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Book Chapter

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The Reporters of the PRINCIPLES were distinguished legal scholars who produced a serious and ambitious document. The contributors to the present volume subject the PRINCIPLES to probing, thoughtful, and illuminating analysis. At the volume's beginning, Professor Glendon puts the problems of family law in a broader perspective by examining the challenges families today face in living good lives. Now, at the volume's close, I want to put both the PRINCIPLES and the essays in a broader perspective. I need not vivisect the PRINCIPLES; that is admirably done by the essayists. Rather, I proffer a tool for understanding the PRINCIPLES more richly by situating them in their time and place.

"Now and then," Lionel Trilling wrote, "it is possible to observe the moral life in process of revising itself." So it is today. American ways of thinking about the moral lives of families have been in turmoil for decades, and our ways of thinking about the legal regulation of families are correspondingly being disturbed and reconceived. The PRINCIPLES reflect these processes and are part of them, for law truly is the witness and external deposit of our moral life. But the PRINCIPLES can also rewardingly be understood as a new instance of an old tradition-elite law reform. In this Afterword, that is how I will try to understand them.

With some diffidence, I will draw on a quarter century's observation of the discipline of family law from the vantage of a professor at - I confess it - an elite law school. I began my career as a specialist in family law and found in it not what I had feared - the laborious study of a dry and technical system - but what I had sought - the opportunity for a large survey of causes. However, as the field's center of gravity shifted from scholarship to advocacy, the narrowed range of opinion and tolerance in it became parching. I found in the neighboring discipline of law and bioethics a nourishing assortment of professional backgrounds and outlooks. Nevertheless, I have never ceased writing in family law and watching it from a safe distance. More largely, my calling has made me a witness to the process by which the moral life - the ideological, political, cultural life - of elite law schools is being revised. That too will be part of our story.


Reproduced with permission.