A life of H.L.A. Hart: the nightmare and the noble dream
H.L.A. Hart was the pre-eminent legal philosopher of the twentieth century. As a scholar he single-handedly reinvented the philosophy of law and revolutionized our understanding of law as a social institution. Hart's approach to legal philosophy was at once disarmingly simple and breathtakingly ambitious, combining the insights of the Utilitarian tradition and the new linguistic philosophy of J.L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein. He sought to elucidate a concept of law that would be of relevance to all forms of law, wherever or whenever they arose.
This book is both an intellectual and a psychological biography, following his life from modest origins as the son of Jewish tailor parents in Yorkshire to worldwide fame as the most influential English-speaking legal theorist of the post-War era. It traces his successive metamorphoses; from Yorkshire schoolboy to Oxford scholar, successful barrister, intelligence officer, philosopher, and, finally, Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford.
Nicola Lacey draws upon Hart's previously unpublished diaries and letters to reveal a complex interior life. Outwardly successful, Hart was in fact tormented by doubts about his intellectual abilities, his sexual identity and his capacity to form close relationships. Her biography also sheds fascinating light on the origins of his ideas, and assesses his overall contribution to the philosophy of law. Above all, it is a chronicle of a life which made an impact far greater than many of us realize.
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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
Nicola Lacey’s A Life of H. L. A. Hart has the most coherent and thoughtfully articulated purpose of all the biographies in my stack. Lacey aims, she says in her introduction, to write an “intellectual history” of Hart, who is often considered the 20th Century’s most important legal philosopher, using “only the personal material which sheds light on his ideas and the course of his career.” But for a man like Hart, the personal and the intellectual are ineluctably intertwined, and Lacey shows that Hart’s personal life and family history to some extent account for the dominant themes in his philosophy. Hart was drawn to consider the individual’s responsibility both in and apart from society in his work by a deep rooted sense of himself as an outsider – despite the fact that he was, to all appearances, the consummate insider. The contrasts between external success and internal anxieties, Lacey says, “constituted the dynamic tensions which shaped almost all Hart’s work and relationships.” Her attempt to account for the origin and repercussions of these tensions provides the compelling question which drives the narrative. The extent to which she balances Hart’s public and private life without over-weighting either is one of the many admirable things about this book. Some others are the quality of the prose, the fine detail in which even minor characters are depicted, the way in which even quite abstruse areas of jurisprudence are succinctly rendered accessible to the lay person. Her depiction of the complexity and intimacy of Hart’s fifty year marriage is helped by the eloquent articulacy of Hart’s journals, and his correspondence with his wife Jenifer. This biography is intelligent, sensitive, scrupulously researched; I am recommending it for these reasons, and also because of the way in which all of its elements work together to create a unified narrative whole, while still allowing it to end as the author hoped it would in her introduction, “on a note which does justice to [Hart’s] achievements without obscuring his complexities.”
Review: A Life of HLA Hart: The Nightmare and the Noble DreamUser Review - Joshua - Goodreads
This is a difficult book to evaluate. The reason is that, while this book tells the story of a very interesting man, it is probably not on the top of most people's reading lists. If you have never ... Read full review
An Outsider on the Inside
Oxford from the Other Side of the Fence
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