Survey courses in analytical legal philosophy commonly include brief excerpts from the jurisprudential writings of Jeremy Bentham and John Austin. After a cursory treatment of their work, with emphasis on the “command theory” of law, the focus shifts to H.L.A. Hart’s famous critique of Austin and then to Hart’s own influential version of legal positivism. The prevailing view has long been that Hart’s critique of Austin was decisive and that Hart’s own theory of law expresses legal positivism’s “core commitments.” Both bits of the conventional wisdom come under scrutiny in a pair of provocative recent articles by Frederick Schauer.
In “Was Austin Right After All? On the Role of Sanctions in a Theory of Law,” Schauer explains why, contrary to the prevailing view, Austin’s account of law may have been more nearly accurate than Hart’s. He acknowledges that on many points, Hart identified important deficiencies of Austin’s account. Austin focused, for example, on duty-imposing rules, neglecting the critical and sometimes constitutive role of the power-conferring rules so pervasive in advanced legal systems. And his notion of the sovereign oversimplified legal systems in multiple ways by essentially treating all of law on the model of an absolute monarch’s imposition of rules on obedient subjects. Continue reading "Rethinking Legal Postivism"