February 14, 2013

Ronald Dworkin — a giant among law professors — has died.

He was 81.
His legal arguments were subtly presented applications to specific problems of a classic liberal philosophy which, in turn, was grounded in his belief that law must take its authority from what ordinary people would recognise as moral virtue....
Perhaps Dworkin's greatest achievement was his insistence on a rights-based theory of law, expounded in his first and most influential book, Taking Rights Seriously (1977), in which he proposed an alternative both to Hart's legal positivism and to the newly minted theories of the Harvard philosopher of law John Rawls....

He remained an unapologetic, indeed proud, liberal Democrat, unshaken in his loyalty to the New Deal tradition set by his hero Franklin D Roosevelt, even as such ideas became less and less widely held. It is possible that this shifting of the political centre of gravity under him deprived him of a more prominent career as a public intellectual.
Read the whole thing. Click on the Dworkin tag to see what we were saying about him while he was alive.

When I went to law school beginning in 1978, at NYU — where Dworkin taught — nothing was taken more seriously than "Taking Rights Seriously." That was just before the outburst that was Critical Legal Studies, in a time and a place where we were expected to believe that rights were real. Shame on you if you suspected they were inventions of judges.

22 comments:

Carol said...

Heh. A new prof from UCLA brought the Crit infection with her to Montana and met some pretty harsh opposition. But that was way back in 1985...I wonder if the UM students have fallen into line yet.

dc said...

"His belief that law must take its authority from what ordinary people would recognize as moral virtue"
Does that mean he supported discrimination in the south by laws put in place by racist southern democrats?

Patrick said...

He remained an unapologetic, indeed proud, liberal Democrat, unshaken in his loyalty to the New Deal tradition set by his hero Franklin D Roosevelt,

He chose to divide his life almost equally between Britain and the US, with a townhouse in London and an unusual 19th-century mews cottage just off Washington Square in New York, as well as a third home, on the island of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, where he enjoyed sailing

Damned New Dealers.

Ann Althouse said...

My first encounter with Critical Legal Studies was as a law review editor in 1979 or 1980. I was given a book review to copy edit, and it lambasted a Contracts law casebook for what seemed to me to be nothing more than a failure to follow the tenets of Marxism. I couldn't believe we were publishing it.

Mitchell the Bat said...

For a course entitled Jurisprudence, we read The Concept of Law and then Taking Rights Seriously and that was it.

The professor was fairly young, and very Socratic, but his attitude was always one of disdain and detachment. Too cool for school, was my surmise.

Anyway, about halfway into the semester one of the students raised his hand and asked a question in complete earnestness.

"How much of this stuff are we supposed to internalize?"

That was fucking great!

Marshal said...

Ann Althouse said...
I couldn't believe we were publishing it.


I think you're lucky you weren't looking for tenure ten years later than you were. What's your sense of how disqualifying a lack of support for CLS is now compared to a decade or two ago?

David said...

Very tall fellow--over 6'10"

A giant.

Fortunately for me, I went to law school when our faculty was dominated by midgets.

Tiny people like Nino Scalia, Hardy Cross Dillard.

Big minds though.

David said...

He was a very smart guy, smart enough even to marry a rich girl and change jobs when she threatened to leave him.

chickelit said...

David said...
Very tall fellow--over 6'10"

A giant...


...among Dworkins.

Krumhorn said...

Another example of a looselugnut librul hellbent on corrupting our institutions by freeing them from their intellectual and factual moorings so that the progs can 'remake' us.

Please spare us all from their oh-so good intentions. B-b-b-but they mean so well.

-Krumhorn

Paul Zrimsek said...

Conservatives may find themselves liking Dworkin a little better if they'll read his defense of moral realism, "Objectivity and Truth: You'd Better Believe It" (pdf)

ricpic said...

Taking Responsibilities Seriously will never be written by a liberal because it would blowup the victimology that undergirds their compassion project.

mccullough said...

Dworkin's views were interesting, but like others, his philosophy was just a justification for the New England moral beliefs he learned at his Mother's knee.

EDH said...

Did a quick count of the mentions of the word "I" in that Objectivity and Truth: You'd Better Believe It.

148 mentions in 52 pages.

Obama probably looked up to him.

Ben Morris said...

I read a lot of Dworkin before knowing anything about his politics, and I was pretty surprised when I found out he was a liberal.

I thought his de-emphasis of the importance of judges, and his defense of objectively discernible legal truths seemed like a natural fit with conservative jurisprudence.

In some ways, I thought the only difference between him and someone like Clarence Thomas is that they perceive the content of natural law differently.

wwww said...

Not a fan of Morton Horwitz's Transformation of American Law?

Quayle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quayle said...

That was just before the outburst that was Critical Legal Studies, in a time and a place where we were expected to believe that rights were real. Shame on you if you suspected they were inventions of judges.

The determination of what is and isn't a right is only permitted of and by superior intellects in our leading institutions.

The determination of who are our superior intellects and which of our institutions are leading is only permitted of and by the superior intellects in those leading instututions.

Any questions, you single-vote bearing zero?

Kirby Olson said...

His kids complained he ignored their rights. I met them once.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

I do believe I'm probably the only person on the planet who ever read Taking Rights Seriously for fun. But then I read Tribe for fun too. In some countries I believe you can be civilly committed for less.

I can't remember agreeing with Dworkin ever, on anything more controversial than grammar. But I will miss him.

David Davenport said...

Dworkin's views were interesting, but like others, his philosophy was just a justification for the New England moral beliefs he learned at his Mother's knee.

I take it that Prof. Dworkin was born a Congregationalist.

kentuckyliz said...

If it's up to the people's moral sense, I fear for our country, and indeed the modern world.