Ah, the world of academia: ivy-covered walls, the strains of gentle theoretical debate, three months off in the summer, free coffee in the faculty lounge.
[Here's where the movie trailer has that cliché screeching sound of a record being scratched - by the way, do those raised on CD's and mp3's even understand what this sound is supposed to represent?]
Here's an academic debate that's more of a brawl, between two of the big guys, Harvard Law's Mark Tushnet and NYU/Chicago Law's Richard Epstein over Professor Epstein's recent book Design for Liberty: Private Property, Public Administration, and the Rule of Law.
In his book review, Professor Tushnet apparently didn't care too much for Epstein's conclusions, labeling him a "sentimental optimist," and criticizing his reasoning as thin:
Epstein is a notably engaging speaker. I was surprised, therefore, that I found Design for Liberty harder to read than I expected. As I tried to understand why, I concluded that the book’s writing style has vices attendant on the virtues of Epstein’s speaking style. As one sits in the audience (or at least when I sit in the audience), one hears Epstein’s well-crafted sentences roll out into the auditorium, each quickly following the last, washing over the listener. The speed with which he speaks keeps one attentive but also makes actually thinking about what he’s saying difficult; one might flag a sentence or an argument as raising some questions, but by the time one (or, again, at least I) has figured out exactly what the problem is, Epstein has moved on to something else, and the point that might be problematic has been displaced in the listener’s mind by the next argument. The effect is that Epstein’s talks seem to be a well-constructed fortress impenetrable by fleeting critical thoughts.When encountered on the page, though, Epstein’s words can be read more slowly than they are heard. And, when the pace is slowed down, the reader notices problems and notices as well that Epstein moves on without addressing them. Having picked up on this difficulty early in the book, I continued to read with a critical predisposition that impeded my ability to get into the argument’s flow.
See page 491-92. Professor Epstein responded,
A grizzled hanger-on from the largely defunct Critical Legal Studies movement, Professor Tushnet’s subpar performance stems from a combination of three interrelated defects: his ingrained skepticism of legal rules; his narrow intellectual focus that incorporates nothing outside of constitutional law; and his inveterate intellectual laziness, which makes it impossible for him to stick with a problem long enough to understand it.
See page 1. Ouch. Reminder to us mere mortals - don't get on Professor Epstein's bad side.
We raise all of this because Epstein's book is centered on our favorite topic, property law and property rights. Given the vehemence of the debate, we're going to have to review it.