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Ideology, Psychology, and Law


Jon D. Hanson


Harvard Law School

January 1, 2012

Ideology, Psychology and Law, 2012
Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 12-18

Abstract:     
Formally, the law is based solely on reasoned analysis, devoid of ideological biases or unconscious influences. Judges claim to act as umpires applying the rules, not making them. They frame their decisions as straightforward applications of an established set of legal doctrines, principles, and mandates to a given set of facts. As most legal scholars understand, however, the impression that the legal system projects is largely an illusion. As far back as 1881, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. made a similar claim, writing that “the felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow-men, have a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed.”

More than a century later, we are now much closer to understanding the mechanisms responsible for the gap between the formal face of the law and the actual forces shaping it. Over the last decade or so, political scientists and legal academics have begun studying the linkages between ideologies, on one hand, and legal principles and policy outcomes on the other. During that same period, mind scientists have turned to understanding the psychological sources of ideology. This book is the first to bring many of the world’s experts on those topics together to examine the sometimes unsettling interactions between psychology, ideology, and law, and to better understand what, beyond and beneath the logic, animates the law.

This introductory chapter describes why this volume came together when it did and provides an overview of the general sections and the individual chapters and comments in the book. It begins with a brief, loose, and highly stylized history of the relationships between ideology, psychology, and law — a history premised on the oversimplifying assertion that something changed around the year 2000.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 30

Keywords: Ideology, Psychology, Law, Legal Theory, Social Psychology, Mind Sciences, Social Cognition

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Date posted: February 29, 2012 ; Last revised: June 28, 2012

Suggested Citation

Hanson, Jon D., Ideology, Psychology, and Law (January 1, 2012). Ideology, Psychology and Law, 2012; Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 12-18. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2012939

Contact Information

Jon D. Hanson (Contact Author)
Harvard Law School ( email )
1563 Massachusetts
Griswold 403
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
607-496-5207 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/directory/facdir.php?id=25
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