Tuesday, January 8, 2019
Following up on my previous posts:
John O. McGinnis (Northwestern), The Embedded Left-Liberal Assumptions of the Legal Academy:
The assumption that law schools should have a left-wing orientation is deeply problematic. Universities should have as their objective the production of knowledge, not activism. ... [D]emocratic stability is bolstered from having an engine that tries to discover truths even amidst its divisions of interest. And activism interferes with the university’s production of knowledge, because it leads directly to ideological discrimination and the erection of roadblocks of orthodoxy that impede truth seeking. To be sure, the law has a normative dimension, but norms also are a form of knowledge to which people can add and which they can refine. Thorstein Veblen thought that law schools had no more business in the university than schools of fencing, in part because they did not aim at producing knowledge. Moyn is proving him right.
The idea that law schools should steer students away from legal practice is an equally bad idea, particularly because it is bound up with another strand in Moyn’s essay—that law schools should imbue their students with a skepticism about the rule of law. This trope—drearily familiar from the critical legal studies movement—is obviously an ideological one as well. And in my view an indefensible one. To be sure, good societies have an imperfect commitment to the rule of law. But societies that lack that regulative ideal are truly dreadful ones.
Moreover, it is hardly obvious that lawyers at big law firms do not contribute more to society than cause lawyers, if one believes that the market economy does more in the long run for the poor than direct government intervention. By all means let this issue be debated, but law schools should not operate on a contrary assumption. Moreover, the contrary assumption will undermine the sense of proud professionalism that will allow many lawyers to lead happy and useful lives.
In the nineteenth century the case method was indeed the sum and substance of legal education. Now there is a welcome plurality of methods. If only there were a greater plurality of jurisprudential and political economy perspectives! Sadly, Moyn’s essay shows that left-liberalism is so ingrained in the legal academy that this kind of genuine pluralism will not appear for many generations. And that is the real problem law schools pose for the university and democracy.