For everyone interested in constitutionalism and the rule of law, especially from a critical perspective, the launch of the Law and Political Economy blog should be a matter of great excitement. The founders – David Grewal, Amy Kapczyinski, and Jedediah Purdy – are well-known scholars who bring a range of critical expertise to the field, ranging from international trade law to intellectual property law to political philosophy. I extract the first few paragraphs of the Manifesto here:
This is a time of crises. Inequality is accelerating, with gains concentrated at the top of the income and wealth distributions. This trend – interacting with deep racialized and gendered injustice – has had profound implications for our politics, and for the sense of agency, opportunity, and security of all but the narrowest sliver of the global elite. Technology has intensified the sense that we are both interconnected and divided, controlled and out of control. New ecological disasters unfold each day. The future of our planet is at stake: we are all at risk, yet unequally so. The rise of right-wing movements and autocrats around the world is threatening democratic institutions and political commitments to equality and openness. But new movements on the left are also emerging. They are challenging economic inequality, eroded democracy, the carceral state, and racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination with a force that was unthinkable just a few years ago.
Law is central to how these crises were created, and will be central to any reckoning with them. Law conditions race and wealth, social reproduction and environmental destruction. Law also conditions the political order through which we must respond.
How should legal scholars and lawyers respond to this moment? We propose a new departure – a new orientation to legal scholarship that helps illuminate how law and legal scholarship facilitated these shifts, and formulates insights and proposals to help combat them. A new approach of this sort is, we believe, in fact emerging: a coalescing movement of “law and political economy.”
The approach we call law and political economy is rooted in a commitment to a more egalitarian and democratic society. Scholars working in this vein are seeking to reconnect political conversations about the economic order with questions of dignity, belonging, or “recognition” and to challenge versions of “freedom” or “rights” that ignore or downplay social and economic power.
We pursue these egalitarian and democratic commitments through a set of theoretical premises. Politics and the economy cannot be separated. Politics both creates and shapes the economy. In turn, politics is profoundly shaped by economic relations and economic power. Attempts to separate the economy from politics make justice harder to pursue in both domains. As recent events illustrate, market society generates political conflict – conflict that is profoundly racialized and gendered. A politics that can engage this conflict must be attentive to the interplay between the ways the state creates “the market” and the ways market power feeds back into the politics, and between the hierarchies and humiliations of “private” life and the appeal of reactionary political visions.
Law gives shape to the relations between politics and the economy at every point. It is the mediating institution that ties together politics and economics. Though legal realists and more recent critical scholars of law recognized this long ago, their insights must be revived, and given new meaning in the face of the recent history of legal scholarship.