With the incisiveness and lucid style for which he is renowned, Ronald Dworkin has written a masterful explanation of how the Anglo-American legal system works and on what principles it is grounded. Law’s Empire is a full-length presentation of his theory of law that will be studied and debated—by scholars and theorists, by lawyers and judges, by students and political activists—for years to come.
Dworkin begins with the question that is at the heart of the whole legal system: in difficult cases how do (and how should) judges decide what the law is? He shows that judges must decide hard cases by interpreting rather than simply applying past legal decisions, and he produces a general theory of what interpretation is—in literature as well as in law—and of when one interpretation is better than others. Every legal interpretation reflects an underlying theory about the general character of law: Dworkin assesses three such theories. One, which has been very influential, takes the law of a community to be only what the established conventions of that community say it is. Another, currently in vogue, assumes that legal practice is best understood as an instrument of society to achieve its goals. Dworkin argues forcefully and persuasively against both these views: he insists that the most fundamental point of law is not to report consensus or provide efficient means to social goals, but to answer the requirement that a political community act in a coherent and principled manner toward all its members. He discusses, in the light of that view, cases at common law, cases arising under statutes, and great constitutional cases in the Supreme Court, and he systematically demonstrates that his concept of political and legal integrity is the key to Anglo-American legal theory and practice.
Refreshing and rewarding… Law’s Empire is Dworkin’s framework for the analysis of critical issues in law; and such are the elegance and power of the book that one who has read it may find it hard to return patiently to the stale and shallow categories…in which so much argument about the role of judges is nowadays conducted.
Rich and multi-layered… The first sustained, full-length treatment of [Dworkin’s] general theory of law… It is an ambitious book, and it does not disappoint the expectations appropriate to a major work by an important thinker. Dworkin has developed a complex and powerful system of ideas, and they are expounded here with the clarity and elegance to which his readers are by now accustomed.
A 470-page vision of law accessible to the educated layman… An unusual opportunity for laymen to…cross swords with the very vibrant emperor of contemporary legal thought.
Law’s Empire is a challenging, important, and richly textured work of legal philosophy written in the vivid and commanding style that Dworkin’s readers have come to expect… [It offers] both a conception of law that explains what our law is and an underlying political theory that explains why we should conceive of our law in that way… Dworkin seeks, ultimately, nothing less than a kind of unified field theory of moral justification: a theory that would unite—or at least connect—personal morality, legal justification, and political legitimacy.
Ronald Dworkin is America’s leading legal philosopher… [Law’s Empire bears] testimony to his eminence, evidencing his analytical ingenuity, powerful imagination, and elegant conceptualization. No subject ever seems quite the same after one has read Dworkin’s treatment of it.
- 488 pages
- 1 x 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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