Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Autumn 1982

Volume 9 Issue 1
    • 1Edward W. Said
    • I do not want to be misunderstood as saying that the cultural situation I describe here caused Reagan, or that it typifies Reaganism, or that everything about it can be ascribed or referred back to the personality of Ronald Reagan. What I argue is that a particular situation within the field we call "criticism" is not merely related to but is an integral part of the currents of thought and practice that play a role within the Reagan era. Moreover, I think, "criticism" and the traditional academic humanities have gone through a series of developments over time whose beneficiary and culmination is Reaganism. Those are the gross claims that I make for my argument.

      A number of miscellaneous points need to be made here. I am fully aware that any effort to characterize the present cultural moment is very likely to seem quixotic at best, unprofessional at worst. But that, I submit, is an aspect of the present cultural moment, in which the social and historical setting of critical activity is a totality felt to be benign (free, apolitical, serious), uncharacterizable as a whole (it is too complex to be described in general and tendentious terms) and somehow outside history. Thus it seems to me that one thing to be tried–out of sheer critical obstinacy–is precisely that kind of generalization, that kind of political portrayal, that kind of overview condemned by the present dominant culture to appear inappropriate and doomed from the start.

      It is my conviction that culture works very effectively to make invisible and even "impossible" the actual affiliations that exist between the world of ideas and scholarship on the one hand, and the world of brute politics, corporate and state power, and military force, on the other. The cult of expertise and professionalism, for example, has so restricted our scope of vision that a positive (as opposed to an implicit or passive) doctrine of noninterference among fields has set in. This doctrine has it that the general public is best left ignorant, and the most crucial policy questions affecting human existence are best left to "experts," specialists who talk about their specialty only, and–to use the word first given wide social approbation by Walter Lippman in Public Opinion and The Phantom Public–"insiders," people (usually men) who are endowed with the special privilege of knowing how things really work and, more important, of being close to power1.

      1. See Ronald Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century (Boston, 1980), pp. 180-85 and 212-6.

      See also: Aamir R. Mufti, Auerbach in Istanbul: Edward Said, Secular Criticism, and the Question of Minority Culture

    • 27Donald A. Davie
    • If patriotism can thus be seen as an incentive or as an instigation even in such a recondite science as epistemology, how much more readily can it be seen to perform such functions in other studies more immediately or inextricably bound up with communal human life? I pass over instances that occur to me—for instance, the Victorian Jesuit, Father Hopkins, declaring (too shrilly tor modern susceptibilities) that every good poem written by an Englishman was a blow struck for England--and profit instead, if I may, by the presence among us of Edward Said. I do not know, and it is none of my business to know, what passport Said presents at the international frontier. But it is surely common knowledge among us that he has deep and feelingful and intimate allegiances to the state of Lebanon. Who of us has failed to connect this with his books Orientalism and The Question of Palestine? The point is that, having made this connection, none of us thinks the worse of Said. On the contrary, we recognize that he has a special stake in such topics and therefore speaks on them with a special authority. Unless I am mistaken, that stake and that authority are, in a perhaps extended sense, patriotic. And whatever our speculative objections to the idea and the principle of patriotism, in practice we recognize it and we honour it.

      What I am questioning, it will now be plain, is the principle of "disinterest." "The disinterested pursuit of knowledge"—it is what in our distinct disciplines all of us have paid lip-service to, and perhaps more than lip-service. But when we come right down to it, is it what we believe? The honest patriot declares an interest; and if we are wise, we take note of the declaration, making allowances and reserving doubts accordingly. But what are we to make of the scholar who declares no interest, who claims implicitly to be truly disinterested. Can we believe him? And if we cannot, what guidance do we have as to what reservations to make, what doubts to entertain? I am of one mind with my Marxist colleagues who, from a political position very far from mine, warn us to be especially suspicious of the scholar who claims to have no axe to grind. We, all of us, have axes to grind; the crucial distinction is between those who know this about themselves and those who don't.

      Let me make myself clear. When I urge that the terms "patriotism" and "patriotic" be reinstated in our discourse, and particularly in those forms of our discourse that may be called "interpretation," I do not imply that patriotism is a nobler, a more elevated instigation than sundry others, mostly ideological, of which we are more aware. The point is precisely that of these others we are aware because we share a vocabulary which acknowledges them, whereas "patriotic" has been banished from our vocabulary, and so the reality which the word represents is left out of our calculations. Let me admit for the sake of argument what I do not in fact believe-- that patriotism is a concept and a sentiment so besmirched by the unholy uses made of it that, if mankind is to survive, patriotism will have to be eradicated. Even if that were the case, it remains true that patriotic interest and incitement are very far from having been eradicated from the world that we in fact inhabit, and try to interpret, here and now; and if we try to work within a vocabulary that pretends otherwise, we condemn ourselves to producing interpretations that are drastically partial and perhaps disastrously misleading. The point is not whether patriotism is a good thing or a bad thing but simply that it is; it exists, as powerful factor which we all in our hearts acknowledge even as our vocabulary refuses to. And when we speak in this context of "the world," we certainly include in that world ourselves, who offer to interpret it. Every one of our interpretations is coloured by the fact that we, the several interpreters, are British or American, French or Italian or Russian or whatever. If we think otherwise, we deceive ourselves; and yet where, in any of our currently acceptable vocabularies, determined as all of them are by the glib rationalism of the Enlightenment, do we find that momentous fact about ourselves acknowledged? Where is it acknowledged, for instance, in the vocabulary of feminism that "woman," as conceived by an American writing about Italians, cannot help but be significantly different from "woman" as conceived by an Italian looking at Americans? Or again, an Italian woman may well, we must suppose, be an Italian patriot; but where, in the current vocabulary of feminists, is that dimension of her "woman-ness" allowed for? Let it be acknowledged only so as to be deplored; but let it in any event be acknowledged. At the moment, it isn't.

      See also: Robert von Hallberg, Donald Davie and "The Moral Shape of Politics"

      Donald A. Davie, the distinguished poet, is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Vanderbilt University and honorary fellow of Saint Catharine's College, Cambridge and of Trinity College, Dublin. He has edited The New Oxford Book of Christian Verse, and his Collected Poems 1950-1970 appeared in 1972. His latest publications are Dissentient Voice and These the Companions; Recollections.

    • 45Wayne C. Booth
    • In turning to the language of freedom, I am not automatically freed from the dangers of reduction and self-privileging. "Freedom" as a term is at least as ambiguous as "power" (or as "politics" or "interpretation"). When I say that for me all questions about the politics of interpretation begin with the question of freedom, I can either be saying a mouthful or saying nothing at all, depending on whether I am willing to complicate my key term, "freedom," by relating it to the language of power. The best way to do that is to get power in from the beginning, by making a distinction taken for granted by many earlier thinkers and too often ignored today: freedom from as contrasted with freedom to; freedom from external restraints and the power of others to inhibit our actions, and freedom to act effectively when restraints disappear.

      All the freedom from in the world will not free me to make an intellectual discovery or to point a picture unless I have somehow freed myself to perform certain tasks. Such freedoms are gained only by those who surrender to disciplines and codes invented by others, giving up certain freedoms from. Nobody forbids by interpreting the original text of Confucius' Analects or the Principia Mathematica, yet I am not free to do so, lacking the disciplines—having not been disciplined—to do so. The distinction can lead to troublesome complexities, but in its simple form here it cuts through some of the problems that arise in power language.

      Every critical revolution tends to speak more clearly about what it is against than about what it seeks. The historicists against impressionism, the New Critics against historicism, the new new critics against intentionalism and the authority of canons, the feminists against misogynous art and criticism–clearly one could write a history of modern criticism as a glorious casting off of errors. But it is rightly a commonplace among intellectual historians that all revolutionaries depend on their past far more than they know. Revolutionary critics are enslaved by a nasty law of nature: I can say only what I can say, and that will be largely what I have learned to say from the kings I would depose.

      Everyone who tries to forge any kind of ideological criticism must struggle with these complexities. Nobody ever knows just what powers have been rejected and what voices heard. But at the moment it seems clear that what follows here, both in its emerging clarities and remaining confusions, results from my somewhat surprised surrender to voices previously alien to me: the "Mikhail Bakhtin" who speaks to me, muffled by my ignorance of Russian, and the feminist criticism" that in its vigor and diversity and challenge to canonic views has—belatedly, belatedly—forced me to begin listening.

      See also: Wayne C. Booth, “Preserving the Exemplar": Or, How Not to Dig Our Own Graves

      Wayne C. Booth's most recent work, Critical Understanding: The Powers and Limits of Pluralism, won the Laing Prize in 1982. He is working on a book about ethical and political criticism of narrative. A new edition of The Rhetoric of Fiction will appear in 1983.

    • 77Julia Kristeva
    • The essays in this volume convince me of something which, until now was only a hypothesis of mine. Academic discourse, and perhaps American university discourse in particular, possesses an extraordinary ability to absorb, digest, and neutralize all of the key, radical or dramatic moments of thought, particularly, a fortiori, of contemporary though. Marxism in the United States, though marginalized, remains deafly dominant and exercises a fascination that we have not seen in Europe since the Russian Proletkult of the 1930s. Post-Heideggerian "deconstructivism" though esoteric, is welcomed in the United States as an antidote to analytic philosophy or, rather, as a way to valorize, through contrast, that philosophy. Only one theoretical breakthrough seems consistently to mobilize resistances, rejections and deafness: psychoanalysis—not as the "plague" allowed by Freud to implant itself in America as a "commerce in couches" but rather as that which, with Freud and after him, has led the psychoanalytic decentering of the speaking subject to the very foundations of language. It is this latter direction that I will be exploring here, with no other hope than to awaken the resistances and, perhaps, the attention of a concerned few, after the event (après coup).

      For I have the impression that the "professionalism" discussed throughout the "Politics of Interpretation" conference is never as strong as when professionals denounce it. In fact, the same preanalytic rationality unites them all, "conservatives" and "revolutionaries"—in all cases, jealous guardians of their academic "chairs" whose very existence, I am sure, is thrown into question and put into jeopardy by psychoanalytic discourse. I would therefore schematically summarize what is to follow in this way:

      1. There are political implications inherent in the act of interpretation itself, whatever meaning that interpretation bestows. What is the meaning, interest, and benefit of the interpretive position itself, a position from which I wish to give meaning to an enigma? To give a political meaning to something is perhaps only the ultimate consequence to he epistemological attitude which consists, simply, of the desire to give meaning. This attitude is not innocent but, rather, is rooted in the speaking subjects' need to reassure himself of his image and his identity faced with an object. Political interpretation is thus the apogee of the obsessive quest for A Meaning.

      2. The psychoanalytic intervention within Western knowledge has a fundamentally deceptive effect. Psychoanalysis, critical and dissolvent cuts through political illusions, fantasies, and beliefs to the extent that they consist in providing only one meaning, an uncriticizable ultimate Meaning, to human behavior. If such a situation can lead to despair within the polis, we must not forget that it is also a source of lucidity and ethics. The psychoanalytic intervention is, from this point of view, a counterweight, an antidote, to political discourse which, without it, is free to become our modern religion: the final explanation.

      3. The political interpretations of our century have produced two powerful and totalitarian results: fascism and Stalinism. Parallel to the socioeconomic reasons for these phenomena, there exists as well, another, more intrinsic reason: the simple desire to give a meaning to explain, to provide the answer, to interpret. In that context I will briefly discuss Louis Ferdinand Céline's texts insofar as the ideological interpretations given by him are an example of political delirium in avant-garde writing.

      See also: Julia Kristeva, Is There a Feminine Genius?

      Julia Kristeva,professor of linguistics at the University of Paris VII and a regular visiting professor at Columbia University, is the author of Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art and About Chinese Women.
      Margaret Waller, a doctoral candidate in French at Columbia University, is currently translating Kristeva's Revolution du langage poétique.

    • 93Stephen Toulmin
    • The hermeneutic movement in philosophy and criticism has done us a service by directing our attention to the role of critical interpretation in understanding the humanities. But it has done us a disservice also because it does not recognize any comparable role for interpretation in the natural sciences and in this way sharply separates the two fields of scholarship and experience.1 Consequently, I shall argue, the central truths and virtues of hermeneutics have become encumbered with a whole string of false interferences and misleading dichotomies. These distortions have had two effects. On the one hand, they have rationality which are crucial goals of the natural sciences; and, on the other hand, they have encouraged an exaggerated idea of the extent to which difference in personal and/or cultural standpoint rule out any such goal for the humanities. Once we recognize that the natural sciences too are in the business of "construing" reality, we shall be better able to preserve the central insights of the hermeneutic method, without succumbing to the misleading implications of its rhetorical misuse.

      Physics, in particular, has always required its participants to adopt an interpretive standpoint, and this standpoint has changed more than once during the historical development of that science. Yet this variable standpoint has done nothing to undercut the commitment of physicists to rationality and objectivity: on the contrary, they have made it one of their chief aims to discover just what aspects of reality, or nature, lend themselves to interpretation and understanding as considered from any particular standpoint. If we can drive this wedge between scientific objectivity and hermeneutic relativity in the case of physics, we are free to return to the humanities and apply the same distinction there too. It has too often, and too readily, been assumed that whatever needs to be interpreted in order to be understood will, to that extent, become a matter of taste or subjectivity; and, as a result, any claims to rationality and objectivity in the critical realms–whether moral or aesthetic, political and intellectual–have been too hastily surrendered.

      The current sharp distinction between scientific explanations and hermeneutic interpretation was launched by Wilhelm Dilthey nearly a century ago; and, in justice to Dilthey, we need to bear in mind that the interpretive element in natural science was far less evident then than it is today. Scientists nowadays view the world from a new and less rigid standpoint. This period which Frederick Ferre calls "postmodern science," differs from the older one of "modern science" in just those respects that enable us to reconcile the rational claims that have always been central to the natural sciences with a new hermeneutic richness and variability.

      1. Some will respond that Edmund Husserl, for one, spoke of the natural sciences as being, in their own way, "interpretive"; but the role allotted to natural science by the phenomonologists and their successors—I have in mind Hans Georg Gadamer and Jürgen Habermass much as Martin Heidegger and Husserl—I an impoverished and unhistorical one. The hermeneutic philosophers have not, in this respect, fully recognized either the plurality or the historical variability of the interpretive modes adopted in one or another of the natural sciences for different intellectual purposes and at different stages in their historical development.

      See also: Stephen Toulmin, The Inwardness of Mental Life

      Stephen Toulmin is a professor in the Committee on Social Thought, the Department of Philosophy, and the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. He is author of, among other works, Foresight and Understanding, Human Understanding, and Knowing and Acting and is currently at work on volume 2 of Human Understanding. His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, "The Inwardness of Mental Life," appeared in the Autumn 1979 issue.

    • 113Hayden White
    • The politics of interpretation should not be confused with interpretive practices such as political theory, political commentary, or histories of political institutions, parties, and conflicts that have politics itself as a specific object of interest. In these other interpretive practices, the politics that informs or motivates them—“politics” in the sense of political values or ideology—is relatively easily perceived and no particular meta-interpretive analysis is required. The politics of interpretation, on the other hand, arises in those interpretive practices which are ostensibly most remote from overtly political concerns, practices which are carried out under the aegis of a purely disinterested search for the truth or inquiry into the natures of things which appear to have no political relevance at all. This “politics” has to do with the kind of authority the interpreter claims vis-à-vis the established political authorities of his society, on the one side, and vis-à-vis other interpreters in his own field of study or investigation, on the other, as the basis of whatever rights he conceives himself to possess and whatever duties he feels obligated to discharge as a professional seeker of truth. This politics which presides over interpretive conflicts is difficult to identity because traditionally, in our culture at least, interpretation is thought to operate properly only as long as the interpreter does not have recourse to the one instrument which the politician per vocationem utilizes as a matter of course in his practice—the appeal to force as a means of resolving disputes and conflicts.1

      1. I have followed the lead of Max Weber in defining the phrase “politics of interpretation.” In “Politics as Vocation,” Weber wrote that “ ‘politics’ means for us striving to share power or striving to influence the distribution of power, either among states or among groups within a state” (From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, ed. and trans. H. H. Gerth and C. W. Mills [New York, 1958], p. 78). Rather than discuss the age-old problem of the professional interpreter’s political responsibilities, I will consider that politics which is endemic to the pursuit of truth—the striving to share power amongst interpreters themselves. The activity of interpreting becomes political at the point where a given interpreter claims authority over rival interpreters. As long as this claim is not reinforced by appeal to the power of the state to compel conformity of belief or conviction, it is “political” only in a metaphorical sense. Of course, interpretation becomes political when a given point of view or finding is taken as orthodoxy of belief by those holding political power, as in the Soviet Union, Germany under Hitler, or any number of religiously puritanical regimes. But these are the easy cases. It is much more difficult to determine the political nature of interpretive practices which, as in literary criticism or antiquarian scholarship, appear to have no bearing upon political policies or practices.

      See also: Hayden White, The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality

      Hayden White is a professor and director of the program in the history of consciousness at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is coeditor of Representing Kenneth Burke (forthcoming this fall) and is currently working on a book on the rhetoric of realism. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are "The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality" (Autumn 1980) and "The Narrativization of Real Events" (Summer 1981).

    • 139T. J. Clark
    • It is not intended as some sort of revelation on my part that Greenberg's cultural theory was originally Marxist in its stresses and, indeed in its attitude to what constituted explanation in such matters. I point out the Marxist and historical mode of proceeding as emphatically as I do partly because it may make my own procedure later in this paper seem a little less arbitrary. For I shall fall to arguing in the end with these essay's Marxism and their history, and I want it understood that I think that to do so is to take issue with their strengths and their main drift.

      But I have to admit there are difficulties here. The essays in question ["Avant-Garde and Kitsch" and "Towards a Newer Lacoön"] are quite brief. They are, I think, extremely well written: it was not for nothing the Partisan Review described Clement Greenberg, when he first contributed to the journal early in 1939, as "a young writer who works in the New York customs house"—fine, redolent avant-garde pedigree, that! The language of these articles is forceful and easy, always straightforward, blessedly free from Marxist conundrums. Yet the price paid for such lucidity, here as so often, is a degree of inexplicitness—certain amount of elegant skirting round the difficult issues, where one might otherwise be obliged to call out the ponderous armory of Marx's concepts and somewhat spoil the low of the prose from one firm statement to another. The Marxism, in other words, is quite largely implicit; it is stated on occasion, with brittle and pugnacious finality, as the essay's frame of reference, but it remains to the reader to determine just how it works in the history and theory presented—what that history and theory depend on, in the way of Marxist assumptions about class and capital or even abase and superstructure. That is what I intend to do in this paper: to interpret and extrapolate from the texts, even at the risk of making their Marxism declare itself more stridently than the "young writer" seems to have wished. And I should admit straight away that there are several point in what follows where I am genuinely uncertain as to whether I am diverging from Greenberg's argument or explaining it more fully. This does not worry me overmuch, as long as we are alerted to the special danger in this case, dealing with such transparent yet guarded prose, and as long as we can agree that the project in general—pressing home a Marxist reading of texts which situate themselves within the Marxist tradition—is a reasonable one.2

      2. This carelessness distinguishes the present paper from two recent studies of Greenberg's early writings, Serge Guilbaut's "The New Adventures of the Avant-Garde in America," October 15 (Winter 1980), and Fred Orton and Griselda Pollock's "Avant-Gardes and Partisans Reviewed," Art History 3 (September 1981) I am indebted to both these essays and am sure that their strictures on the superficiality—not to say the opportunism–of Greenberg's Marxism are largely right. (Certainly Mr. Greenberg would not now disagree with them.) But I am nonetheless interested in the challenge offered to most Marxist, and non-Marxist, accounts of modern history by what I take to be a justified though extreme, pessimism as t the nature of established culture since 1870. That pessimism is characteristic, I suppose, of what Marxists call an ultraleftist point of view. I believe, as I say, that a version of some such view is correct and would therefore with to treat Greenberg's theory as if it were a decently elaborated Marxism of an ultraleftist kind, on which issues in certain mistaken views (which I criticize) but which need not so issue and which might still provide, cleansed of those errors, a good vantage for a history of our culture.

      See also: O. K. Werckmeister, A Critique of T. J. Clark’s Farewell to an Idea

      T. J. Clark, professor of fine arts at Harvard University, is the author of The Absolute Bourgeois: Artists and Politics in France, 1848-1851 and Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution. His book on impressionist painting and Paris is forthcoming.

    • 157Stanley Cavell
    • In my essay on Austin I did not specify what I took the politics of my own discourse to be, but the institutional pressures on it, in particular the pressures of the professionalization of American philosophy, were in outline clear enough. I was more and more galled by the mutual shunning of the continental and the Anglo-American traditions of philosophizing, and I was finding more and more oppressive the mutual indifference of philosophy and literature to one another, especially, I suppose, of American philosophy and American literature, and especially philosophy's indifference to the literary conditions of its own existence. (I understand this to imply not an interdisciplinary wish but rather a wish for philosophy to take a further step toward itself.) I was still near the beginning of what is turning out to be a lifelong quarrel with the profession of philosophy. One of its recent manifestations has been the question put to me by certain professional colleagues whether I do not take satisfaction from the newer literary theory and criticism, especially as that has been inspired by developments over the past fifteen or so years in French intellectual life. This would seem to answer my plea at one stroke for both continental philosophy and for an understanding with literary matters. The fact is that my ambivalence toward these developments has been so strong, or anyway periodic, that I have found it difficult to study in any very orderly way.

      The reason for my difficulty is contained in what I mean by my quarrel with the profession of philosophy. That this is a quarrel means that I recognize the profession to be the genuine present of the impulse and the history of philosophy, so far as that present takes its place in our (English-speaking) public intellectual life. This is what makes my quarrel with it a part of what I take my intellectual adventure to be. My point in the quarrel is that I can recognize no expression of mine to be philosophical which simply thinks to escape my profession's paradigms of comprehensibility; so that the invocations of the name of philosophy in current literary debate are frequently not comprehensible to me as calls upon philosophy. It may be that I should care less about this than I do, even less than my ambivalence asks. I mean to bear this in mind as I go on to spend the bulk of my time here considering in a practical way some passages from the writing of two literary theorists who have recourse to the work of Austin. In the case of the passages from Stanley Fish, it may be that my efforts will just amount to clearing up some unnecessarily confusing terminology; some passages from Paul de Man I find more troubling.

      See also: Stanley Cavell, Excerpts from Memory

      Stanley Cavell, professor of philosophy at Harvard University, is the author of, among other works, Must We Mean What We Say?, The Senses of Walden, The Claim of Reason, and most recently Pursuits of Happiness. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry are "On Makavejev On Bergman" (Winter 1979), "A Reply to John Hollander" (Summer 1980), and "North by Northwest" (Summer 1981).

    • 179Ronald Dworkin
    • The puzzle arises because propositions of law seem to be descriptive—they are about how things are in the law, not about how they should be—and yet it has proved extremely difficult to say exactly what it is that they describe. Legal positivists believe that propositions of law are indeed wholly descriptive: they are in fact pieces of history. A proposition of law in their view, is true just in case some event of a designated law-making kind has taken place, and other wise not. This seems to work reasonably well in very simple cases. If the Illinois legislature enacts the words "No will shall be valid without three witnesses, "then the proposition of law, that in Illinois will needs three witnesses, seems to be true only in virtue of that historical event.

      But in more difficult cases the analysis fails. Consider the proposition that a particular affirmative action scheme (not yet tested in the courts) is constitutionally valid. If that is true, it cannot be so just in virtue of the text of the Constitution and the fact of prior court decisions, because reasonable lawyers who know exactly what the constitution says and what the courts have done may yet disagree whether it is true. (I am doubtful that the positivist's analysis holds even in the simple case of the will; but that is a different matter I shall not argue here.)

      What are the other possibilities? One is to suppose that controversial propositions f law, like the affirmative action statement, are not descriptive at all but are rather expressions of what the speaker wants the law to be.

      Another is more ambitious: controversial statements are attempts to describe some pure objective or natural law, which exits in virtue of objective moral truth rather than historical decision. Both these projects take some legal statements, at least, to be purely evaluative as distinct from descriptive: they express either what the speaker prefers—his personal politics—or what he believes is objectively required b the principles of an ideal political morality. Neither of these projects is plausible because someone who says that a particular untested affirmative action plan is constitution does mean to describe the law as it is rather than as he wants it to be or thinks that, by the best moral theory, it should be. He might, indeed, say that the regrets that the plan is constitutional and thinks that, according to the best moral theory, it ought not to be.

      There is a better alternative: propositions of law are not simply descriptive of legal history, in a straightforward way, nor are they simply evaluative in some way divorced from legal history. They are interpretive of legal history, which combines elements of both description and evaluation but is different from both. This suggestion will be congenial, at least at first blush, to many lawyers and legal philosophers. They are used to saying that law is a matter of interpretation; but only, perhaps because they understand interpretation in a certain way. When a statute (or the Constitution) is unclear on some point, because some crucial term is vague or because a sentence is ambiguous, lawyers say that the statute must be interpreted, and they apply what they call "techniques of statutory construction." Most of the literature assumes that interpretation of a particular document is a matter of discovering what its authors (the legislators, or the delegates to the constitutional convention) meant to say in using the words they did. But lawyers recognize that on many issues the author had no intention either way and that on others his intention cannot be discovered. Some lawyers take a more skeptical position. They say that whenever judges pretend they are discovering the intention behind some piece of legislation, this is simply a smoke screen behind which the judges impose their own view of what the statute should have been.

      See also: Walter Benn Michaels, Is There a Politics of Interpretation?

      Ronald Dworkin, professor of jurisprudence at Oxford University, is the author of Taking Rights Seriously and editor of The Philosophy of Law.