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Robert Cover's Passion


Robert A. Burt


Bob Cover was not content with the world. In his legal scholarship, this discontent expressed itself as a demand that law be "redemptive" in its aspiration, acknowledging the "unredeemed character of reality as we know it" and seeking to replace it with a "fundamentally different reality." Bob lived in this normative aspiration not only in his secular legal scholarship but in his absorbing involvement with Torah. Indeed, he would not recognize the secular and religious dimensions of law as distinct in any important sense. There was no part of Bob's life - whether characterized as legal, religious, personal - that was not touched by his passion for redemptive transformation.

Bob's involvement in the Civil Rights struggle was a central experience in his commitment to transform the "unredeemed character of reality." Though his deep aversion to coercion deployed by constituted social authority spoke directly to our generation's experience of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement was more formative for him, especially in his confrontation with the raw violence of racist subordination that the movement brought into open view in the early 1960s. I had known from Bob that, as a college and law school student, he had gone South as a civil rights worker and I knew too that he had been arrested and spent what I gathered was a brief time, perhaps even just one night, in a rural Southern jail. In my oral presentation at this conference, I mentioned these facts as part of my understanding of Bob's thinking.