Of Laws and Limitations

Of Laws and Limitations : Intellectual Portrait of Louis Dembitz Brandeis

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The last twenty years have witnessed a succession of excellent biographies that have done much to preserve Louis Dembitz Brandeis from obscurity. But for even the best of their authors, recounting the man's activities as a lawyer, reformer, and Zionist leader has tended to take precedence over delineating the themes and tracing the evolution of his thinking. Of Laws and Limitations seeks to redress the balance. Although the key events of his life and career provide the connecting narrative strands of the work, its main emphasis is on the development of his social, economic, and political ideas, with particular attention being paid to the central roles that law and an awareness of human limitations played within his broader conceptual framework.At the time of his death in 1941, Brandeis was one of America's best-known liberal figures: the epitome of disinterested public service, intellectual eminence, and judicial self-restraint. Yet the brand of liberalism to which most of his public life had been devoted - antagonistic to big government as well as big business, and committed to the development of state and local institutions rather than to the growth and proliferation of federal ones - did not prosper in the postwar world. Interventionist economic and social policies at home combined with extensive military and diplomatic commitments abroad soon made the Brandeisian vision of a self-contained, small-scale, decentralized America appear conservative and backward-looking. Within a few brief years, the very word "Brandeis" would conjure up the leafy Waltham campus of the university named after him rather than the "people's attorney," the sometime leader of World Zionism, or the "Good Grey Judge" of former times.In large part, this precipitous decline in historical reputation stems from the fact that, after his elevation to the United States Supreme Court in 1916, Brandeis did not write a single book or article, eschewed public speaking except from the judicial bench, and avoided open involvement in political controversy. As a consequence, he became increasingly identified with outmoded polemical statements engendered by the Progressive campaigns to which he had been committed before the First World War. His carefully articulated sociopolitical philosophy, evolved during a legal career spanning more than half a century, was crudely truncated to a handful of quotable aphorisms about the supposed lure of the provinces and "the curse of bigness."As Stephen W. Baskerville makes clear, Brandeis was far from being a rigid or single-issue thinker; indeed the conservatism of his early years stands in sharp contrast to the liberal, in some senses radical, opinions espoused later in life, while the range of his vision was as wide or wider than that of any of his contemporaries. Above all, he emerges from this study as a man whose provocative and unfashionable views are of renewed relevance in an America that is beginning to question the validity of its goals and institutions, and where reform is once again on the political agenda.
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Product details

  • Hardback
  • 171.45 x 230 x 25.4mm | 740g
  • Fairleigh Dickinson University Press,U.S.
  • Cranbury, United States
  • English
  • 0838634788
  • 9780838634783