J.H.H. Weiler is European Union Jean Monnet Professor
at NYU School of Law, where he is the Director of the Jean Monnet Center for
International and Regional Economic Law & Justice.
The conversation below
was published in NYU School of Law Magazine, August 2001.
NYU Law: At
Harvard you were both the Manley Hudson Professor of Law and Jean Monnet Chair.
reflected my twin interests in International Law and in European Integration.
Jean Monnet Chairs are a creation of the European Union and awarded selectively
to Universities under limited time contracts for the purpose of developing
European studies. At the time I confess to having felt quite proud at being
awarded only one of two such Chairs outside Europe. My wife has another
interpretation. She says I needed two chairs on account of my bulk and has long
argued that it is high time I go on a diet. Recently, the European Union
University Council has graciously and uniquely formally made my Chair a
personal one, unlimited in time. So at NYU I will keep just the Jean Monnet
title. For now
NYU Law: So how do you
feel about moving from Harvard Law School to NYU?
JHHW: Both sad and
happy. Sad because HLS is a great institution and I had a truly wonderful time
there. I only harbor pleasant feelings. It is, nonetheless, a good way to leave
a place: With fond memories, lingering doubts and regrets and the knowledge
that your colleagues and friends would have wanted you to stay. Happy because
NYU Law is a great Institution and I plan to have a truly wonderful time here.
It is also a good way to arrive at a new place: With excitement, hopes and
dreams and a welcoming group of new friends and colleagues.
NYU Law: Would it be
indelicate to ask what made you move?
JHHW: It would, but
then everyone asks anyway. I know that at this point I am meant to wax lyrics
about the wonders of NYU and NYC. There is that, of course. But It is, above
all, about a different kind of wondering: I am the quintessential Wandering
Jew. World class, compulsive and consummate. A connoisseur of all nuances of
exodus, departure, withdrawal, migration. Sometimes I think it is genetic.
Consider my parents: My father Z"l was born in Riga, Latvia. In 1921, his
family left and settled in Palestine. In 1925, after finishing high school in
Tel Aviv, he and his brother left Palestine and wandered to the United States.
The brother, my Uncle Si(mon) settled in Paris (Texas) where he lived and died.
But my father left the United States and moved to South Africa where he met and
married my mother. Her grandparents were also born in Russia, but they left and
moved in the late 19th Century to England. (They, at least, had a good reason:
Pogroms). My mother's parents left England (cold and gray and no work) and went
to the Belgian Congo(!). My mother was born in Elizabethville. How about that?
They left and moved south to Zimbabwe. She left again and moved to S. Africa. I
was born there, but didn't stay long. My parents left and returned to Israel.
In Israel I lived first on a Kibbutz, left, and moved to the Mediterranean town
of Haifa, left again, and moved to Jerusalem. After completing my army service,
I left Israel and went to live and study in England where I met my wife. We
left and moved to Italy, and then, after 7 years, we left again and moved to
Ann Arbor, then to Cambridge and now, finally, to NYC and NYU.
the Count of Monte Cristo said: One must have faith and hope.
In preparing this profile your emails arrived first from Warsaw (Poland) then
Hvar (Croatia) then Macao (China). Eventful Summer -- Any connection among the
afterwards there was India and Australia. There are two little secrets which
explain the connection. Though some think of me as a scholar, I consider my
professional vocation first and foremost as a teacher - passionate and
demanding. I have to say No to most invitations to attend academic conferences.
All these conferences end up robbing you of one of the most important assets of
our profession: Setting one's own agenda. But, and this is the first little
secret, I have never said No to an invitation to teach students. I have stopped
counting the number of universities world wide where I have given courses,
guest lectures or held my workshop on How To Write a Ph.D Thesis in Law. In
Warsaw, at the College of Europe in Natolin I am involved in an exciting
experiment with five younger European colleagues of rethinking the content and
methodology of an advanced course in European Law. We are hoping it will become
a model for innovative teaching in the field. In Macao-China I am part of the
newly established Academy of International Trade Law which is an important
initiative in that region of the world and part of the response to the
challenges of Globalization. The Island of Hvar, where my family and I spend
our summer vacations is another type of secret. Since I count my chances of
ending up in Heaven as very low, the Dalmatian coast is my only chance in this
life to see a bit of paradise.
NYU Law: What do you
like to teach most?
JHHW: European Law? The
WTO? Nope. At Harvard my favorite "course" was my weakly Bible class. It met
once a week throughout my years at HLS. Some years it was small with a dozen or
so faithful participants. In other years there was standing room only with
participants from all over the University. It was truly wonderful: Old and
young, Jew and Gentile, White and Black, believers, agnostics and confirmed
atheists - all united by love of, and respect for, the beauty and depth of
Scripture. My ego was appropriately cut down to size when one participant
explained that the popularity of the weekly evening class was not my splendid
teaching - it was simply the best dating service at the Law School!
NYU Law: Are you
planning to continue the class at NYU?
JHHW: Brining Torah to
NYC? Isn't it a little like bringing Coals to Newcastle?
NYU Law: You may place
your scholarship beneath your vocation as a teacher, but your publication list
includes 10 monographs, a similar number of edited volumes and over 100
articles. Your work has been translated into many languages and you have
received all manner of academic recognition. You must love your work.
JHHW: Let's leave the
love part out of this. It is work. Putting bread and butter on the table.
Sometimes I think that the USA is the most Marxist society I have come across.
Especially upper middle class professionals; especially lawyers.
NYU Law: American
JHHW: Well, invert
Marx's theory of Alienation and tell me if you can think of another society
which so thoroughly has internalized this Marxist nonsense about finding
self-realization through work and at work? Friendships, Family, Church or
Synagogue, good literature, music - those are the things to which one should
attach the word love. Dear Senior Alumni - when you next put our precious
graduates to the 80 hour per week grind think of that
. No, In fact, I do
not love that part of my work. I find research and writing terribly hard; it is
a suffered process.
NYU Law: You must suffer
a lot to judge by the outcome. And you have five children and a life that spans
many countries. Any secrets about productivity?
JHHW: All my secrets
revealed! This one I learnt from my first law teacher in England, Colonel
G.I.A.D. Draper, a legendary figure in public international law. 'Never work
more than six hours a day; Never work more than five days a week; Never work at
night -- Get up early' the old Colonel used to boom. I sleep lightly and get up
very, very early in the morning. By the time most people rise, I have already
finished half a day's productive work - fresh, uninterrupted, no trips to the
fridge, no email (well, almost none) no phones. Then I start a second day in
NYU Law: Could you
recommend to our readers, say, two pieces which will give them the flavor of
your intellectual approach?
JHHW: Easy. I would
first recommend picking any of the essays in The Constitution of Europe, my
personally selected Oldies but Goldies. One criteria of selection was
accessibility to non-specialists. An essay such as Fin-de-Siecle Europe: Do the
New Clothes Have an Emperor can be read by people with little or no background.
The Transformation of Europe or To Be a European Citizen - Eros and
Civilization touch on the most important issues in the European debate. The
second pick would be my Novella - Der Fall Steinmann or, in its English title:
Removed. It was written in English, but to date has been published only in
German, to my delight with considerable success. I will place a copy of the
English MS on my website for your readers. Maybe one of your readers will find
a publisher for m. I am not sure even how one reaches an American publisher.
They certainly do not answer letters!
NYU Law: Elsewhere in
this issue we will present the new Center for International and Regional
Economic Law & Justice which you are founding at NYU. But for now, any
wishes for your new life?
JHHW: I have two wishes
- one sublime, one ridiculous. A colleague of mine used to have an exquisitely
ironic little post-card on his door: It read: Gravity - It's the Law! Every
time I passed by his office I used to think: "To that law I am a conscientious
objector." My first wish is to remain so. My second wish is to persuade the
dean to allow me to park my motorcycle in a corner of the Vanderbilt Courtyard.
It is so beautiful it should count as a work of art.
JHHW: Well you can
decide which of the wishes is the sublime and which is the ridiculous.