I’d like to offer some ideas about both Cornel West and Clarence Thomas:
For Immanuel Kant: “Virtue is, therefore, the moral strength of a human being’s will in fulfilling his duty, a moral constraint through his own law-giving reason…”
For Kant, man’s dignity comes from his ability to reason. Our reason is capable of making laws (the golden rule, the laws of gravity, laws of the state) and we are born with it. It is what separates us from the animals. However, our reason must make laws it is willing to follow. From this comes our dignity.
In Cornel West, you have a man of great gifts. He is an eloquent, engaging speaker with an agile, wide-ranging mind. I do not see his activities in the black community as a failure of duty, but often as a fulfillment of duty. It is mostly the means and the ideas by which he pursues this duty that I disagree with.
I would offer that West sees himself as a bridge between two vastly different sets of ideas, economic opportunities and hopes, as well as cultures. And bridges can burn, fail, and be used until ruined. He has deeply sacrificed his time and life according to his lights.
Clarence Thomas’s achievement has been through the law. He honors the law by serving as one of its highest gatekeepers. To do this, he must abide by the law and live an exemplary life of deep moral sacrifice, even though he might have special knowldege that the laws of man can be rooted in prejudice and enforced with savage cruelty and injustice. Men have failed and will fail to make laws that don’t violate their own reason, and Thomas has likely suffered directly as a result of this failure.
Honestly, I find much to admire in both men. But does one meet such a standard more closely?