Origins of Order: Project and System in the American Legal Imagination

Cover of the book titled "Origins of Order."

Paul W. Kahn, the Robert W. Winner Professor of Law and the Humanities

(Yale University Press)

Western accounts of natural and political order have deployed two basic ideas: project and system. In a project, order is produced by the intentional act of a subject; in a system, order is immanent in the world. In the former, order is made; in the latter, discovered.

In “Origins of Order,” Paul W. Kahn strives to show how project and system have long been at work in theological and philosophical tradition. Against this background, Kahn explains the development of the modern legal imagination in the 19th century as a movement from project to system. Americans began the century, he contends, imagining the constitutional order as their common project: a deliberate construction of “We the People.” They ended the century imagining that order is continuous with the common law: an immanent development of the principles of civilization. This shift, Kahn writes, affected ideas of legal text, sovereignty, citizenship, interpretation, history, and science.

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