Allan C. Hutchinson

 

On his book Is Eating People Wrong? Great Legal Cases and How They Shaped the World

Cover Interview of May 22, 2011

In a nutshell

This book makes a strong argument against the widespread perception, inside and outside the legal profession, that law is somehow an inanimate set of abstract rules which are the product of detached reason and are applied by impartial professionals.

The legal profession is much more and much less than that.  It is a thoroughly human practice and, like any human practice, it has a predictable set of the blessings and blights.

The common law is work-in-progress—evanescent, dynamic, messy, productive, tantalizing, patchwork, flawed, and bottom-up.

Always on the move, the common law is rarely greater than the sum of its human and social parts.  After all, at its most basic, law is little more than a site at which one group of people attempts to resolve the problems and disputes of others.  As such, it involves the dynamic interaction of character and circumstance.  And that means it’s hit-and-miss.

The law is not some “pie in the sky,” but very much a meal that is rustled together over time by a bunch of chefs who work with imperfect ingredients and limited utensils.  Sometimes it works and satisfies society’s appetite and sometime it doesn’t.

The book looks at some of those “great cases” that breathe life into the law and around which the common law still revolves.  When approached in this way, the common law tradition is revealed to be more an open and creative one in which “anything might go” than a bounded and cautious one.

Transformation is the life-blood of the common law.  Great cases show how the law develops by breaking with its past; they confound the idea that the common law develops incrementally and logically.