The Common-Law Sales Paradigm.
(1) Horsing Around with Karl
Anyway . . . after much screaming and yelling and horsing around, . . . we had a Uniform Revised Sales Act.
Llewellyn's other related critique of the common law of sales was that it did not and could not deal with modern commercial transactions because its underlying imagery was obsolete. According to Llewellyn, the legal analyst is informed by "his problems, his illustrations, the tacit and often unconscious fact-pictures against which he tests the meaning and bearing of words, the whole stock of implicit orientations to solution which are the life of active work with law. . . ." For there to be a significant change in the law it is necessary for "the facts and their connotations of practice, need and context [to be] effectively iterative, cumulated without interruption, . . . so clustered as to become moderately familiar to the run of relevant lawyers." This is because "[o]ur fields of law, our patterns of legal thinking, our legal concepts, have grown up each one around some 'type' of occurrence or transaction, felt as a typical something, seen in due course as a legally significant type, and, as a type-picture, made a standard and a norm for judging."
To translate Llewellyn's point into Kuhnian-Lakotosian language, Llewellyn thought that law is governed by specific, implicit images of the typical transaction which are shared by the legal community—a paradigm. Under the theory of sophisticated falsification as developed by Imre Lakatos, paradigm shifts do not occur merely because the community observes inconsistent empirical evidence which falsifies the original hypothesis. Rather, the community formulates an "auxiliary" hy-
pothesis to explain away the apparent anomaly. Paradigms eventually degenerate when they become so encrusted with "protective belts" of auxiliaries that they begin to explain less and less as more and more empirical evidence is explained away as exceptions which prove the rule. Although degenerative paradigms are ripe to be overthrown, this cannot occur until a revolutionary paradigm is devised.
Llewellyn posits that significant changes in the law only occur when a new image (paradigm) of the typical transaction becomes dominant in the profession. The early-twentieth-century paradigm of sales was what Llewellyn called a "farmer's transaction."
In the traditional agrarian economy, an individual seller sells a readily identifiable and unique good to an individual buyer whom he already knows, in an isolated face-to-face cash transaction, probably for the buyer's personal consumption or use. The quintessential "good" in this picture was a horse.
In this archetypical sale of a horse between farmers, property rules are very simple. Old MacDonald and Mr. Greenjeans know each other and have a basis to make a judgment on their relative honesty and creditworthiness. MacDonald shows Dobbin to Greenjeans. Greenjeans has ample opportunity to look the horse in the mouth at the MacDonald farm or at a public market established for this purpose and, therefore, has no need for MacDonald to warrant Dobbin's qualities. If Greenjeans decides to buy Dobbin, he will hand cash to MacDonald. MacDonald will take the cash and hand the reins over to Greenjeans, who will then ride Dobbin home. The contract and the conveyance happen simultaneously. The time of the sale and the time of the passing of "Title" are clear. MacDonald had all rights in Dobbin until Greenjeans paid the purchase price, and
Greenjeans had all rights thereafter. Risk of casualty loss was also perfectly correlated with the sale and therefore seemed to be a function of "Title." If Dobbin was killed in a barn burning the night before the sale, that was MacDonald's problem. If Dobbin fell and broke his leg when Greenjeans rode him home, it was Greenjeans's loss. In the life of a farmer, a sale is an event.
The agricultural imagery of "Title" analysis reflects the solid physical metaphor which imagines that archetypical property relationship is possession reduced to the sensuous grasp of a solid, physical thing. The correlative imagery of a conveyance or transfer of property is the handing over of a solid object from one person to another, such as the passing of a baton from runner to runner in a relay race or the passing of the reins of a horse from farmer to farmer. Such a transfer of a solid thing takes place instantaneously. Accordingly, this imagery reflects the longing for the real. The real is the collapse of all castrating distinctions of time and space into an ideal, immediate uterine unity. The real is, therefore, an event, not a process.
Although this imagery conflates the property right in the thing with the thing-in-itself, this theoretical confusion arguably causes few practical problems in an agricultural economy where most property transactions in fact concerned tangible objects such as horses, when all property interests in the object tended to reside in the person who had actual physical custody of the object, and where conveyances of property tended to be accomplished through transfer of physical custody of the tangible objects.
This premodern agricultural imagery is poorly suited to the commercial reality of twentieth-century mercantilism. Llewellyn was not im-
plying that the common law was totally blind to the mercantile nature of many sales. His point was that the common law continued to treat the agricultural transaction as the norm upon which exceptional mercantile rules were layered—that is, a protective belt of auxiliary merchant rules was added to the basic agricultural paradigm. In Llewellyn's metaphoric words:
The mercantile rules of law—and they are solid—which I have been describing make their way through this like ivy through a wall, live, growing, spreading, finding cranny after cranny. But the wall is still there, it is still in the way.
The Process of Mercantile Sales
The agricultural imagery sees sale as an event—a single, definitive, unique moment of time at which all aspects of the transfer of "Title" occur. In contradistinction, mercantile imagery sees sale as the process by which ownership rights are conveyed and other legal rights and obligations are created. It concentrates on exchange—the process by which possession changes. Unlike an event, which occurs instantaneously and, therefore, "in no time at all," a process takes place in time. The legal issues which arise during a mercantile sale involve how this process works over time. The agricultural paradigm is inadequate precisely because it does not include a concept of time. The agricultural paradigm is real, but legal relations are symbolic.
This does not mean property or "Title" analysis is always useless in mercantile paradigm. One can successfully use a paradigm which lacks an account of time to analyze those static legal issues which do not take place over time. But applying common-law "Title" analysis to the property issues which arise during a sale begs the question by assuming that the ongoing process to be analyzed—the passing of property—has already been completed: title has passed. A sale is the temporary disruption of "Title."
The precise situation to which "the property" is the key is not suited to the situation of commerce-in-action, the situation in which "the property" is not static but in motion, not in one fist, but in the spread interlocked fingers of at least two different hands; not lumped and obvious with its history a firm key to its location, but scattered and divided, with its history showing only where it is not to be at the end.
To give an analogy, suppose I, who live in New York City, wished to visit my in-laws in Irvine, California. Until we invent a teletransporter like the one in Star Trek , this trip will not be an event but a process that can take hours or even days, depending on the mode of transportation. If we were to analyze my trip in terms of "Title" concepts which analyze changes as instantaneous events, we would declare that I was either "in New York" or "in California" when certain conditions were met. If, for example, this were analogized as an FOB point of shipment contract, then I would "leave" New York, and "arrive" in California, when I had hailed the cab to the airport. This proposition is so intuitively ludicrous that it is virtually incomprehensible. Obviously, during the trip one can speak meaningfully of my speed, my direction, my estimated time of arrival, and my relative position with respect to my home and my destination. But it is nonsense to say that I am at either location during my journey. Nevertheless, it does roughly describe the problems with the law of "Title" in
the sense of an instantaneous moment in which all rights in property are deemed transferred.
Notice that the obverse side of this is that before and after my journey it is meaningful for me to speak of being in New York or in California. And so, before and after a sales transaction it remains meaningful to speak of one party or another as having "title" in (i.e., in the sense of ownership of) the good. As I shall discuss in the last chapter of this book, in the context of the Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution the fact that the change from being the owner to not being the owner (when viewed from the position of the seller), or from not being the owner to being the owner (when viewed from the position of the buyer), is gradual does not in itself mean that the concept of property or ownership is incoherent. Rather, in Hegelian terms, having and not having ownership are qualitatively different. Having more and having fewer indices of ownership, however, are quantitatively different. Changes in quantity eventually become changes in quality through sublation. As we shall see, the pragmatic problem for the lawyer and the judge is that it is logically impossible for there to be an exact point at which this change happens.