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Integrity, Community and Interpretation: A Critical Analysis of Ronald Dworkin's Theory of Law

Neil MacCormick

Honeyball, Simon, and James Walter. Integrity, Community and Interpretation: A Critical Analysis of Ronald Dworkin's Theory of Law. Aldershot, UK, Brookfield, USA: Ashgate Publishing Company, 1998. Pp. vii, 175.

Ronald Dworkin has had a great and beneficial influence on legal thought. He has frontally challenged legal positivism and moral scepticism, and has scouted economic analysis and critical legal studies. He has advanced a view of law deeply imbued with moral principles, and yet has done so in a manner that bypasses the mainstream of natural law theorizing. He has allied himself with hermeneutics, especially the thought of Hans-Georg Gadamer, but has done so in a way that exhibits continuity with the 'Legal Process' school from which he emerged. He has been intellectually his own man, with no visible school of followers or acolytes, and yet his work is everywhere at the storm's eye of controversy. Many have disagreed with him, but have done so invariably with respect.

In his own main works, he has been reticent in his response to criticism, and inexact in his critique of other thinkers. It is not his way to work carefully over somebody else's work, identify its exact point and then refute that. Rather, he expounds a position, such as 'conventionalism' or 'pragmatism', or an argumentative move, such as the 'semantic sting', or a stance such as 'external scepticism' or 'internal scepticism', and refutes the position as he has expounded it, frequently without exact attribution of any particular author to the expounded position. Then his own view, now an interpretivist view of law as expressing the integrity of a political community, is shown to be preferable to the depicted rival(s).

It is thus often a frustrating business for anyone who has embarked on a critique of Dworkin, or essayed a different approach, to try and figure out whether and at what points an effective reply lies within the interstices of his argument. Hart famously, and correctly, protested that he was not merely not committed to the 'semantic sting', but had himself explicitly rejected semantic arguments as unhelpful to his positivist conception of law. No matter - the semantic sting stands refuted, and let the cap fit who will wear it. And so on.

In this light, Simon Honeyball and James Walter have done sterling service in their critical account of Dworkin's jurisprudence. Integrity, Community and Interpretation takes detailed account of Dworkin's critics and rivals, and indeed allies, and explains with some precision, points of difference (and non-difference), and implicit as well as explicit refutations (or attempted refutations). They are perhaps a little reticent (though not entirely so) about Stephen Guest's parallel work in Ronald Dworkin (2nd ed., 1997). But their own task is somewhat different from that of Guest's synoptic presentation of Dworkinian philosophy, and it is well done according to its own job description.

They are somewhat more adversarially critical than Guest, but their critique is a constructive and friendly one. It amounts to arguing that Dworkin has not gone far enough down the road of Gadamerian hermeneutics, and has not perceived, in his refutation of Critical Legal Studies, the value to be derived for his position from a reading of Derrida that locates the latter within the hermeneutic camp. Their view is that Dworkin heeds too little, the seriousness of the argument from incommensurability of rival goods or conceptions of the good. This leads him to overestimate the possibility of a univocal view of law's integrity based on the matching of moral value and best fit in problematic instances of interpretation. I am inclined to agree with them on this, though therefore inclined to think that they too swiftly dismiss at an early stage in their argument a markedly similar thesis of my own arising out of an earlier phase in the controversy. However that may be, I welcome and commend this admirably scholarly and well-presented study of one of the great jurists of our times.

Neil MacCormick
United Kingdom