In recent decades, Oliver Wendell Holmes has been praised as "the only great American legal thinker" and "the most illustrious figure in the history of American law." But in Albert Alschuler's critique of both Justice Holmes and contemporary legal scholarship, a darker portrait is painted—that of a man who, among other things, espoused Social Darwinism, favored eugenics, and, as he himself acknowledged, came "devilish near to believing that might makes right."
Alschuler (law, Univ. of Chicago Law Sch.) offers both a biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes and an unorthodox view of his professional and legal work, examining his worldview and ethical skepticism toward objective concepts of the law as right and wrong (i.e., mechanistic jurisprudence). Holmes was a central figure in 19th- and 20th-century American law, who, the author feels, had a power-focused legal philosophy that was rooted in concepts of Social Darwinism. Alschuler further explores how pre-Holmes visions of American law differ from post-Holmes interpretations. Legal scholars and historians will find this work thoroughly researched and a challenge to standard legal analyses of trends in post-Civil War America. For contrast, see Sheldon Novick's Honorable Justice: The Life of Oliver Wendell Holmes (LJ 9/1/89). This opinionated analysis of Holmes is highly recommended for academic libraries.--Steven Puro, St. Louis Univ. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
...an exuberantly and entertainingly polemical attack on the character, scholarship and philosophy of America's most revered judicial saint...Holmes's judicial abstinence may have grown out of his aristocratic indifference, but he points the way toward a vision of judicial humility that is more relevant than ever in a pluralistic and egalitarian age in which people violently disagree. For reminding us of the power of Holmes's embattled vision, in spite of his valiant efforts to discredit it, we have Albert Alschuler to thank.
—New York Times Book Review
Albert W. Alschuler is the Wilson-Dickinson Professor in the University of Chicago Law School. His study of Sir William Blackstone received the 1997 Sutherland Prize of the American Society of Legal Historians.
1. Moral Skepticism in Twentieth-Century American Law
2. A Power-Focused Philosophy
3. Would You Have Wanted Justice Holmes as a Friend?
4. The Battlefield Conversion of Oliver Wendell Holmes
5. Holmes's Opinions
6. Judging the Common Law
7. The Descending Trail: Holmes's Path of the Law
8. The Beatification of Oliver Wendell Holmes
9. Ending the Slide from Socrates and Climbing Back