Why the name? Well criminal law afficionados will recognise the phrase 'oblique intent' as referring to a problem of mens rea:can a person who intends to do x (such as setting fire to a building to scare the occupants) also be said to have an intention to kill if one of the occupants dies? This is a problem that has consumed an inordinate amount of time in the appeal courts and in the legal journals, and can be taken to represent a certain kind of approach to legal theory. My approach is intended to be more oblique to this mainstream approach, and thus to raise different kinds of questions and issues. Hence the name.
Tuesday, 11 June 2013
On Trust and Violence
I have spent a lot of time of the past few months reading and thinking about a fascinating book called Trust and Violence by Jan Philipp Reemtsma. It is not directly about criminal law, or even about law at all (except indirectly), but it raises a lot of important questions about the role (and limits) of institutions such as the criminal law in modern society.
Reemtsma identifies three central questions. First, how does modern Western society legitimate the use of violence, and what was distinctive about the way that it did so? Second, how does this culture reconcile its self image of decreasing violence with the actual violence that it produces? And third, why is it that the violence excesses of the twentieth century - the holocaust, the Stalinist purges, wars - have not prompted us to abandon the project of modernity altogether? It became commonplace to ask how we could go on after atrocities on this scale. Reemtsma's response is to raise the flip side of this question: given that we did go on, and continue to go on in spite of these outbursts of extreme violence, what were the kind of social mechanisms and institutions that made this possible?
His answers to these questions are wide ranging. He discusses literature, history, social theory and more. And the text is challenging, but worth the effort. I can't really do justice to the complexity and richness of the argument, so I shan't try here, though I will try to discuss it in relation to specific topics in later posts.
For now, let me leave you with this video of a talk he gave at University College Dublin.