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Of Law and Self-Loathing

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3 Responses

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    This is a beautifully-written post. But I confess I’m a little surprised that people see some sort of paradox or contradiction. Maybe it dims if one dials down the rhetoric so that rather than worrying over law’s being both “inadequate and indispensable” to accomplish the social changes that are desired, it’s simply “necessary but not sufficient” for that end. While the former phrase apparently induces some kind of anguished and perhaps paralyzed feeling, the second makes it clear that there’s still work to be done.

    I remember reading Roberto Unger’s 1983 HLR article on CLS when it appeared; by more than halfway through its cumulative effect was to set me giggling. He seemed to be saying that the purpose of law should be to be constantly undermining law. Though not in the sense you mention, this struck me as a kind of Che-envy, too. (The giggling may also have had something to do with recalling seeing him around Cambridge in the ’70s, eating patisserie and reading the Pléiade edition of Proust while in lounging a gold-lamé running suit.)

    Could it be that some of the frisson of CLS would have been missing if people hadn’t somehow had the idea that law and politics were separate fields? I’m at a loss to understand how anyone could take a Con law course and still see a gap, but maybe it’s not such a good idea that political theory is missing from the typical US law school curriculum. Maybe reading Aristotle’s Politics or Machiavelli’s Discourses or something by Vaclav Havel or Gene Sharp would help students to understand that a legal system alone can’t cure everything. My university subdivision in Japan is called a “college of law and politics” in English (albeit “legal studies division” (hougakubu) in Japanese), and I’m teaching both subjects.

  2. The image of Roberto Unger in my mind’s eye has been irreparably damaged by the thought of him “eating patisserie and reading the Pléiade edition of Proust while in lounging a gold-lamé running suit.”

    And I would have thought familiarity with natural law philosophy and traditions would have reconciled one to the idea of a necessary metaphysical and moral distance between law and justice even as one is motivated to rely on justice as a lodestar in one’s work within the law (or in the citizen’s willingness to obey, live with, or respect the law while remaining sensitive to its moral shortcomings). A.J. cites Aristotle, so I’ll mention Plato: the Republic, the Apology, the Crito, and the Laws should be a fundamental part of any law school curriculum.

  3. A.J. Sutter says:

    Sorry, Patrick. It was more than once, outdoors at The Blacksmith House on Brattle Street (which then had a famous bakery), during the summer of 1976 or 1977. I’m inclined to think the latter, since I was working at Schoenhof’s foreign bookstore and very familiar with the Pléiade volumes by then.