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New Left Review 22, July-August 2003


The political and the legal as two opposite yet interdependent modes of governing societies—punctual and particular, or general and invariable—in a quartet of contrasted thinkers. The antinomies of force and justice, morals and regulations in Machiavelli and Pascal, Montesquieu and Sade.

EMMANUEL TERRAY

LAW VERSUS POLITICS

Politics and law have long entertained close but fraught relations. I define politics here as society’s deliberations and decisions in response to the particular problems or crises it encounters. An appropriate course of action has to be formulated to deal with each specific situation—one that tallies, of course, with the main goals of that social order: its preservation and the furtherance of its own values and interests. Law, on the other hand—defined as the commandment that prescribes or prohibits certain modes of behaviour, under threat of sanction—aspires to be as general and as constant as possible, to apply equally to all members of society, to endure. Emergency legislation, rushed through in response to circumstances, always has a bad name. Law discounts individual particularities and the uniqueness of any given situation. To act under its aegis is to apply a norm, to subsume a particular case under a general rule.

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