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Fall 2002




Georgetown University




The persistence of the question posed by the editors of this journal demonstrates that legal conservatives have an identity crisis. In large measure, that crisis is an artifact of the ambiguity in the term "legal conservative." I use the term roughly to mean someone who believes in a variant of original meaning for interpreting constitutions and statutes' and who views the common law as a device for securing social coordination within a spontaneous order-all overlaid with a strong respect for the Anglo-American, Rule of Law tradition. As definitions go, this is pretty imprecise. There is no single meaning for original meaning;2 it is hardly self-evident what it means for the common law to promote social coordination within a spontaneous order; 3 and the rule of law is one of the most slippery concepts in the legal lexicon.4 Moreover, it is easy to confuse legal conservatism with political or cultural conservatism, even though there is no necessary connection among those positions; some devotees of law and economics, for instance, would be considered conservative by most political standards but may not be legal conservatives.

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