Saturday, January 12, 2008

What Is Law?

Brian Tamanaha defines it here.

It's very short and readable, and very interesting! I am a big fan of Tamanaha's work, which I find really smart, but actually accessible. I long ago gave up on being a serious student of legal theory or philosophy, for the simple fact that it is usually incredibly dense, difficult reading and I had a hard time seeing its relevance to real life, or real on-the-street law, etc. And I was known as "Theory Head" in law school for my then-fluency with Critical Race Theory and deconstructionism! But I got sick of reading about the law as an idea, no more. I like Tamanaha's work because it makes the law real and palpable, and he tells you why it matters without resorting to abstruse, insufferably high-falutin' writing. Not to say that it's not good writing, but good writing isn't abstruse.

I am still working on a large book review of two of his books (On the Rule of Law; Law as a Means to an End), and I think I'll include this essay. Unfortunately I have packed up all of my books except the ones that I need in the immediate term, and so you will have to wait for that. Like, a long time.

I will not be saying anything insightful. I'm not really very well versed in legal theory, jurisprudnence, or political theory. I have a dabbling interest, and so will be writing the review with the eye towards an audience like me: lapsed political science majors or those interested in the law or politics, sort of. I will try to tell you why you should be interested and why you should care about abstract ideas like "the rule of law" or "The Law, definite articled and capitalized."

It's the year for it. It's the year that everyone tells you your civic duty and why you should care about politics, the environment, the War on Terror, etc. etc. Academics write for each other, and yet desire that their ideas matter to everyone else. Well, their ideas should be made relevant to everyone else, then. Academics do an awful job of that. They either resort to stupid, inapt metaphors or too many anecdotes, letting other stories communicate their ideas for them. Bad. It is a rare thing to be novel and interesting, say things your own way, but ground your ideas in reality and real life examples without being too clumsy. I appreciate scholars who try to make really important, interesting ideas relevant, understandable, and meaningful to people. Kermit Roosevelt's The Myth of Judicial Activism, Daniel Solove's The Future of Reputation and Eric Muller's American Inquisition are books that come to mind that are written for mass audiences and yet contain a lot of legal ideas and principles. I dig that. Tamanaha does so for really abstract, high level theory, and that is really cool.

So yes, read his work. I will not give you the Cliffnotes version for a month or two at least.


Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home