Excerpt from the Keynote Address:*
Good morning. I am, on the whole, delighted to be here, and I thank the Harvard International Law Journal for inviting me. From their invitation, the editors want a quick overview of the way law changes in world history, incorporating the reams of scholarship produced by the host of legal notables here assembled. I am happy to oblige, although I must say that the task is a bit daunting.
The certainty of my failure, however, is not the only reason my delight in this invitation is not completely unalloyed. After all, I am used to my reach exceeding my grasp, frustrated ambitions, and the like, although I usually try to keep that familiar sinking feeling to myself. My problem is that giving the opening remarks to a symposium like this one forces me to admit publicly that I am — “mature” would be euphemistic, there’s no getting around it — downright middle-aged. A responsible member of the established order, rather than the fine young barbarian I still fancy myself. Frankly, it’s depressing.
Seriously, I am delighted to be here. Thank you.
I have three objectives for my talk this morning. First, I want to provide an idiosyncratic account of some of the ways the diffusion of law, or more generally, social authority in an age of globalization, may be rethought. While there is currently little consensus on such matters, we will, no doubt, iron everything out in the course of the day.
Second, since this is a keynote, I feel some obligation to be useful. I hope the theoretical account that I provide here will be sturdy enough to aid more focused discussions in the panels.
Third, I want to say a little bit about those highfalutin’ intellectual practices referred to as theories. That is, I want to close on a meta-meta note, and conclude by providing a theoretical comment on theorizing. This is, after all, a weekend, and we should enjoy ourselves.
The phrase “diffusion of law” sounds most naturally in comparative law. Understanding what diffusion means and how it happens, what changes and what stays the same, is perhaps the central problem in the field. My commentators, and many other participants in this symposium, are very eminent comparatists, franchise players in the painfully erudite and often surprisingly heated debates that mark comparative law. In such company, it would be redundant and downright foolhardy of me to treat the diffusion of law as a question of comparative law — I leave that to other knights.
Instead of plunging into the debates surrounding the diffusion of law as construed by eminent comparatists, let me begin by considering the title of this symposium; I think it is quite smart. Had the word globalization” been used instead, it would have prefigured and foreclosed too much of the discussion. Yet globalization cannot be avoided because, as this symposium’s opening statement makes clear, the diffusion of law cannot be separated from those social processes discussed under the rubric of globalization. In a globalizing world, we might expect to find quite a lot of diffusion, both of law and other things.
* This excerpt does not include citations. To read the entire article, including supporting notes, please download the PDF.