An e-mail list I’m on brings word that Harvard Law School’s Laurence Tribe has sent out an “open letter” to those who have eagerly awaited the second volume of the third edition of his doorstop of a treatise, American Constitutional Law. He remarks, in evidently wistful and frustrated tones: “I have come to the sobering realization that no treatise, in my sense of the term, can be true to this moment in our constitutional history–to its conflicts, innovations, and complexities.”
For this he should call himself Laurence Tripe. Some of us who toil in this field have gotten along just fine for years without so much as owning a copy of Tribe’s magnum opus, which evidenced all the self-importance of the sentence just quoted (but at much greater length), without the compensation of any usable wisdom on the subject of the Constitution.
Readers should recall the recent revelation, by Ramesh Ponnuru in NRODT, that Tribe is something of a fabulist about . . . well, about himself. So perhaps Tribe’s assumption that hearts will be broken all over ConLawLand by the news of his abandoned treatise project is understandable. As for the real reason he is giving up on it? Well, we know some things also from that exposé a few months ago by Joseph Bottum in The Weekly Standard (sorry, no free link for nonsubscribers), revealing the extent to which Tribe plagiarized, in another of his books, the work of the incomparable gentleman and scholar Henry J. Abraham of the University of Virginia politics department. (A matter that Harvard just recently swept under the rug.) Maybe Tribe has given up on his treatise because he could no longer find research assistants willing to plunder the works of political scientists for him.