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Constitutional Fidelity, the Rule of Recognition, and the Communitarian Turn in Contemporary Positivism


Matthew D. Adler


Duke University - School of Law


Fordham Law Review, Vol. 75, p. 1671, 2006
University of Pennsylvania Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 06-19

Abstract:     
Contemporary positivism has taken a communitarian turn. Hart, in the Postscript to "The Concept of Law," clarifies that the rule of recognition is a special sort of social practice: a convention. It is not clear whether Hart, here, means convention in the strict sense elaborated by David Lewis, or in some weaker sense. A number of contemporary positivists, including Jules Coleman (at one point), Andrei Marmor, and Gerald Postema, have argued that the rule of recognition is something like a Lewis-convention. Others have suggested that the rule of recognition is conventional in a weaker sense - specifically, by figuring in a shared cooperative activity (SCA) among officials. Chris Kutz, Scott Shapiro, and Jules Coleman (more recently) have adopted this model.

This Article criticizes the Lewis-convention and SCA models of the rule of recognition, drawing on U.S. constitutional theory. Imagine a society of U.S. officials who are committed to the text of the 1787 Constitution in a strong way: each official would continue to accept the text as supreme law even if every other official defected to an alternative text, and no official is prepared to bargain or negotiate with the others about the supremacy of the text. The social practice among these officials is neither a Lewis-convention (since there is no alternative text to which every official would shift if every other official did), nor an SCA (since the officials have no general intention to mesh their conceptions of legal validity, and in particular have no intention to compromise with officials who deny the supremacy of the 1787 text).

Therefore, under the Lewis-convention and SCA models, a hypothetical society of U.S. officials who are committed, first and foremost, to the 1787 text rather than to the community of officials, is not a full-fledged legal system. But this is deeply counterintuitive. The hypothetical society simply embodies, in a particularly pure form, an attitude of fidelity to the 1787 text that many officials and citizens currently profess. The tension between the Lewis-convention and SCA models of the rule of recognition, and constitutional fidelity, points the way to a different model of the rule of recognition: namely, that the rule of recognition is a social norm.

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Date posted: April 25, 2006 ; Last revised: January 9, 2009

Suggested Citation

Adler, Matthew D., Constitutional Fidelity, the Rule of Recognition, and the Communitarian Turn in Contemporary Positivism. Fordham Law Review, Vol. 75, p. 1671, 2006; University of Pennsylvania Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 06-19. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=897988 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.897988

Contact Information

Matthew D. Adler (Contact Author)
Duke University - School of Law ( email )
Box 90360
Duke School of Law
Durham, NC 27708
United States
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