The historical school of law believes that societies should base their legal decisions today on the examples of the past. Precedent would be more important than moral arguments.
The legal realist school flourished in the 1920s and 1930s as a reaction to the historical school. Legal realists pointed out that because life and society are constantly changing, certain laws and doctrines have to be altered or modernized in order to remain current. The social context of law was more important to legal realists than the formal application of precedent to current or future legal disputes. Rather than suppose that judges inevitably acted objectively in applying an existing rule to a set of facts, legal realists observed that judges had their own beliefs, operated in a social context, and would give legal decisions based on their beliefs and their own social context.
The legal realist view influenced the emergence of the critical legal studies (CLS) school of thought. The “Crits” believe that the social order (and the law) is dominated by those with power, wealth, and influence. Some Crits are clearly influenced by the economist Karl Marx and also by distributive justice theory (see Corporate Social Responsibility and Business Ethics ). The CLS school believes the wealthy have historically oppressed or exploited those with less wealth and have maintained social control through law. In so doing, the wealthy have perpetuated an unjust distribution of both rights and goods in society. Law is politics and is thus not neutral or value-free. The CLS movement would use the law to overturn the hierarchical structures of domination in the modern society.
Related to the CLS school, yet different, is the ecofeminist school of legal thought. This school emphasizes—and would modify—the long-standing domination of men over both women and the rest of the natural world. Ecofeminists would say that the same social mentality that leads to exploitation of women is at the root of man’s exploitation and degradation of the natural environment. They would say that male ownership of land has led to a “dominator culture,” in which man is not so much a steward of the existing environment or those “subordinate” to him but is charged with making all that he controls economically “productive.” Wives, children, land, and animals are valued as economic resources, and legal systems (until the nineteenth century) largely conferred rights only to men with land. Ecofeminists would say that even with increasing civil and political rights for women (such as the right to vote) and with some nations’ recognizing the rights of children and animals and caring for the environment, the legacy of the past for most nations still confirms the preeminence of “man” and his dominance of both nature and women.
Each of the various schools of legal thought has a particular view of what a legal system is or what it should be. The natural-law theorists emphasize the rights and duties of both government and the governed. Positive law takes as a given that law is simply the command of a sovereign, the political power that those governed will obey. Recent writings in the various legal schools of thought emphasize long-standing patterns of domination of the wealthy over others (the CLS school) and of men over women (ecofeminist legal theory).
- Vandana Shiva draws a picture of a stream in a forest. She says that in our society the stream is seen as unproductive if it is simply there, fulfilling the need for water of women’s families and communities, until engineers come along and tinker with it, perhaps damming it and using it for generating hydropower. The same is true of a forest, unless it is replaced with a monoculture plantation of a commercial species. A forest may very well be productive—protecting groundwater; creating oxygen; providing fruit, fuel, and craft materials for nearby inhabitants; and creating a habitat for animals that are also a valuable resource. She criticizes the view that if there is no monetary amount that can contribute to gross domestic product, neither the forest nor the river can be seen as a productive resource. Which school of legal thought does her criticism reflect?
- Anatole France said, “The law, in its majesty, forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges.” Which school of legal thought is represented by this quote?
- Adolf Eichmann was a loyal member of the National Socialist Party in the Third Reich and worked hard under Hitler’s government during World War II to round up Jewish people for incarceration—and eventual extermination—at labor camps like Auschwitz and Buchenwald. After an Israeli “extraction team” took him from Argentina to Israel, he was put on trial for “crimes against humanity.” His defense was that he was “just following orders.” Explain why Eichmann was not an adherent of the natural-law school of legal thought.