Jerome Frank, Lon Fuller, and a Romantic Pragmatism
Jerome Frank and Lon Fuller are not frequently classed together in discussions of twentieth-century legal thought. Although they both wrote extensively about the nature of law and adjudication over roughly the same period of time (1930s-1950s), they are typically characterized as standing on opposite sides of the issues that matter most in legal theory. Frank is these days seen as an “extreme” realist, who thought judges decided cases on the basis of irrational biases, while Fuller is best known for being a critic of realism, a defender of natural law, and an influential member of the Legal Process school of legal thought, which is itself seen as a response to precisely those excesses of realism that Frank is said to epitomize.
In this essay, I argue that when we place these two thinkers on opposite sides of the traditional lines drawn in legal theory – between realism and process theory, natural law and positivism, instrumentalism and formalism – we miss something important, and importantly similar, in their views about law, adjudication, and human knowledge. In particular, both thinkers maintained (1) that the human self was constituted by a mix of impulses, intuitions, emotions, motives and purposes, only some of which are conscious but all of which shape how the mind perceives the external world; (2) that such motives in judges are activated by the facts of particular cases in a way that can, at least sometimes, serve as the basis for just decisionmaking; and, finally, (3) that the first two observations provide a foundation for legal knowledge of the sort judges properly rely on when deciding cases. I conclude by suggesting that we might think of these common themes as reflecting a “romantic” strain of legal and philosophical pragmatism.