The Great Alliance: History, Reason, and Will in Modern Law

36 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2015 Last revised: 1 Apr 2015

Date Written: March 4, 2015


This article offers an interpretation of the intellectual and political origins of modern law in the nineteenth century and its consequences for contemporary legal thought.

Social theoretical analyses of law and legal thought tend to emphasize rupture and change. Histories of legal thought tend to draw a picture of strife between different schools of jurisprudence. Such analyses and histories fail to account for the extent to which present legal thought is the continuation of a jurisprudential settlement that occurred in the nineteenth century. That settlement tamed the will of the masses under the influence of authoritative legal thought, conceptions of political morality, and a general sense of social evolution.

The principal mechanism of the settlement was a compact between legal rationalism and historicism to which popular will acceded. After a period of polarization around the time of the American and French revolutions, nineteenth century legal rationalism came to see historical events as the outcome of the cunning operation of reason in the world, and legal historicism came to appeal to the rationalizations of legal reason in order to endow historical matter with both conceptual stability and intellectual authority. Popular will bought into both. Modern law and the main schools of legal thought have remained, ever since, bound to this convergence of reason and history in the face of will. Modern law is therefore as much about continuity as it is about rupture; as much about unity as it is about strife.

Keywords: Modern Law, Law as Moral Imagination, Legal Rationalism, Legal Historicism, Popular Will and Law, The Great Alliance

JEL Classification: K10, K20, K30, K40

Suggested Citation

Barrozo, Paulo, The Great Alliance: History, Reason, and Will in Modern Law (March 4, 2015). Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 78, No. 1, 2015, Boston College Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 353, Available at SSRN:

Paulo Barrozo (Contact Author)

Boston College - Law School ( email )

885 Centre Street
Newton, MA 02459-1163
United States
(617)552-4388 (Phone)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics