January 31, 2008


Beckert, Jens, Inherited Wealth translated from the German by Thomas Dunlap (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2004, 2008) (Notwithstanding the facts (1) that both the ABA and the Carnegie study people are taking legal education further down the road of recasting legal education into a preparation for a trade rather than preparation for a professional, (2) very few law courses are offered in comparative studies (quite surprising in this so-called global economy), (3) legal education is in the middle of yet another attack on the value of interdisciplinary approaches to law—especially at non-elite law schools, and (4) students today, speaking in general terms, think of themselves as well-educated despite being poorly read, there might be a few ‘Gifts & Stiffs’ students who rage against these trends and who would find the subject title of interest. “Debates on how the transfer of property mortis causa should be regulated are not new, nor are they limited to the United States. The controversies are of great social and political interest. Since they concern the institutional organization of social relations, they are also a topic for sociological scholarship. Nevertheless, the sociology of inheritance is only in its infancy. The present book seeks to contribute to this field of study by examining one significant part of the topic from a historical and comparative perspective. How have the rules of inheritance law in the United States, France, and Germany changed over the last two hundred years? How can we explain these changes, and what do they teach us about eh evolution of the normative structures of modern societies, especially about the relationships among the individual, the family, and society?” Id. at vii. “The four areas of conflict are (1) the degree of testamentary freedom; (2) the legal rights of the testator’s relatives, especially his or her spouse and children; (3) entails; and (4) inheritance taxation. Why is the testator allowed only minimal testamentary freedom in France, while that freedom is almost unlimited in the United States? Why did the principles of real partitioning come to prevail in France? Why do family interests play a much more important role in German inheritance law than in American inheritance law? Why, in all three countries, was inheritance taxation introduced or fundamentally reformed in the early twentieth century? Why were much higher estate taxes introduced in the United States than in Germany? Why were entails banned in Germany only in 1919, 140 years later than in the United States and 70 years later than in France?” Id. at 1-2.).

Frymer, Paul, Black and Blue: African Americans, The Labor Movement, and the Decline of the Democratic Party (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2008) (Just by coincidence, I am reading this just as the Clintons--Hillary and Bill--made their appalling attempt to inject race into the democratic primary against Barack Obama. This strategy backfired in South Carolina. It is hoped that this strategy remain unsuccessful as the presidential primaries progress. "Understanding racism as a virus, a disease, an irrational prejudice, as an individual pathology, allows us to de-politicize racism and maintain the fiction that we are a nation of freedom and equality, with an increasingly smaller portion of the population holding bigoted, uneducated thoughts. Such an understanding transforms race and racism into 'a transhistorical, almost metaphysical, status that removes it from all possibility of analysis and understanding.' Our politics, we tell ourselves, our ideology, our governing institutions, our culture, our constitution, and our laws are free of racism; only some of our hearts and minds are not. By this way of thinking, we only need to eliminate racist individuals who dwell within our governing bodies--or outside them...." "By de-politicizing racism, we avoid confronting the ways in which racism is embedded in political institutions. To understand why racism remains so prominent a political feature today, we need to examine these institutions, these houses of power that promote rules and structures which in turn make appeals to racism a politically inviting strategy. Racism is not simply a matter that individuals must address with their therapists; rather, racism develops with a political context, and, as, such it is only through politics and collective struggle that we can confront it and reduce it. In this volume, I address, in particular, the nexus of racial inequality, the labor movement, and the institution of the American state." "Politicians race-bait or, more often, avoid taking about race altogether, especially about lingering inequality, because out institutional rule encourage them to do so....: to win elections, politicians believe they must court NASCAR dads, soccer moms, and 'silent majorities' at the expense of racial equality." Id. at viii (footnotes omitted). Anyway, this short read is worth the time.).

Kurashige, Scott, The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2008) (This is a good read. It is, I think, unfortunate that the decision was made to change the title from “Gateway to a New and Better World: How Los Angeles Transformed American Race Relations,” as that title makes it clearer that this book is not about a Black/Japanese American divide but about much more multifaceted race relations in Los Angeles and in America. “The strained political dialogue between Black and Japanese Americans was particularly shaped by the fact that integration meant something quite different to each respective group. The term ‘integration’ had been put into political discourse largely by the racialization of World War II and had rarely been used previously. Its meaning was contested, such that it was less than fully embraced by Black activists. Nevertheless, most African Americans recognized that the nation was debating integration—especially following the publication of Myrdal’s American Dilemma—because white elites had finally begun to admit that the castelike oppression of Blacks comprised the glaring contradiction undermining American democracy and national unity. At least in this regard, the focus on integration was a welcome development in the fight against white supremacy, and African American social democrats struggled for integration on their own terms. By contrast, Japanese Americans resisted ‘integration’ because they felt it was being imposed on them by whites. While these would-be white allies hoped to increase public tolerance of the internees and aid their return to open society, they generally believed their advocacy could succeed only if Japanese Americans assimilated to Eurocentric norms. During the war, white liberals had come to a consensus that the ‘loyal’ Japanese should be separated from the ‘disloyal’ and released from the camps. However, they universally agreed that promoting ‘Americanism’ necessitated tearing apart ethnic communities and breaking down what they viewed as a backward, traditional culture. Carey McWilliams, who became perhaps the most publicly outspoken white critic of the internment, embraced the notion that coercive government actions were beneficial to the degree they disrupted the ‘reactionary, retarding influence’ of Issei family structures. These white liberals thus saw in the internment an opportunity for a grand experiment in social engineering that they regularly described as ‘integration.’ Undoubtedly, many African Americans would have had difficulty identifying with this assimilationist variant of integration.” Id. at 178. “[T]he progressive vision of a multiracial social movement had gripped only a small segment of political actors. The events of the war had set in motion a divergence of experience between Black and Japanese American that would soon prove too wide to reconcile.” Id. at 185.).

Maxwell, William, Early Novels and Stories: Bright Center of Heaven, They Came Like Swallows, The Folded Leaf, Time Will Darken, Stories 1938-1956 edited by Christopher Carduff (New York: Library of America, 2008) (Maxwell is a writer well worth 'rediscovering.' Students of law should find Time Will Darken of particular interest. Here are two passages. "By 1912 the older generation, the great legal actors with their overblown rhetoric, their long white hair and leonine heads, their tricks in cross-examination, their departures from good taste, had one after another died or lapsed into the frailty of old men. There was also, throughout the country, an abrupt change in the legal profession. The older Illinois lawyers were trained on and continued to read assiduously certain books. Their bible was Chitty's Pleadings, which Abraham Lincoln carried in his saddlebags when he went on circuit in the forties and fifties; they also read Blackstone's Commentaries, Kent's Commentaries, and Starkie on Evidence. The broad abstract principles set forth in these books were applied to any single stolen will or perjured testimony, and on these principles the issue was decided. With the establishment of the Harvard Law School case system, the attention of lawyers generally was directed away from statements of principles and toward the facts in the particular case. They preferred more and more to argue before a judge, to let the court decide on the basis of legal precedent, to keep the case away from a jury, and to close the doors of the theater on the audience who hoped to hear about the murder of Agamemnon and see Medea's chariot drawn by dragons. The result was that the Law lost much of its moral and philosophic dignity, and required a different talent of those who practiced it. The younger men regarded themselves as businessmen, and Miss Ewing (never quite respectful, never openly disrespectful) considered them one and all as schoolboys slip-slopping around in the shoes of giants." Id. at 612. "People often ask themselves the right questions. Where they fail is in answering the questions they ask themselves, and even there they do not fail by much. A single avenue of reasoning followed to its logical conclusion would bring them straight home to the truth. But they stop just short of it, over and over again. When they have only to reach out and grasp the idea that would explain everything, they decide that the search is hopeless. The search is never hopeless. There is no haystack so large that the needle in it cannot be found. But it takes time, it takes humility and a serious reason for searching." Id. at 628-629.).

Ross, Alex, The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007) (This is an exceptional work. “The Rest Is Noise chronicles not only the artists themselves by also the politicians, dictators, millionaire patrons, and CEOs who tried to control what music was written; the intellectuals who attempted to adjudicate style; the writers, painters, dancers, and filmmakers who provided companionship on lonely roads of exploration; the audiences who variously reveled in, reviled, or ignored what composers were doing; the technologies that changed how music was made and heard; and the revolutions, hot and cold wars, waves of emigration, and deeper social transformations that shaped the landscape in which composers worked.” Id. at xii-xiii. For example: “On January 20, 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated as president of the United States. [Aaron] Copeland’s Lincoln Portrait had been scheduled for a preliminary Inaugural Concert by the National Symphony, but two weeks before the event Congressman Fred Busbey denounced Copeland’s work as Communist propaganda and demanded that it be removed from the program. Making the case for Copeland as a ‘fellow traveler,’ Busbey read a long list of Copeland’s affiliations into the Congressional Record, including his appearance at the Waldorf-Astoria conference [i.e., the March 1949 Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York]; his support of Hans Eisler, who had been interrogated by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 and then deported; and his relationships with such organizations as the American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born, the Artists’ Front to Win the War, the Citizens Committee for Harry Bridges, the National Committee for Defense of Political Prisoners, the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship, and the American Music Alliance of the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Busbey warned: ‘As the number of such activities or affiliations increases [sic], any presumption of innocence of such a person must necessarily decrease.’’ Id. at 379-389. Bear in mind that neither being a communist nor being a member of the Communist Party were crimes, thus not things for which no presumption of innocence or guilt should have be called into play.).