Law and Democracy in the Empire of Force

H. Jefferson Powell and James Boyd White, editors

Neither law nor democracy can survive where the empire of force dominates


The authors in this book contend that the relation between law and democracy in the United States has deteriorated badly and that these changes are visible in a wide array of legal and governmental phenomena. Evidence can be found in the areas of legal teaching, judicial opinions, legal practice, international relations, legal scholarship, and congressional deliberations. In each of these legal/political/cultural intersections, traditional expectations and behaviors have been transformed or thwarted, and these changes pose a serious threat to law and democracy in our country and in our culture.

The editors and the individual authors trace these specific examples of normative decline to "the empire of force," a term borrowed from Simone Weil. The French intellectual applied the term not only to the brute force used by police and soldiers but, more broadly, to the underlying ways of thinking, talking, and imagining that make that sort of force possible, including propaganda, unexamined ideology, sentimental clichés, and politics by buzzwords.

Based on the underlying crisis and its causes, the editors and authors of these essays agree that neither law nor democracy can survive where the empire of force dominates. Yet each manages to convey a basis for optimism despite focusing on a specific example of legal, political, or cultural degeneration.


  • Martin Böhmer, Universidad de San Andres, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • M. Cathleen Kaveny, University of Notre Dame
  • Howard Lesnick, University of Pennsylvania
  • The Honorable John T. Noonan Jr., Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
  • H. Jefferson Powell, Duke University
  • Jedediah Purdy, Duke University
  • Jed Rubenfeld, Yale University
  • A.W. Brian Simpson, University of Michigan
  • Barry Sullivan, Jenner and Block LLP, Chicago
  • Joseph Vining, University of Michigan
  • Robin West, Georgetown University
  • James Boyd White, University of Michigan

H. Jefferson Powell is Frederic Cleaveland Professor of Law and Divinity at Duke University and has served in both the federal and state governments, as a deputy assistant attorney general and as principal deputy solicitor general in the U.S. Department of Justice and as special counsel to the attorney general of North Carolina.

James Boyd White is Professor of English Emeritus and Adjunct Professor of Classical Studies as well as the L. Hart Wright Collegiate Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Michigan.

Praise / Awards

  • "These thoughtful essays diagnose democracy's perilous present, and–more importantly–they explore avenues to democracy's rescue through humanization of law."
    —Kenneth L. Karst, David G. Price and Dallas P. Price Professor of Law Emeritus, UCLA

  • "An extraordinary collection of provocative, insightful and inspiring essays on the future of law and democracy in the twenty-first century."
    —Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Professor of Law, The University of Chicago

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  • 296 pages.
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  • 2009
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  • 978-0-472-02442-1

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  • empire of force, self-government, democracy, torture, presidential inaugural, Steel Seizure Case, privacy, fourth amendment anti-social behavior orders, prophetic, rule of law, Argentina, relativism, scientific thought, nature of law