Keep Law Alive

by James Boyd White

Tags: Jurisprudence, Legal Philosophy/Philosophy and Law

Table of Contents (PDF)

184 pp  $29.00

ISBN 978-1-5310-1507-7
eISBN 978-1-5310-1508-4

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How should we respond to the fact that law and democracy are under real threat in our world? In Keep Law Alive, James Boyd White warns us that if we are to keep law alive we must understand what law is, and how it works at its best—while at the same time recognizing that it may indeed be lost.

The following quote, taken from the Foreword, describes the author's approach:

"My idea in this book is to express my sense of what law is like at its best—how it works, what it offers us, and what it requires of us, both as lawyers and as citizens, and what it would mean to lose it. I want to do this at this time in history because, as I say immediately below, I think the law as we know it is subject to serious threats today, threats I elaborate both explicitly and implicitly in the body of the book.

The book begins with an immersion in legal thinking of a kind I believe to be of a high and traditional order, and ends with the recognition of another sort of thinking and being which I think may help us live with and respond to the threats I mention.

In it I speak from a world—the world of law and democratic government in which I grew up and was educated and led most of my working life—that is now in peril in our country. This world was built upon the imperfect but real assumption that our polity is a constitutional democracy, based upon a fundamentally reliable electoral process, and that, with all its defects—some of them serious indeed—law is an institution that should be treated with utmost respect as an essential and valuable part of our public world."


"White first illuminates the everyday arts of law—writing criminal statutes, writing opinions about free speech, interpreting constitutional principles of equal protection, interrogating division, harmonizing dissonance—to remind us of the grace and fragility and hospitality of the norms of legal discourse that we ordinarily take for granted."—Linda Ross Meyer, Quinnipiac University School of Law

"Keep Law Alive is offered to readers who are willing to take up the challenge that the title urges. The book thus performs what the Romans called a traditio: a literal handing over of an object to another person with the intention of conveying ownership. The book is an act of cultural transmission, a passing of the torch. What a responsibility—and what a gift!"—Julen Etxabe, Canada Research Chair in Jurisprudence and Human Rights

"White's work is transformative in its content – for what it asks of law and legal thought; and transformative in its form – for how the wisdom and humanity of White's writing engage the expectations, sensitivities and attunements of the reader. The work does so, at heart, because one trusts his words."—Paul Linden-Retek, School of Law, University at Buffalo

"In his recent book Keep Law Alive, White once again offers a vision of law, a vision that is continuous with that he first proposed long ago, but developed and presented with a clarity that comes only with long reflection on a governing idea. And it is, once again, a vision that is also an invitation and a warning. The title Keep Law Alive expresses vividly the urgency White wants us to feel about the task he is summoning American readers to undertake."—Jeff Powell, British Journal of American Legal Studies, Volume 10 Issue 1, Spring 2021