Marxist Theories of Law Past and Present: A Meditation Occasioned by the 25th Anniversary of Law, Labor, and Ideology

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45:4 (2020) Law and Social Inquiry 1142-1169. doi:10.1017/lsi.2020.23


Capitalist society seems particularly disorderly of late, a disorder contributing to the beginnings of what we hope will be a renewal of Marxist legal scholarship. This essay reviews some key developments in Marxist analysis of law from the 1970s to the present. Over all, our essay traces a back and forth between Marxists’ emphasis on theoretical inquiry on the one hand and empirical and historical work inquiry on the other. We argue that Christopher Tomlins’s 1993 book, Law, Labor, and Ideology in the Early American Republic, remains salient for thinking about ways to combine Marxist theoretic and historical work to understand the role of law in capitalist social formations and that Nancy Fraser and Rahel Jaeggi’s recent book Capitalism: A Conversation in Critical Theory offers complementary resources for a renewal in Marxist legal thought. We conclude that further development of Marxist legal thought will require a mix of both empirical and theoretical innovations, and we identify political questions that Marxists will need to address.

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