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Module LAW & POLITICS IN THE LIBERAL TRADITION

Module code: LW424
Credits: 10
Semester: 2
Department: SCHOOL OF LAW AND CRIMINOLOGY
International: Yes
Overview Overview
 

The law has profound impacts on how our lives go. Whether our focus is private or public law, domestic or international, the law enables some choices and restrains others, benefiting some people and some ways of life at the expense of others. As individuals, we have little choice but to live within the constraints that the law imposes. As lawyers, we will be called upon to uphold those laws. And as citizens, we may even have a voice in shaping them. We all recognise that some laws are better than others, but is there anything beyond our instincts and intuitions that can explain and support the judgments we want to make about the ways the law impacts our lives?

This module will examine a number of answers to this question advanced by political philosophers, answers that seek to explain not just what the law should be doing, but why? These are answers at a high level of generality, aiming not just to explain a particular rule or area of law, but rather to provide a general standard against which we can judge almost every aspect of law, state and society. They include (amongst others) the maximisation of individual wellbeing, the preservation of liberty, the promotion of equality, and the importance of community. We will consider how plausible each of these answers is, how they relate to one-another, what implications they have for recurring legal problems, and how well they fit with each of our own considered judgments. We will also ask how well they connect with the familiar institutions of the liberal state, including the rule of law, the equality of the citizen, the protection of rights, the market economy, and the boundaries between members and foreigners. To what extent can these various approaches explain, justify or criticise the ways we do in fact organise our states, our societies, our economies and our laws?

This is a theoretical course. The texts that we will read, and the questions that we will seek to answer, are those of political theorists rather than lawyers. However we will read these texts and ask these questions as lawyers, careful to relate them to the specific legal rules and practices, public and private, domestic and international, through which politics impacts on our lives, and which as lawyers are our particular concern. You will not learn a lot of new law in this module. But hopefully you will learn something valuable that will help you to think in new ways about that law that you already know.

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