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Democratic Experimentalism is an orientation in contemporary legal thought that draws on both the critical impulses of modernist theory and the constructive practice of postbureaucratic organization.

Some of the core ideas of Democratic Experimentalism were formulated long ago, notably by pragmatists in the John Dewey mold, but they have been elaborated in response to social developments of recent decades. A recurring challenge presented by these developments is uncertainty, by which we mean the inability to anticipate, much less to assign a probability to, future states of the world. The constellation of changes that make contemporary economies more innovative produces uncertainty as well: As innovations cascade, breakthroughs in one domain become relevant in other, distant ones. Deep knowledge of what has gone before becomes a poor guide to what is to come. On occasion, innovation results in catastrophe when unforeseen consequences concatenate in the short term, as in the financial crisis of 2008, or in the long term, as with climate change. More often innovation produces social destabilization, dislocating branches and even sectors of activity.


Courts | Law | Public Law and Legal Theory


This material has been published in "Searching for Contemporary Legal Thought", edited by Justin Desautels-Stein & Christopher Tomlins. This version is free to view and download for private research and study only. Not for re-distribution or re-use.