The Practice of Law in the Peaceable Kingdom: Milner Ball's Theology of American Law

33 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2007


Milner Ball occupies a unique place in American legal thought. Over the decades, in many articles and four books, he has developed a coherent and critical theology of American law. He combines philosophical sophistication with a suspicion of the natural law tradition often invoked by philosophers and theologians in their understandings of law. This essay shows how Ball's contributions in three areas are animated by an underlying vision. The first section focuses on his conversations with Hannah Arendt. He generally agrees with Arendt in her skepticism about natural law and the importance of narrative and, in particular, the narrative of beginnings. On the other hand, he criticizes her account of the American beginning and her conviction that the Biblical tradition is politically irrelevant. The second section discusses Ball's account of the importance of story and theatre in American law, the centrality of finding the right metaphors for understanding law, his emphasis on legal rhetoric and legal practices, and his sharp criticism of the rule of law as the law of rules. The final section of the essay links both his narrative understanding of foundations and his theatrical account of legal procedures to the form of "religionless Christianity" he developed from two of his primary theological sources, Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Keywords: Jurisprudence, Legal Philosophy, Humanities

Suggested Citation

Burns, Robert P., The Practice of Law in the Peaceable Kingdom: Milner Ball's Theology of American Law. Georgia Law Review, 2007, Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 07-14, Available at SSRN:

Robert P. Burns (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-6613 (Phone)
312-503-8977 (Fax)

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