Law and Critique

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 91–139 | Cite as

The Hermeneutic of Suspicion in Contemporary American Legal Thought

  • Duncan Kennedy


This article explores the ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ that seems to drive contemporary American jurists to interpret their opponents’ arguments to be ideologically motivated wrong answers to legal questions. The first part situates the hermeneutic in the history of the critique of legal reasoning, in public and private law, particularly the critique that claims that ‘no right answer is possible’ to many high-stakes questions of legal interpretation. The second part locates the hermeneutic in the long running processes of juridification, judicialization and constitutionalization that characterize law in modern society. The last part interprets the hermeneutic as ‘projective identification’, in the sense of Freud’s analysis of jealousy, with the jurist solving the problem of role conflict by firmly externalizing the inevitable ideological element in doing justice onto his opponent while preserving the legalist element in doing justice for himself.


Constitutionalization Hermeneutic of suspicion Judicialization Juridification Legal theory 



Thanks to Justin Desautels-Stein, Richard Fallon, Michael Fischl, Richard Ford, Janet Halley, David Kennedy and Mark Tushnet. Thanks to Aisha Ahmad for research assistance. Errors are mine alone.


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Copyright information

© Duncan Kennedy 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Harvard Law SchoolCambridgeUSA

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