Although it can be rightly said that Michel Foucault is one of the most influential scholars of the 20th (and dare we say it? 21st) century, it is also easy to affirm that his ideas have always elicited a certain degree of scepticism. A degree of scepticism would be a suave euphemism to describe the reaction that Foucault’s ideas on power, subjectivity, and truth have caused in the legal field. Scholars as diverse as Jürgen Habermas, Duncan Kennedy, and Nicos Poulantzas (to name a few) have accused Foucault of excessively downplaying the role of law in modernity and of culpably disregarding the function of rights in protecting individuals against external interferences – either public or private. This line of reasoning found its most elaborate champions in Alan Hunt and Gary Wickham who, in “Foucault and law” (Pluto Press, 1994), advanced the so-called “expulsion thesis”: Foucault was guilty of having expelled law from the locus of power, depicting the legal discourse as a sort of veneer for real power with no substantive importance in modern societies.
It must be said that, notwithstanding such trenchant critiques, Foucault’s thought has continued to have a huge effect in many legal areas – from criminal law, to labour law, to international law and beyond. It must also be recognised, however, that the trope of the “expulsion thesis” has survived for almost two decades basically unchallenged (at least in the Anglo-Saxon academia), thus gnawing at the foundations of any Foucauldian-inspired reading of the legal field.
My own monograph “A Foucauldian Interpretation of Modern Law” (EUP, 2017), similarly to Ben Golder’s works on this topic – “Foucault’s law” (Routledge, 2009) together with Peter Fitzpatrick and “Foucault and the politics of rights” (SUP, 2015) – addresses exactly this problem, trying to solve the puzzle of the relationship between the legal discourse and contemporary forms of power as described by Foucault. My interest in this question was dictated not only by what I saw as gap in the literature, but also from a more general preoccupation. (more…)
Earlier this year, the Government fulfilled one of its General Election Manifesto commitments by appointing Sara Khan as the first chair of a new Commission for Countering Extremism. The Commission’s task is not an enviable one, since if not exactly an admission of failure, its establishment represents at least a significant pause for thought. Its job will be to support society in countering extremism and to advise the Government on new policies and powers. We have some idea of what it aspires to achieve, and how it will work, but as yet no concrete proposals have emerged.
The creation of the Commission is the latest stage in a fairly rapid process of policy development. In its current guise, the idea of countering extremism first emerged in the 2011 version of Prevent, the counter-terrorism strategy. Extremism was defined there as ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’. It was identified as a problem because, it was claimed, extremist ideologies can lead to terrorism – the use or threat of serious violence or other damaging attacks on the public to advance a political, religious, racial or ideological cause. However, at that point the only thing the Government suggested should be done about it was ‘challenge’ – in other words the use of informal social and political pressure to reinforce liberal values in the face of illiberal ones.
In October 2015 – after the ending of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition – the Government’s counter-terrorism policy took another turn. A new counter-extremism strategy identified extremism as a harm in its own right, requiring new legal responses and new Government powers. Ever since, the Government has been trying to work out what these should be. (more…)
By Dr Basil Salman, Teaching Associate in Law (University of Bristol Law School).
When I was a graduate student, I became very interested in one of Immanuel Kant’s lesser-known works, his Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. In this weird and wonderful book, which has received renewed attention in recent years, we see a very different side of Kant to the one we are used to. It is a Kant removed from the transcendental idealism of the Critique and the abstract principles of the Groundwork; and with the aim, not of explaining the basis of knowledge or morality, but of offering a practical guide to living. What we find in the Anthropology is a kind of applied ethics: a number of observations about human activity, coupled with guidance on how to live successful lives. We find advice on how to use the imagination, how to remain good-tempered, and even how to hold a good dinner-party.
One may well wonder why we should be concerned with a work like this. No doubt there are a number of reasons why I myself became attached to it (some of these strategic of course—the most obvious being that I wanted something new and interesting to write about for my dissertation!). But despite the fact that numerous passages from Kant’s Anthropology strike us as odd, undeveloped, and rather disconcerting today, I think there is a lot in it that recommends itself to us as legal scholars. Indeed, going back and revisiting my thinking from that time, I should like here to offer some reasons why I think legal philosophers should go ahead and read it. (more…)