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 between when André Gorz introduced the concept in the 1960s and when Akbar picks up the story. The experience of those fifty years and the theoretical reflections they generated have 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.
Sam Moyn has recently suggested that the LPE movement should embrace an underlying account of what law does — and by extension, an account of capitalism and the state. But no single theoretical perspective, however self-consistent and well fortified, can match the complexity of our world. If we are to acknowledge this reality without falling into social-theoretic nihilism, we must take seriously the practice of theoretical pluralism.
Are we liberals or low-key Marxists? What is our theory of the “capitalism” that we so often attack? And above all, how do we understand the role of law in the making and unmaking of social order? Sam Moyn kicks off a new year at the Blog by asking whether the Law and Political Economy movement needs deeper theoretical foundations than it has so far been willing to articulate.
LPE scholars and fellow travelers often call for a more democratic organization of power in our society. However, in specifying what this entails at the level of institutions, proposals commonly rely on two widespread but mistaken assumptions – the idea that more participation is necessarily more democratic, and the idea that democratizing decision-making within firms, political parties, and other mid-level institutions will enhance the quality of democracy in society at large.
This past year, Jackson has been the site of two separate yet related crises: a failed water system that has left approximately 150,000 residents without access to safe drinking water, and the takeover of the city’s police and court functions by white officials in the state government. Assessed together, these two episodes offer lessons about the challenges of local self-governance in a country awash with material inequality and the importance of pursuing political equality across as well as within jurisdictions.
With the spring submission season nearly in the books, and our Twitter feeds abuzz with placement announcements, the LPE Blog highlights some of the most exciting forthcoming LPE and LPE-adjacent articles. Covering tech, care, labor, criminal justice, religious freedom, money and banking, property, the administrative state, and so much more, this scouting report is not to be missed.