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Jedediah Britton-Purdy

Jedediah Britton-Purdy has written on LPE approaches to property, environmental law, legal theory, and constitutionalism.

He began to explore the role of neoliberalism in US constitutional doctrine in a 2012 essay in Democracy Journal, and in 2014 developed the themes in “Neoliberal Constitutionalism,” part of a special issue of Law and Contemporary Problems which he co-edited with David Grewal. These essays argued that a market-modeled individualism has become the common normative touchstone linking key aspects of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Commerce Clause, and that it entangles the Supreme Court’s constitutional vision in information-age consumer capitalism. More recently, in “Beyond the Bosses’ Constitution” (Columbia Law Review), he emphasizes the role of vernacular public-choice pessimism about democracy in anchoring the Court’s neoliberal speech jurisprudence, argues that this jurisprudence has fostered class entrenchment by the wealthy, and proposes an explicitly social-democratic political economy of speech as an alternative.

His writing on environmental law has introduced the idea of humanity as an “infrastructure species,” whose powers and ecological impact are thoroughly constituted by its own built environment. Worked through in This Land Is Our Land (2019, German trans. 2020) and “All-Too Human,” a more formal book chapter published in 2019, this analysis implies understanding environmental law and politics as inseparable from economic ordering and distributional decisions. He summarized this case in a New York Times essay in 2019, “The Green New Deal Is What Realistic Environmental Policy Looks Like.” In After Nature (2015) and a series of articles over more than a decade, he has also emphasized the role of “values,” imagination, and worldview in ecological politics. The point of a more materialist “LPE” approach is not to minimize these but to make them effective.

With David Grewal, he has argued in a series of articles that appreciating the ways economic inequality and political oligarchy have increased in the last fifty years invites a shift in the questions and methods of legal scholarship. In “Law and Neoliberalism” (the introduction to the Law and Contemporary Problems issue of the same title), they advanced a definition of neoliberalism that focuses on law’s integral role in structuring the conflict between the imperative of profit and the countervailing commitments of (more-or-less) democratic politics. In “Inequality Rediscovered” (with Grewal) and “Wealth and Democracy” solely authored for Nomos, Purdy has argued that much of the last generation of legal and political thought, from John Rawls’s Theory of Justice to the Supreme Court’s abandonment of class jurisprudence, can be understood in part as the fruit of a time when elite common sense largely imagined inequality as a problem of the past (replaced, perhaps, by poverty, an analytically and practically different problem). He applied this argument to environmental law in “The Long Environmental Justice Movement” (2017), arguing that modern environmental law and politics, formed in the light of that exceptional sensibility, is artificially divorced from an older history of more political economy-style thinking and advocacy. Writing with David Grewal, in “The Original Theory of Constitutionalism,” he has also explored the ways that the U.S. Constitution inhibits democracy, and has argued that reviving a genuinely democratic constitutionalism is necessary to escaping the anti-politics of which neoliberalism is only one form.

Purdy’s writing on property law argued for understanding the field as one that defines and allocates the power over resources that shapes relations of power among persons and, at a deeper level, as being shaped by the fact that people are, among other qualities, resources for one another. In several early articles, including “A Freedom-Oriented Approach to Property Law” and “People as Resources,” he argued for a return to the thought of Realist and institutional economist Robert Hale, but connected with a social theory that owed more to the early Critical Legal Studies movement. He has not written about property law in the past decade.

Purdy has also written for many publications, including Jacobin, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Nation, N+1, The New York Times, The New Republic, and Dissent, where he is a member of the editorial board. A native of West Virginia, he is Professor of Law at Duke Law School.