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Ideology as Constraint, 43 Stan. L. Rev. 1133 (1991)


The debate between the Critical Legal Studies movement and its critics has often seemed little more than a collection of arbitrary dismissals from both sides. For this reason, few books can be more welcome than the philosopher Andrew Altman's recent study of the Critical Legal Studies movement. Altman discusses and critiques CLS writings from the standpoint of a scholar deeply committed to liberal political theory. But there is nothing dismissive about Altman's work; if Altman's is a criticism of CLS, it is a very sympathetic criticism. Altman is a liberal who nevertheless recognizes the potential failings of liberal legal theory. He agrees with Morton Horwitz that the Rule of Law is not an "unqualified human good," despite its obvious importance in preserving human liberty. He accepts the claim that social rules and practices affect the justice of the legal system as much as do legal rules, and argues that without a culture of tolerance and respect for freedom, legal guarantees of human rights will not be sufficient to prevent oppression. Thus, Altman has much in common with the CLS thinkers he purports to criticize. Nevertheless, he has an abiding faith in liberalism as a political theory that can adapt to changes in human affairs and reform itself in order better to protect human rights and human values. In his view, the soundest versions of liberalism have nothing to fear from CLS critiques, and much to gain. His book is not an apology for liberalism but rather a call for an invigorated version of it.

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