Michaelson on the Religious Roots of American Antinomianism

Jay Michaelson (Ph.D. student at Hebrew University) has posted Hating the Law for Christian Reasons: The Religious Roots of American Antinomianism.  The abstract follows.

Popular American law-talk is a religious discourse. While Americans routinely valorize the “rule of law” and “common sense,” they express hatred for lawyers and laws, which are supposedly drowning our country in a sea of regulation and litigation. What explains this curious ambivalence is a Protestant ethic, beginning with the Apostle Paul, who, in an explicit rejoinder against Judaism, denied that the law (which governs the body) is a path to salvation (which is a matter of the soul). The result is a philosophy of “law without laws,” a religious antinomianism that has shaped, explicitly and implicitly, such disparate phenomena as the jury system, debates over the common law, and contemporary jeremiads about litigation and regulation.

This article, forthcoming in the anthology “Jews and the Law,” edited by Suzanne Last Stone and Ari Mermelstein, traces this American antinomianism in secular and religious sources. It begins by analyzing three different moments in American popular legal history: the Clinton impeachment, the debates surrounding the adoption of the English common law in the early republic, and discourse about the value of the jury from the Colonial period. The paper then turns to the religious sources, chiefly Paul’s letters to the Romans and Corinthians, and later texts by Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther. It concludes by observing that the contemporary American mistrust of law is not a secular, civic, or jurisprudential ideology but a deep, religious conviction.