Publication Title

Missouri Law Review

Document Type



Law teachers and researchers are inveterate seekers of metaphors. The metaphor, even if glib and obvious, invariably suggests further parallels and relationships, the conjoinder of phenomena. This is the road to uncovering unsuspected linkages and building simple descriptive models.

Theory building, in administrative law as elsewhere, begins with the capture and expression of the convincing metaphor. Extracting metaphors from the natural sciences to account for social happenings begins with a figure of speech and often ends there. Legislatures now are squeezing fat out of administrative agencies, an apt biological picture of a weight watcher's rigor being imposed on flabby, middle-aged institutions. Some agencies are considered senile (the ICC), others appeared on this planet stillborn (the Department of Energy), still others are going through an identity crisis or are in hibernation (the EPA).

Yet others survive by establishing parasitic or symbiotic relationships with supporting institutions. Is the Corps of Engineers a leech or a virus? Those water projects are buried so deeply in the body politic that the Reagan cutbacks cannot reach them; they are cancers immune from cosmetic surgery. And so on.

We draw our metaphors from horticulture: a little pruning here will concentrate growth over there. From navigation: "midcourse corrections" (the Clean Air and Water Acts), "fogbound and foundering." From paleontology: the dinosaur (the Bureau of Land Management) is ill-suited to survival under contemporary conditions.

The important step, of course, is to move beyond the mere figure of speech to the convincing metaphor that has some explanatory and organizing persuasiveness.



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