I read the first two chapters of ‘The Metaphysical Club’ that features Oliver Wendell Holmes. And because I had purchased ‘Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: Law And The Inner Self’ from an Oxford University Press book sale: also because I found in Menand’s chapters, an heroic figure in Holmes, three time wounded in The Civil War, I read with interest Prof. White’s biography.
White’s book followed the bourgeoise party line on Holmes. He even wrote ‘Oliver Wendell Holmes: Sage of the Supreme Court’, more of the same bourgeoise hagiography. But ‘Buck v. Bell’ was a negative revelation. Women identified as ‘imbeciles’ that were institutionalised were sterilized. ‘Establishing the constitutionality of a law permitting the sterilization of of imbeciles … gave me pleasure’, a Holmes quote from page 408 of White’s biography.
I followed that book with ‘Law Without Values: The Life, Work and Legacy of Justice Holmes’ by Albert W. Alschuler. Another negative revelation. This book managed to garner a good review from The Economist, titled ‘Flawed Hero’ of the February 24, 2001 edition of the magazine. I saved the page from the magazine, and use it as a bookmark, for Alschuler’s book.
George Scialabba’s praise for the ‘masterpiece’ of ‘The Metaphysical Club’: from my limited reading of it’s Holmes chapters, was steeped in the unearned reverence for the toxic, not to speak of the cruel misogyny of Holmes. Should this give pause to the readers of Mr. Scialabba’s judgement, on a book lauded as a ‘masterpiece’, or any other book under his review? What about any book, by the same author, whose writings reflect the values of History and Biography Made To Measure?