International Journal of Law in Context

Research Article

Law in other contexts: stand bravely brothers! A report from the law wars

Oscar Guardiola-Riveraa1

a1 Law, Birkbeck College, University of London


This essay argues against the two pillars of current research on law and globalisation, from the perspective of legal theory and political philosophy: first, the distinction between ‘well-ordered’ and ‘not so well-ordered’ societies; second, the sociological model of the subject as pacified, fearful and isolated (to sum up, in harmony). It is argued that mainstream legal theory and political philosophy merely reflects the actual rules of the game of competition, dispute and conflict. In contrast, this essay takes sides with the anthropological and philosophical tradition that conceives the subject as antagonistic and in state of lack, profoundly concerned with the other, whom she imitates and whose standpoint she must be able to share if she is to make sense of the world. Furthermore, it is argued that transitivity or imitation lies at the very origin of conflict and dispute; lack and antagonism remain thus at the core of society, in spite of the surface appearance of harmony that characterises post-modern societies. Because of this, any general theory of law and society that wishes to be relevant at the time of globalisation must make the experience of antagonism and violence, motivated by imitation and envy, and its containment, its object of study. To do this, it must abandon the dualist conception of subjects and societies expressed in the distinction between ‘well-ordered’ (more violent) and ‘not-so-well-ordered’ (less violent) societies that has informed its investigation to this day, in order to declare in the most general terms a critique of violence from the standpoint of the victim, as of a piece with its demand for global social and political justice.