Courage to be wrong, or education to get it right? A response to Michaela Hailbronner

Michaela Hailbronner makes important arguments in her informed and carefully balanced post. I agree with much of what she says. I just think the main problem of interdisciplinarity in Germany is not lack of courage. It is lack of expertise.

Much of her analysis strikes me as sound. I would agree that many US law professors have few scruples to write on topics and in areas about which they know very little. But regardless of whether one finds that refreshing or annoying, I do not think it is a relevant factor in the creation of scholarly knowledge.

I also think it is true, to some extent, that US professors care more about being interesting whereas Germans care more about being right, though I would not formulate it this way—scholarship can be interesting and still be right, and being right is considered important in the US, too. (Of course, what is correct, doctrinally, is often harder to determine in the US, due to the open-ended and dynamic nature of US law.) Instead, I would describe the difference like this: in the US, there is a premium on being original—new, big ideas are appreciated. In Germany there is still a premium on being solid—using the entire available scholarship on a topic is required; staying within the existing consensus is often a plus. This makes much US scholarship more daring and has the expectable consequences—a lot of scholarship turns out to be irrelevant, but pieces with staying power move the discipline forward in very beneficial ways.

I suspect this difference is not just attitudinal (or “cultural”). Rather, it has to do with the institutional conditions for the production of scholarship. In the top US law schools, the typical law professor is an individual entrepreneur with few constraints from his university, who offers his scholarship like a product on a marketplace ...

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