Article Title

Distorting Reason


C. J. Summers


Pierre Schlag, The Enchantment of Reason. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1998. Pp. 160. $17.95.

Judges, attorneys, academics, even law students, have all been caught within a spell - a spell of their own making. The leaders of the profession voice its incantation with pride: We are united by "a faith in the power of reason." This spell is insidious for it erases all knowledge of its own existence. At least this is what Pierre Schlag would have us believe in The Enchantment of Reason. Schlag claims to have seen through the mists of this illusion, and he presents a broad, skeptical argument that reason has betrayed the American legal community. Schlag's skepticism is not merely the now commonplace Holmesian position that "[the law] cannot be dealt with as if it contained only the axioms and corollaries of a book of mathematics." It is a view that is affiliated with the Critical Legal Studies (CLS) movement, the more ambitious descendent of legal realism. Schlag takes as a starting point a central claim of the Critical theorists: All legal texts, theories, arguments, and positions are radically contextual in nature, and legal reasons are merely ad hoc or post hocrationalizations for prior "situated" beliefs. Schlag treats this claim as settled wisdom. The book, then, is best described as a reaction to the recalcitrant members of legal and philosophical academia who have remained loyal to liberal ideology and its commitment to reason. It seeks to explain to the Critical theorists why their colleagues remain unconvinced while at the same time it attempts finally to win over the holdouts. Schlag thus has both a descriptive and normative purpose when he argues that the resistance to CLS jurisprudence is due to - and thus a demonstration of - the same misplaced reliance upon reason that the Critical theorists have been insisting is pervasive all along.