“Between Law and Justice” considers how American literature after WWII responded to political and philosophical debates about the interrelation of law, conscience, and democracy. From the Nuremberg trials, through the civil rights struggle, and the anti-Vietnam war movement, Americans debated whether liberal democracy would be best protected through legal institutions (the Supreme Court, the Constitution, and the international human rights regime) or through democratic practices that resisted legal authority (conscientious objection and civil disobedience). “Between Law and Justice” shows that these debates fundamentally shaped the post-WWII political novel, on both thematic and formal levels. Through extended readings of Lionel Trilling’s The Middle of the Journey (1947), Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1961), John A. Williams The Man who Cried I Am (1967), and Mary McCarthy’s Birds of America (1971), this dissertation explores how U.S. fiction in the postwar period sought to stage the irreconcilable tension between individual ethical experience (conscience) and the abstraction of law. This tension was also replicated at the level of genre. In the political novel form, Trilling, Heller, Williams, and McCarthy, found a genre already divided between the abstraction of normative political philosophy and the particularity of narrative - a conflict that mirrored the clash of law and conscience. Alongside this descriptive account of post-WWII fiction, “Between Law and Justice” advances two prescriptive claims. The dissertation argues for an Arendtian (or democratic agonist) account of legal authority that would value legal institutions while also ensuring that they remain available to ongoing contestation and critique. Finally, “Between Law and Justice” suggests - against a powerful vein in “Law and Literature” criticism - that literary critics should not seek to elevate the particularity and nuance available in literary narrative above the forms of abstraction, generality, and universality available in legal discourse. Instead, critics should focus on the productive, dialectical interplay between narrative and abstraction - an interplay foregrounded in the work of Trilling, Heller, Williams, and McCarthy.
"Between Law and Justice: Legal Authority, Liberal Democracy, and Postwar Fiction"
English Theses and Dissertations.
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