American Legal Realism and Empirical Social Science

John Henry Schlegel.

Published 1995. Order online through The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN: 978-0-8078-5753-3.

John Henry Schlegel recovers a largely ignored aspect of American Legal Realism, a movement in legal thought in the 1920s and 1930s that sought to bring the modern notion of empirical science into the study and teaching of law. In this book, he explores individual Realist scholars’ efforts to challenge the received notion that the study of law was primarily a matter of learning rules and how to manipulate them. He argues that empirical research was integral to Legal Realism, and he explores why this kind of research did not, finally, become a part of American law school curricula. Schlegel reviews the work of several prominent Realists but concentrates on the writings of Walter Wheeler Cook, Underhill Moore, and Charles E. Clark. He reveals how their interest in empirical research was a product of their personal and professional circumstances and demonstrates the influence of John Dewey’s ideas on the expression of that interest. According to Schlegel, competing understandings of the role of empirical inquiry contributed to the slow decline of this kind of research by professors of law.

Endorsements

“A masterful study. . . . Every law and social science researcher should read the book. . . . It is a brilliant book, and a wonderful ‘read.’”
– Law and Politics Book Review

“American Legal Realism and Empirical Social Science is a refreshing and insightful analysis of the origins, flowering, and demise of ‘legal realism.’ . . . His book succeeds admirably not only in expanding our understanding of legal realism but also in illuminating both the cultural evolution of the profession of law teaching and the course of academic legal thinking in the twentieth-century United States. . . . Schlegel has written a thoroughly researched, perceptive, and provocative book that adds immeasurably to our understanding of legal realism and the culture of American law teaching. It should become a foundation stone for subsequent discussions of twentieth-century American legal thought and education.”
– Journal of American History

“Makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of American legal realism by recasting the ‘ideas in context’ approach to intellectual history. . . . Schlegel’s study of these professors’ and these institutions’ engagement with social science is comprehensive and penetrating, providing a wealth of factual information and solid analysis.”
– American Historical Review

“Exceptionally thorough research, a riveting narrative style, some humor along the way, and a host of stimulating asides and suggestions for future work.”
– G. Edward White, University of Virginia

“Schlegel is the first historian of Legal Realism–the most influential movement of twentieth-century American legal thought–to recognize that the Realists were neither primarily legal philosophers nor theorists of the judicial role, but rather scholars who hoped to enlist social science in the cause of legal and social reform. Schlegel’s story is basically a tragic one, of noble ambitions brought to shipwreck on opposition and indifference; but there are many comic moments too, and the book is great fun to read. At last we have the story of Realism as the Realists themselves would have written it–the story of who exactly the Realists were and the work they actually did.”
– Robert W. Gordon, Stanford Law School

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