After many weeks abroad, I’m back in the United States, and by coincidence this weekend I watched a movie that reminded me of just what it means to be home. The reminder came in the unexpected form of Deanna Durbin, the girl-next-door Hollywood star of the 1930s and 1940s. I didn’t anticipate that her last film, the romantic comedy For the Love of Mary (1948), would have so much to say about the culture of American constitutional law.
As readers of this blog and subscribers to my Facebook page know, in mid-November I flew to Europe to speak about The Rule of the Clan (which will be released in just two months by Farrar, Straus and Giroux), to teach some intensive seminars about the American constitution to European students, and most of all to begin research on my next book.
In the spirit of Jules Verne, the working title of Book #4 is Around the World in Eighty Laws. I’m hoping to reveal some of the beauty, complexity, and fragility of our world through a portrait of its diverse legal systems. I want to show the fundamentally different ways people understand the meaning and purpose of law. I’m also hoping that in the process I’ll be able to raise some basic, hard questions about our ability to get along with one another and with other nations as we respond to globalization.
My travels began at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and ended in Vienna. In between, with Eurail Pass in hand, I visited Maastricht, Tilburg, Luxembourg, Brussels, Würzburg, Hannover, and Salzburg, taking pictures and conducting interviews as I went—trying to channel the spirit of one of my heroes, David Attenborough. It was grand. I also found that I could easily continue an itinerant life indefinitely.
I’ll be posting reflections on my travels and excerpts from my interviews in the coming weeks, especially once I return to my desk in Connecticut.
My European travels naturally got me thinking about what it was I left behind. And that’s why I was so taken with For the Love of Mary. In its lightness of spirit—and in Durbin’s unpretentious style and clear soprano—it captures something essential about the legal self-understanding of my country. Read the rest of this entry »