The Decline of Natural Law and the Rise of Exclusive Positivism

75 SMU Law Review Forum 174 (2022)

18 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2022

Date Written: February 28, 2022


Stuart Banner’s "The Decline of Natural Law: How American Lawyers Once Used Natural Law and Why They Stopped" examines a major change in American legal thought that occurred between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Prior to this change, lawyers regularly relied on natural law; afterwards, natural law dropped out of the lawyer’s toolkit. In this review of Banner’s book, I argue that his account of the decline of natural law has important implications for both the substance and methodology of general jurisprudence. On the one hand, his account provides a plausible history of how American lawyers’ concept of law gradually came to cohere with exclusive positivism. On the other hand, his account suggests that our concept of law is more parochial than it is sometimes assumed to be, thus highlighting the limits of conceptual analysis for general jurisprudence.

Keywords: natural law, legal positivism, exclusive legal positivism, general jurisprudence, conceptual analysis

Suggested Citation

Watson, Bill, The Decline of Natural Law and the Rise of Exclusive Positivism (February 28, 2022). 75 SMU Law Review Forum 174 (2022), Available at SSRN:

Bill Watson (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States


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