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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
Article

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Aesthetics Disenchantment Grace Imagination Metaphysics Nostalgia Progress Theory Transformation Wonder 

Notes

Acknowledgments

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.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of LawMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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