Are Marxist theories of law now relevant or irrelevant?
In accordance with his vision of history and politics, Marx believed that the law, far from assuring fairness and equality, was an instrument to prevaricate the working class, to advantage of the wealthier. As David and Brierley put it, law was just “an instrument in the service of those who exercise their ‘dictatorship’” (David and Brierley, 1985 p. 171)
Is this view still relevant today?
We think it is.
The tradition of the Marxist legal theory has been inherited, in the Western World, by the Critical Legal studies movement. This movement, started in 1977, has revived many of the Marxist assumptions: in particular, the work of David Kayris, which has been focused on the idea that the law deemed to serve only the interests of the Capitalist System, has basically traced the Marxist vision (Kayris, 1982).
Although the CLS flourished in the ’80s, it cannot be denied that they retain part of their influence today.
Indeed, the CLS community remains active in pivotal faculties like Harvard, Glasgow, Northeastern, and Kent where its teories are still taught and examined.
Moreover, if the liveliness of a theory is demonstrated by the number of articles published about it, a recent essay by Balkin (Balkin, 2008), that analyzes the past and present of CLS, seems to prove that the CLS are still thriving and, with them, the Marxist legacy. The study by Balkin indeed demonstrates how many scholars still embrace the views of the Critical theory, by developing it and keeping it up-to-date with the current political and economical scenarios. And just last year one of central figures of the group, Roberto Mangabeira Unger, has republished an updated version of a CLS classic (Unger, 2015).
In conclusion, it does not seem exaggerated to say that the Marxist theory of law, through the Critical legal studies movement, is still of some relevance today.
Balkin J. M., Critical Legal Theory Today, On Philosophy in American, CUP, Cambridge, 2008
David, R. and Brierley, J., Major Legal Systems in the World Today: An Introduction to the Comparative Study of Law, Stevens & Sons, London, 1985.
Kayris, D., The Politics of Law. A Progressive Critique, Pantheon Books, New York, 1982
Mangabeira Unger, R., The Critical Legal Studies Movement: Another Time, a Greater Task, Verso, 2015
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