The Reenchantment of Law

38 Pages Posted: 27 May 2011 Last revised: 4 Jul 2011

See all articles by Yishai Blank

Yishai Blank

Tel Aviv University - Buchmann Faculty of Law

Date Written: March 1, 2011


The religious revival observed throughout the world since the 1980s is making its mark on legal theory, threatening to shift the jurisprudential battleground from debates over law’s indeterminacy and power to conflicts over law’s grounds, meaning, unity, coherence, and metaphysical underpinnings. Following the immense impact of the legal-realist movement on American jurisprudence, the major jurisprudential conflicts in the United States throughout the twentieth century revolved around the themes of the indeterminacy and power inherent in adjudication (and the resulting delegitimization of it), pitting theories that emphasized these critical themes against schools of thought that tried to reconstruct and reconstitute the determinacy and legitimacy of adjudication. Over the past couple of decades, however, a new jurisprudential dividing line has emerged without attracting much notice or attention. This new divide, which I draw in this Essay, is between thinkers who adhere to a disenchanted, instrumentalist, and secularized view of the law and theoreticians who try to reenchant it by reintroducing a degree of magic, sacredness, and mystery into the law; by reconnecting it to a transcendental or even divine sphere; by finding unity and coherence in the entirety of the legal field; and by bringing metaphysics “back” into the study of law.

Thus a new stage in the evolution of modern legal theory is emerging in which formal legal rationality is no longer the high point of legal disenchantment (as Max Weber saw it) but a model for law’s reenchantment as against the almost universally accepted disenchanting legal theories. And although the question of legal interpretation - and the possibility of objective and legitimate adjudication - is still motivating some of these theories, the reenchanting theories aim to shift the jurisprudential debates from questions of the consequences of legal principles and rules to fundamental questions concerning the grounds of law. This ground shifting might invoke new jurisprudential conflicts between secularism and religiosity, between pragmatism and metaphysics, and between critical and magical thinking. In order to evaluate and demonstrate my claim I analyze four exemplary (though not exhaustive) modes of legal reenchantment that have emerged over the last thirty years: the reenchantment of legal formalism, the reenchantment of virtue, the reenchantment of law as art, and the reenchantment of legal authorities.

Keywords: legal theory, jurisprudence, disenchantment, reenchantment, religious revival, Weber, law and economics, critical legal studies, legal formalism, feminism, Dworkin, legal realism, political theology, private law theory

Suggested Citation

Blank, Yishai, The Reenchantment of Law (March 1, 2011). Cornell Law Review, Vol. 96, p. 633, 2011, Available at SSRN:

Yishai Blank (Contact Author)

Tel Aviv University - Buchmann Faculty of Law ( email )

Ramat Aviv
Tel Aviv, 69978


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