Normative Legal Theories: The Case for Pluralism and Balancing

Author:Steven J. Burton
Position:Professor of Law, The University of Iowa College of Law
Pages:535-575
SUMMARY

Normative legal theories make recommendations about what the law should be. They may be "pluralist" or "monist". Robust pluralist theories justify their recommendations by considering and, when necessary, balancing all relevant values. Monist theories consider one and only one value and, consequently, hope to avoid balancing competing values. Monist theories, such as those based on economic... (see full summary)

 
FREE EXCERPT
535
Normative Legal Theories:
The Case for Pluralism and Balancing
Steven J. Burton
ABSTRACT: Normative legal theories make recommendations about what
the law should be. They may be “pluralist” or “monist.” Robust pluralist
theories justify their recommendations by considering and, when necessary,
balancing all relevant values. Monist theories consider one and only one
value and, consequently, hope to avoid balancing competing values. Monist
theories, such as those based on economic efficiency alone, have proliferated
in recent decades. This Article is the first to explore in depth pluralism,
balancing, and the monism of monist theories.
Monists shun pluralist theories because pluralists must balance values
when they compete. Balancing, they believe, is too problematic without meta-
principles to fix the weights of the values. No one has come up with a
workable meta-principle. Hence, they conclude, all normative legal theories
should be monist.
The monists’ call for meta-principles is a red herring. Sweeping it aside
clears the path to a thorough analysis of pluralism, balancin g, and
monism. This Article argues that pluralism and balancing are normatively
appealing while monism has serious deficiencies. Consequently, it concludes,
all normative legal theories should be pluralist.
I
NTRODUCTION ...................................................................................... 537
I. NORMATIVE LEGAL THEORIES: THE ULTIMATE GOAL .......................... 539
II. PLURALISM ............................................................................................. 541
A. PLURALISM AND MONISM DISTINGUISHED: A THOUGHT
EXPERIMENT .................................................................................... 541
John F. Murray Professor of Law, The University of Iowa College of Law. F or their
comments on the drafts, the author thanks Gregory S. Alexander, Eric G. Andersen, Melvin A.
Eisenberg, Michelle Falkoff, Richard Fumerton, Thomas P. Gallanis, Herbert Hovenkamp,
Diane Jeske, Mark Osiel, Todd D. Rakoff, Christopher D. Stone, and participants in the Iowa
Legal Studies Workshops held on October 29, 2010, and July 21, 2011. Serena Stier’s
comments were exceptionally helpful, as always. Rumsin Khoshaba and Andrew Tran provided
able research assistance.
536 IOWA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 98:535
B. VARIETIES OF PLURALISM ................................................................. 544
C. PLURALIST LEGAL THEORIES ............................................................ 545
III. BALANCING AND PLURALISMS NORMATIVE APPEAL .............................. 549
A. CHIMERICAL META-PRINCIPLES......................................................... 550
B. UNDERSTANDING BALANCING ........................................................... 551
C. PLURALIST THEORIES AND THE NORMATIVE GOAL ............................ 555
IV. THE MONIST ALTERNATIVE TO PLURALISM ........................................... 557
A. A MONIST LEGAL THEORY ............................................................... 558
B. THE APPEAL OF MONIST LEGAL THEORIES ........................................ 560
C. MONIST THEORIES AND THE NORMATIVE GOAL ................................. 562
D. POSSIBLE MONIST REJOINDERS .......................................................... 565
V. PLURALISM VERSUS MONISM: NON-NORMATIVE CONCERNS ................. 568
A. COHERENCE CONCERNS .................................................................... 568
B. EPISTEMIC CONCERNS ....................................................................... 570
C. RULE OF LAW CONCERNS .................................................................. 571
D. JUDGMENT AND BALANCING IN MONIST THEORIES ............................. 573
E. A CAVEAT: MONIST ARGUMENTS IN PLURALIST THEORIES ................. 574
CONCLUSION ......................................................................................... 575
2013] THE CASE FOR PLURALISM AND BALANCING 537
INTRODUCTION
Normative legal theories aim to say what the law should be. They make
proposals for changing the law and provide standards for evaluating existing
laws and other proposals. They currently dominate the leading legal
scholarship. It is important to understand what successful such theories
would look like. By making it possible to justify and criticize laws soundly,
normative legal theories undergird the legal system’s legitimacy.1
On one dimension, there are only two kinds of theories—“pluralist” and
“monist.” Robust pluralist theories take all relevant values into account and
balance them when they compete.2 A pluralist theory of contract law, for
example, might consider freedom of and freedom from contract,
contractual security, fairness, and Rule of Law values, including
administrability.3 The only relevant alternative type of theory is a monist
theory. A monist theory takes one and only one value into account and,
consequently, hopes to avoid balancing competing values. A monist theory
of contract law, for example, might rest on economic efficiency, autonomy,
promise, consent, transfer, Aristotelian ethics, or reliance.4
Over the last four decades, monist theories have proliferated, notably
those based on efficiency.5 Monists object to pluralist theories’ need to
1. See infra note 7 and accompanying text.
2. There are several varieties of pluralism. See infra Part II.B. This Article uses “pluralism”
in its robust, external sense.
3. See, e.g., STEVEN J. BURTON, ELEMENTS OF CONTRACT IN TERPRETATION, at xi, 2, 185
(2009) [hereinafter ELEMENTS]; MICHAEL J. TREBILCOCK, THE LIMITS OF FREEDOM OF
CONTRACT (1993); Melvin A. Eisenberg, The Theory of Contracts, in THE THEORY OF CONTRACT
LAW: NEW ESSAYS 206 (Peter Benson ed., 2001); see also Leon Trakman, Pluralism in Contract
Law, 58 BUFF. L. REV. 1031, 1062 (2010); Nathan Oman, Unity and Pluralism in Contract Law,
103 MICH. L. REV. 1483 (2005) (reviewing STEPHEN A. SMITH, CONTRACT THEORY (2004)).
Professor Gregory S. Alexander presents Aristotelian ethics as a kind of pluralism because it
encompasses several virtues. Gregory S. Alexander, Pluralism and Property, 80 FORDHAM L. REV.
1017 (2011).
4. See, e.g., CHARLES FRIED, CONTRACT AS PROMISE: A THEORY OF CONTRACTUAL
OBLIGATION (1981) (autonomy); GRANT GILMORE, THE DEATH OF CONTRAC T (1974)
(reliance); JAMES GORDLEY, THE PHILOSOPHICAL ORIGINS OF MODERN CONTRACT DO CTRINE
(1991) (Aristotelian ethics); RICHARD A. POSNER, ECONOMIC ANALYSIS OF LAW 93–142 (7th ed.
2007) (efficiency); STEPHEN A. SMITH, CONTRACT THEORY (2004) (promise); Randy E. Barnett,
A Consent Theory of Contract, 86 COLUM. L. REV. 269 (1986) (consent); Peter Benson, The Unity of
Contract Law, in THE THEORY OF CONTRACT LAW: NEW ESSAYS, supra note 3, at 118 (transfer);
Chapin F. Cimino, Virtue and Contract Law, 88 OR. L. REV. 703 (2009) (virtue). See generally
ROBERT A. HILLMAN, THE RICHNESS OF CONTRACT LAW: AN ANALYSIS AND CRITIQUE OF
CONTEMPORARY THEORIES OF CONTRACT LAW (1997). Professor Melvin A. Eisenberg has
suggested that Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was a monist in a much broader way, encompassing
the entire common law. Melvin Aron Eisenberg, The Responsive Model of Contract Law, 36 STAN .
L. REV. 1107, 1108–09 (1984) (citing O.W. HOLMES, JR., THE COMMON LAW 49–59 (1881)).
5. “Efficiency” is not a unitary value. Versions of efficiency include Pareto optimality,
Pareto superiority, Kaldor–Hicks efficiency, and wealth maximization. Each of these versions
embodies a slightly different value. A well-done monist efficiency theory would em brace only

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP