Document Type

Book Review


Gossiping About Ideas, 93 Yale L.J. 1625 (1984).


I do not know whether Tom Wolfe has reviewed Rawls' A Theory of Justice, and I cannot remember a serious critique of Habermas or Horkheimer in recent issues of People magazine. It is this novel intellectual form, however, which the multi-talented Bruce Ackerman refines in Reconstructing American Law. The book's bold objective is to account for the intellectual sources responsible for the expansion of federal governmental activity since the 1930's. But Ackerman is not interested in the inherent strengths or weaknesses of the justifications for government action, nor quite in the influence of these ideas on the actual growth of government. Instead, Ackerman is concerned with how policymakers, particularly lawyers, have talked about these ideas. The subject of consequence to Ackerman is the relationship over the last fifty years between justifications for government action and the content of what Ackerman calls, variously, "law-talk," "lawstuff," "legal discourse," "legitimated [legal] conversation," and the "new language of power."

This unusual approach represents a new and significant synthesis of the central theme of Ackerman's scholarly work. In 1977, in the first book of the series, Private Property and the Constitution, Ackerman described two world views competing for control of modern legal culture-views which he called "ordinary observing" and "scientific policymaking." According to Ackerman, each conception sought to dominate the characterization of modern legal issues by imposing different constraints on legal language. The battle between them would determine control over "the linguistic practices of a special group of conversationalists . . . trained as lawyers." Ackerman illustrated the hypothesis by showing that the various and confused approaches toward interpreting the takings clause were only different elaborations of one of the two competing linguistic methods.

Date of Authorship for this Version