Response 125 Harv. L. Rev. F. 236

Provocation: The Comparative Turn: Accident, Coincidence, or Fate?

Responding to In Tribute: Frank I. Michelman, 125 Harv. L. Rev. 879 (2012)

Response To:

  • Frank I. Michelman  by  Dennis Davis,Rosalind Dixon,Dieter Grimm,Patrick O. Gudridge,Martha Minow,Margaret Jane Radin,Guido Calabresi


Why would a long-standing leader in the field of American constitutional law turn his intellectual attention to another constitutional system? And why choose South Africa? For almost two decades, Frank Michelman’s contribution to the field of comparative constitutional law has been much like his contribution to constitutional theory and constitutional law in general: soaring, generous, always in dialogue with others, and yet always uniquely his own. In this Provocation, I examine: what accounts for the comparative turn?

I approach this matter not as one demanding historical explanation, but as inviting a comment on Frank’s position in the comparative constitutional orbit. Since I am not South African, my perspective is one of a fellow comparativist, as well as one who was lucky enough to be Frank’s student. I offer three hypotheses as to why he turned to South Africa: the hypotheses of accident, coincidence, and fate.