The Politics of Reason: Critical Legal Theory and Local Social Thought

96 Pages Posted: 12 Dec 2017

See all articles by James Boyle

James Boyle

Duke University School of Law

Date Written: April 1, 1985


In this essay I pursue two different and potentially incompatible goals. In the first part of the Article I try to give a sense of the types of theory that are commonly lumped together under the label "critical legal scholarship" and thus to describe and, to some extent, explain the body of writings produced by the lawyers, law students, and law teachers associated with the Conference on Critical Legal Studies (CLS). My argument is that all of these theoretical projects share at least a certain assumption about the politics of reason: the social power of apparently rational discourse. In the second part of the Article, I try to explain why someone would find it interesting or even liberating to produce this kind of theory or to think this way. Having examined, and rejected, the claim that critical legal theorists can be usefully divided into a rationalist and an irrationalist camp, I offer an alternative heuristic tool: the tension in critical legal thought between the subjectivist, personal, phenomenological strand and the structuralist, patterned, impersonal strand. I am happy to say that this tension is absolutely useless for classifying or categorizing theorists. It does seem, however, to offer some insights on how to theorize. The unifying aim of the Article is to develop a way of thinking that helps us both to confront the standard problems of social thought and to act: to deal with the most mundane exercises of power in the workplace as well as the baroque structure of liberal state theory. Consequently, it differs from much of the recent writing about CLS in that my aim is to develop a toolkit for an ongoing project rather than to chronicle the rise of an academic movement.

Keywords: critical legal theory, critical legal studies, local social though

Suggested Citation

Boyle, James, The Politics of Reason: Critical Legal Theory and Local Social Thought (April 1, 1985). University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 133, No. 4, 1985, Available at SSRN: or

James Boyle (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law ( email )

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Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States
919-613-7287 (Phone)
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