Schlesinger, Rudolf Berthold

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Schlesinger, Rudolf Berthold

Legal scholar, author, and professor, Rudolf B. Schlesinger achieved fame for his ground-breaking work in the study of international legal systems. Schlesinger was known as the dean of comparative law, a discipline that examines the differences and similarities among the legal systems of nations. His arrival in the field during the early 1950s helped to give it both greater legitimacy and popularity in legal academia. Comparative Law: Cases-Texts-Materials (1950), written while Schlesinger taught at Cornell University, became a staple of law school curricula and entered its fifth edition in the late 1990s. He also wrote important studies of Civil Procedure and international business transactions and directed a ten-year international research project on contracts.

Born in Munich, Germany, in 1909, Rudolf Berthold Schlesinger fled nazism before World War II to live in the United States. He had earned his degree in law from the University of Munich in 1933. He developed a background in finance while working in a Munich bank, where he helped German Jews transfer their assets out of the country in order to escape persecution. In 1938, with the Nazi party gaining strength, Schlesinger emigrated to New York and promptly enrolled at Columbia Law School, where he earned his degree in 1942. He briefly practiced financial law, then served as a professor at Cornell from 1948 to 1975. Upon retirement from Cornell, he joined the faculty of the Hastings College of Law at the University of California. Schlesinger had an enormous impact on U.S. and European legal studies. Foremost was his pioneering 1950 book on comparative law, which ultimately influenced two generations of readers. In 1955, working on behalf of the New York Law Revision Commission, he examined the important question of whether to codify Commercial Law. His study, Problems of Codification of Commercial Law (1955), anticipated the subsequent development of the Uniform Commercial Code. In 1995, the American Journal of Comparative Law published a tribute to Schlesinger that praised his "heroic work" and noted that its influence went beyond U.S. law: "Today's serious efforts to find and develop a unitary European private law is, consciously or unconsciously, a continuation of Schlesinger's effort."

"When men rather than the law govern, people usually find it more prudent to seek a powerful human protector than to stand on legal rights against the State."
—Rudolf B. Schlesinger

Schlesinger died on November 10, 1996, in San Francisco, when he and his wife committed suicide.

Further readings

Buxbaum, Richard M. 1995. "Rudolf B. Schlesinger—A Tribute." American Journal of Comparative Law 43 (summer).

Winship, Peter. 1996. "As the World Turns: Revisiting Rudolf Schlesinger's Study of the Uniform Commercial Code 'In the Light of Comparative Law'." Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review 29 (April).