Interviews with Prof. Weiler



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.

Defying Gravity

NYU Law: At Harvard you were both the Manley Hudson Professor of Law and Jean Monnet Chair. Two Chairs?

JHHW: It 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.

NYU Law: Finally?

Prof. Weiler

JHHW: As the Count of Monte Cristo said: One must have faith and hope.

NYU Law: In preparing this profile your emails arrived first from Warsaw (Poland) then Hvar (Croatia) then Macao (China). Eventful Summer -- Any connection among the three?

JHHW: …And 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 lawyers Marxists???

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 the office.

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.

NYU Law: ***???!!!

JHHW: Well you can decide which of the wishes is the sublime and which is the ridiculous.

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