The relationship between law and social relations is, then one of symbiosis. Yet the basic patterning of law runs from bottom to top. Contrary to positivism, which is inclined to suggest that the texts and the sources of law come to shape a formless social world, an adequate view should see the institutions of private law as reflecting (but systematising) the informal texture of social life, while formal criteria of validity and formal provisions for legislative and adjudicative power stabilise the stabilisers. Law in large part reproduces and confirms the structure of society.Hayek is important here, and I am reminded quite strongly of something Splintered was talking about recently. Crucially, however, as Simmonds notes, Marxists differ from liberals in their evaluation of law/capitalism etc. I’m not sure I think that ‘evaluation’ captures entirely the differences in approach here. The term evaluation seems to evoke the image of the Marxist and the Hayekian looking at the same phenomenon (capitalism), with the same understanding of it but the Marxist saying ‘capitalism is bad’ (because it deprives human beings of the capacity to fully realise themselves) and the Hayekian saying ‘capitalism is great (because it gives human beings the capacity to fully realise themselves).
This suggests, of course, that there is much in common between the broadly Hayekian view of law advocated here, and the Marxist view. G.A. Cohen, for example, has analogised the base/superstructure relation to a situation where four struts are driven vertically into the ground but protrude a distance above it; the struts sway and wobble in the wind, until a roof is placed on them. The roof is supported by the struts, but it in turn stabilises the struts ... In fact once we allow that one principal way in which law stabilises social relations is by authoritatively fixing their meaning, we move towards a qualified appreciation of the “imbricationist” view within Marxism, a view that denies the possibility of describing social relations apart from law and offers this as a reason for rejecting the base/superstructure distinction.
The extent of the resemblance between the somewhat conservative Hayekian view of law that I have sketched, and the Marxist view, is further evinced by the work of Pashukanis. Like Hayek, Pashukanis portrays law as emerging spontaneously from practices of dispute resolution, and sees the positivist emphasis on norms and authority  as a delusion arising from failure to grasp the priority of relations over formal norms. Again like Hayek, Pashukanis sees private law as the central core of the legal system, in relation to which public law and constitutional structures of authority are secondary and parasitic.
But I think the differences are more important than this. To return to Scott Newton, he argued that one of the really important things Pashukanis (and Marxism more generally) is able to do is ‘see the public in the private’ and the ‘private in the public’. So, Marxists don’t just evaluate capitalism. We firstly see that the ‘private’ character of capitalism – and the wealth of individuals – is maintained by a complex relationship of violence, ideology and economic dependence, which may or may not be the state (in a bourgeois sense; although Akbar Rasulov has been saying some fascinating stuff about how in the Poulantzasian sense of state – a social relation which ‘holds’ social formations together – law always needs it; to my mind this is an avenue for exploration and avoids some of the physical violence centricity that I think China Miéville sometimes slips into). Secondly, we understand that the supposedly ‘neutral’ instruments of state, law etc. actually embed particular interests within them. This is in a double sense; firstly, law (as Duncan Kennedy has persistently notes) has a distributive impact upon supposedly private situations. As such particular interests use the law strategically, so as to secure private advantage. But we shouldn’t get carried away with this. And this brings me onto the second point. One of the most important things we can learn from Pashukanis is the limits to legal struggle. So, although a wide range of interests might be represented through the law, ultimately the legal form itself is produced by and reproduces capitalism. In this sense, it ultimately upholds the interests of one ‘private party’ the class which benefits from capitalism. As is often the case, behind the universal claims as to the rule of law lie the particular claims of one class – the bourgeoisie.
So, the important point is not just that we are just dealing with ‘moral evaluations’. Marxists see the legal form as ultimately upholding the interests of a particular class (the private in the public), whereas libertarians deny the importance of class as a salient category. Furthermore, Marxists stress that the class relationships of capitalist society are relationships of exploitation and domination (with struggle to alleviate the worst of these conditions). Typically, Pashukanis is accused of neglecting this, insofar as class is not hugely focused on in the General Theory and this, it might be argued that his similarity to (say) Hayek originates here. This point isn’t entirely without merit, but I would argue that the similarity comes from the fact that Pashukanis takes the law seriously on its own terms and, as Chris Arthur notes (Law and Marxism: a General Theory, 1978, Ink Links):
The monopolisation of the means of production by the capitalist class is an extra-legal fact (quite unlike the political-economic domination of the feudal lord). The bourgeois legal order contents itself with safeguarding the right of a property owner to do as he wishes with his own property – whether it be the right of a worker to sell his about power because that is all he owns, or that the capitalist to purchase it and retain the product.Indeed, Marx himself does a similar thing in Capital (when he argues the difference between exchange and production). The point of the Marxist analysis is that it does not remain trapped in the law’s hypnotic image; it seeks to understand how the formal equality of the law interacts with the complex class reality of international capitalism. Thus, as Pashukanis himself notes that ‘‘the republic of the market’ masks the ‘despotism of the factory’’ (1978: 39). However, Pashukanis’ work goes beyond even this – and here is where we truly understand the private in the public (and the public in the private); because the particular despotism of the factor is not just masked by the republic of the market, it is intimately linked to this republic and is only possible through it, again Chris Arthur puts it well:
No amount of reformist factory legislation can overcome the basic presupposition of the law: that a property freely alienated belongs to the purchaser, and hence that the living labour of the worker becomes, through exchange, available for exploitation through capital.Again, I would like to appeal to Foucault on discipline here. One of the really interesting points about Discipline and Punish is the way in which discipline is form of regulation which only comes about through dual processes of concentration and individuation. In other words discipline maps perfectly onto the process outlined by Pashukanis – whereby capitalism (and law) make everyone an individual whilst also brining making everyone and everything more closely inter-linked than they have ever been before.
To put it crudely then, the Hayekian knows rather a lot about circulation, but very little about production. He fails to see that despotic relations of production are in fact an outcome of the equal relations of circulation. The Marxist takes law seriously – and so understands the constitutive role of formal equality/the public in the private – but also understands law’s place in capitalist society and the attendant relations of class domination.
All of this is of course very similar to a previous post I have made.