After the end of legal thought
The book of which this chapter is a part acts out a search for Contemporary Legal Thought. Presumably it remains a search and not a discovery, because nobody seems already to know what Contemporary Legal Thought might be, or even whether it exists. But what could it mean for such an entity to exist at all? If the search goes well, how would you know, what would you find? Might Contemporary Legal Thought exist verifiably, as a giraffe exists? Alternatively, perhaps, its existence is not independently verifiable but still very real, like faith. What these questions are getting at, and what makes the search for Contemporary Legal Thought simultaneously important and dreadfully opaque, is the intermixture of two relatively unfamiliar distinctions that the designation Contemporary Legal Thought conflates: the distinction between the Present and the Contemporary, and the distinction between Law and Legal Thought. It is to these distinctions that I will dedicate the next several pages, but before I do so it is probably worth asking, why go searching in the first place? Is it necessary or even useful to know Contemporary Legal Thought? Concededly, a search for a species of “thought” sounds silly, something like the formalistic conceptualism Felix Cohen savaged in his ridicule of the question, “Where is a corporation?” (Cohen 1935). But are these, in fact, the same kind of questions? My intuition is that they are not. As I see it, “Contemporary Legal Thought” signals the existence of a particular way in which the jurist – that persona of legal expertise – deals with one’s professional practice (McVeigh 2015). And given that I have this persona, and that you probably do too, the existence of Contemporary Legal Thought – if indeed it does exist – seems intimately involved in our existence as legal professionals. Contemporary Legal Thought cuts to the quick, for what can this be about but, in an inversion of Peter Goodrich’s turn of phrase, “who we are?” (Goodrich 2017: 43). The involvement of something as highfalutin as “Legal Thought” in our professional practice, not to mention the question of better understanding (in a Heideggerian sense) who “we” are, might be surprising, but helpful too (Dreyfus and Taylor 2015). Knowledge of our professional selves can facilitate legal reform, not to mention existential edification.
Desautels-Stein, J. (Justin). (2017). After the end of legal thought. In Searching for Contemporary Legal Thought (pp. 517–532). doi:10.1017/9781316584361.028