Tuesday, April 04, 2006

"The Man without a Country"

Robert A. Ferguson has a very interesting suggestion for our search for novels that illustrate what's at stake in the current legal debate over the right of the executive to imprison suspects without judicial intervention or oversight:

It is a short story rather than a book, but you might use Edward Everett Hale's "The Man Without A Country." It is the most popular story of the second half of the nineteenth century and is still anthologized everywhere. Philip Nolan is kept in perpetual prison aboard ship because bureaucracy and governmental policy want to forget about him after his original sentence. Moreover, the whole story is wrapped in patriotic rhetoric of the kind that is being misused today.
There are several free sites where you can read the story. Click here or here. The story was originally published in The Atlantic Monthly, December 1863, which is available in facsimile form here.

The story effectively gets at Professor Ferguson's point in part by its realistic style--it reads like a well-written non-fiction essay--and because it was written, at the time of the Civil War, apparently to boost patriotism. Hale's protagonist is redeemed in an ironic twist, yet the irony is of another order when read from our later vantage point. It's a fine story and well worth your attention.

Robert A. Ferguson is George Edward Woodberry Professor in Law, Literature and Criticism at Columbia Law School. His publications include Law and Letters in American Life (1987); The American Enlightenment 1750-1820 (1997), and Reading the Early Republic (2004), as well as numerous articles on American literature, legal history, and the relationship of law and legal institutions to American writing.

Thanks to Robert Ferguson for this valuable suggestion.

For previously nominated books in the "what's at stake in the debate over habeas corpus" series, click here, here, here, and here.

--Marshal Zeringue