George Anastaplo by Abner Mikva


            George Anastaplo has been described as an iconoclast, and the description covers part of his makeup. He does not like idols—especially false ones, and he does not like to follow the crowd if there is no reason to. When the new dean of our law school decided in 1950 that it would be a good idea for the students to start getting used to wearing the lawyer’s uniform, he suggested that a coat, if not a coat and tie, would be the acceptable garb. Most of us took the suggestion—at least most of the time. Not George. He continued to wear a sweat shirt or sport shirt as he had always done. He wasn’t defiant; he just could not see any reason to change his style

He ended up first in our class, not because he was the most competitive, but because he was the smartest. He liked the pedagogy of the time, and he has always thought that educating and being educated is what people do with their brainpower. His interests and intellectual appetites are enormous. He has written books and articles analyzing the influence of Greek literature on American politics, on the Thinker as Artist, and the Artist as Thinker, on the O. J. Simpson trial, on lights at Wrigley Field, on McCarthyism, on hate speech, on lawyers, on judges, on the Bible, on ethics, on Abraham Lincoln, on the remodeling of Soldier field, and I have only touched the surface of his eclecticism.

He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago more than a decade after he finished law school. It confirmed his commitment to teaching rather than practicing all of the arts that he has learned. He has taught constitutional law, history, political science, literature, ethics. He has interests, and he will teach. But unlike some teachers who have been at it as long as he has, he has never lost interest in learning. You can see him at public lectures, at seminars, even at political rallies. (Although I had difficulty getting him to take on a precinct when I ran in Hyde Park.) He was kicked out of the Soviet Union and the Greece that was run by the dictatorship of the Colonels in 1970. I thought he went overboard on literalism when he opposed Richard Nixon’s impeachment because the Congress could not establish the necessary “high crimes and misdemeanors.” But it serves a one more example that George Anastaplo has not limited himself to ivy towers.

He stood up for principle when he challenged the Illinois bar authorities in the 1950’s and 1960’s—not because he was (or is) pugnacious, but because it was important to him not to trade those principles for a license to practice law. The practice of law has been the poorer for it, but education and scholarship have been the richer.

Leon Despres, everybody’s alderman, called George Anastaplo the Socrates of Chicago. Fortunately the local hemlock has not been as lethal and George Anastaplo remains a live and vital thinker and activist right here in Hyde Park.

[This [2003] article is one of a series being presented monthly through a collaboration of the Hyde Park Herald with the Hyde Park Historical Society. Abner Mikva is a former state representative, Congressman, Chief Judge of the Washington Federal Court of Appeals and White House Counsel to President Clinton. He is now a visiting professor in the University of Chicago Law School, and, of course, a member of the Hyde Park Historical Society.]

[On Sunday, November 16, 2003. The Hyde Park Historical Society will present “A Conversation with George Anastaplo” at its headquarters, 5529 S. Lake Park, at 2:00 p.m. The event will be open to the public without charge.]

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