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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[…]

Jump ahead fifty years, then ask.

Question: What is your question?

Alan Dershowitz: You’ve made me think deeply about that question. It’s a very, very hard one to ask what people should be thinking about.

I think people should be asked to take a moratorium for a brief period of time in their lives on reading the conventional literature that’s available to them; and to observe the world in as perceptive a way, and ask themselves, “What are the questions we’re not asking? What are the issues we’re not addressing? Are there things that we should be thinking about which will have an impact 50 or 60 years from now?”

I start my class in Criminal Law every year by asking that kind of question. I say, “Look. We’re now in the first decade of the 21st Century. You’re 21, 22 years old. I’m getting close to 70. I want to think about what you will be thinking about when you’re my age now.

So I want you to jump ahead 50 years. And I want you to ask yourselves what are going to be the major issues that elite, innovative, brilliant lawyers like you, the students, are going to be confronting 50 years from now? I don’t want to teach you how to practice law in 2009, 2010, 2011. I want to teach you how to be leaders of the law, and leaders of our country in 2050 and 2060.”

I think those are the kinds of questions.

I think we should be thinking like science fiction writers. And I like the analogy of the legal fiction writers – people who can think ahead, people who can stretch the bounds of the imagination. We can’t do it very well.

If I was asked that question when I was in law school between 1959 and 1962, I never could have imagined the cyberworld in which we live. I wouldn’t have imagined the threats of terrorism that we confront, the opportunities that we have, the environmental disasters that are surrounding us.

So it may be an impossible question to ask people to think 50 years ahead, but I think it’s a useful one.

Recorded On: June 12, 2007