This Article asserts that during the twentieth century, American law has predominantly structured its relationship to foreign legal experience through a set of ideas and practices known as “law and development,” which is irredeemably antithetical to the practice of comparative law. Centrally, law and development is built on the assumption that American law can be exported abroad to catalyze foreign legal development. The dismal record of such efforts has remained paradoxically popular while the field remains locked in repeating cycles of failure and optimism.
This Article demonstrates that the history of law and development’s failures is far older than has been traditionally recognized, and dates back to the turn of the twentieth century. In this era, foreign reform became a key part of the professional image of the modern American lawyer. At the same time, the origins of law and development were intimately tied to the decline of comparative law in American legal culture. This history reveals that the paradox of law and development’s contemporary popularity can only be understood by recognizing the cultural politics that these developments embedded in the American legal community. The troubling legacy of this widely entrenched view of America as solely an exporter of legal knowledge presents pressing liabilities for American law, both internationally and domestically, on the competitive terrain of the twenty-first century.
This Article concludes that in order to address these liabilities, America should categorically abandon law and development and should fundamentally reorient its relationship to foreign legal experience through a self-interested practice of comparative law. As exemplified in the debate over judicial citation of foreign precedents, this shift will require basic changes in how American legislative and administrative bodies relate to foreign law, as well as the place of comparative law in American law schools. Such a reorientation will enable America to strategically perceive foreign legal developments and, most critically, productively adapt foreign legal experience as an energizing stimulant to our own legal innovation.