83 Nw. U. L. Rev. 136 (1988-1989)
Law As a Social System

handle is hein.journals/illlr83 and id is 152 raw text is: Copyright 1989 ;y Northwestern University, School of Law         Printed in U.S.A.
Northwestern University Law Review                             Vol. 83, Nos. I & 2
LAW AS A SOCIAL SYSTEM
Niklas Luhmann*
In the classical division of labor between jurisprudence and sociol-
ogy, jurisprudence is concerned with norms, and sociology, in contrast,
with facts. The jurist's task is to interpret norms and apply them. The
sociologist may concern himself only with the existing context of the law,
with its social conditions and consequences. But this classical view was
already out of date, if not anachronistic, even at the time when Hans
Kelsen gave it its most precise formulation. Social-engineering ap-
proaches and the jurisprudence of interests had tied the application of
law to facts that had not been taken into account in formulating norms
but instead had to be ascertained subsequent to the formulation of the
legal text. Pragmatism had postulated that all practical application of
the law should consider how different constructions of the law would
affect legal outcomes; it was concerned not only with the impact on fu-
ture decisions within the legal system but also with controlling actual
consequences within social reality.
The resulting dissolution of the sharp demarcation between jurispru-
dence and sociology has given rise, since the beginning of this century, to
the hope that sociology will be able to make a contribution to the admin-
istration of justice. From the perspective of the law, however, sociology's
function remains more that of an auxiliary science. Aside from a few
exceptions (the concept of an institution, for example), sociology has had
no influence on legal theory and scarcely any impact on legal doctrine.
Nor is it clear whether a special discipline called legal sociology can
provide the law with information, or whether all branches of sociology
would be available to do so. And there is still no adequate sociology of
legal doctrine or legal theory.'
There has not been much movement on any of these questions in the
last two decades. It is clear, however, that the quite optimistic expecta-
tions for a sociological contribution to the administration of justice have
* Professor of Sociology, University of Bielefeld. Visiting Professor of Law, Northwestern Uni-
versity School of Law, 1989-90. Translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen, Ph.D. Cornell University.
Ms. Nicholsen is a translator of social science, most recently of Jiirgen Habermas' ON THE LOGIC OF
THE SOCIAL SCIENCES (1988), and his THE NEw CONSERVATISM: CULTURAL CRITICISM AND THE
HISTORIANS' DEBATE (forthcoming).
1 For some recent studies, which do not, however, share a common theoretical basis, see HIS-
TORISCHE SOZIOLOGIE DER RECHTSWISSENSCHAFT, IUS COMMUNE SONDERHEFr 2:6 (E.V. Heyen
ed. 1986) [Historical Sociology of Jurisprudence, special issue on common law].

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