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Derek Bok (Born March 22, 1930)

“There is far too much law for those who can afford it and far too little for those who cannot.”     Portrait of Harvard President Derek Bok, 1982, Radcliffe Archives, Harvard University


Derek C. Bok (1930-present) was dean of the Harvard Law School from 1968 to 1971, President of Harvard University from 1971 to 1991, and served as interim president from July 2006 to June 2007. This quote appears in a Harvard Magazine article that was actually a reprint of his 1981-82 report to the university’s Board of Overseers. Known as the “Bok report,” it garnered quite a bit of media attention, particularly in the context of discussing the litigation explosion. The report laments the increasing complexity and expense of the U.S. legal system, the explosion of legal work, and the oversupply of lawyers, while the majority of citizens cannot afford legal services, are unable to benefit from the law, and lack access to the courts as a practical matter.  Bok likens the U.S. legal system to health care twenty years earlier when medicine had become effective and sophisticated but only affordable to the wealthy. The report also suggests that the oversupply of lawyers drains other more important professions and endeavors, with great loss to the country. Bok’s report and additional work helped usher in the growth of empirical, interdisciplinary studies, as well as greater commitment to public service in education at the university. Bok became the first Harvard University president to give his name to a center, Harvard’s Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, of which he was an active supporter during his presidency and remains so today.



Anatole France (April 16, 1844 – October 12, 1924)

“The law in its majestic equality forbids the rich and poor alike to sleep under the bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.”


Anatole France, dessin de Auguste Leroux


Anatole France, born François Anatole Thibault (1844—1924), took his nom de plume from his father’s bookshop Librairie de France. Known as a poet, novelist, journalist and best-selling author, he started his work life assisting his father in the family bookshop. After working as a cataloguer he became the librarian for the French Sénat. He was elected to the Académie française in 1896 and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921. The Red Lily (Le Lys rouge), although not considered his best work, probes ideas that were very advanced for the time.









Immanuel Kant (April 22, 1724 –  February 12, 1804)

“There is, therefore, only one categorical imperative.  It is:  Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

Portrait of Immanuel Kant by Gottleib Doeppler, 1898


Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was one of the preeminent philosophers of the 18th century.  Kant was born and spent the whole of his life in Königsberg Germany, where he was a Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, and later Dean, at the University of Königsberg.  After gaining prominence in the philosophical world with his Critique of Pure Reason, published in 1781, Kant turned his metaphysical eye on morality.  His Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, published in 1785, introduced the idea of a morality based not on religious doctrine but on the innate sense of justice housed in every individual’s conscience.  To this day, Kant’s anti-elitist categorical imperative has a particular resonance in any democratic society governed by the rule of law.

Will Durant, Immanuel Kant and German Idealism, in The Story of Philosophy : The Lives and Opinions of the Greater Philosophers 253 (Pocket Books ed. 1991).






Simón Bolívar (July 24, 1783 – December 17, 1830)

“Slavery is the daughter of darkness; an ignorant people is the blind instrument of its own destruction. Ambition and intrigue exploit the credulity and inexperience of men totally bereft of political, economic, or civil knowledge.  They mistake pure illusion for reality, license for freedom, treason for patriotism, vengeance for justice.”

Simon Bolivar fighting Spanish royalist troops, detail of a mural by Franciso Leal, 1931-33


In 1783, Simón Bolívar was born to an aristocratic Spanish colonial family in what is now Venezuela. A soldier and statesman, he was one of the leading figures of the movement for South American independence.  As a young man, he was educated in the principles of the enlightenment and began to dream of liberation and unification for the people of                South America.  After travelling in Spain and France he returned and joined in a republican uprising that led to the establishment of a free federal republic of Venezuela. The first Republic fell to the Spanish, but the rebellion continued, and Bolívar commanded forces in a brutal contest against the Spanish, earning the name El Libertador. He eventually took power as one of the leaders of a restored Second Venezuelan Republic.  After it too failed, Bolívar went into exile, but continued to write and seek support for the revolution.  In 1816, he returned and resumed the fight for independence for Venezuela and New Grenada (now Colombia). By 1819, the revolutionary forces under Bolívar’s military and political leadership, had established a foothold in the city of Angostura (now Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela).  Bolívar invited representatives from Venezuela and New Grenada to a Congress in order to re-establish and reorganize the civilian government and to develop a new constitution.  On February 15, 1819, Bolívar delivered his Address to the Congress at Angostura, in which he restated the ideals of freedom, equality and national sovereignty underlying the movement for independence and proposed a structure for a more centralized government that would avoid the weaknesses of the previous republic. In the section quoted here, Bolívar urged the Legislators to be mindful of how absolute power could deprive a people of the knowledge and skills for successful self-rule, and to consider carefully the structure of the future government.  The Congress of Angostura eventually led to the formation of Gran Columbia, a unified state covering parts of what is now Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil. Bolívar served as the first president of Gran Columbia and was also instrumental in revolutionary movements in Peru and in the founding of Bolivia.

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