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Principles, Passions, and the Paradox of Modern Law: A Comment on Bybee

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In All Judges Are Political—Except When They Are Not: Acceptable Hypocrisies and the Rule of Law (2010), Keith Bybee considers the hypocrisy of modern law—that is, the widespread view that judges are both principled and partisan—by drawing an analogy with courtesy. Both law and courtesy contain and manage the diverse and potentially divisive interests that would, were they not contained, disrupt social life. In this essay I extend this argument by considering whether the relationship between law and courtesy is more than merely analogical. I suggest that both systems are aspects of larger historical developments out of which emerged the modern subject and the modern state, creating a social world made up of apparently bounded individuals and institutions. As such, law and courtesy do more than conceal and contain interests and subjectivity; they produce the unruly, partisan subjects they are designed to manage.

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