Thinking About Life: Alan Dershowitz

Dec. 31, 2001 at 11:49 AM
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NEW YORK, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Prepared by The Harvard Review of Philosophy and edited by S. Phineas Upham


Alan Dershowitz

Alan Dershowitz is a nationally renowned lawyer, author and journalist. He has been praised and criticized for taking the defense in notorious cases, from Claus von Bulow to O. J. Simpson, as well as taking positions on issues from the nature of Judaism to the Clinton impeachment hearings. By his admirers in the media, he is called the "winningest," "smartest," and "most peripatetic" of American civil rights lawyers, and he has appeared on major television shows from Nightline to Crossfire.

After graduating first in his class from Yale Law School, Dershowitz became, at 28, the youngest full professor in Harvard Law School's history, where he still teaches as the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law.

His best-known book is perhaps "Chutzpah," published in 1991, which is in its 12th printing. "Reversal of Fortune: Inside the Van Bulow Case," another of Dershowitz's books, published in 1986, was turned into an Academy Award-winning motion picture by his son Elon. He has also written "Contrary to Popular Opinion," which examined the U.S. constitutional and political process, and "The Abuse Excuse," a collection of essays examining the relationship between individual responsibility and the law.

Most recently, Dershowitz has published "The Genesis of Justice" which examines biblical law in a search for 'perfect justice' which Dershowitz acknowledges is rarely found on earth. His next project, "Shouting Fire," is a collection of essays on civil liberties issues which, Dershowitz tells us, will discuss topics from the right to choice to the separation between church and state as well as the long lasting legacy of the Holocaust.

Two themes that run throughout Dershowitz's work both as a lawyer and an author is his deep concern for the protection of the rights of minorities and his unremitting search for more perfect justice. His numerous successful cases, including Claus von Bulow (conviction reversed and acquitted), the Jewish Defense League murder case (reversed, all defendants acquitted), Michael Milken (sentence reduced from 10 to 2 years), the Chicago Seven (convictions and contempts reversed), and John Lennon (deportation order reversed), have often had their defendants villainized and marginalized before Dershowitz takes the case. For this reason, Dershowitz is often seen as the Saint Jude of lawyers, the patron of lost causes.

Philosophically, Dershowitz shies away from subscribing to one ideology in his works, instead resorting to intense searching for the truth in particular situations.

Students in his Harvard classes are often challenged with hypothetical after hypothetical until their arguments are unraveled. Dershowitz is a rare thinker who is able to not only speak, write, and teach his ideas, but also to go out and help make the world into what he sees as a better place.

(Please look for "Philosophers in Conversation: Interviews from the Harvard Review of Philosophy" to be published by Routledge Press in May 2002.)

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