Prof. Tamanaha Delivers Wythe Lecture at William & Mary Law School

Brian Z. Tamanaha, the William Gardiner Hammond Professor of Law, recently delivered the 2014 George Wythe Lecture at the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William & Mary.

Titled “The Third Pillar of Jurisprudence: Social Legal Theory,” the lecture added to Tamanaha’s standing as a renowned jurisprudence scholar and author of eight books, including his groundbreaking Beyond the Formalist–Realist Divide: The Role of Politics in Judging (2010) and A General Jurisprudence of Law and Society (2001). Tamanaha has also published numerous articles on jurisprudence, legal realism, and the rule of law, among other topics.

In his speech, Tamanaha said that jurisprudence is generally thought to consist of two main rival branches—natural law and legal positivism—along with several miscellaneous modern schools, like legal realism, law and economics, critical theory, and legal pragmatism.

However, he argued that this view of theoretical approaches is misleading, because a third branch of jurisprudence has existed since the 18th century. First articulated by the French philosopher and early political scientist Montesquieu, this branch—which Tamanaha called “social legal theory”—has gone unrecognized because it has been known by various names over the years and the strains of thought that hold it together have not been well understood.

Tamanaha traced the core insights and focus of social legal theory from Montesquieu through various modern schools of thought about jurisprudence, redrawing the conventional jurisprudential narrative to expose previously unseen connections among theoretical schools. By doing so, he brought focus to critical issues about the nature of law that currently are marginalized by natural law and legal positivism.

Tamanaha’s speech was not the first time that he has been recognized for his work in jurisprudence. His book, A General Jurisprudence of Law and Society, received two awards, the Dennis Leslie Mahoney Prize in Legal Theory from the Julius Stone Institute in 2006, and the Herbert Jacob Book Prize from the Law and Society Association in 2002. Later this year, he will deliver the prestigious Kobe Lecture in Japan, which consists of a four-city tour of lectures at major Japanese universities. The first talk will be translated and published.

The George Wythe Lecture Series began at the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William & Mary in 1976. Wythe (1726-1806) was a distinguished lawyer, statesman, and judge, and mentor to Thomas Jefferson. In 1779, at Jefferson’s urging, he was appointed as William & Mary’s—and the nation’s—first professor of law.