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

de Nicola Lacey

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642358,845 (4.75)2
Herbert Lionel Adolphus Hart was born in Yorkshire in 1907 to second generation Jewish immigrants. Having won a scholarship to Oxford University, he went on to become the most famous legal philosopher of the twentieth century.From 1932-40 H.L.A Hart practised as a barrister in London. He was pronounced physically unfit for military service in 1940, and was recruited by MI5, where he worked until 1945. During his time at the Bar he had continued to study philosophy and at M15 his interest was further stimulated by hisphilosopher colleagues in M16, Stuart Hampshire and Gilbert Ryle. After the war, Hart returned to Oxford to take up a philosophy fellowship, later to become Professor of Jurisprudence.H.L.A Hart single-handedly reinvented the philosophy of law and influenced the nation's thinking in the 1960s on abortion, the legalization of homosexuality, and on capital punishment. Hart's approach to legal philosophy was at once disarmingly simple and breathtakingly ambitious, combining as itdid the insights of Austin and Bentham and the new linguistic philosophy of J.L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein. He sought to elucidate a concept of law which would be of relevance to all forms of law, wherever or whenever they arose: his bestselling book, The Concept of Law, has sold tens ofthousands of copies worldwide.In 1941, he married Jenifer Williams (a high-ranking civil servant, later an Oxford academic) with whom he had four children. Their relationship was an enduring if unconventional one. In the early 1950s, Jenifer was rumoured to be having a long-standing affair with Isaiah Berlin, one of Hart'sclosest friends. She was also, falsely, accused by the Sunday Times of having been a Russian spy, an allegation which was all the more scandalous given Hart's position at MI5 during the War.Nicola Lacey draws on Hart's previously unpublished diaries and letters to reveal a complex inner life.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 fascinatinglight on the origins of his ideas, and assesses his overall contribution. Above all, it chronicles of a life which had a depth ands impact far greater than many of Hart's readers have realized.… (més)
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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.”
  arielgm | Mar 14, 2008 |
Lacey's Hart biography is stunning. It is radically different from every other biography in that it mainly draws from Hart's vast correspondence, and presents a somewhat different Hart: not only Hart the genius, but one who is at the same time tormented by demons of identity problems, a very complicated emotional bond to his wife, Jenifer Walker, and his doubts about his academic abilities. A very good read indeed, not only to law students. ( )
  kcsefalvay | Dec 18, 2005 |
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Herbert Lionel Adolphus Hart was born in Yorkshire in 1907 to second generation Jewish immigrants. Having won a scholarship to Oxford University, he went on to become the most famous legal philosopher of the twentieth century.From 1932-40 H.L.A Hart practised as a barrister in London. He was pronounced physically unfit for military service in 1940, and was recruited by MI5, where he worked until 1945. During his time at the Bar he had continued to study philosophy and at M15 his interest was further stimulated by hisphilosopher colleagues in M16, Stuart Hampshire and Gilbert Ryle. After the war, Hart returned to Oxford to take up a philosophy fellowship, later to become Professor of Jurisprudence.H.L.A Hart single-handedly reinvented the philosophy of law and influenced the nation's thinking in the 1960s on abortion, the legalization of homosexuality, and on capital punishment. Hart's approach to legal philosophy was at once disarmingly simple and breathtakingly ambitious, combining as itdid the insights of Austin and Bentham and the new linguistic philosophy of J.L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein. He sought to elucidate a concept of law which would be of relevance to all forms of law, wherever or whenever they arose: his bestselling book, The Concept of Law, has sold tens ofthousands of copies worldwide.In 1941, he married Jenifer Williams (a high-ranking civil servant, later an Oxford academic) with whom he had four children. Their relationship was an enduring if unconventional one. In the early 1950s, Jenifer was rumoured to be having a long-standing affair with Isaiah Berlin, one of Hart'sclosest friends. She was also, falsely, accused by the Sunday Times of having been a Russian spy, an allegation which was all the more scandalous given Hart's position at MI5 during the War.Nicola Lacey draws on Hart's previously unpublished diaries and letters to reveal a complex inner 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 fascinatinglight on the origins of his ideas, and assesses his overall contribution. Above all, it chronicles of a life which had a depth ands impact far greater than many of Hart's readers have realized.

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