Law and the Utopian Imagination

Law and the Utopian Imagination

Law and the Utopian Imagination

Law and the Utopian Imagination

Synopsis

Law and the Utopian Imagination seeks to explore and resuscitate the notion of utopianism within current legal discourse. The idea of utopia has fascinated the imaginations of important thinkers for ages. And yet-who writes seriously on the idea of utopia today?

The mid-century critique appears to have carried the day, and a belief in the very possibility of utopian achievements appears to have flagged in the face of a world marked by political instability, social upheaval, and dreary market realities. Instead of mapping out the contours of a familiar terrain, this book seeks to explore the possibilities of a productive engagement between the utopian and the legal imagination. The book asks: is it possible to re-imagine or revitalize the concept of utopia such that it can survive the terms of the mid-century liberal critique? Alternatively, is it possible to re-imagine the concept of utopia and the theory of liberal legality so as to dissolve the apparent antagonism between the two? In charting possible answers to these questions, the present volume hopes to revive interest in a vital topic of inquiry too long neglected by both social thinkers and legal scholars.

Excerpt

Lawrence Douglas, Austin Sarat, Martha Merrill Umphrey

In 1922, toward the conclusion of his first book, Story of Utopias, the American sociologist Lewis Mumford wrote, “Our most important task at the present moment is to build castles in the sky.” in 1929, in his classic work Ideology and Utopia, the German sociologist Karl Mannheim offered a similarly emphatic defense of the importance of Utopian thinking: “The complete elimination of reality-transcending elements from our world,” Mannheim wrote, “ultimately would mean the decay of the human will …. the disappearance of Utopia brings about a static state of affairs in which man himself becomes no more than a thing.” a scant two decades later, a very different tone sounded in the pages of three of the most influential social thinkers of the midcentury Writing independently, Karl Popper, Lionel Trilling, and Isaiah Berlin essayed critiques of utopianism that, taken together, delivered a broad indictment of Utopian thinking. Far from locating in the Utopian imagination a vital force for human betterment and social progress, these midcentury thinkers powerfully argued that utopianism paves the way to totalitarianism and that its logical endpoint is not the peaceful community of equals but the death camp. in particular, these thinkers laid bare the particular antagonisms between utopianism and liberal legality—finding in the former a dire threat to the salutary commitments of the latter.

Who, then, writes seriously on the idea of Utopia today? the answer would seem to be: almost no one, and least of all scholars of the law. the midcentury critique appears to have carried the day, and a belief in the very possibility of Utopian achievements—bracketing for a moment the question of their desirability—appears to have flagged in the face of a world marked by political instability, social upheaval, and dreary market realities. True, one can find in the . . .

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