Richard Epstein on Robert Bork

Robert Bork: Of Great Successes and Great Failures

The death of Robert Bork will surely evoke strong memories, both positive and negative, from those who knew him. The public portions of his life will be well rehearsed by others, so I shall just make a few more personal remarks about a man who surely had a great influence over my own life.

My first acquaintance with Bork dated from the days when I was a student at Yale Law, in the years between 1966 and 1968. I never took Bork’s well-known and controversial class in antitrust law, but to be in the building at that time was to learn of his views by indirection, so powerful was his personality and influence on the law. In my case, the influence was still stronger because I did take an advanced antitrust seminar (open to those who did not take the basic course) on “contract and vertical integration,” one of whose instructors was Ward Bowman, a highly original antitrust mind, who was at that time a close confidant of Bork, and who shared Bork’s views that the antitrust laws were all too often used to stifle the very competition that they were supposed to promote.

In retrospect, it is hard to convey the extent to which Bork was out of step with his time in the expression of his views. The dominant liberal culture at the Yale Law School tolerated his rather outlandish teachings, but it never accepted the power of his insights on the role that economic analysis played in understanding a wide range of antitrust doctrines.