If the Music Hadn’t Stopped, or Reflections on the Great Kerfuffle: Historicism’s Continuing Grasp for Truth

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Publication Date

Winter 3-1-2021


I was pretty indifferent to my undergraduate education, but I hated law school because it was full of things one couldn’t do. One couldn’t use a statute analogically, couldn’t take into account realpolitik when analyzing cases, couldn’t rethink legal education from the bottom up, and it was pretty much “out there” to count votes when predicting case outcomes. Six years later, when in 1973 I came to teach at Buffalo, I experienced a quite different world; there were all sorts of possibilities. The great intellectual kerfuffle that went by many names—structuralism, post-structuralism, postmodernism, even Marxism and Critical Legal Studies (CLS)—burned brightly in at least some of the law schools and much of the humanities. Everyone knew that knowledge was constructed, whether one got it from fancy French Theory or merely good old American Philosophy. All knowledge was situated and apparently all judgment as well. It need not be epistemologically grounded in either timeless verities or methodological assumptions. My experience of intellectual life was much like Olivier Messiaen’s of hearing music in the cacophony of bird song in spring. All sorts of new things might be thought about in new ways and in many fields.

Publication Title

Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities

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