John Gardner at Home

Memories from Ori Hernstein

One of my favorite John Gardner stories is also my first John Gardner story. While today I am proud to count John amongst my friends, this story predates us even meeting.

I was a bored lawyer, working in an all glass high-rise in downtown Manhattan. Desperately looking for an idea to write on, I stumbled on some essays of John’s and instantly came to admire his rigor and prose. What emerged was an article building on some of his ideas.

A year passed. The paper was published. By then, I had left the firm to begin my academic career. One day, there it was in my inbox. An email from John Gardner. Just like that, out of the blue, he wrote to thank me for the article and to say that he needed to further reflect on it. What a thrill. “Anna quick, come see,” I called out to my wife. “What’s all the excitement?”, she asked. “I have an email from John Gardner!”, I replied. “Who?”, she asked puzzled. “Only the best legal philosopher of his generation, that’s who!” I replied. (This conversation took place in Hebrew, so some liberties were taken in its retroactive transcription).

Here was the Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford writing to me – barely a junior academic that he had never met – to congratulate me on my paper. It was like playing pick-up basketball in the neighborhood, and having Michael Jordan drive by and say, “nice shot kid!” It was the sort of kindness that lingers and sustains one over time. It gave a young person a boost of much-needed confidence, and the assurance that there was a community of like-minded scholars out there across the pond.

Later, John’s email did not only come to point the way towards Britain, it was also the bridge for getting there. Were it not for that email I would have likely never applied for academic positions in the UK the following year. And, were it not for that email, I never would have contacted John about job prospects, and he would not have put me in touch with King’s London, where I ended up accepting a position I loved. The fact is that but for the kindness of John’s email, the course of our whole lives would have been much different, and not for the better.

I never directly thanked John for his email. Presumably for him it was little more than a small and passing act of kindness. But it meant the world to me.

Ori J Herstein

This is the email from John to Ori:

Dear Ori I really like your paper on duties to try in negligence. I read it today in the new CJLJ. Obviously, I want to give some more thought to your surgeon example (and related argumentation) before reaching any verdicts. But it hadn’t struck me before that the Raz/Sher views are rivals to mine, which I can certainly see now. Thanks very much for the detailed and flattering criticism. I look forward to reading more of your work. Best wishes John