A Student’s Guide To The Study Of The Law, by Gerald V. Bradley
Although I have only rarely studied law formally in college–mostly studying law as it related to engineers or the property laws relating to writing and other intellectual property–the law has always been a deep personal interest of mine  and this book did a good job at talking about law in a way that was both logically rigorous as well as deeply thoughtful. In many ways, this book is a supplement to what other people have to say about the law, in that it chooses to focus on questions that most other writers about the law (as well as most professors in contemporary law schools) do not address at all. And by understanding the significance of what the law is for, readers of this book are better equipped to understand why it is that the legal order is worth defending, even when it opposes our own personal interests and seeks to restrain our own actions. In thoughtfully looking at the moral and philosophical basis of the law, this book does a service to all of us by bringing to light our own concerns and expectations regarding the law in contemporary society.
In a bit more than 100 pages this book manages to do a lot. The author begins with a preface and a short introduction before moving to the first point about looking at what the law is for: namely the service of people and their communities, by looking at such issues as people (consistently called persons), marriage, religion, and the often neglected moral foundation of laws. After that the author turns his attention to law, culture, and morality and the problem of relativism. Following this there is a chapter on religion, morality, and the Constitution before the author writes about crime and punishment. After this main content is done the author adds six appendices on such issues as the elusive “moral neutrality,” the issue of privacy, the creative issue of determinatio as it relates to the creation of laws from principles, the canard about not being able to legislate morality, and a discussion of the relationship between positivism and natural law, after which there are notes and a thoughtful bibliographical essay that provides suggestions for further reading for readers of this book. As is often the case, I greatly appreciate books that seek to inspire further reading.
Where this book particularly excels in that it simultaneously encourages its readers to think deeper about the law than many people do but also that it confronts its readers (myself included) with our own behavior when it comes to the law–especially those laws like speed limits that we tend to ignore when it suits our interests to do so. By ignoring the law except insofar that we fear its enforcement, we become like the “bad men” that the “bad Supreme Court justice” Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said the law was meant for. Ultimately, what is perhaps this book’s most provocative point is that the most decisive rejoinder to relativism and the proliferation of laws and regulations in our world is our own virtuous behavior. Whether or not this solution will be something that this book’s readers wish to enact in their own lives, this is a book that is certainly one that ought to educate and encourage its readers to think about the laws in ways that are not often done, and to put the law in a larger context that shows its importance and also grounds it in precedent and in significance.
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