Document Type



Final publication at 52 Hastings Law Journal 123 (2000)


As the title indicates, this Essay is based on an observation and a strange but true tale. The observation, which will probably strike many people as uncontroversial—perhaps even clichéd—is that law and legal procedures are at the core of American self-identity and are woven deeply into the fabric of our culture. This is not a new insight. Indeed, de Tocqueville’s famous observation that “[s]carcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question” has been repeated so often that it has itself become a part of our national lore. Throughout the twentieth century, de Tocqueville’s observation remained accurate. From the Scopes monkey trial to the trial of O.J. Simpson, from the national debate over abortion to the more recent clashes over doctor-assisted suicide, from the success of novelist John Grisham to the explosion of law shows on television, we can easily see that our national obsession with law continues unabated. And, even though lawyers are often objects of derision, when the chips are down, we Americans are apt to frame our struggles in the language of competing rights and to fight our battles in a legal forum.

Date of Authorship for this Version

September 2000