A Life of H. L. A. Hart: The Nightmare and the Noble Dream by Nicola Lacey

By Nicola Lacey

H.L.A. Hart used to be the pre-eminent felony thinker of the 20th century. As a student he single-handedly reinvented the philosophy of legislation and revolutionized our knowing of legislations as a social establishment. Hart's method of felony philosophy was once immediately disarmingly basic and breathtakingly bold, combining the insights of the Utilitarian culture and the hot linguistic philosophy of J.L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein. He sought to explain an idea of legislation that might be of relevance to all different types of legislations, at any place or every time they arose.

This booklet is either an highbrow and a mental biography, following his existence from modest origins because the son of Jewish tailor mom and dad in Yorkshire to all over the world status because the so much influential English-speaking criminal theorist of the post-War period. It strains his successive metamorphoses; from Yorkshire schoolboy to Oxford student, profitable barrister, intelligence officer, thinker, and, ultimately, Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford.

Nicola Lacey attracts upon Hart's formerly unpublished diaries and letters to bare a fancy inside lifestyles. Outwardly profitable, Hart used to be in truth plagued by doubts approximately his highbrow skills, his sexual identification and his ability to shape shut relationships. Her biography additionally sheds attention-grabbing mild at the origins of his principles, and assesses his total contribution to the philosophy of legislations. particularly, it's a chronicle of a lifestyles which made an impression a long way more than many people realize.

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And yet he had a mysterious capacity—again, this was noted by many people I interviewed—to communicate, indirectly, a sense of interest or concern. I felt the force of this strongly and, for this among other reasons, was very fond of him. With Jenifer Hart, my relationship has always been warm. During one of our many discussions of Herbert, I told her that I felt I ought to be writing her life rather than his, since I found her much easier to understand. ‘Well,’ she replied, ‘that’s because I’ve always thought that life was too short to be discreet’.

Precisely the same is true, moreover, of legal rules which overlap with moral standards: the legal prohibition on murder is not the same as, and derives its validity in a different way from, the moral injunction against killing. Hart’s account of how legal rules are recognized as valid and hence as generating ‘real’ obligations served, on the other hand, to distinguish law from a mere system of force, or ‘orders backed by threats’. For, according to Hart, legal rules have not only an external but also an internal aspect: we know that a rule is in existence not only because it is regularly observed, but also because those subject to it use it as a reason or standard for behaviour, criticizing themselves or others for breaches of the rules.

The Harts’ reaction was to issue a writ for defamation. For any family, this would have been an unpleasant and a stressful experience. For Herbert Hart, it turned out to be devastating. After a period of intense anxiety and depression, he suffered a serious nervous breakdown. He had to be admitted to the Warneford Hospital in Oxford, where he remained until the radical step of electro-convulsive therapy finally lifted him out of the abyss. A heartbreakingly poignant letter written to his close friend Isaiah Berlin from the Warneford encapsulates all the anxieties and insecurities which, as his earlier diaries reveal, had formed the counterpoint to his successful public life: his doubts about his intellectual, practical, and emotional capacities; his sense of a yawning gap between his public status and his own sense of himself.

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