The James Wilson Foundation on Natural Rights and the American Founding

“Michael Martin Uhlmann, 1939 – 2019” Tributes from his friends, colleagues, and students in the Claremont Review of Books

The Claremont Review of Books recently published a collection of tributes, including one by JWI founder and director Hadley Arkes, in memoriam of Michael M. Uhlmann, who passed away on October 8, 2019. Below are some especially moving excerpts from each tribute.

“I came to realize that the no-nonsense authority I had first observed in Mike was neither an affectation nor central to his character, but rather necessary armor to make his way and hold his own, to gain and keep respect, in a series of cutthroat environments. When among friends, he didn’t need it, and so didn’t use it. As Mike himself said, and everyone who knew him said of him, he loved teaching infinitely more than he loved the law or even politics. He was finally doing what he wanted to do, what he felt born to do. And he was happy.”

– Michael Anton

“The final word is for Michael Uhlmann. Man of letters, counsel without peer, raconteur with limitless range, sustainer of families, runner to the rescue, devoted son of the Church, maddeningly self-effacing. For matters of moral consequence, enduring alertness; for pretension, unremitting jest. And in friendship, untiring, with the touch of grace that lifts everything.”

– Hadley Arkes

“Mike was a soft-spoken man of deep intelligence, one who combined a lovely sense of humor with an iron adherence to thought-through principle. Although he was only 32 when he came to me, he had already acquired an understanding of the Constitution’s political and philosophical roots that was of a depth and breadth that would prove of the greatest importance to me. What’s more, his analytical skills and ability to formulate effective arguments were of the highest order, and hence of the greatest utility to a newly hatched legislator.”

– James F. Buckley

“Many of Mike’s friends recounted the pleasures of his company. They and his students remembered the mischievous wit, the deft interruption, the telling anecdote, and the robust laughter of a man at ease with his world. His conversation, with or without whiskey or wine, always sparkled.”

– D. Alan Heslop

“He carried the burdens of his life with an air of quiet but immense dignity, leavened by humor and undergirded by immense and visceral gratitude to God for the sheer privilege of existing—in this time, this place, this country.”

– Wilfred M. McClay

“He lavished even greater attention and affection on his own students at the Claremont Graduate University—charming them with poetry, regaling them with stories, wowing them with his intellect, and showing them by his example the power of faith. He inspired in his students a rare devotion because he helped to shape not only their minds but their souls. An advocate of large families, Mike increased his own by folding his students into it. He celebrated their professional achievements, blessed their marriages, and rejoiced in their children. He understood what made for a good life and pointed the way, even or perhaps especially because he had known both happiness and heartache.”

– Jean M. Yarbrough

I knew Mike three or four years before I met him.  I was a young graduate student, and our teacher Harry Jaffa referred to Mike, who was working in Washington, constantly.  I built up a picture of a man sophisticated, canny, effective—also, profound.  His dissertation on the electoral college was the best thing on the subject and one of the best dissertations he had read.  It is still the foundation of everything I and the rest of us have written and thought on the subject.  Also, Mike could accomplish whatever he wished, said the the professor—but he had better wish what I wish him to wish!

When I finally met Mike, I was not ready for the sense of humor and good will that possessed his whole being.  His tongue was quick, but not as quick as his eyes.  They told you that he was already enjoying something he was about to say.  After you had seen the pattern a time or two, Mike could make you laugh by looking at you.  Of course his body would shake in a particular way when he laughed and yours would too.  

He was a teacher of our eldest Katy and her now-husband Dan.  As a teacher he had this firm kindness:  attentive and demanding at the same time.  Of course they love and loved him.  Behind their backs he said things to a father to make his heart swell.  

One always prays that the departed will be in heaven; I cannot imagine Mike anywhere else.  His gift of happiness was so constant, even in a life with its share of trouble, that he was made for it. Not possible for us mortals to think what we could do with eternity, but listening to Mike tell stories gives a hint.  

We miss him and cherish his memory.

– Dr. Larry P. Arnn

You can read each of the tributes, in their entirety, here.

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Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.
— James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1790