Ronald Dworkin.

In 2008 I attended a lecture of the Ronald Dworkin’s as he came to campus to speak at the E.N. Thompson Forum. The topic: America and Israel. Dworkin delivered a forceful opinion, which would probably have prevented him from becoming Secretary of Defense, if he’d ever been a politician (and if the Chuck Hagel confirmation hearings were any indication). I sat in the front row, nearly by accident. Already in awe of his gigantic reputation, I walked out the door realizing I’d underestimated him.

Dworkin, who  died this past week,  was an influential mind, especially in liberal circles; Cass Sunstein, in a recent obituary, called him the most important legal philosopher of our time. While Dworkin wrote on many topics, it was his writing on the philosophy behind the law—Taking Rights Seriously, for example—that he made his mark. Many of his non-academic essays were published at the New York Review of Books, which curated a great collection page of his published writings.{{1}}

[[1]]A little research indicates you shouldn’t necessarily trust that linked Wikipedia page for an accurate summary of Dworkin’s views.[[1]]

Across the Interwebs, philosopher Brian Leiter has a pretty good round-up of links to several of the obituaries. At the Volokh Conspiracy, Randy Barnett remembers Dworkin, while from “across the aisle,” Richard Epstein recalls his “tremendous intellectual energy,” “resourceful and subtle mind,” and “deep commitment to the values of personal integrity and social equality.” Among other recent topics, Dworkin wrote fairly persuasively about why the Affordable Care Act was, in his view, Constitutional.

I haven’t read much of Dworkin’s legal philosophy—only tidbits here and there, including The Moral Reading of the Constitution—so I don’t have much of an opinion on it. He seemed to be a polymath, though, who could spout off a thoughtful opinion on most any topic: perhaps that’s why he earned his informal title of “public intellectual”{{2}} and why Sunstein noted that one could not win an argument against him. I remember some fierce, intelligent questioning after his E.N. Thompson lecture, which he rebuffed fairly easily; Epstein claims he once beat Richard Posner in a debate, which would be an astonishing feat. Dworkin’s easy style, his thoughtful and confident pronouncements, his charm—that has since stuck with me.

 [[2]]With Christopher Hitchens’ death, we’ve lost two damn good “public intellectuals” in less than a year.[[2]]