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Constitutionalism: A skeptical view

Top philosopher to launch new Constitutional lecture series

By McGill Reporter Staff

One of the world’s leading political and legal philosophers is coming to McGill on Thursday to launch a new lecture series on constitutionalism and the free society. Jeremy Waldron will deliver the inaugural lecture of the Research Group on Constitutional Studies lecture series Thursday, Oct. 4, from 4:30- 6 p.m. Waldron’s lecture is titled Constitutionalism: A Skeptical View.

Waldron holds a University Professorship at New York University and also the Chichele Professorship of Social and Political Theory at Oxford University (in the latter of which he succeeded two Montreal natives and McGill alumni, G.A. Cohen and, before him, Charles Taylor). He is the author of eleven books including, in 2012 alone, The Harm in Hate Speech; The Rule of Law and the Measure of Property; Dignity, Rank, and Rights; and Partly Laws Common to All Mankind: Foreign Law in American Courts.

In his lecture Waldron will argue against both the commitment to written constitutions and to the emphasis on constitutional limitations over democratic politics. This is a position for which he is well-known; he is a leading critic of American-style judicial review and bills of rights, and has been an important voice opposing their introduction in both Britain and his native New Zealand.

“We are thrilled and honoured to have Waldron deliver this lecture,” said Jacob Levy, coordinator of the Research Group on Constitutional Studies. “The aim of the lecture series is to challenge students to think about the structure, institutions and ideals of a free society: constitutions and the rule of law, civil liberties, free markets, federalism and civil society. For decades Waldron has been arguing against the idea that free societies demand written, judicially enforced constitutions, and he has made a powerful case that respect for the dignity of free persons demands allowing them to work through contested questions of rights for themselves through democratic politics. The force of Waldron’s case demonstrates that we know less than we often think we do about how to best understand the ideals of a free society, and should help show students how much intellectual work still needs to be done on such questions.”

The Research Group on Constitutional Studies lecture series will bring distinguished political and legal theorists and scholars to McGill to address students, faculty and the public on fundamental questions of the organization of free societies. The next two lectures will be given Oct. 11, by Leif Wenar, Chair of Ethics at King’s College London, and is titled Oil, Dictators & Civil Wars: Our Contributions, Our Solutions; and on Nov. 1, John Tomasi, Director of the Political Theory Project at Brown University, will deliver his lecture On Free Market Fairness.

Waldron’s lecture is co-sponsored by the Department of Political Science, and it has received additional support from the Beatty Memorial Lectures Committee.

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