Peter Berkowitz


Catharine A. MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. Harvard University Press. 330 pp. $25.00.

In the spring of 1989 Yale Law School students published the first issue of the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism. The cover featured a boldly revised drawing of Justitia, traditional symbol of justice. Still garbed in a simple robe and holding aloft the scales of justice, the new Justitia had lifted the blindfold thought to ensure her impartiality in weighing and measuring grievances and meting out justice. One of the Journal's short introductory manifestos explained that impartial adjudication was essentially unjust and no longer tolerable. Impartiality guaranteed blindness to systemic disadvantage, reflected bias in favor of the powerful and affluent, and served to maintain a male-created status quo. Justice would be best served by restoring to Justitia her sight enabling her to use "all her powers in overseeing the law."

The vision of a wise and good ruler distributing justice intelligently and artfully to fit the needs of each individual soul is an ancient dream, and the essential imperfectibility of the rule of law an ancient insight. The feminist conviction that justice demands the transformation of the judge into a philosopher-queen thus reflects as it adapts a venerable form of political idealism, and for this reason alone, to say nothing of other important considerations, the claims of feminism command the attention of all friends of justice. Yet idealism can be a harsh taskmaster. To take an extreme example, when Plato's Socrates depicted a city constructed in strict accordance with justice he was compelled to imagine the remaking of social life, as it were, from the ground up, including the abolition of the family and the elimination of private property. What would Justitia, conceived in feminist terms, see if she were to remove her blindfold? What reforms would Justitia, freed from the constraints of impartiality and viewing social and political life from a feminist standpoint, institute?