Knowledge vs. Wisdom: The Sad Case of Karin Calvo-Goller
“Karin Calvo-Goller has undoubtedly invested much time and effort into this book, which – but for regrettably sloppy editing – might well serve as a first systematic introduction to the procedural issues confronting the ICC. What is still missing is a book that might help to resolve these issues.”
It’s not the best book review one could hope for, but neither is it the worst. Undoubtedly it would have gone unnoticed by almost everyone if she had used better judgment. (Before this story, how many of you have ever read a review from Global Law Books?)
Poor Karin Calvo-Goller. I have been thinking quite a bit about Karin Calvo-Goller and her strange libel case against Joseph Weiler. The details of the affair are now well-known to you and will not need repeating here. Far more interesting to me is the question of the wisdom of academics and spectacularly bad judgment of Calvo-Goller.
We have come to expect bizarre behavior from celebrities like Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan. We assume that celebrities are self-important, insecure and dysfunctional. Not so with professional academics. We assume that learned professors combine expert knowledge with practical wisdom. But, alas, that is not always the case.
Let’s be honest, many legal academics are a strange lot. At their best, they forego riches to pursue a higher calling of knowledge. Good for them. But occasionally one senses they are not pursuing knowledge for the sake of knowledge alone. Along the way they come to cherish their reputations, and will exert great effort to burnish their images. I do not fault academics for being concerned about their reputations. But there is a distinction between reputation and vanity. It is in the breathless pursuit of vanity that we are overexposed to bad episodes of professors gone wild.
Many law professors frequently commit errors of vanity. They keep score. They are thin-skinned. They become caught up in their own self-importance. They crow about their latest congressional testimony or busy speaking schedule. Occasionally they will go to extreme measures and write laughable law review articles to stand out from the crowd. They feel slighted when they are not invited to speak at a conference within their area of expertise. These transgressions are common enough and obvious to almost everyone–except the ones who commit the error. But these mistakes are relatively harmless and easily forgivable.
Then there is the sad case of Karin Calvo-Goller. I’m not a international criminal law scholar, and frankly had never heard of her before the Joseph Weiler affair. Her decision to sue for criminal libel is the most notorious example of knowledge without wisdom that I have ever encountered in the legal profession. She is the poster child for the proverbial warning that “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Someone who once was a respected scholar in her field is now the object of derision. The book reviews on Amazon.com make one cringe. Her book has 52 one-star reviews that give one a sense of the public outrage:
Shame on this author.
Anyone who would file a meritless lawsuit … shouldn’t be allowed near crayons, much less writing implements customarily used by grown-ups.
The fact that she’d file criminal charges for a lukewarm review makes me suspect her competence.
This book is both good and original. The part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good.
She sounds as if she is nuts.
The book also has a handful of mock five-star reviews, including these gems:
Better than the Bible!
The author is righteous, her work without peer. Seldom in the history of global letters, or in the circle of its most accomplished artisans and practitioners, has a human being emerged with [such] gifts of perception, foresight, [and] literary verve
I laughed, I cried, I loved!
Karin Calvo-Goller will never live this day down the rest of her professional career. It will haunt her to the grave. “Pride is a great vice,” warned St. Augustine. “It is the first of vices, the beginning, origin and cause of all sins.”