Failed Revolutions: Social Reform and the Limits of Legal Imagination

Failed Revolutions: Social Reform and the Limits of Legal Imagination

Failed Revolutions: Social Reform and the Limits of Legal Imagination

Failed Revolutions: Social Reform and the Limits of Legal Imagination


"Focusing on the crucial discipline of the law, Failed Revolutions casts light on the many forces working against meaningful social change. Through the construction of authority, the marginalization of dissenting views, and institutions designed to replicate established opinion, the legal profession systematically blocks not just the possibility of change but even our ability to imagine it. Failed Revolutions will be of particular interest for lawyers and legal scholars, but its wide implications make it valuable reading for any citizen concerned with the possibility of social reform." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


We want change--or so we tell ourselves. We are troubled when we see poverty and homelessness. We are disturbed when African-American despair continues, and even deepens, two decades after the civil rights revolution of the 1960s. the environmental crisis worsens every day. People of different backgrounds, speaking in accents that sound strange and foreign to our ears, crowd our sidewalks. the sights and smells of our cities oppress. Crime increases. Our national culture, the consensus that bound us together, seems to be coming apart.

We sense that we are in trouble. We have endless discussions on television, radio, and in the national press about the need for new policies for the cities, for the environment, for education, for redirecting military spending. We try to imagine what would be better. We create task forces and national commissions, and we propose legislation.

Yet these earnest and well-meaning efforts to change things have a way of going for naught. a court or governmental agency disappoints, fails to carry through. Expected allies steal away. Beneficiaries turn out to be less grateful, more difficult to work with. the problem proves more intractable than we had thought. Distracted perhaps by a new and even more pressing crisis, we turn our attention elsewhere, leaving a legacy of half- filled promises and empty programs in our wake.

How and why these things happen is the subject of this book. We write for the reader who wishes things were better--indeed, who may have given time or energy to that end--but is baffled by the slow pace of social change. We write for the reader who is troubled by our time's being one of particular stagnation, when most of the serious business of past reform movements seems to be at a standstill. We write for the reader who struggles to understand why momentum appears to be as often backward as forward--why most revolutions, in the words of our title, fail.

The two of us are, respectively, a law professor and a legal writer-information specialist. in our private lives, both of us have immersed ourselves in reform movements whose unfinished states we find deplorable and puzzling. Because our common area of expertise is the law, many of the examples that follow are drawn from that area. Yet we believe--fear, really--that our conclusions are generalizable, that many of the same limita-

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