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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

They in Their Humanity

In The Prince, Machiavelli describes the pleasure he derives from studying. “When evening has come, I return to my house and go into my study. At the door…I enter the ancient courts of ancient men…There I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I feel no boredom, I forget every pain, I do not fear poverty, death does not frighten me. I deliver myself entirely to them.”

I had cause to think a lot about this, one of my favorite quotes, recently. An underrated pleasure of academic life, it seems to me, is getting "into our study," and the form of conversation it brings with it. It's a way in which to connect (albeit at a geeky level) with folks that (on a personal level) I might know quite well, or not at all. Some of these connections go beyond the rather impersonal academic interrogation implicit in asking the reasons behind another's work, and become the more personal collaborations in which ideas are directly exchanged, and the process of learning and growing becomes accelerated and fun. In the internet age, these connections are often made, and maintained, online as much as in person, but are not the less personal for that.

In a couple of short pieces, appropriately inspired by a short Prawfsblawg piece he posted, and my comments upon it, I was lucky enough to collaborate with Dan Markel. Through that process, I got to know him a little better than I did before. He was ticked off at some weird conditions a judge had demanded a defendant satisfy to be released on bail. I was taken with his righteous indignation, and then by his fastidious argument-checking. I enjoyed meeting his family and friends online, and catching up at conferences, and reading and re-reading his work, both finished and unfinished. I learned a lot from Dan, and still study and still learn.

Posted by Eric Miller on August 12, 2014 at 08:31 PM | Permalink


I wrote the deans of the law school a letter immediately upon hearing the news. I wish I still had a copy. Long story short, I had Markel for Criminal Law. Once I got to know him, I took every single one of his courses that I could. I'd never, and still have never, had a professor treat me as much like an equal as he. He always resembled a modern day Socrates to me. You made a statement and within a split second he had a response that knocked you down and made you have to think of a rebuttal immediately and the cycle would continue. He'd never say you were wrong, just make you argue your point, and then actually stop and consider your point. He even cited my name on this blog once for a discussion we had. And that was an issue I went home, as I did many times in debates with him, and researched my response to follow up the next class. Learning had never been so fun as when you are challenging your mind and imagination to find an answer. I became a name in my classmates' "gunner bingo" because I couldn't keep my mouth shut, I was so actively involved each and every class. I underwent serious illness my second year that continued the duration of law school and even made me take a medical withdrawal at the end of one term. Despite illness, I looked forward to his classes. I never really looked forward to anything when I was that sick. But for that hour each day I'd forget the symptoms. He even had our Adv. Torts class come to his home once for a banquet dinner to peer review our term papers in a less stressful way. He was like that. For him it wasn't a job, but a passion and he'd never turn away an opportunity to explore theories with another person, even on his personal time. I greatly pity every student to attend FSU after his loss. His ex wife is a lovely person and I only met one child, but he was adorable and couldn't have had a more proud Daddy, parading him around the classroom several occasions. I pray for them in this time and though I know Markel never agreed with my retributive tendencies, I hope sound justice comes fast and to the FULL extent of the law to whoever is responsible for his untimely departure.

Posted by: Mary Rachel Barnhill | Aug 12, 2014 10:35:54 PM

The only strange thing about your comment on this quotation is that it's missing the temporal element: "ancient men." It does seem important to Machiavelli that entering the study involves reanimating the dead, so to speak. And there is something different about that task; it involves a different set of skills and has a different point than colloquy with one's contemporaries. And that's a big part of what makes Machiavelli's comment so brilliant: whereas the pleasures - and the mechanics - of engaging with one's contemporaries are more obvious, entering the study is the only way to commune with the long-dead thinkers Machiavelli was reading.

Interesting, in conjunction with the post above about how legal scholars tend to overlook the classics of their own discipline.

Posted by: Nabil Ansari | Aug 17, 2014 12:04:03 PM

Sorry - I posted before reading the last paragraph and missed the obvious context to this comment, which is much more important than the Machiavelli quote.

Posted by: Nabil Ansari | Aug 17, 2014 12:21:12 PM

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