Legal History as American Intellectual History

Daniel T. Rodgers, The Age of Fracture (Harvard University Press, 2011). Sophia Z. Lee While histories of the United States are just beginning to creep into the 1980s, Daniel Rodgers has produced a panoptic intellectual history that takes his readers into the twenty-first century. As someone who came of age in what Rodgers compellingly titles the "age of fracture," I found it disconcerting to read about my own intellectual development in a history book. Okay, what I really mean is that it made me feel old. But I suspect that it would make Rodgers happy to learn that his book stretched out and rematerialized time for this reader. After all, coursing through the book is dismay at how the abstraction of time and discounting of history has impoverished everything from economic to political theory. In other words, his book is, in part, a historian's lament, and it should appeal to historians for this reason alone. The Age of Fracture is also a meditation on the causes of America's current tattered social welfare state, a capstone to the story begun by Rodgers in his equally breathtaking Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (1998). Legal historians should take particular interest in the book. It places in historical context a number of trends in legal thought, from law and economics to originalism. Rodgers argues that during the closing decades of the twentieth century, liberals' and conservatives' concepts of power, time, identity, wealth, and community fragmented, becoming thinner, smaller, and more malleable. Individual choices replaced historical and structural forces as explanatory variables. Rodgers deftly interweaves trends from across the political spectrum. He argues that the Foucauldian turn among leftist academics was of a piece with conservatives' embrace of rational choice theory (both trends dematerialized power). Colorblind constitutionalism, Rodgers also contends, shared implications with black intellectuals' "celebration of paradox, improvisation, and hybridity" in 1990s race theory (both discounted the heavy hand of the past in shaping the present). (140) Continue reading "Legal History as American Intellectual History"

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