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'History and the Law' graduate conference

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Jonathan Green.

‘History and the Law’ 18 March 2014 Trinity Hall, Cambridge

In 1975, Michael Oakeshott’s ‘On Human Conduct’ distinguished between ‘nomocratic’ and ‘teleocratic’ regimes. The latter, he claimed, fix upon an abstract vision of human flourishing, and slash through the dense web of custom and tradition in order to implement it. In teleocratic regimes, then, the law shapes history. Nomocratic regimes, in contrast, seek to protect the traditional liberties and social norms of their citizens, or their nomos. Here, the law reflects history.

This conference aims to explore the borderland between law as nomos and law as telos. What were the essential features of law under the ancien régimes? What differentiates them from modern legal orders? How, and why, did this transition occur? And what factors—intellectual, cultural, economic, religious, or political—crippled nomocratic legal thinking, and encouraged the development of the teleocratic legal order? In raising these questions, this conference aims to revive a broad conversation about the relationship between history and the law, at both a theoretical and a practical level.

Panel I: Law and Custom (11:00am – 12:30pm)

‘A Common Law of Inheritance: Mort d’Ancestor and the Learned Laws’ – James Lawson (Downing)

‘Abstract Legal Order and Scholastic Natural Law’ – Benjamin Slingo (John’s)

Panel II: Law and Enlightenment (1:30 – 3:00pm)

‘The Politics of Autonomy and the Pursuit of Progress’ – Paul Wilford (Tulane University)

‘Edmund Burke, the German Romantics, and the Paradox of Tradition’ – Jonathan Green (Trinity Hall)

Panel III : History and Constitutionalism (3:30 – 5:30pm)

‘The History of Legal Thought as Intellectual History’ – Benjamin Hand (Emmanuel)

‘The Pitfalls of “Law Office” History: An Example from American Constitutional Interpretation’ – Mikolaj Barczentewicz (University College, Oxford)

‘Colonial Law and Teleology: The Ethnographic Present in the New Hebrides?’ – Kate Stevens (Lucy Cavendish)

KEYNOTE ADDRESS (6:00pm): Prof. Sir John Baker (St Catharine’s College)

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