Law and Magic: A(nother) Paradox?

52 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2015  

Rostam J. Neuwirth

University of Macau - Faculty of Law, E32

Date Written: June 9, 2015


In the past, paradoxes and similar rhetorical figures that are summarized by the term “essentially oxymoronic concepts”, have been frequently applied to describe mystical experiences or, more generally, “change” that represents the uncertain or the unknown. Thus, their usage has primarily been a privilege of the arts, literature or the occult sciences. Today, however, essentially oxymoronic concepts are increasingly permeating scientific, legal and other public discourses as much as advertisements or daily conversations. Concepts like “globalization paradox”, “co-opetition”, and “piracy paradox”, products labeled “ice tea” and “Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs)”, and films entitled “True Lies”, are just a few examples that testify to this wider trend. Their usage appears especially prevalent in attempts to scientifically describe and understand the often complex relations between two or more different phenomena or fields. In this regard, the relation between law and magic may be no exception, as it can also be framed by, or gives rise to, several paradoxes. For instance, in early history, and later, in the context of colonialism, laws have often outlawed magic as “witchcraft” or “charlatanry”, based on the belief that their character is irrational, as opposed to the rational character of the law. Paradoxically though, contemporary laws and legal practice still maintain a high degree of rites, rituals and rhetoric, similar to those that have been applied in magic. Similarly, as Jerome Frank has remarked, despite the law’s focus on certainty, it striking to see how often “magical phrases” are used in its language. The apparent contradictions in the nature and language of the law are therefore taken as an opportunity to cast some light on various issues that link law and magic in order to gain some insights about the nature, origin, and role of law generally.

Keywords: Law, Magic, Law and ..., Essentially Oxymoronic Concepts, Oxymora, Paradoxes

JEL Classification: K10, K19, K4

Suggested Citation

Neuwirth, Rostam J., Law and Magic: A(nother) Paradox? (June 9, 2015). Thomas Jefferson Law Review, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2014, pp. 139-190. Available at SSRN:

Rostam Josef Neuwirth (Contact Author)

University of Macau - Faculty of Law, E32 ( email )

Avenida da Universidade
Taipa, Macau
+(853) 8822-4085 (Phone)
+(853) 8822-2380 (Fax)


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