"I am skeptical of circular formulations that are smooth and well-worn," he says-and is well into a disquisition on the tautological nature of most legal arguments when I try once again to get him to talk about himself. We have been sparring like this for a couple of hours now.
Surely, I tell him, there is something that remains to be said about a man, who, in an age when civil liberties are either under attack or a matter of general indifference, has quietly but insistently championed the rights of citizens against the state.
Linde stops for a moment, wondering perhaps whether this is all a bit too dramatic. By Rosebud, of course, he is referring to the childhood sled that was the key to Orson Welles's Citizen Kane. Threepenny Opera is the mordant musical written in 1928 by Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht.
Linde says he was about eight years old when he first heard a recording of the opera. It was 1933, he says. His father, a Berlin lawyer who later practiced in Portland, moved the family to Copenhagen. In another six years he moved the family again, this time to the United States just as World War II began in 1939. For Linde, the dark ironies of Brecht's bitter satire have long been emblematic of the era between the wars. Over the years, he says, he's seen the musical a dozen or more times.
"If your memories of public events begin in the 1930s," he explains, "you are likely to reject cant and grow up with an essentially skeptical point of view toward conventional wisdom. You tend to examine whether facile assertions about cause and effect and values in society will hold water. You do not expect to find some secret of perfect justice, but you do develop a strong sense of injustice when you see things occur that are indefensible-and they can occur under any kind of regime."
On the wall behind Linde's desk at Willamette University is a colorful reproduction of a document that Linde identifies as the Danish Magna Carta, written in 1241.
"Hey, wait," he says. "I wanted to read this to you before you went"-and he turns in his chair to translate from the medieval Danish.
"With law," he reads, "shall a land be built. . . . Where there is no law in the land, there he would have most who could seize most. Therefore law shall be made to serve all men's needs, so that right-minded and harmless men may enjoy their right-mindedness and peacefulness, and evil, unjust men shall fear what is written in the law, and therefore dare not carry out the evil that they have in mind."
He turns back with a smile. "Now that's a pretty good statement of what the law is about, don't you think?"
Phil Stanford, formerly a columnist for the Oregonian, is working as a book editor and writing screenplays.