Before the Law (School)

What is the role of legal edu­ca­tion, what does it mean to learn the law? The law teacher’s first duty is to un­der­stand and teach the lan­guage of justice, the breath, spirit and equity that should move the body of law. A law without justice is dead letter, body without soul, rem­nants and ruins of an hon­our­able tra­di­tion. A law (nomos) worthy of the name nemei and katanemei, dis­trib­utes and sep­ar­ates. But it does so by pla­cing the re­quire­ments of ab­sent justice and ideal equity above the de­mands of power and ab­uses of wealth. Justice de­parts when the law does not meet its own self-​professed cri­teria but much more when the whole law (and its teaching) does not ac­count it­self to the altar of justice. It should not be ne­ces­sary to re­mind this to the chil­dren of Antigone.

Our law courts are ad­orned with a blind-​folded Justitia (the role of the blind­fold is to stop her from seeing the con­crete char­ac­ter­istics of the person who comes to the law by pla­cing the ab­stract logic of the in­sti­tu­tion above the warm glow of justice). The law school on the other hand has at its pules (gates) a wide-​eyed dike who looks the other in the face and prom­ises in­finite justice. Those who forget this when they teach and prac­tice law be­come func­tion­aries and ac­count­ants of power, not lei­t­ourgoi tou kratos dikaiou but ser­vants tou kratous. The dis­tance between the state and the state of law (recht­staat, rule of law) is al­ways small but when justice exits the law state and law be­come identical, law the lan­guage of a power-​crazed sovereign.

But what is justice? We are sur­rounded by in­justice but we don’t often know where justice lies. The most painful wit­ness of our time is the widely-​felt be­lief that justice has mis­car­ried. It has been aborted in the IMF meas­ures and the Athens ghettos, in the un­em­ployed and the salary cuts for the low-​paid and pen­sioners, in the treat­ment of the refugees in the camps in the Greco-​Turkish bor­ders and the wall built to keep the poor out and the Greeks in. Its vi­olent mis­car­riage is evid­enced by the re­cent de­cision of the European Court of Human Rights ac­cording to which sending refugees back to Greece amounts to tor­ture, in­human and de­grading treat­ment be­cause of their in­human living and de­ten­tion con­di­tions and be­cause Greece vir­tu­ally never gives polit­ical asylum to refugees. Belgium which was con­demned for taking Greece as a hu­mane place and sending back an Afghan refugee and the other Europeans will hence­forth deal with the Greek gov­ern­ment as it de­serves: the vi­ol­ator of the basic dig­nity of the wretched of the earth. There is no a-​sylum (lack of vi­ol­ence, ab­sence of abuse) in Greece, the refugees and the im­mig­rants are vi­ol­ated. The University asylum of­fers a small com­pens­a­tion for this much greater violence.

Justice is mis­car­ried when the Law and University Professors at­tempt to ‘empty’ the law school from the hunger strikers who took to sleeping there. The emptying of the strikers is the emptying of justice from the house of law. What do the people in the Law School want? To make us take no­tice of their meagre, poor in­sig­ni­ficant ex­ist­ence, to ask for basic la­bour pro­tec­tions and min­imum living con­di­tions. The min­imum re­cog­ni­tion that they live here, work here but are treated worse than con­victs on chain gangs. They are just saying ‘we the in­vis­ible, the un­counted and un­doc­u­mented are next to you and part of what you are and what you are be­coming.’ They are people pun­ished not for what they have done (crimin­ality or il­leg­ality) but for who they are, not for their evil but for their ab­ject in­no­cence. The Greek sans papiers are hom­ines sacri, per­sons who as leg­ally non-​existent are non-​persons and can be treated in the most cruel way by the state or in­di­viduals, em­ployers, land­lords or the screaming minority in the street.

We will hear of course that Greece is a human rights country. We teach our con­sti­tu­tion and rights in the Law School, we have human rights or­gan­isa­tions, so­ci­eties, in­tel­lec­tuals, min­is­tries, om­budsmen and in­sti­tu­tions who pro­mote them. They keep telling us that human rights be­long to hu­mans on ac­count of their hu­manity and not of a nar­rower mem­ber­ship such as na­tion, state or group. This is a com­forting thought. But when we look at the law school im­mig­rants, these claims ap­pear as one of those para­dox­ical half-​truths that litter our ideo­logy. Protesting against the worst ab­uses today in Greece, asking to be seen, heard and ac­know­ledged in a min­imum way, even if they need to die to do it, is the greatest ser­vice that these people offer to law and the law school. They are put­ting pro­fessors and stu­dents face to face with what they should be teaching and learning but so many times are not. Their sac­ri­fice (sacer facere) will be a making sacred, a bridging of law and the teaching of law with that sense of in­finite justice and hos­pit­ality, of which we can never say ‘here it is’ ‘we have served it’ ‘now the world is good’.

If they are ‘emp­tied’ from the house of law, the law which for these few hours and days has been filled with the idea of justice or, rather the protest against ab­so­lute in­justice, we will never again de­serve to teach law there or to pre­tend that our law and teaching has any­thing to do with justice.

Costas Douzinas is Professor of Law and Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, University of London

Translated by Hara Kouki

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