This article explores the productive uses of amateurism in comparative law through a close reading of the life and work of John Henry Wigmore, the founder of the American tradition of comparative law who first came to the subject as a young missionary for the Langdellian style of American legal education in turn-of-the-century Japan. Drawing on anthropological and linguistic theory, the article explains amateurism as a post-Realist epithet for formalism. It seeks to counter the received view of the discipline as a pure product of American and European critiques of legal classicism by demonstrating how Wigmore's turn to the performative dimensions of legal formalism, at a moment when formalism found itself under Realist attack, provided a sustaining vision of the discipline. The power and creativity of formalist performance, as well as its limitations and even dangers, as deployed by Wigmore, raise questions relevant beyond comparative law about the aesthetic dimensions of American formalism.

Date of this Version

January 2001