On Colonial Universality and other Legal Prerogatives: Reflections on Peter Fitzpatrick’s The Mythology of Modern Law

2017 marked the 25th anniversary of Peter Fitzpatrick’s The Mythology of Modern Law. An eloquent and incisive critique of Occidental law’s pretensions to secular origins, Fitzpatrick’s text remains of prime significance to scholars engaged with the constitutive forces of race, racism, and colonialism in the structure and political, philosophical and psychoanalytic imaginaries of modern law. The significance of the book cannot be understated; simply put, it laid the groundwork for the development of studies in law and colonialism and elevated race – perhaps one of the ultimate (and sustaining) myths of modernity — to an object of serious theoretical inquiry, an all too rare move in the field of British critical legal theory. Central to the book’s overall endeavour was…

A Manifesto for Feminist Global Constitutionalist Order

No society has a constitution without the guarantee of rights and the separation of powers; the constitution is null if the majority of individuals comprising the nation have not cooperated in drafting it. — Olympe de Gouges (Marie Gouze)1 Constitutionalism is confident in its assertion that it is good for everyone. While the Federalists, or Bagehot or Rousseau argue about its form, the funnelling of constituent and constituted powers through the separation of powers, democracy, rule of law and human rights, raises all boats. So too then for global constitutionalism. And yet, as de Gouges highlights in her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizen, it cannot be assumed that everyone includes women; it has to be demanded.…

Law & Critique: Bourdieu’s Divine State

What can the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu contribute to a critique of law? Throughout the last decades of his career, Bourdieu repeatedly returned to a quasi-theological reading of sociology. During his lectures at the Collège de France in the mid-1980s, Bourdieu would often quote Durkheim’s famous observation that “society is God” – by which Durkheim simply meant, following Ludwig Feuerbach, that people tend to erect the godhead in their own image. Bourdieu, however, gave this phrase his own metaphysical, almost mystical, twist. In the closing pages of his last book, Pascalian Meditations, Bourdieu reiterated Durkheim’s line, this time adding that the State — this omnipresent, all-potent political entity — is the “realization of God on earth.” In other words, Bourdieu…

“Whoever owns the land, the natives do not”: In Re Southern Rhodesia

One hundred years ago today, the British judiciary presented the Empire’s most expressly and egregiously racist justification for the land dispossession of indigenous peoples. As Zimbabweans go to the polls next week, no matter which way they turn, they continue to pay the price for it. On 26 July 1918, the Judicial Committee of the UK’s Privy Council published its infamous ruling, In Re Southern Rhodesia. The court upheld imperial Britain’s wholesale expropriation of the entire territory of Southern Rhodesia, invaded by Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company (BSAC) under a mandate from the British Crown. The BSAC had governed Southern Rhodesia for some thirty years after occupying and seizing the territory in the 1890s. The company’s legal dispute with…

Obituary: Connor O’Callaghan

On Sunday July 8th, our friend and CLT contributor Connor O’Callaghan passed away in a water related accident on Chocolate Lake near Halifax, Nova Scotia. Connor was a third-year PhD Candidate in the Social and Political Thought program at York University, working on his final dissertation proposal. Connor was a brilliant young man and an emerging Socio-legal scholar. Connor was tirelessly committed to analyzing and dismantling systems of oppression; a characteristic he seems to have inherited from his mother, Suzanne O’Callaghan, and which was fostered during long years on the east coast of Canada. His research critically spanned law, political, and critical theory through topics ranging from poverty as violence; law, literature and electricity; and more recently, environmental jurisprudence. He…

Obligations in the New Climatic Regime

The Anthropocene heralds a rupture within the modern imaginary, calling for modes of thinking in obligations beyond the co-ordinates that have hitherto defined that worldview. Mass extinctions, the melting of ice caps, the acidification of the oceans, and extreme weather events all signal the gravity of the contemporary ecological crisis. Many now think we have entered a new climatic regime (the Anthropocene), quite distinct from the previous geological epoch (the Holocene) in which human civilisation developed. Three approaches dominate discussions about the Anthropocene. First, an ‘official’ geological Anthropocene, debated within the relevant sub-committees of the International Commission on Stratigraphy and in the pages of specialist books and journals. The Anthropocene, in this context, is understood through the presence (or not)…

Law, Reading, and Power: The ‘S’ Joke, Why You Find it Funny and Why I Don’t (with Reply)

A guy walks into a bakery known for making fancy cakes. He says, “I’d like to have a cake shaped like the letter S.” The baker says he can do it, but the cake will be expensive. The man confirms that price is no object. The baker tells him to come back after three o’clock. When he comes back, the baker unveils a beautiful S cake, but the man is upset. “I wanted a cake with an S in cursive script, not a block letter!” The baker says, “Not a problem, sir. Come back at seven o’clock and we’ll take care of you.” At seven, the guy comes back, and the baker rolls out a beautiful cake shaped like an…

Carl Schmitt: Katechon

Key Concept The concept of the katechon first appears in biblical literature with two hapaxlegomena occurring in the second deutero-Pauline epistle to the Thessalonians: “And now you know what is now restraining him [τὸ κατέχον], so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains [ὁ κατέχων] it is removed.”1 In the context of apocalyptic literature, the function of the katechon is to constrain the eschatological enthusiasm of the Christian Thessalonian church who are eagerly awaiting the return of Christ. The restraint that the katechon enforces is directly related to the forces of evil — the evil one — who brings about disorder…

Rethinking the University

Counterpress are pleased to announce the publication of Rethinking the University: Structure, Critique, Vocation by Soo Tian Lee. Dr Lee answers questions about his book. You use the theoretical framework of Kojin Karatani as inspiration for Rethinking the University. Can you tell us what specifically attracted you to his thinking? I was first introduced to the work of Kojin Karatani by Edia Connole, an Irish activist-academic whom I met during the May 2010 occupation of the Mansion Building as part of the Save Middlesex Philosophy campaign. It took me a fair bit of time to assimilate his ideas into a framework which could be used to analyse the subject of my doctoral work, namely the postwar British university. However, looking back,…

Law & Critique: Burkini, Bikini & The Female (Un)dressed Body

Continuing our cooperation with Law & Critique, today Giorgia Baldi returns to her article ‘The Burqa Avenger’ (full text available here). In 2004, when Aheda Zanetti created the burkini, a swimsuit that covers the body leaving the face, hands and feet uncovered, its purpose was to increase Muslim women’s agency by allowing them to enjoy sports and beach culture. She would never have imagined that her successful design would cause immense problems for the Muslim women who wore it. In 2016, fifteen French Riviera mayors decided to ban the burkini in the name of women’s agency and French secular values.1 Rudy Salles, Nice’s deputy mayor, defined the burkini as a “provocation from Islamists” which “threat[ens] French identity”, claiming that the ban…

The Labour of Legal Change: On the Final Days of the Irish Pro-Choice Referendum

I was on Liffey Street with the smokers when the referendum polls closed. A gang of us friends – canvassers and campaigners – had been having dinner together in an upstairs room in a restaurant on the quays. Two big raucous tables. Too much red wine. Loud, joking, beside ourselves with nerves. The day had started well enough – coffee in the sunshine, a visit to the airport to welcome back last minute “Home to Voters”, a chat in the courtyard ofA4 Soundswith Miriam, in the retreat Siobhan had built for the day. But as the afternoon drifted on, my day fell apart and I found myself pacing Dublin, Parnell Street to Camden Street and back down- forgetting to keep…

Can Critical University Studies Survive the Toxic University?

Several things in the news recently have made me want to write again about Critical University Studies (CUS) – a discipline that has been given momentum in the UK by the USS pensions strikes of spring 2018. As I visited a number of campus rallies and teach-outs, I became aware of a real thirst for analysis of the UK and global higher education landscape. The pensions issue seemed to be a conductor for a whole host of other grievances about marketization, financialization, audit culture, management by metrics and the distortions of league tables and concern with university ‘reputation’.  These objections have spawned critique from all areas of the academy, from blogs by experimental scientists (Bishop 2013, Colquhoun 2016 ) to…

Law & Critique: Transitional Justice as ‘Omnus et Singulatim’

Continuing our cooperation with Law & Critique, today we are presenting the work of Josh Bowsher. A full text of the article published in Law & Critique can be viewed here. Our understanding of transitional justice is dominated by an avowedly normative body of scholarship whose allure is rooted in its technocratic promise to solve real problems ‘on the ground’. From its perspective, transitional justice is conceived a set of legal and quasi-legal institutions that can attend to the human rights legacies of countries making the transition toward democracy. These backward-looking processes are understood to be valuable because of their purported contribution to the liberal democratic futures under construction during times of transition. Transitional justice, we are told, is a liberal…

Law & Critique: Encountering the Past

We are thrilled to be working with Law and Critique, the primary critical legal studies journal. In the coming months we will be featuring blogs from some of their most recently published authors, these will include links to open-access read-only versions of their journal articles. Our first blog comes from Kay Lalor. The full text of Kay’s Law and Critique article can be read here. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April 2018, Theresa May expressed her ‘deep regret’ for the British Empire’s imposition of anti-sodomy laws on its colonies.  Alongside such expressions of historical regret, LGBTI rights have increasingly come to be associated with social progress and progressive values. The temporal dimensions of this contrast between historical…

Watching Women’s History in the Irish Pro-Choice Referendum

“None of this is happening. We think we’re here but we aren’t.” I am in Tigh Neachtain in Galway with Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A.on the 10th of April.  We are having an abortion referendum in Ireland on May 25, to repeal the anti-abortion Amendment they put into the Constitution in 1983. All over the country, there are canvasses, there are gatherings.  I have been talking at my first of manyTogether for Yesmeetings. The Imeldas, weary, sharp, wise,  have come from London and travelled the country interviewing rural organisers for abortion law reform in Ireland. They have been to markets and town squares. They came to Galway from the cattle mart in Ennis. They joke that they almost bought a bullock. We…

Did Baudrillard foretell the advent of fake news? From disinformation to hyperinformation

Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) is not the most often cited of the post-war French philosophers. Yet, radical, nihilistic, prophetic, Baudrillard’s philosophical critique of post-modern society, and specifically his idea of the ‘hyperinformation society’ emanating from his more well-known concept of ‘hyperreality’, is surprisingly apt for understanding the current climate of fake news. Today, ‘fake news’ has become a ubiquitous term. Itself a misnomer, the recent EU Report on Fake News and Online Disinformation notes that fake news is ‘not only an inadequate’ term ‘but also misleading’.1 Without any specific reference to Trumpism, the EU report goes on to name fake news as ‘a weapon with which powerful actors can interfere in circulation of information and attack and undermine independent news media’,2…

On Rosa Parks’ Tomahawk, or, The US Strikes in Syria

In the wake of the most recent USA airstrike in Syria, Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former president of the American Society of International Law and U.S. State Department Director of Policy Planning between 2009 and 2011, took to Twitter to think through some of the legal and moral arguments justifying the use of force: I believe that the US, UK, & France did the right thing by striking Syria over chemical weapons. It will not stop the war nor save the Syrian people from many other horrors. It is illegal under international law. But it at least draws a line somewhere & says enough. — Anne-Marie Slaughter (@SlaughterAM) April 14, 2018 Some aspects of this point are more persuasive than others.…

The Proposed Amendment to the South African Constitution: Finishing the Unfinished Business of Decolonisation?

On 27 February 2018, an overwhelming majority of members of South Africa’s National Assembly adopted a motion to begin the process of amending the ‘property clause’ in the constitution. Given the befuddled nature of the present clause, the proposed amendment seeks to clarify and simplify the powers of a hitherto pro-market and thus lackadaisical state to “expropriate land without compensation”. One impetus of this historic event is a November 2017 Department of Rural Development and Land Reform’s Land Audit Report 2017. This Audit, unsurprisingly, concluded that white people continue to own the lion’s share of the land: on the one end of the spectrum, white South Africans (8% of the population) lord it over 72% of farms and agricultural holdings…

On Corbyn, Antisemitism and Things Jewish

Yet another episode in the story of Jeremy Corbyn’s antisemitism. This time from 2012, in expressed support for a graffiti artist’s free speech rights after the artist’s painting of white bankers playing monopoly on the backs of the globe’s dispossessed was declared offensive for its racist caricatures of Jews. And as others have said, this time follows earlier times; Corbyn as a member of a facebook group where anti-Jewish statements were posted; Corbyn’s friends and allies posting antisemitic stuff on their own facebook pages; Corbyn hosting antisemitic visitors, appearing on platforms with spokespeople from antisemitic organisations. And each time these stories come to light, Corbyn apologises, affirming he was unaware of what was being said and done. He did not…