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The Dance of History

By Christopher Shannon


John Henry Schlegel, American Legal Realism and Empirical Social Science. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995. Pp. xii, 418. $55.00 John Henry Schlegel has written a book that attempts to explain why law has not followed the path of other academic disciplines in adopting a natural-science model of empirical inquiry. He convincingly argues that by the time legal academics confronted empirical science in the guise of Legal Realism during the 1920\u27s, American legal education had already undergone a kind of scientific revolution: the adoption in the late nineteenth century of the Langdellian caselaw method, a deductive approach that saw the law library as a sufficient \u22field\u22 for legal research. This intellectual practice, and the professional identity that grew up around it, has made empirical research a \u22square wheel\u22 in American legal education. Schlegel offers this contextual explanation for the marginality of Realism as \u22an invitation to open a discussion about what intellectual history... is and has become as this century closes\u22 (260). Following Realism\u27s own move from legal texts to social contexts, Schlegel insists that \u22rather than a history of ideas, intellectual history needs to be the history of intellectuals, people who do things with ideas\u22 (5). In the spirit of this invitation, my Review focuses more on Schlegel\u27s approach to Realism than on his account of it. Schlegel dismisses the history of ideas as \u22an essentially empty exercise,\u22 and calls on historians to give up \u22the dance of reason\u22 in order to embrace \u22the whole dance of life\u22 (4, 261). Schlegel\u27s book, however, reveals this move from text to context to be nothing more than the dance of history, an essentially empty exercise in causal explanation. In this Essay, I examine Schlegel\u27s book not only as an account of American Legal Realism, but also as a symptom of a fundamental structural incoherence in the conception of intellectual history as an academic discipline

Topics: Arts and Humanities, History, Law
Publisher: Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository
Year: 2013
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