Friday, November 16, 2007

Remembering Harold J. Berman

Harold J. Berman is being remembered by colleagues at Emory and Harvard law schools. He died on Tuesday at the age of 89.

Harold J. Berman did not go gentle into that good night.

At a time of life when many ease into a slow-moving old age, Berman, who spent six decades as a law professor at Emory and at Harvard, was always thinking ahead to his next law-oriented venture. As an octogenarian, he still taught classes, wrote books and, just last summer, embarked on a four-city lecture tour of China.

Though he’d been ill for several months, just last week Berman said he was planning to return to Emory to teach in the spring. On Tuesday, he died in New York City of pneumonia and other complications. He was 89.

“Hal was determined to work as long as he could,” said Aric Press, Berman’s son-in-law and the editor in chief of The American Lawyer magazine. “Years ago, he would recount tales of when he was a young Harvard Law School professor and the faculty was very small—a couple dozen or so—and he’d talk about how he would see coming into the law school some of the great legal minds of past times … Roscoe Pound, Samuel Williston. … These were men working into their 80s and 90s actively, vigorously. And as far as Hal was concerned, that was what he wanted to do, and he did.”

Known for his wide-ranging scholarship in law and religion, comparative legal history, Russian law and culture, legal philosophy and private international law, Berman wrote 25 books and more than 400 articles. He published his magnum opus, “Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition,” when he was in his 60s. The book has been translated into German, French, Chinese, Russian, Polish, Spanish, Italian and Lithuanian.

A second volume, “Law and Revolution II: The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western Legal Tradition,” was published in 2004. At the time of his death, Berman was working on a third volume that was to cover the American and French revolutions.

From Dean David Partlett, Emory Law School:

A humble giant in his field, Hal’s contributions to Emory and to legal scholarship were impressive and far-reaching. He had a special interest in world law and was considered one of the founders of the study of law and religion. At Emory, he was co-director of the World Law Institute, a Fellow of The Carter Center, and an integral part of the development of Emory’s Law and Religion Program, now the Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR).

The work of Professor Berman was celebrated during the CSLR’s Oct. 24-26 silver anniversary conference, and an interview of him shown during that event is available in video and text on the Emory Law and CSLR websites.

Hal’s passing is a great loss to the Emory community, the legal profession, and the world. He will be deeply missed.

A public celebration and memorial of Professor Berman’s life and work will be held at Emory University early in the spring semester.


Update: Berman is remembered today (11/18) in the New York Times. According to the story:

Mr. Berman had planned a third volume in his Law and Revolution series, and was even planning a fourth. Speaking to the Fulton County newspaper, he was philosophical about the prospects of finishing.

“It’s up to God — if he wants to read it or not,” he said.