Residual Anxieties – A Reply to Ralf Michaels

Ralf Michaels describes me as having “taken offense” to his claim about eternal supremacy of Germany in doctrinal scholarship. I wish immediately to clarify that I was not offended at all by his claim; I merely found it to be highly implausible, and rooted in a kind of historical or cultural determinism that is, to say the least, questionable. Now, however, Michaels in his response considerably revises his assertion, and says he rejects cultural determinism. The key proposition instead is that the average German legal scholar is likely to be a better doctrinalist than the average American scholar, and conversely the average American scholar is likely to be better at interdisciplinary, non-doctrinal scholarship than her average German counterpart. This is a different claim, and it seems to be about the present, and not a statement about what must or will be true always. I’m not sure how it could be verified – or indeed refuted. But at least as long as a scholar does not think of herself as “average” it allows that it may be entirely legitimate for her not to limit her ambition in legal scholarship to some stereotypical conception of what the folk-mind is supposedly good at.

But then Michaels goes on to make the normative claim that “we” should play to our strengths, both Americans and Germans. Here though “strengths” seems just to mean what the average scholar today in each country is supposedly better at ...

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