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David Walsh @DavidAstinWalsh
, 25 tweets, 6 min read Read on Twitter
I'm re-reading Steve Teles' chapter on the Harvard Law controversy in the 1980s, and I'm struck by just how important centrist liberals were in ultimately promoting the objectives of the Olin Foundation and making "law and economics" the dominant mode of American legal education.
Basically, centrist liberals like Phil Areeda and Derek Bok--then the president of Harvard--invited the Olin folks to set up a law and economics center with the *specific* intention of defanging critical legal studies.
Critical legal studies, for those unaware, basically maintains it is necessary to interrogate moral, epistemological, and empirical assumptions in the law in order to see how the law upholds and undergirds certain power dynamics.

In other words, it means historicizing the law.
Radical, right? (The above is from Mark Tushnet.)
Bok ended up hiring a law dean that accelerated hiring of law and economics faculty more or less *explicitly* to break the power of critical legal studies at Harvard.
The result has been transformative. Ever since my thread on how one of the great law and economics scholars wrote an article in 1978 about why we should be able to openly buy and sell infant children...
...I've gotten a lot of feedback from YLS/HLS alum that's been basically, "yeah, this is what they teach you in law school." (Also gibes with my experience of former lawyers who went into history PhD programs because you don't historicize in law school.)
Again, *CENTRIST LIBERALS* at Harvard openly allied with right-wing groups in order to defeat challengers from the left.
Now, this is a pretty consistent pattern throughout American history (and obviously not just American history, either).

But the reason I'm foregrounding it today is because there's an uncomfortable truth that centrists *STILL* have yet to reckon with:
"Moderates" have been consistently enabling the rightward lurch in American politics for decades, and have actively coordinated with the right in order to cripple their critics on the left.
(This isn't a new insight--MLK was on this kick in "Letter from a Birmingham Jail.")
UPDATE: Judging by my mentions and inbox, apparently I've struck a nerve with a lot of lawyers and legal scholars.

Is this history just not discussed in American legal culture?
To quantify all of this a bit more: There are now 21 law professors at Harvard affiliated with the Olin Center for Law, Economics, and Business (plus a few in the econ dept. and business school.

There are only 3 faculty at HLS who do critical legal studies.
It's also worth noting how this whole debate was treated in the press at the time, just as the neoliberal turn was accelerating: The Boston Globe heavily implied that CLS was basically a bunch of crazy lefties for suggesting that the law reflects power relations.
But then this was in 1987, after all...
There's also another interesting institutional mechanism to the defanging of critical studies at Harvard.

Basically, HLS rejiggered its tenure review requirements to disadvantage CLS scholarship on the basis that it was overly-jargonistic and inaccessible.

Sound familiar?
This should also sound familiar to anyone who follows contemporary lobster philosophy.

Clark gave this speech three years *BEFORE* Bok appointed him HLS dean.
Anyway, I should probably stop adding to this thread, because I'm just adding more interesting bits of evidence instead of new analysis. To sum up:
Moderates at Harvard Law School felt intensely threatened by a small (8 faculty members at its height) faction of CLS scholars whose radical claim was to basically historicize the law, and reacted by allying with right-wing foundations to promote L&E...
...and empower L&E (and the conservative legal movement) far beyond the scope of the supposed CLS "threat" in the first place.

There are a number of different takeaways to this which I've already explored, but let me add one more on "backlash" as a useful concept.
"Backlash" gets trotted out to explain right-wing/conservative success in pushing back against and often reversing gains made by liberals and the left, with the implication that maybe things would've gone different if the liberals/left had been a little less bold.
In this case, "backlash" is, I would argue, inadequate to understanding the crippling of CLS's influence and the ascent of L&E at Harvard.
The claims of CLS -- to this historian, anyway -- didn't seem particularly radical. CLS scholars were not about to tear down Harvard Law School. (As we've seen, it's not as if the radicals of the 1970s and 1980s necessarily stay radical once they've got tenure.)
And yet the response from moderate HLS leaders was to partner with with the Olin Foundation to build up a conservative/free-market L&E infrastructure to act as a power center to check CLS influence...
...which culminated in L&E itself gaining disproportionate influence on the HLS campus!

Whatever else that is, it's not "backlash."
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