Events

2017 Dennis Leslie Mahoney Prize Lecture: Re-Imagining the Rule of Law


7 September 2017

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2017 Dennis Leslie Mahoney Prize Lecture: Re-Imagining the Rule of Law

The rule of law is a concept at once too important to ignore, and too confused and confusing to guide. It needs and deserves re-imagining. Moreover, if we are to understand its character conditions and consequences, the legal imagination, if such a solecism be allowed, is as likely to hinder as to help.

Many, particularly lawyers, will resist such a suggestion. Where better to seek wisdom about the rule of law than from lawyers? Surely, like plumbers with toilets, and dentists with drills, they know whereof they speak. And why 're-imagine' a concept long central to great legal traditions, that has today come to have unprecedented popularity and more important, speaks to issues of profound importance? Why not stick with established insights and understandings, enriched as they have been with age-old reflection by those whose job - whose vocation indeed - has been to sustain the rule of law. Maybe some sediment might need to be brushed off, perhaps something added here and there, but why re-imagined? If, on the other hand, you are impatient with the idea, why not just abandon it it and turn to something else.

Notwithstanding the force of those objections, I believe the rule of law needs to be substantially re-imagined, rather than either recycled, on the one hand, or discarded, on the other. Not recycled, since conventional understandings have too often led to misguided explications, identifications, expectations, and efforts, quite apart from the waste of huge amounts of money. Not discarded, since like reflection on many of the most important (and also contested) concepts in the lexicon of political and legal morality, such as justice and democracy, equality and liberty, the rule of law engages us in fundamental issues of politics, morality, philosophy, and law (not to mention economics, which I don't mention only because I don't understand it). Instead, while we should start from traditional understandings and insights, we cannot end there. We must also be prepared to amend them, indeed re-imagine them quite radically, where they mislead or do not lead far enough. So much so, that to further the ends of the rule of law, we might need to leave conventional imaginings of it far behind.


About the Speaker

Martin Krygier is Gordon Samuels Professor of Law and Social Theory, UNSW, Adjunct Professor at RegNet, ANU, and recurrent visiting professor at the Graduate School of Social Research, Warsaw, and the International Institute of Sociology of Law, Onati. He is a fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Sciences. His writings are generally concerned to explore the moral characters and consequences of large institutions, among them law, state and bureaucracy.

His most recent book is Philip Selznick. Ideals in the World. In 2005, he published Civil Passions, a selection of his essays on matters of public debate. Between Fear and Hope. Hybrid Thoughts on Public Values is based on his 1997 Boyer lectures. In recent years, he has written extensively on the rule of law - its nature, conditions, and challenges - and on prospects for the rule of law in post-dictatorship, post-conflict, and generally politically scarred societies. Apart from many articles on these themes, he has edited and contributed to Spreading Democracy and the Rule of Law?; Rethinking the Rule of Law after Communism; Community and Legality: the Intellectual Legacy of Philip Selznick; The Rule of Law after Communism; Marxism and Communism. Posthumous Reflections on Politics, Society, and Law; Bureaucracy: The Career of a Concept (Edward Arnold, 1980). Apart from academic writings he contributes to journals of ideas and public debate.

In 2016 he was awarded the Dennis Leslie Mahoney Prize in Legal Theory.


CPD Points: 1.5


Time: 6 - 7.30pm (registration from 5.30pm)

Location: Sydney Law School, Law Foyer, level 2, New Law Building (F10), Eastern Avenue, Camperdown

Cost: Complimentary, however registration is essential.

Contact: Professional Learning & Community Engagement

Phone: 02 9351 0429

Email: 0706425710112d190c2b2c3f300707560b430b015e56053f