The New Legal Criticism
Columbia Law Review Online, Vol. 117, pp. 144-164, 2017
22 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2017
Date Written: 2017
Professors Hanoch Dagan and Avihay Dorfman’s article Just Relationships is a fundamental reinterpretation of the moral ideals of large swaths of private law. Its significance, however, may go beyond even that broad ambition. In this Response, I suggest that Just Relationships is also an exemplar — perhaps par excellence — of an emergent form of critical discourse, which may itself foreshadow a paradigm shift in contemporary critical legal scholarship. That new form of scholarship might usefully be dubbed “the new legal criticism.” The label serves partly as an echo of the “New Criticism” movement that emerged in literary criticism in the middle of the twentieth-century, which, in methodological ways, the new legal criticism very much resembles. But primarily, the label “new legal criticism” suggests that this ascendant group of legal scholars articulates a different point of departure for critical thinking about law — particularly for critical thinking about private law — from that which most immediately preceded it in twentieth century legal thought: the critical legal studies movement.
Part I describes new legal criticism and compares it with the critical legal scholarship movements of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Part II further expands my claim that Just Relationships is a good exemplar of the new legal criticism by looking at the roles played by relational justice in Dagan and Dorfman’s explication of their jurisprudential claims. Part III looks at the limits of new legal criticism, again as exemplified by Just Relationships. I will explore whether the reliance of the new legal criticism on law itself in the development of the idea of justice limits its potency as a form of criticism by comparing the authors’ discussion of discrimination in housing with a subject they do not address, at-will employment. Finally, the conclusion explores possible avenues of further exploration within the authors’ chosen field — private law, largely understood — and within the parameters set by the new legal criticism’s premises.
Keywords: scholarship, new legal criticism, legal scholars, critical legal scholars, Hanoch Dagan, Avihay Dorfman, interpersonal justice, private law
JEL Classification: K00, K30, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation