English Jurisprudence Between Austin and Hart

John Austin and H.L.A. Hart are two of the most renowned figures in English jurisprudence. Austin formulated his version of legal positivism in his lectures at University College London in the early 1830s. Hart began developing a more sophisticated version of positivism around the time he was appointed as Oxford’s Professor of Jurisprudence in the early 1950s. But what happened to English jurisprudence during the many years that separated Austin and Hart? This Article examines the predicament of English jurisprudence during those years. It is shown that although various efforts were made to move English jurisprudence beyond Austin, the subject remained unimaginative and basically moribund. The Article then considers why, at a time when the American law schools were developing new conceptual and theoretical approaches to law, English jurists should have been incapable of jurisprudential innovation. Indifference and even hostility toward jurisprudence on the part of black-letter lawyers, and a general English tendency to denigrate theory and undervalue systematization, have sometimes been put forward as explanations for the failure of jurisprudence to develop as a discipline during the period separating Austin and Hart. It is argued in this Article that, while those explanations should not be dismissed, jurisprudence was slow to develop because law barely existed as an academic discipline in England during this period, and because, when the English law faculties did begin to emerge, they were generally not suited to the encouragement of serious jurisprudential inquiry.