Professions and Professional Ideologies in America

By Gerald L. Geison | Go to book overview

5 Legal Thought and Legal Practice in the Age of American Enterprise
1870-1920

Robert W. Gordon

This essay surveys some of the problems and possibilities of trying to relate the more abstract thought produced by legal elites of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to their practices -- to their ordinary ways of acting and making a living in society. 1 This is a task that most legal history quite sensibly does not attempt, preferring to detach legal ideas from their social setting and to treat their development as an autonomous process with a logic, coherence, and dynamic of its own. Historians who do undertake to relate legal thought to practice usually do so in one or both of two ways: (1) They treat law -- its institutions, doctrines, processes, norms-as a kind of problem-solving technology, developed as a functional response to certain social needs. From this perspective, corporate law is seen as a response to the need to mobilize capital in larger amounts than familybased partnerships permit; doctrines that increase the negotiability of commercial paper or recognize the binding effect of new forms of secured financing are seen as responses to the need for greater predictability in marketplace dealing; and legislation or adjudication that substitutes uniform for local regulation is supposed to respond to the need to reduce uncertainty about the flow of interstate capital. 2 In this mode of legal history, the "social needs" themselves are usually rather vaguely conceived as unproblematic social universals (stability, the organization of claims to scarce resources) or as inherent elements in some process of large-scale historical change (Western capitalism, economic development, the extension of the market, secularization). (2) Otherwise historians who try to relate legal thought to practice tend to

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Professions and Professional Ideologies in America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • 1 - Introduction 3
  • 2 - The Profession That Vanished 12
  • 3 - Stewards of the Mysteries of God 29
  • 4 - What We Shall Meet Afterwards in Heaven 49
  • 5 - Legal Thought and Legal Practice in the Age of American Enterprise 70
  • Notes 111
  • Index 141
  • Notes on Contributors 149
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