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Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy

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ISBN-13: 978-0674018495
ISBN-10: 0674018494
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Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy + Active Liberty: Interpreting Our Democratic Constitution + A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law (The University Center for Human Values Series)
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Editorial Reviews


Judge Posner offers a vigorous and extended contemporary elaboration of Churchill's aphorism that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others. He surveys much recent literature on the subject, and as might be expected, he does not favor high-minded participatory and deliberative versions of democratic theory. But overall his is a much more robust defense of existing democratic institutions than has been usual in recent work by those who view politics from the perspective of economics and public choice theory. He also expands in an interesting way on the important pragmatic account of adjudication developed in his earlier writings. The book represents a provocative and readable stretch of the authors ongoing reflections on the intellectual scene: the economist/jurist/judge at the breakfast table. (Thomas Grey, Stanford Law School)

This hook is sure to provoke attention to the topic of democratic theory. Among the book's many strengths are the discussions of pragmatism, philosophical and everyday; Dewey on democracy, experimentalism, and distributed intelligence; Schumpeter on democracy; John Marshall's greatness; Kelsen's legal theory and, to a lesser extent because it is a lesser theory, Hayek's legal theory; and the anti-trust theory of judicial decision on the democratic process. These seemingly disparate topics belong together so well that the book sustains reading straight through, as is seldom true of academic works. (Russell Hardin, Stanford University)

Posner...presents a brilliant defense of the manner in which Americans organize and operate their government...This book is to be read and reread if one is to understand the intricacies of American constitutional democracy. (R. J. Steamer Choice 2003-11-01)

Posner is very convincing when he describes how the American political system actually works, how the federal courts actually function, and how public opinion and elections begin to play a role only when the political elites have made a mess of things. This book is one of his best--vigorously argued and written with wit and panache...He is a genuinely original thinker, as well as a prodigy of learning. Able to draw upon an amazingly broad range of reading, he resists stereotypes and allegiances, and goes his own way. (Richard Rorty Dissent 2003-08-01)

This elegant analysis of democratic theory, by a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, argues for a legal pragmatism that pays greater attention to the consequences of what we do than to abstract principle. (New York Times Book Review 2006-01-08)

Judge Posner's book makes a valuable contribution to an expanded understanding of the tense yet mutually reinforcing interaction of law and democracy. (Arthur Jacobson and John McCormack International Journal of Constitutional Law)

About the Author

Richard A. Posner is Circuit Judge, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 31, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674018494
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674018495
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #954,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard A. Posner is a judge of the U.S. Court Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of numerous books, including Overcoming Law, a New York Times Book Review editors' choices for best book of 1995 and An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton, one of Times' choices for Best Book of the Year in 1999 and a Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist, 2000.

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48 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is about the 'pragmatic' concept of democracy and the law in it; aobut 3/4 of the book is spent on the former, 1/4, the latter subject. Posner believes that 'democracy' has been misconstrued by many academics (my, how he scorns academics) and many left liberals, to whom 'democracy' means that everyone shall take an interest in politics, everyone shall vigorously deliberate with friends and neighbors and everyone will vote with an informed and semi-altruistic ("common good") mind. To Posner, this is an impossible utopia.
Posner, and I agree with him, would rather "democracy" stand for a system where we vote for leaders so that they, not we, can take the interest in politics. Part of Posners point lies in highlighting that deliberative democracy (the kind outlined in the preceeding paragraph as opposed to his concept of pragmatic democracy)is prevelant amongst activists and academics precisely because they, being interested in political issues, find it easy to convince themselves that everyone else must be too. They are also more likely to associate with others that have similar intersts, helping to reinforce the belief. Posner's pragmatic democracy is defended against deliberative democracy from a variety of angles (winner take all or proportional representation, how far should free speech be taken, FEC regulations, majoritarianism or countermajoritarianism, state v. federal, etc.) Keep in mind that Posner is not arguing that we should not strive to increase peoples participation in politics, but that assuming everyone to be capable, intersted and responsible enough to live up to deliberative ideals is a goal just short of giving society a 100% makeover.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mary E. Sibley VINE VOICE on January 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
Lawyers maneuver by mastering both legal formalism and responsible pragmatic analysis. Richard A. Posner uses BUSH v. GORE as an example of pragmatic adjudication. The Court's action headed off a crisis of presidential succession. Reasonableness, best consequences may be used as a standard to evaluate judicial decisions pragmatically.

Consequentialism cannot be a synonym for legal pragmatism. Judicial discretion to weigh consequence is demarcated by Constitutional and statutory provisions. Legal pragmatists engage in a critical use of history. Legal pragmatism is not ad hoc adjudication. It should not be confused with legal positivism for reason the pragmatist does not recognize a boundary between applying and creating law. Legal Realism, identified with the New Deal, and Critical Legal Studies, identified with sixties'-style radicalism, are not the same as legal pragmatism. The most influential judges have been pragmatists. John Dewey felt legal reasoning was like all practical reasoning. Dewey and Holmes displayed intellectual kinship.

Schumpeter and Hans Kelsen emphasized the discrepancy between the rhetoric and the actuality of democracy. The author was surprised to learn the Kelsen's theory of law left the way open to the interposing of economic concerns. Kelsen's theory is not so much Kantian as having the attributes of logical positivism. Kelsen defines law as a normative system backed by a credible threat.

There is tension between democracy and judicial review. The Constitution is a mix of the democratic with the oligarchic and authoritarian strains. Judge Posner's useful analytic tool is his two concept theory of democracy--the first being deliberative democracy and the second he names elite, Schumpterian, democracy.
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on June 11, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The first few chapters are pretty dense and Posner writes unnecassarily complicated sentences. He begins by writing how so many people talk about democracy; that this is good for democracy or that is good for democracy, but no one ever defines democracy when talking about it or are inconsistent. He essentially breaks it down to two, rather broad concepts: creatively called Concept I and Concept II.

Concept I democrats, Posner claims, regard democracy in a purely abstract sense- rule of the people, by the people, for the people, with some severe and very undemocratic ideas of governance. For example, there are many things that should be legal or illegal, no matter how for or against something the general public is. Also, Concept I democrats have an unwarranted confidence in the knowledge and disinterestedness of public officials, especially, those not democratically elected (judges, for example). The most defining characteristic of Concept I democrats is the their utopian leanings, meaning they strive for a perfect society and government- that principles should be clung tightly too, regardless of the outcome.

Concept II democrats have no such illusions and accept American democracy and the people in it as they are. As such, they accept, and encourage, many things Concept I democrats find evil. For example, the fifth amendment, taken to its logical conclusion, means that no one could be forced to be finger-printed, or to give a blood sample. However, this would make law enforcement and prosecution too hard, so these things have been ruled as not in violation of the fifth amendment. Posner gives many other examples. Basically, Concept II democrats hold democratic principles dearly, but are realistic about applying these principles in real world situations.
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