Law Quadrangle (formerly Law Quad Notes)


The following essay, which appears here with the permission of the University of Michigan Press, is the text of a talk given by Professor White at a conference held at the Law School last year, entitled “Law and Democracy in the Empire of Force.” (An interview with White in which he discussed the conference appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of Law Quadrangle Notes on pages 27-28.) In more complete form the essay will appear in a book of conference proceedings, edited by Professor White and Professor Jefferson Powell of Duke Law School, to be published by the University of Michigan Press in early 2009. The participants at the conference were invited to speak about their own sense of the ways in which law and democracy have been changing in recent decades and what these changes mean.

The phrase “empire of force” comes from a famous essay by Simone Weil on the Iliad, where she uses it to refer not only to brute force of familiar kinds, then and now, but more importantly to all the ways in which the habits of thought and expression at work in our culture tend to trivialize other people and deny their full humanity.

In our invitation to you as speakers at this conference, Jeff Powell and I encouraged you to talk about the state of law and democracy in whatever way seemed to you best, whether or not it happened to comport with usual styles of academic thought and expression. Today I plan to take advantage of our own invitation, and speak a little differently from the way I usually do, about what I take our culture of law and politics to be like at the moment. What I say will necessarily be impressionistic and personal, and of course I do not ask you to accept any of it on my say-so. Take these reflections rather as a question, which is how far your own experience, your own thinking, is like or unlike my own.