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Title: The rise and fall of liberal legal positivism : legal positivism, legal process, and H.L.A. Hart's America, 1945-1960
Author: Shaw, Geoffrey C.
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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This dissertation uses new archival materials to analyze the intellectual journey of H.L.A. Hart and his ideas in the United States, focusing on Hart's year as a visiting professor at Harvard, 1956-57, and its immediate aftermath. The dissertation situates Hart's work in the United States in the historical and intellectual context of the Legal Process School, the jurisprudential movement that dominated legal thought at Harvard during Hart's visit. When Hart arrived at Harvard in 1956, he found himself on a harmonious intellectual trajectory with the process theorists, seeking a middle road between legal formalism and legal realism, despite the deep suspicion with which American legal theorists viewed analytical jurisprudence and legal positivism. Over the course of the year, Hart and the process theorists collaborated and debated constantly - clarifying their methodological disagreements and also their shared jurisprudential mission. In close contact with the process theorists, Hart developed an account of legal decision-making and the relationship between legal indeterminacy and the rule of law that resonated deeply with process theory. He expressed these ideas in a lost essay, Discretion, written shortly after his arrival at Harvard. Discretion spurred a year of fruitful debate in the newly formed Legal Philosophy Discussion Group on topics ranging from the value of Hart's analytical methodology to the core problems of American democracy. Throughout the year, for example, Hart exchanged views with Lon Fuller about the applicability of the fact-value distinction to jurisprudence, constituting a "pre-Hart-Fuller debate Hart-Fuller debate," largely unreconstructed until now, which informs what was really at stake in the published Hart-Fuller exchange. In the spring, Hart delivered his famous Holmes Lecture, Positivism and the Separation of Law and Morals. Understood in historical context, the lecture represented the culmination of a year of collaboration and debate with the Legal Process School, and Hart's attempt to defend a new, truly liberal formulation of legal positivism that responded specifically to the challenges his methodological outlook had encountered in the United States. Ultimately, however, Hart's ideas were unable to transcend the broiling debate over the role of the judiciary in American democracy in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education. As progressive politics in the United States came increasingly to depend on an activist judiciary enforcing moral rights, Hart's positivism seemed to resonate more with Learned Hand's criticism of judicial review (which came out the same month as Hart's Holmes Lecture) than with justice-oriented defenses of the Warren Court. Further, Hart's process theoretic account of judicial discretion came to conflict with the Warren Court's activist judicial stance, partly due to the "botched" reception of Herbert Wechsler's 1959 lecture, Toward Neutral Principles of Constitutional Law, which was heavily influenced by Hart's Discretion essay. But at the deepest level, Hart held a view about liberalism in which open, rational democratic deliberation, not judicial intervention, was the primary force for social change - a view the Process School largely shared, yet a view that was sidelined in the Warren Court era. For largely political reasons, Hart's liberal legal positivism failed to gain traction. In telling this history, this dissertation makes an original contribution to the literature in several ways: by drawing on a wealth of new source material, by situating Hart's year at Harvard in the intellectual context of the Legal Process School, by providing a complete historical analysis of the Legal Philosophy Discussion Group, by analyzing Hart's lost essay Discretion and Fuller's forgotten "Reply to Critics," by reconstructing the interactions between Hart and Fuller before their published exchange, and by interpreting Hart's Holmes Lecture in the context of process theory's decline. Hart's extraordinary year in America and the legacy of analytical legal positivism and the Legal Process School remain topics of great importance to legal philosophy, and my goal is to contribute a new, I hope helpful, historical interpretation to the scholarly conversation.
Supervisor: Lacey, Nicola ; Jackson, Ben Sponsor: Rhodes Trust
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available