Forsyth, “Common Law and Natural Law in America”

This one is a necessity. The tension between what could be called–very roughly and impressionistically–the “natural law” and “common law” orientations to law is a perennial source of interest. Should we think of law as derived from and guided by certain unchanging moral truths? Or should we instead think of it as a body of wisdom that accretes over time? Principle or experience? Universal or local? Of course both general views about law have played central roles in the history of Anglo-American legal thought.

Here is what looks like a very interesting new study of these age-old questions: Common Law and Natural Law in America: From the Puritans to the Legal Realists (Cambridge University Press), by Andrew Forsyth.

“Speaking to today’s flourishing conversations on both law, morality, and religion, and the religious foundations of law, politics, and society, Common Law and Natural Law in America is an ambitious four-hundred-year narrative and fresh re-assessment of the varied American interactions of ‘common law’, the stuff of courtrooms, and ‘natural law’, a law built on human reason, nature, and the mind or will of God. It offers a counter-narrative to the dominant story of common law and natural law by drawing widely from theological and philosophical accounts of natural law, as well as primary and secondary work in legal and intellectual history. With consequences for today’s natural-law proponents and critics alike, it explores the thought of the Puritans, Revolutionary Americans, and seminal legal figures including William Blackstone, Joseph Story, Christopher Columbus Langdell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and the legal realists.”

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