Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-7l5rh Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-03-04T16:03:40.425Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

2 - History, Law and the Rediscovery of Social Theory

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 December 2022

Richard Bourke
University of Cambridge
Quentin Skinner
Queen Mary University of London
Get access


This chapter argues for the need for both history and law to recommit to the broad tradition of social theory, in order for either to make progress on its own, let alone for one to plausibly reorient the other. From the perspective of this argument for common need rather than crossdisciplinary largesse, it is not going to be good enough to suppose that contemporary historiography is already well-positioned for relevance to other fields. In the last fifty years, it has lost touch with the tradition of social theory, thanks to the linguistic and cultural turns and a certain fetishization of contingent outcomes that have been emphasized in critical and genealogical sorts of history. The chapter proceeds to map three ongoing quandaries in social theory, since it is only within the discussion of each that the relationship of history to law takes on its significance. These are the 1) the dilemma of representations versus practices; 2) the reconciliation of contingency and determination; 3) and the assessment of the normative and the political, both as something to explain in diverse past settings but also what might motivate and orient present inquiry in the first place.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Althusser, Louis. 1972. Politics and History: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Marx, trans. Ben Brewster. London.Google Scholar
Armitage, David. forthcoming. ‘In Defense of Presentism’ in The History of the Humanities and Human Flourishing, ed. McMahon, Darrin M.. Oxford.Google Scholar
Balkin, Jack. 2020. ‘Lawyers and Historians Argue about the Constitution’, Constitutional Commentary, 35, pp. 345400.Google Scholar
Berlin, Isaiah. 1955. Historical Inevitability. Oxford.Google Scholar
Berlin, Isaiah. 1962. ‘Does Political Theory Still Exist?’ in Philosophy, Politics and Society: Second Series, ed. Laslett, Peter and Runciman, W. G.. Oxford.Google Scholar
Brudney, Daniel. 2009. Marx’s Attempt to Leave Philosophy. Cambridge, MA.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burke, Edmund. 1839. Letters on a Regicide Peace in The Works of Edmund Burke, 9 vols. New York.Google Scholar
Burrow, J. W. 1966. Evolution and Society: A Study in Victorian Social Theory. Cambridge.Google Scholar
Clarke, Michael. 1976. ‘Durkheim’s Sociology of Law’, British Journal of Law and Society, 3: 2, pp. 246–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Felsch, Philipp. 2015. Der lange Sommer der Theorie: Geschichte einer Revolte 1960–1990. Munich.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ferguson, Niall, ed. 1997. Virtual History: Alternatives and Counterfactual. London.Google Scholar
Funkenstein, Amos. 1986. Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century. Princeton.Google Scholar
Gallagher, Catherine. 2018. Telling it Like it Wasn’t: The Counterfactual Imagination in History and Fiction. Chicago.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gordon, Robert W. 2017. Taming the Past: Essays on Law in History and History in Law. Cambridge.Google Scholar
Hawthorn, Geoffrey. 1992. Plausible Worlds: Possibility and Understanding in History and the Social Sciences. Cambridge.Google Scholar
Judt, Tony. 1992. Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944–1956. Berkeley.Google Scholar
Kalman, Laura. 1997. ‘Border Patrol: Reflections on the Turn to History in Legal Scholarship’, Fordham Law Review, 87, pp. 87124.Google Scholar
Kelly, Alfred. 1965. ‘Clio and the Court: An Illicit Law Affair’, Supreme Court Review, 1965, pp. 119–58.Google Scholar
Kramer, Larry D. 2003. ‘When Lawyers Do History’, George Washington Law Review, 72, pp. 387423.Google Scholar
Kronman, Anthony T. 1983. Max Weber. London.Google Scholar
Laslett, Peter. 1956. ‘Introduction’, in Philosophy, Politics, Society, ed. Laslett, Peter and Runciman, W. G.. Oxford.Google Scholar
Löwith, Karl. 1949. Meaning in History. Chicago.Google Scholar
Löwith, Karl. 1982. Max Weber and Karl Marx, trans. Hans Fantel. London.Google Scholar
Lukes, Steven. 1987. Marxism and Morality. Oxford.Google Scholar
Meek, Ronald L. 1978. Social Science and the Ignoble Savage. Cambridge.Google Scholar
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 2012. Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Donald Landes. London.Google Scholar
Moyn, Samuel. 2008. ‘On the Intellectual Origins of François Furet’s Masterpiece’, Tocqueville Review, 29: 2, pp. 5978.Google Scholar
Moyn, Samuel. 2010. The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History. Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
Moyn, Samuel. 2014. ‘Imaginary Intellectual History’ in Rethinking Modern European Intellectual History, ed. McMahon, Darrin M. and Moyn, Samuel. Oxford.Google Scholar
Moyn, Samuel. 2018. ‘Human Rights in Heaven’ in Human Rights: Moral or Political?, ed. Etinson, Adam. Oxford.Google Scholar
Pocock, J. G. A. 1999. Barbarism and Religion, vol. II: Narratives of Civil Government. Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pocock, J. G. A. 1962. ‘The History of Political Thought: A Methodological Enquiry’ in Philosophy, Politics and Society: Second Series, ed. Laslett, Peter and Runciman, W. G.. Oxford.Google Scholar
Riley, Patrick. 2003. ‘Malebranche and Natural Law’ in Early Modern Natural Law Theories: Contexts and Strategies in the Early Enlightenment, ed. Hochstrasser, T. J. and Schröder, Peter. Dordrecht.Google Scholar
Rose, Gillian. 1981. Hegel contra Sociology. London.Google Scholar
Runciman, W. G. 1962. ‘Sociological Evidence and Political Theory’ in Philosophy, Politics and Society: Second Series, ed. Laslett, Peter and Runciman, W. G.. Oxford.Google Scholar
Runciman, W. G. 1963. Social Science and Political Theory. Cambridge.Google Scholar
de Sade, D. A. F. 1965. Philosophy in the Bedroom in Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and Other Writings, ed. Seaver, Richard. New York.Google Scholar
Sewell, William H. Jr. 2005. Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation. Chicago.Google Scholar
Skinner, Quentin. 1965. ‘History and Ideology in the English Revolution’, Historical Journal, 8, pp. 151–78.Google Scholar
Skinner, Quentin. 1969. ‘Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas’, History & Theory, 8: 1, pp. 353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Skinner, Quentin. 2002. ‘Motives, Intentions, and Interpretation’, in Skinner, Quentin, Visions of Politics, vol. I: Regarding Method. Cambridge.Google Scholar
Smolin, Lee and Unger, Roberto Mangabeira. 2015. The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time. Cambridge.Google Scholar
Strauss, Leo. 1964. The City and Man. Chicago.Google Scholar
Thompson, John B. 1986. Studies in the Theory of Ideology. Berkeley.Google Scholar
de Tocqueville, Alexis. 1899. Democracy in America, trans. Henry Reeve. 2 vols. New York.Google Scholar
Toews, John E. 1987. ‘Intellectual History after the Linguistic Turn: The Autonomy of Meaning and the Irreducibility of Experience’, American Historical Review, 92: 4, pp. 879907.Google Scholar
Turner, Stephen P. 2010. Explaining the Normative. Cambridge.Google Scholar
Unger, Roberto Mangabeira. 1975. Knowledge and Politics. New York.Google Scholar
Unger, Roberto Mangabeira. 1976. Law in Modern Society: Toward a Criticism of Social Theory. New York.Google Scholar
Unger, Roberto Mangabeira. 1986. False Necessity: Anti-Necessitarian Social Theory in the Service of Radical Democracy. Cambridge.Google Scholar
Unger, Roberto Mangabeira. 2014. The Religion of the Future. Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
Viner, Jacob. 1972. The Role of Providence in the Social Order: An Essay in Intellectual History. Philadelphia.Google Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats