Fear of Freedom: A Polemic Against Policy Scholarship

119 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2001

See all articles by Jeanne L. Schroeder

Jeanne L. Schroeder

Yeshiva University - Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law

Date Written: March 2001


In this Article, Professor Schroeder critiques the dominance of policy oriented scholarship in the legal academy and argues that jurisprudential, theoretical, and doctrinal scholarship should have equal prestige and presence in academia if for no other reason that these forms of scholarship more closely relate to the practice of law that will engage most of our students. Indeed, she argues that despite prevailing perception that policy oriented scholarship is pragmatic and hard-headed, other forms of scholarship have much greater practical application.

Although she addresses her critique specifically towards recent trends in law-and-economic scholarship specifically, it is aimed towards policy oriented scholarship generally. She also suggests that critical legal scholarship might be revitalized by a new approach to theory informed by the Continental speculative tradition originating with the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and G.W.F. Hegel and continuing into the twentieth century with the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan. She contrasts the thin concept of rationality adopted by both the law-and-economics and critical legal studies movements on the one hand with the thicker one adopted by speculative thought on the other.

She suggests a reason for both the overwhelming dominance of policy oriented scholarship among legal academics as well as the estrangement of so much of legal academia from legal practice. Theoreticians and doctrinalists address the law from the perspective of those who are affected by or practice it. Policy scholarship, in contrast, makes recommendations to legislatures and activist judges who write the law. As such, policy scholarship reflects a fundamental fear of freedom. Policy oriented scholars attempt to use the law as a tool to subject others to their control in order to achieve what they see as society's objective purposes. Speculative theorists, doctrinal scholars and practicing attorneys, on the contrary, seek to understand how the law affects those who are subjected to it and to help them use the law to achieve their own subjective purposes. Consequently, policy scholars seek a definition of rationality as predictable behavior. In contrast, speculative theory suggests that it is irrational behavior that is rigidly predictable and that rationality is nothing but the capacity for pure spontaneity.

In recent years, Richard Posner has loosed a blistering tirade on the use of neo-Kantian moral theory in legal policy making. Prof. Schroeder shows that this attack is of a piece with the utilitarian grounds of neo-classical economics that Posner preaches. Kant's theories of freedom and rationality are inextricably linked to his moral theory. Both are antithetical to the economic understanding of rationality as ends-means reasoning. Posner is absolutely correct, therefore, that in order to adopt a theory of economic rationality one must also reject Kantian moral theory; utilitarianism's fear of freedom and a hatred of Kantianism are one and the same thing. Nevertheless, despite her promotion of speculative theory in this Article, Prof. Schroeder wishes also partially to defend Posner from the attacks of such neo-Kantians such as Ronald Dworkin. The type of detailed normative policy advice often proffered in the name of Neo-Kantianism is, in fact, inconsistent with Kantian theory and the speculative tradition it engendered.

Prof. Schroeder also suggests one reason why the earlier "crit" movement disintegrated: critical legal scholarship failed fully to realize the implications of its position. As a result it implicitly repeated the basic assumptions about law, rationality and markets adopted by the law-and-economics movement, albeit coming to diametrically opposite conclusions. Consequently, the crits unintentionally strengthened the very legal position they purported to attack.

Most importantly, she suggests why the law-and-economics movement has consistently refused to acknowledge, let alone respond, to external criticism. From the perspective of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, law and economics, on the one hand, and speculative theory and legal practice, on the other, are literally speaking in two different discourses. The former policy oriented scholarship speaks "the discourse of the university" whereas truly critical theorists, doctrinal scholars and practicing attorneys speak "the discourse of the hysteric". These two discourses can not communicate directly because they presuppose radically different audiences. Policy scholars claim to speak for the governor, whereas theoreticians and doctrinalists try to understand the speech of the governed. Schematically, each is the logical obverse of the other.

Suggested Citation

Schroeder, Jeanne L., Fear of Freedom: A Polemic Against Policy Scholarship (March 2001). Cardozo Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 35. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=262349 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.262349

Jeanne L. Schroeder (Contact Author)

Yeshiva University - Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law ( email )

55 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10003
United States
212-790-0211 (Phone)
212-790-0205 (Fax)

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