Law and Critique

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 1–20 | Cite as

The Turn to Imagination in Legal Theory: The Re-Enchantment of the World?

  • Mark Antaki


Various contemporary legal theorists have turned to ‘imagination’ as a keyword in their accounts of law. This turn is fruitfully considered as a potential response to the modern condition diagnosed by Max Weber as ‘disenchantment’. While disenchantment is often seen as a symptom of a post-metaphysical age, it is best understood as the consummation of metaphysics and not its overcoming. Law’s participation in disenchantment is illustrated by way of Holmes’ parable of the dragon in ‘The Path of the Law’, which illustrates the rationalization and demystification of law. Four ideal–typical turns to ‘imagination’ are identified: the theoretical (turning to imagination as synthesis), the progressive (imagination as empathy), the transformative (imagination as invention) and the nostalgic (imagination as attunement). Most of these turns to imagination remain complicit with disenchantment. ‘Imagination’ often appears only to be harnessed in the service of more conventional keywords of legal thought: theoreticians turn to imagination as synthesis to serve as a form of super-reason; progressives turn to imagination as empathy to make law a more effective instrument; transformatives turn to imagination as invention to serve as a form of super-will. By turning to imagination as attunement, nostalgics come closest to accepting a world that is not masterable, i.e. they come closest to accepting an enchantment that is a gift and not the product of our imaginations. Indeed, modern imaginations are themselves symptoms of disenchantment. If Weber’s diagnostic calls for a human response, it cannot be one of overcoming disenchantment by imaginative re-enchantment: it belongs integrally to enchantment to exceed any and all human capacities.


Aesthetics Disenchantment Grace Imagination Metaphysics Nostalgia Progress Theory Transformation Wonder 



I would like to thank the many people who commented on previous versions of this essay or who gave me their comments when I presented it orally at several workshops and conferences. Part of the reflection on this essay was done during a fellowship at the Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study, for which I am grateful.


  1. Abrams, M.H. 1953. The mirror and the lamp: Romantic theory and the critical tradition. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Andrew, Edward G. 1995. The genealogy of values: The aesthetic economy of Nietzsche and Proust. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  3. Antaki, Mark. 2003. Leading modernity (to) a-ground. Australian Feminist Law Journal 19: 115–131.Google Scholar
  4. Antaki, Mark. 2009. The turn to ‘values’ in Canadian constitutional law. In The limitation of charter rights: Critical essays on R. v. Oakes = La limitation des droits de la Charte: essais critiques sur l’arrêt R. c. Oakes, ed. Luc Tremblay, and Grégoire Webber, 155–181. Montreal: Thémis.Google Scholar
  5. Arendt, Hannah. 1958. The human condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  6. Arendt, Hannah. 1978. The life of the mind. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.Google Scholar
  7. Auden, W.H. 1958. Law like love. In Selected poetry of W.H. Auden, 62–64. New York: Modern Library.Google Scholar
  8. Bender, John. 1987. Imagining the penitentiary: Fiction and the architecture of mind in eighteenth-century England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  9. Berkowitz, Roger. 2010. The gift of science: Leibniz and the modern legal tradition. New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Butler, Todd. 2008. Imagination and politics in seventeenth-century England. Aldershot, England: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  11. Castoriadis, Cornelius. 1987. The imaginary institution of society. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  12. Connolly, William. 1993. Political theory and modernity. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Constable, Marianne. 1994. Genealogy and jurisprudence: Nietzsche, nihilism, and the social scientification of law. Law & Social Inquiry 19: 551–590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Constable, Marianne. 1995. A new conception of law? Law & Society Review 29: 593–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Critchley, Simon. 2004. Very little…almost nothing: Death, philosophy, literature, 2nd ed. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  16. Dworkin, R.M. 1985. A matter of principle. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Dworkin, R.M. 1986. Law’s empire. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  18. Euben, Peter J. 1990. The tragedy of political theory: The road not taken. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Fiss, O.M. 1986. The death of law? Cornell Law Review 71: 1–16.Google Scholar
  20. Fitzpatrick, Peter. 1992. The mythology of modern law. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Fitzpatrick, Peter. 2001. Modernism and the grounds of law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Fuller, L.L. 1969. The morality of law, rev. ed. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1995. Truth and method, 2nd rev. ed. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  24. Georgiades, Thrasybulos. 1973. Greek music, verse and dance. New York: Da Capo Press.Google Scholar
  25. Gordon, R.W. 1984. Critical legal histories. Stanford Law Review 36: 57–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gordon, R.W. 1990. New developments in legal theory. In The politics of law: A progressive critique, ed. D. Kairys. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  27. Gorman, David. 1997. Review of poetic justice: The literary imagination and public life. Philosophy and Literature 21: 196–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Habermas, J. 1994. Postmetaphysical thinking. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  29. Halttunen, Karen. 1995. Humanitiarism and the pornography of pain in Anglo-American culture. American Historical Review 100: 303–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hart, H.L.A. 1973. Bentham and the demystification of the law. Modern Law Review 36: 2–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Heidegger, Martin. 1977a. The question concerning technology. In The question concerning technology, and other essays, 3–35. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  32. Heidegger, Martin. 1977b. The word of Nietzsche: ‘God is dead’. In The question concerning technology, and other essays, 53–112. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  33. Heidegger, Martin. 1977c. The origin of the work of art. In Basic writings, ed. David F. Krell, 139–212. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  34. Heidegger, Martin. 1991. The principle of reason. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Heidegger, Martin. 1994. Basic concepts of philosophy: Selected ‘problems’ of ‘logic’. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Hobbes, Thomas. 1994. In Leviathan, ed. Edwin Curley. Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett.Google Scholar
  37. Holmes, O.W. 1897. The path of the law. Harvard Law Review 10: 457–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hunt, Lynn. 2007. Inventing human rights: A history. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  39. Hutchinson, A.C. 1984. From cultural construction to historical deconstruction. (Book review of James Boyd White, When words lose their meaning: Constitutions and reconstitutions of language, character, and community). Yale Law Journal 94: 209–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Jameson, F. 1972. The prison-house of language: A critical account of structuralism and Russian formalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Kahn, Victoria. 2004. Wayward contracts: The crisis of political obligation in England, 1640–1674. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Kearney, R. 1988. The wake of imagination: Toward a postmodern culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Koselleck, R. 2002. The practice of conceptual history: Timing history, spacing concepts. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Kronman, A.T. 1993. The lost lawyer: Failing ideals of the legal profession. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Martel, James R. 2007. Subverting the Leviathan: Reading Thomas Hobbes as a radical democrat. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Massaro, T.M. 1989. Legal storytelling: Empathy, legal storytelling, and the rule of law: New words, Old wounds? Michigan Law Review 87: 2099–2127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Marx, Karl. 1978. The German ideology: Part I. In The Marx–Engels reader, 2nd ed, ed. Robert C. Tucker, 146–200. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  48. Meyer, Linda Ross. 2010. The justice of mercy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  49. Nietzsche, F.W. 1968. The will to power. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.Google Scholar
  50. Nonet, Philippe. 1990. What is positive law? Yale Law Journal 100: 667–700.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Nussbaum, Martha C. 1986. The fragility of goodness: Luck and ethics in Greek tragedy and philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Nussbaum, Martha C. 1990. ‘Finely aware and richly responsible’: Literature and the moral imagination. In Love’s knowledge: Essays on philosophy and literature, 148–167. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Nussbaum, Martha C. 1995. Poetic justice. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  54. Orwell, George. 1982. Politics and the English language. In Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: Text, sources, criticisms, 2nd ed, ed. Irving Howe, 248–258. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.Google Scholar
  55. Santos, Boaventura de Sousa 1995. Three metaphors for a new conception of law. Law & Society Review 29: 569–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Slaughter, Joseph R. 2007. Human rights, Inc.: The world novel, narrative form, and international law. New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Sossin, L.M. 1997. The politics of imagination. University of Toronto Law Review 47: 523–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Taylor, Charles. 2004. Modern social imaginaries. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Stolzenberg, Nomi Maya. 1999. Bentham’s theory of fictions—a ‘curious double language’. Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature 11: 223–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Thompson, J.B. 1984. Studies in the theory of ideology. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  61. Unger, Roberto Mangabeira. 1983. The critical legal studies movement. Harvard Law Review 96: 561–675.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Unger, Roberto Mangabeira. 1984. Passion: An essay on personality. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  63. Unger, Roberto Mangabeira. 1987a. False necessity: Anti-necessitarian social theory in the service of radical democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Unger, Roberto Mangabeira. 1987b. Social theory: Its situation, its task. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  65. Unger, Roberto Mangabeira. 1996. What should legal analysis become? London: Verso.Google Scholar
  66. Ward, Ian. 2002. The echo of a sentimental jurisprudence. Law and Critique 13: 107–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Weber, Max. 1946. Science as a vocation. In From Max Weber: Essays in sociology, ed. H. Gerth, and C.W. Mills, 129–156. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  68. Weber, Max. 1958. The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. New York: Scribner.Google Scholar
  69. Whelan, Frederick G. 1981. Language and its abuses in Hobbes’ political philosophy. American Political Science Review. 75: 59–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. White, James Boyd. 1984. The judicial opinion and the poem: Ways of reading, ways of life. Michigan Law Review 82: 1669–1700.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. White, James Boyd. 1985. The legal imagination, abridged ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  72. White, James Boyd. 1986. Introduction: Is cultural criticism possible? Michigan Law Review 84: 1373–1388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. White, James Boyd. 1987a. Law as rhetoric, rhetoric as law: The arts of cultural and communal life. University of Chicago Law Review 52: 684–702.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. White, James Boyd. 1987b. Thinking about our language. Yale Law Journal 96: 1960–1984.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. White, James Boyd. 1990. Justice as translation: An essay in cultural and legal criticism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  76. White, James Boyd. 1994. Acts of hope: Creating authority in literature, law, and politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  77. Williams, Raymond. 1985. Keywords: A vocabulary of culture and society, rev. ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  78. Wright, R.G. 1996. Whose phronesis? Which phronimoi?: A response to Dean Kronman on law school education. Cumberland Law Review 26: 817–842.Google Scholar
  79. Yelle, Robert A. 2005. Bentham’s fictions: Canon and idolatry in the genealogy of law. Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities 17: 151–179.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of LawMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations