Reading: Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club, Ch. 3.
This chapter provides some poignant description of Holmes’s wartime experience (including a gruesomely poetic line from Holmes about the wounded “writhing under superincumbent dead”). The real crux of the chapter, for the larger purposes of the book anyway, begins on p. 59 where Menand addresses Holmes’s “rejection of the intellectual style of prewar Boston.” The next section (4) really comes around to the point of Menand’s analysis of OWH’s wartime experience. Thankfully, Menand puts the “lesson” that OWH learned from the war into “a single sentence” — “that certitude leads to violence” (61). Menand goes on to discuss this lesson at some length, explaining its significance for OWH’s political opinions and, more importantly, for his legal opinions as a Supreme Court justice. (This whole section is crucial for Menand’s argument.)
What Menand is not yet saying, is that Holmes’s way of think was essentially a form of pragmatism — the war had made Holmes into a pragmatist. It seems to me that the most important question to ask here is: what, in Holmes’s mind, went wrong with the intellectual system that he had been raised up in? What values or ways of thinking did he have to reject in order to embrace his pragmatic approach? (Menand gets back to Holmes on pp. 216-17, where he quotes Holmes identifying himself as a “bettabilitarian.”)