An Explanation of Realist Legal Theory

An Explanation of Realist Legal Theory

Realist Legal Theory is a school of thought that has been around since the 19th century. It stands in opposition to idealist legal theory, which was popular at the time and argued that law was created by judges and legislators, rather than existing independently from them. Realists argue that law is a human construct, much like language or religion it does not exist independently from us, but rather develops in response to the actions of individuals and groups within society.

An Explanation of the Foundations of Realist Legal Theory

Realist Legal Theory defines the law as a tool of society’s power structure. It focuses on how the law is used politically to maintain or change the status quo. The main idea behind Realist Legal Theory is that there are no fixed rules for what constitutes valid legal argumentation, and therefore it cannot be said that any given decision was “right” or “wrong.”

Rather than focusing on whether an action conforms to an abstract principle (such as justice), Realists argue that judges will always reach decisions based upon their own personal preferences; this means that it is impossible for anyone outside of these judges’ heads–including other judges to know why they make particular rulings in certain cases. The law is used to maintain the status quo, change the status quo, enforce the status quo, justify the status quo, and explain it. The law is a tool of society‚Äôs power structure, and this statement is self-evident.

Realists Believe That Law Is a Reflection of Social Relationships

In other words, realists believe that laws reflect the relationship between the powerful and powerless, rich and poor, or men versus women. Realists maintain that laws are created by those with power and resources in order to maintain the status quo in the current way things are done in society. Realists argue that if laws were created through consensus among all citizens then there would be no need for police officers or courts because everyone would abide by them voluntarily (or at least most people would).

The reason why we have police officers enforcing traffic laws instead of relying on voluntary compliance is that some people do not follow these rules out of choice; they simply don’t care about them as much as others do. If everyone cared equally about obeying traffic regulations then there wouldn’t be any need for cops monitoring our highways 24/7 looking for speeders; instead, we could just rely on each other’s good graces!

Realist Legal Theory Focuses On How The Law Is Used Politically

Realist Legal Theory focuses on how the law is used politically to maintain or change the status quo. This can be seen as a reaction to positivism, which claims that law should be studied in terms of its social origins and effects. Realists argue that positivists overlook how laws actually operate on a day-to-day basis in society, which often involves power struggles between groups who want different outcomes from them. Realists believe that law reflects social relationships: if you want to understand why something is legal or illegal (or somewhere in between), you must look at these relationships and how they affect what people think about what should happen next.

The Realist Approach To Legal Theory Emerged

The realist approach to legal theory emerged in reaction to the idealism of 19th-century legal positivism. Positivists believe that law is a set of rules that can be objectively determined by examining the text of the legislation, looking at its history and purpose, and using reason and logic to determine whether it meets its stated goals. The realists saw this as an attempt at creating an illusion of certainty where none exists: they believed that social relationships are constantly changing (even if slowly), so there will always be ambiguity in what laws mean and how they apply. In addition to these criticisms of positivism’s idea of certainty, which we’ll explore more later on when we talk about justice theory, one other important point needs to be mentioned here.

Focuses on How Laws Used to Maintain Power Structures

The realists believe that law is a reflection of social relationships, which means that they focus on the practical effects of laws rather than their theoretical underpinnings. They also believe that there are no rules to govern behavior and no ideology guiding legal decisions they see the law as an instrument for maintaining or changing the status quo by providing justification for actions taken by those who have power in society (usually white men).


The foundations of realist legal theory are based on the idea that law is a social construct. Law is created by human beings and it reflects what society believes to be right or wrong at any given time. Realists believe that law can never be fully objective because it reflects human values and beliefs rather than being based on some type of universal truth. However, this doesn’t mean that realism is pessimistic about the possibility of creating just societies; rather, it recognizes that we must work together towards common goals through political action in order for them to come into existence.