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Decision and Legal Interpretation

  • Paul W. KahnEmail author
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Abstract

What is the relationship of interpretation to decision? Many scholars believe that decision marks the limit of law, the point at which doctrine no longer determines judicial outcomes. Others believe outcomes are the result of political contests between sociologically identifiable groups. Theorists seem to have to choose between legal apologetics and political critique. Rejecting both views, this article argues that decision is a necessary condition of interpretation. It engages with Carl Schmitt’s claim that “Every political idea in one way or another takes a position on the ‘nature’ of man and presupposes that he is either ‘by nature good’ or ‘by nature evil.’” The decision of law is not about the state of the soul, but about the narrative frame. Legal interpretation begins with a choice between project and system. A project locates the origin of order in the deliberate act to realize an idea; a system believes order to be spontaneous and immanent. Writing a constitution is a project; the common law is a system. To interpret law as a project is to see man as naturally evil, for absent a plan we will have only the chaos of the state of nature. To interpret law as a system is to see man as naturally good, for he need only be himself for the regularities of law to emerge. This is the decision that grounds interpretation and, therefore, lies behind every legal claim and legal theory.

Keywords

Interpretation Decision Project System Schmitt Constitution 

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Yale Law SchoolNew HavenUSA

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