The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments extended citizenship to formerly enslaved persons. But what did this status entail? In the subsequent political debates over abolition, one view carried the day: a contract and property-based notion of citizenship that fortified rather than unsettled antebellum era social relations. To realize the promise of Reconstruction today, we need a bolder vision of citizenship, one rooted not in marketplace imaginaries but in the elusive yet powerful concept of human dignity.
Twelve titles that the Blog’s editors can’t wait to read in the months to come.
The heuristic of non-reformist reform can help avoid ultra-leftism and create the possibilities for coalition, such as across groups who care about transparency. It can help us salvage the transformative potential of demands that seem to have lost their teeth. But to realize these ends without falling back into reformist pieties, the framework demands rigorous, context-specific thinking that eschews dogmatism.
Earlier this year, a landlord presented a group of Kansas City tenants with the following choice: renew their leases at triple the rent or move. But rather than accept these terms, the tenants came together and declared “we won’t go.” This rejection of the options presented to them, originally a reflection of their desperation, soon became an expression of their power.
Critical Race Theorists have long been concerned with the dangers inherent to legal reform. Drawing on their insights, we should approach the struggle for non-reformist reforms not as a search for some self-evident formula, but as a practice that requires close and disciplined engagement with the social and economic conditions we seek to change.
Amna Akbar’s recent article on non-reformist reforms foregrounds a question that the LPE movement often bypasses: namely, how might systemic social change occur in the 21st century? However, in considering this question, the article erases nearly fifty years of theory-work, which has much to teach the legal left as it recovers the notion of non-reformist reform.
Today’s left social movements are increasingly turning to a framework of “non-reformist reform” to guide their efforts to build a just society. But what do non-reformist reforms require? How do they differ from liberal and neoliberal approaches to reform? And what role do law and lawyers have to play in advancing such reforms?
Within the LPE movement, there is a broad consensus that “law is central to the creation and maintenance of structural inequalities in the state and the market” and that “class power is inextricably connected to the development of racial and gender hierarchies.” These claims, while often articulated in response to neoliberalism, go to the very origins of capitalism and its particular patterns of inequality.
Some people head to the pumpkin patch. Others drink from the unholy fountain of the pumpkin spice latte. But here at the Blog, our favorite autumnal activity is decidedly less gourd-based: we scour the internet for the most exciting forthcoming LPE and LPE-adjacent articles. Covering tech, labor, housing, the administrative state, criminal justice, family law, religious freedom, finance, legal theory, and so much more, this scouting report is not to be missed.
According to Sam Moyn, capitalism and the ills it is said to generate are nothing more than a contingent jumble of various legal rules and regulations. Indeed, “capitalism” is merely a term of abuse, to which nineteenth-century thinkers made a misguided attempt to attribute “general laws.” This critique, however, overlooks the extent to which Marx’s conception of capitalism is itself historically specific, even contingent. Capitalism is not a consequence of ineluctable laws of nature, human or otherwise, but a fortuitous convergence of a peculiar constellation of social relations and institutions.
In his recent post about the LPE Movement’s reticence toward legal theory, Sam Moyn speculates that this aversion may be born of a noble yet misguided deference towards grassroots social movements. Deference, however, does not capture the dynamic relationship between critical legal theory and radical political practice. One does not precede the other or take priority. Instead, from W.E.B. Du Bois to Michel Foucault to Angela Davis, our most important critical thinkers have always engaged in a productive back-and-forth, in which theory and practice constantly challenge, check, and transform each other.
Sam Moyn’s recent call for a renewed interest in a radical theory of law is timely and welcome. However, if LPE wants a social and legal theory adequate to its ambitions, we cannot turn to the insights of the earlier CLS movement to develop it. This is because CLS, in the relevant respects, did not have (much of) any theory at all.
Sam Moyn has recently challenged what he sees as the “theoretical quietism” of LPE. Yet this resistance to high-altitude legal and social theory is entirely justified. The most productive theorizing, which involves contesting and clarifying the mid-level legal and economic concepts that have the most effect in the world, will occur a step below these abstract heights. It is here that LPE scholars should continue to focus their attention.
The idea that LPE is lacking in legal theory, as Sam Moyn has recently claimed, depends on what counts as legal theory. If we take Legal Theory to be a subject that is defined by the Marxism-related anxieties of CLS, then LPE work is severely under-theorised. If, instead, we endorse an idea of legal theory without capitalisation – a way of writing about law that is explicit and explanatory about our assumptions – then many LPE scholars have been analytically generous in presenting their understanding of law and political economy, even if more remains to be done.
The NLRB’s recent Cemex decision should discourage employers from resisting unionization and therefore make it easier for workers to gain bargaining rights. But how should we understand the basis of this decision? Brishen Rogers considers the case from three theoretical perspectives: the liberal legalist, the progressive functionalist, and the low-key Marxist.