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LSJ 469 A: Law and Rights in Authoritarian Regimes

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
SAV 168
Joint Sections: 
JSIS B 469 A, POL S 469 A
Susan H Whiting

Syllabus Description:

Link to full syllabus here.

Course Description

This course explores the role of law and courts and the nature of rights in authoritarian regimes. Law and courts in authoritarian regimes typically have been regarded as irrelevant or largely absent.  Yet, authoritarian regimes themselves have invested significant economic resources and political capital in building up judiciaries, professional bars, and awareness of law among their citizenries.  In addition, international agencies like the World Bank, the United Nations, the German Ministry of Justice, the U.S. Department of State, and the American Bar Association—to name only a few—have spent billions of dollars promoting the rule of law in authoritarian regimes around the world.  Why?  For background, we consider the origins of “rights revolutions” in democracies as well as the nature of authoritarian regimes—military, Leninist, single-party, and multi-party.  We then explore the dynamics of courts in authoritarian regimes.  At the constitutional level, we examine several theories explaining how an independent judiciary with powers of judicial review might arise within authoritarian context.  We consider the possible motivations of judges, whether as promoters of ideology, societal norms, or their own careers.  We will examine the role of citizen’s legal consciousness and domestic and international advocacy networks in promoting political, economic, and social rights through the legal system. Finally, we will look at the way “rule-of-law” promotion affects rights “on the ground,” examining the efforts of farmers and workers around the world to defend their rights to land and livelihood. Over the quarter you will develop thoughtful answers to the following questions:

Why do authoritarian regimes engage in “rule-of-law” promotion?  Is law simply an instrument of social control for the regime?  If so, why law?  Do legal forms make an authoritarian regime more legitimate domestically or internationally?  Does the promotion of law help the ruling elites better control their own staffs?  Is law essential for economic growth, even in authoritarian regimes?

Who is empowered by law? Does law serve to strengthen the hegemony of ruling elites, or does it enable citizens to challenge state actions?  Whether in the context of a de jure right to free expression, private property, or legal treatment at the hands of a police officer or state bureaucrat, in principle, the “rule of law” provides citizens with legal recourse when their rights are violated.  Alternatively, can law be designed to gag free speech, facilitate concentration of property in the hands of the powerful, and shield agents of the state from accountability?  How do constitutional and legislative design, selection of judges, citizen knowledge and awareness, and the nature of civil society affect people’s experience of law in practice?

What are the political consequences of promoting the “rule of law”?  Can law constrain the state’s political or economic power in an authoritarian regime?  Does “rule-of-law” promotion lead to democratization?

Learning Goals

   Through this course, you will gain both substantive knowledge and academic skills.  You will encounter real-world puzzles and learn some of the theories that explain them.  Along the way, you will master key concepts that are the building blocks of these theories. 

   You will hone your skills reading scholarly articles for both the author’s theoretical argument and the empirical evidence he/she relies upon.  You will also practice writing your own argument supported by evidence.  These skills translate readily into multiple disciplines and the professional world.

Catalog Description: 
Explores role of law and courts and nature of rights in authoritarian regimes. Questions addressed include why authoritarian regimes promote "rule-of-law", who is empowered by law, and the political consequences of "rule-of-law' promotion. Offered: jointly with JSIS B 469/POL S 469.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:06pm