Alan Dershowitz
Professor, Harvard Law School
08:05

The Preventative State

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Dershowitz discusses his work in crafting the jurisprudence behind the 'preventative state'.

Alan Dershowitz

Alan Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School. In addition to his teaching, Dershowitz is a prolific author who makes frequent media and public appearances, and who is known for his commentary on the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as his work on numerous high-profile cases. As a criminal appellate lawyer, Dershowitz successfully argued to overturn the conviction of Claus von Bulow for the attempted murder of his wife, Sunny. He also served as the appellate advisor in the criminal trial of O.J. Simpson.

Dershowitz joined the faculty of Harvard Law School as an assistant professor of law in 1964. He was made a full professor of law in 1967, at the age of 28, becoming, at that time, Harvard's youngest full law professor in the school's history. Dershowitz is also the author of more than 20 works of fiction and non-fiction, including Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijacking the Declaration of Independence (2007), The Case for Israel (2003), the bestseller Chutzpah (1991), and Reversal of Fortune (1986), which was made into an Academy Award-winning film. More than a million of his books have been sold worldwide and in numerous languages.

Dershowitz joined the faculty of Harvard Law School as an assistant professor of law in 1964. He was made a full professor of law in 1967, at the age of 28, becoming, at that time, Harvard's youngest full law professor in the school's history. Dershowitz is also the author of more than 20 works of fiction and non-fiction, including Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijacking the Declaration of Independence (2007), The Case for Israel (2003), the bestseller Chutzpah (1991), and Reversal of Fortune (1986), which was made into an Academy Award-winning film. More than a million of his books have been sold worldwide and in numerous languages.

Transcript

Question: What's your legacy? 

Alan Dershowitz: My current life work has been to try to find the jurisprudence that constrains what I call the “preventive state.” The state now is moving much more from reacting to violence – deterring people from committing violence by punishing those who’ve already done it – to a proactive, preemptive, preventive mode. Moving in. Stopping people from doing it. Preventive detention such as that which exists in Guantanamo [Bay, Cuba] and many other places around the world today. Preventive intelligence gathering. The use of cyberspace and picking up of conversations in space. The use of preventive interrogation, including torture.

All of these things are part of one of the most important and yet unwritten about phenomenon in the world. The preventive state. The state moving in early. Trying to anticipate. The state moving in against sexual predators. The state moving in against potential terrorists.

And what I’ve been trying to do is construct a jurisprudence for that phenomenon. I became interested, for example, in affirmative action. I support affirmative action, but I didn’t like the fact that it didn’t have a jurisprudence.

University admissions officers had too much discretion in how they would formulate programs for admitting minorities, and I was working very hard to try to construct a jurisprudence to constrain that use of power; the use of power to prevent and censor speech which is becoming more and more problematic as the Internet, without publishers, grows.

I am trying to formulate a jurisprudence for that. So my life work has been taking areas of power and subjecting them to regulation and constraint.

 

Recorded on: June 12, 2007


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