Alan Hunt, intellectual, academic, radical

by | 21 Jan 2022

alan hunt, intellectual, academic, radical

I met Alan in the summer of 1979 at the Communist University in London. The University, partly Alan’s idea, was a week-long series of lessons organised around the main academic disciplines. I was carrying out my doctoral studies at the LSE and the idea of a week’s lectures on left theories of law was unbelievable. I had left my home country of Greece at the end of the Colonels dictatorship in 1974 and had arrived in London full of radical ideas. But studying at the LSE and meeting legal academics had made me understand that while resisting the dictatorship in Athens was something people admired, scholarly work on radical law was not acceptable or understood. I kept reading Marx, Marcuse, Foucault and Freud but my intellectual interests had no relevance to my research on the First Amendment of the American Constitution. Alan changed that.

I had already read his and Maureen Cain’s anthology “Marx and Engels on Law”. At our first meeting, he said that it was unproductive and wrong not to use my wider theoretical reading for my doctoral research. I believed him. Using Marx, Foucault and Habermas for an analysis of 20th century Supreme Court caselaw did not go down well with my PhD examiner John Finnis, a conservative philosopher of law, who disapproved all philosophers after Thomas Aquinas. He made it clear that he disagreed ideologically and asked me to revise some 30 pages out of a 600-page thesis, adding that he was not prepared to see the chapter before a year had passed. When I finished and preparing to leave London, I arranged to meet Alan to make sure we stay in touch.

He was the Head of Department at Middlesex Polytechnic, the only known member of the CPGB to lead a law school. He welcomed me, while speaking on the phone and giving instructions to an administrator.  Soon I discovered some of his defining characteristics. He had read a couple of articles I had sent to him the day before. He started by congratulating me and then launched into a sharp and justified critique. This was Alan; big intellect, hard-working, sweet as a person, sour as a critic. He represented the rationalist end of the Marxist left, card carrying member of the CP and the Enlightenment party. You did not want to be the target of his critique.

Then came the second line. He asked my views on a number of departmental and academic issues and seemed to agree with my answers. I was also a member of the Greek Communist Party. He then asked me to apply to the Department for a 1-year job replacing a colleague on leave. The faculty was split, half supported his radical ideas the other half opposed. As a democrat, he followed the views of the majority; as a communist, he wanted to make sure that the majority supported him. This was also Alan. The Department advertised the job and I applied. Alan arranged a lunch for the five applicants before the interviews. He had ordered two bottles of wine. The other applicants did not touch it. I had already received an offer from Athens University and I was not too bothered about the Middlesex job. We ended up drinking the wine between the two of us. This was Alan too. A bon vivant with a good nose for wine.

I was appointed and spent the next seven years with Alan Hunt as the boss. I owe to him much more than a job and a career in Britain.  He freely shared his vast knowledge of the classics of Marxism and sociology. His “Sociological Movement in Law” was itself a classic.  Alan taught me how to be disciplined in life and matters academic and how to mix work and life. One day he quipped “Costas, you are a lefty, you do legal theory, you have a strong accent, you will not go far in the English academy”. He offered to pay for elocution lessons and added that I should not exclude Greek politics from my plans.  I declined the lessons. When in 1997 I was promoted to a Professorship at the Birkbeck School of Law I remembered Alan and was saddened. Was it that I had betrayed my theory and radicalism? My “strong” accent was still there.

Between 1981 and 1997, legal education changed and Alan played a key role in it. In 1984, we had set up the Critical Legal Conference with Paul Hirst, Peter Fitzpatrick, Peter Goodrich, Alan Norrie and others. Marxism and sociology, the mainstays of radical law so far, were joined by the various poststructuralisms. Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, Deleuze were reluctantly admitted to legal scholarship and the left. Alan was not too pleased initially and had politely admonished me and Ronnie Warrington when we presented a talk entitled “Fin(n)nis Philosophiae: On the Deconstruction of Jurisprudence” (my revenge on the PhD examiner) at the first Critical Legal Conference in 1985. The journal Law and Society rejected our article for a special issue on Critical Legal Studies on the grounds that ten words in it were not included in the OED – deconstruction, logocentrism and logonomocentrism amongst them. The collection, a manifesto of the new movement, eventually included our article because Alan protested and threatened to withdraw his. This was Alan too. Generous, principled, a good friend and mentor.  

Alan was involved in the endgame of the Communist Party and was a key member of the editorial board of Marxism Today, the journal that introduced “Eurocommunist” ideas to the old Left.   However he did not follow the new directions of critical scholarship. We discussed in seminars and bars the work Foucault and Derrida; he was attentive but not particularly interested. He had a special dislike for Laclau’s deconstruction of class and class politics. But his openness of mind made him change. His “Governing Morals”, published in 1999, was a social history of moral regulation from the Seventeenth century to the present. It was based on detailed archival work, a first for him, and Foucault’s intimate link between the governance of self and that of others. Foucault had become a main intellectual interest in an attempt to show that, against the dominant view at the time, he was not Marx’s adversary but companion. This was the line in his and Gary Wickam’s “Foucault and Law”. It did not enamour him to the many legal Foucaultians.

While Alan’s intellectual curiosity was taking him to new theoretical journeys, his academic career stalled. The demise of the Soviet Union brought to the surface a shimmering and vengeful anti-radicalism. He was replaced at Middlesex by someone he had brought to the Department saving his career; he was given a clear indication that he was no longer welcome. It was a case of anti-left hysteria that was to be repeated elsewhere later. In those rare cases a radical academic reaches a position of influence in a university department, the management, keen to get rid of him/her, appoints a rival and eventually makes life unbearable. Alan had to go. He was appointed at the Australian Macquarie University law school. But the University Board cancelled the appointment. At that point Canada beckoned and the late part of Alan’s life at Carlton University started with some initial difficulties. Others will have lots to say about Alan’s Canada. Alan was a quintessential Englishman, an intellectual and a radical. I suspect that parts of this trinity of abiding characteristics must have created fiction in his new home.

Alan’s passing brought back many memories. I thank Stacy for asking me to contribute this little eulogy.  I remember with great fondness the times I spent with Alan and Ros in their front room in North London before they left. We discussed politics and theory and drank good wine. I learnt about his obsessive working out and his birdwatching, an abiding interest of Alan’s and a great mystery to me. He was strict and open, austere and fun, cantankerous and loving.  British academic life owes much to Alan Hunt. I am indebted to him even more. He taught me, he told me how to be an academic in England, how to remain principled, despite the difficulties of being a radical and a theorist. In 2015, I was elected a Member of the Hellenic Parliament for the SYRIZA radical left party, the first ever radical government in Europe. I returned to Greece and entered politics after forty years in London and the University. I rang Alan from Athens and told the old bugger that I had followed his advice. I had become a relatively successful academic but I had kept to my radical politics. I think he was happy for me. I was happy knowing that he had found in Ottawa his third welcoming home after Leeds and London.

Costas Douzinas, Athens, 13 December 2021

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