Failed Revolutions: Social Reform and the Limits of Legal Imagination

By Richard Delgado; Jean Stefancic | Go to book overview

PART ONE
On the Difficulty of Imagining a Better Society

If we cannot envision a better world, our efforts to create one will obviously be hampered. Each of the three chapters that follow addresses a difficulty that we face in our imaginative capacities. The first chapter discusses a mechanism that our society relies on to counter error and facilitate reform: the marketplace of ideas. We point out that our vaunted system of free speech is much more effective in resolving small, clearly bounded controversies than in redressing deeply inscribed social ills such as racism and sexism. The second chapter focuses more narrowly on the judiciary. American society often counts on judges to promote, or at least not stand in the way of, social reform. Yet, even the greatest justice may hand down decisions so shocking that readers of a later age wonder how the judge could have written as he did. Drawing on the analysis laid out in the first chapter, we show how this is so. Chapter 3 focuses on the role of lawyers. Many attorneys begin their legal careers hoping to help the downtrodden and combat injustice. Yet the very categories of legal thought contained in widely used research and indexing systems cause the lawyer to rehearse familiar arguments and ask for limited, predictable forms of relief.

Judging, lawyering, and political debate all rely on words and categories. These, in turn, reflect our sense of the world, the way things are. They mirror social arrangements that work for us, enable us to function comfortably. Any new story, any new way of thinking about reality, can easily strike us as outlandish and wrong. It turns out that we are much less receptive to change than we like to think.

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