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Speaker Series: Martin Krygier, Law, University of New South Wales

  • When: July 24, 2019, 12–1:30 pm
  • Where: ABF Woods Conference Room, 750 N. Lake Shore Drive, 4th floor, Lakeside, Chicago, IL 60611

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What's the Point of the Rule of Law

The rule of law came to enjoy unprecedented acclaim after the collapse of communism in Europe.  That did not make it any clearer what it is, why it matters or how it should be approached. Moreover, today its aura has dimmed. It is assaulted by new foes and in new ways. Increasing skepticism about western models of governance coupled with the epidemic rise of populist and authoritarian parties and governments, with considerable interest in sabotaging and subverting it have meant that the virtues of the rule of law can no longer be assumed. Now, proponents of the rule of law cannot simply invoke it as a conversation-stopping mantra; they must defend it against hostile and potentially viable alternatives.

Both analysis and defense would do well to start in a different place than is typical. Not with an attempt to identify and define, still less to ‘build’ any particular set of legal institutions allegedly central to the rule of law, but first to ask after its point, what it is for, and why that might matter. Only then can one ask what might make that point. Answers will differ with contexts, times and circumstances.

The specific problem for the rule of law to solve is arbitrary power, the character of any solution must be to temper power’s exercise to keep arbitrariness to a minimum.  This is not merely a legal ideal, but a social and political one as well. Solutions will differ, many will not involve, or will go beyond or beside law, and the stakes are high. These are my core claims. Even if you disagree, however, that’s not the end of the story.  You still need to work out what you are after, what’s the point, before you can specify how to get it. Nothing else makes sense.

Photo courtesy of Australian National University

Professor Martin Krygier is Gordon Samuels Professor of Law and Social Theory at the University of New South Wales, in Australia and recurrent visiting professor at the Graduate School of Social Research, Warsaw. His research interests include the conditions and nature of the rule of law, and challenges involved in developing and sustaining it in post-communist Europe and other societies scarred by dictatorship and conflict. His writings seek to meld politically engaged legal and political theory with social theory, observation and experience and he has written extensively both for academic audiences and for journals of ideas and public debate. His works include Philip Selznick: Ideals in the World (2012), and, as editor, Rethinking the Rule of Law after Communism (2005) and Spreading Democracy and the Rule of Law? (2006). In 2016, he received the Denis Leslie Mahoney Prize in Legal Theory for his writings on the rule of law. 

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