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Legal Studies. Volume 21, Issue 1 (2001), p. 65-98.


Much academic work continues to operate within the cramping and pervasive spirit of a black-letter mentality that encourages scholars and jurists to maintain legal study as an inward-looking and self-contained discipline. There is still a marked tendency to treat law as somehow a world of its own that is separate from the society within which it operates and purports to serve. This is a disheartening and disabling state of affairs. Accordingly, this article will offer both a critique of the present situation and suggest an alternative way of proceeding. The writer recommends a shift from philosophy to democracy so that legal academics will be less obsessed with abstraction and formalism and more concerned with relevance and practicality. In contrast to the hubristic and occasionally mystical aspirations of mainstream scholars, it presents a more humble depiction of the worth and efficacy of the jurisprudential and scholarly project in which 'usefulness' is given pride of place. Of course, these fundamental charges are not applicable to all legal scholars. Many scholars are engaged in work that not only challenges the prevailing paradigm of legal scholarship, but also explores exciting new directions for legal study. It will be part of the essay to acknowledge those contributions.

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