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Scholar Joseph Raz Delivers Second Kellogg Biennial Lecture on Jurisprudence

On October 5, 2011,  the Law Library of Congress (LLC) had the honor of hosting a lecture by Professor Joseph Raz, one of the leading scholars on legal and political philosophy. Professor Raz delivered the second Frederic R. and Molly S. Kellogg Biennial Lecture in Jurisprudence.  The first inaugural Kellogg lecture in 2009 featured Professor Ronald Dworkin.

Professor Raz’s fascinating lecture titled Sovereignty & Legitimacy: On the Changing Face of Law, Questions and Speculations was an intellectual treat for an audience that included members of Congress, scholars, legal practitioners and the public at large.  For me personally, listening to one of the most brilliant scholars of our time was an intellectually stimulating experience.

Left to right: Professor Joseph Raz, Dr. Penolope Bulloch, Roberta I. Shaffer, Frederic R. Kellogg and Molly S. Kellogg (Library of Congress photos /Abby Brack)

After the lecture, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with Professor Raz.  I used this occasion to ask him a few questions regarding his lecture’s thesis and to highlight several legal opinions of Israeli Supreme Court that cited his legal philosophy.  For example, in the leading decision Nachmani v. Nachmani on the right to parenthood, the court cited Professor Raz’s statement on the autonomy of a person and on the distinction between rights. 

Professor Raz’s Kellogg lecture centered on current and expected developments in jurisprudence in an era that is witnessing globalization, increased legalization of international relations and diminishing state sovereignty.  Professor Raz illustrated some of the challenges in the development of international law particularly regarding legitimacy, weakness of international institutions, and alienation.  He  suggested that to move forward successfully there have to be “ties that bind” society and the law.  According to Professor Raz “[t]he international system will (and should) remain fragmented and partial.  It should not aim to supersede local institutions but to co-ordinate and harmonize their operations.”

Professor Raz first defined the two key aspects of the relationship that in his view might impact the development of modern law: legitimacy and sovereignty.  Whereas legitimacy “defines the proper relations between government and its subjects … sovereignty [defines] the proper relations between the state and the rest of the world.”  The “proper relations,” he suggested, were intended to preserve the ambiguity between what the law presently recognizes as the scope of a legitimate government and a sovereign state, and what the law should morally be.

Professor Raz with Ruth Levush

Reflecting on possibility of future developments of the law, Professor Raz noted that globalization has impacted the development of law both positively and negatively.  On a positive side it has impacted both economic, commercial and strategic interests as well as the development of human rights.  On the negative side it has invited more meddling by one state against another and therefore more conflicts.  He suggested that to ameliorate this vulnerability diminished state sovereignty should be accompanied by four challenging elements: legalization of international relations, strong international institutions, undiminished state legitimacy, and a solution to the problem of international legitimation.

Thinking about Professor Raz’s lecture, I posed a question to him after the lecture.  Specifically I wondered how the international community can enforce the right to gender equality, as specified in article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, considering the diverse views of traditional communities on the legal status of women.  Professor Raz explained that while international law on this point may not directly lead to an immediate change in communities’ values it may help in focusing on the recognition by all traditional societies of the need to protect women. This explanation made sense to me in considering Professor Raz lecture’s closing statements regarding the need to preserve diversity of communities while continuing the pursuit of international law.  In his words: “we should strive to combine reduced sovereignty with transformed but robust legitimacy.”

For those that were unable to attend this fascinating talk, a full audio-visual record of the lecture will be posted on the LLC’s website shortly.  Stay tuned!

Update: This was originally published as a guest post by Ruth Levush. The author information has been updated to reflect that Ruth is now an In Custodia Legis blogger.  The event video was also added below.

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