In recent decades, Oliver Wendell Holmes has been praised as "the only great American legal thinker" and "the most illustrious figure in the history of American law." In this volume, Albert Alschuler paints a much darker picture of Justice Holmes as a distasteful man who, among other things, espoused Social Darwinism, favored eugenics, and as he himself acknowledged, came "devilish near to believing that might makes right." Alschuler begins by examining Holmes's power-focused philosophy and then turns to Holmes the person, describing how the horrors he experienced in the Civil War would transform his outlook into one of moral skepticism and profoundly color his decisions, both personal and legal. This skepticism, Alschuler argues, was at the root of his personal indifference to others, his romanticization of war and struggle, his persistent efforts to substitute power metaphors for judgments of right and wrong, and his "bad man" concept of law. His pernicious legacy, according to Alschuler, is evident in twentieth-century legal thought, whether one takes an economic or a critical legal approach.
Contrary to the perception of many modern lawyers and scholars, Holmes's legacy was not a "revolt against formalism," or against a priori reasoning; it was a revolt against the objective concepts of right and wrong--against values. Alschuler's thoroughgoing, no-holds-barred debunking of Holmes, together with his scathing critique of contemporary legal scholarship, will be a lightning rod for discussion and debate.