Threats against me and my family—“You should die and your children too because you’ve probably polluted their minds with your racism.”
EA: Who were these people?
MTH: A Twitter-fueled mob so filled with hatred that they would try to rid the world of anyone who thinks differently than they do. Just imagine disagreeing with someone about something they said, then looking up that person’s phone number, calling them, and yelling obscenities at their answering machine. These are the minds of seriously disturbed people, and they are all ages, all walks of life, and all over the country, best I could tell from the messages.
EA: Are you going to shut up, then?
“Exciting and compulsively readable, Mental State marks the entrance of a striking new talent on the thriller scene. Todd Henderson’s confident debut draws the reader into the unfamiliar worlds of academia, the law, and backroom politics, while providing a fresh take on more familiar thriller ground like the world of law enforcement. The Professor’s murder mystery delivers the rough and tumble goods, and it will leave readers wanting more.” —Kurt Schlichter, lawyer and bestselling author
“Mental State is fascinating, detailed, and a pure page-turner. It’s a must-read if you love the country, the Supreme Court, or just a book that will keep you up at night.” —Ben Shapiro, public intellectual, talk-show host, and bestselling author
“Todd Henderson has written a taut, suspenseful and powerfully entertaining legal thriller against the backdrop of a transformative Supreme Court nomination and baroque academic intrigue, which he describes with convincing details and an insider’s knowledge. The novel moves at breakneck pace, as a rogue agent uses forensics, guile and not a little force to make sense of the mysterious murder of his brother.”
—Supreme Court Reporter, New York Times
“Try as I might, I could not put Mental State down. It’s terrific. At times hilarious, always interesting, and in parts truly disturbing. I loved it.” —Michael Seidman, Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center.
Elaine Ash edits the novels of career authors as well as emerging talent. A defender of the right to free expression, she serves writers of all political stripes. Her nonfiction book, Bestseller Metrics: How to Win the Novel Writing Game, is also a patent-pending software in development for the publishing industry. http://www.bestsellermetrics.com