Introducing 2013-14 CT Fellow David Dyzenhaus

Constitutional Transitions is honored to introduce David Dyzenhaus, one of six visiting fellows to join the Center this Fall. Professor Dyzenhaus joins the Center from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, where he is a Professor of Law and Philosophy. In addition to serving as a visiting fellow for the 2013–14 academic year, he is also a Global Professor at NYU Law, where he is teaching a seminar on the rule of law as well as an introductory lecture course on the philosophy of law.

Dyzenhaus was born in South Africa and grew up during the apartheid regime. Years later, he is now an eminent commentator on the South African legal system, and on the complex questions of law and philosophy that surround such morally corrupt legal orders. His first book, Hard Cases in Wicked Legal Systems, considers what the existence of these wicked states tells us about the nature of law, and what it means for classic debates about law’s relationship to morality.

That theme continues to run through Dyzenhaus’s work, and his long-term project of studying the “long arc of legality.” At NYU Law, his course “Law and Morality: An Introduction to Philosophy of Law” takes as its point of departure the 1958 debate between H.L.A. Hart, a leading positivist thinker of his generation, and Lon Fuller, who believed law owes its binding nature to morality. The course, like the debate, speaks directly to legal issues in constitutional transitions. Hart and Fuller reflected on the dilemma faced by German courts in the aftermath of the Nazis, specifically how they should treat repugnant laws that seemed nevertheless to have been validly enacted during Nazi rule.

Dyzenhaus’s engagement with political transitions has not been exclusively theoretical. In 1997, he became the first person to testify at a special hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the role played by the judiciary and the broader legal community under the apartheid regime. The experience provided a basis for another of Dyzenhaus’s books, Judging the Judges, Judging Ourselves: Truth, Reconciliation and the Apartheid Legal Order.

Dyzenhaus is also leading a seminar on the Rule of Law. The course, he explains, will explore the relationship between the rule of law and liberty by considering both traditional liberal theories and challenges raised against them, some from conservative thinkers who were suspicious of, or even hostile to, democracy. Hence, these thinkers, such as Oakeshott, Hayek, Hobbes, and Schmitt, offer insights as to the value of the rule of law that do not presuppose that law’s legitimacy depends on its being the product of a democratic political system. Dyzenhaus argues that they therefore offer a conception of the rule of law in which law constitutes liberty instead of merely demarcating its outer limits.

Dyzenhaus is a prolific scholar, having authored or edited thirteen books, and written dozens of articles. He has taught in South Africa, England, Canada, Singapore, New Zealand, Hungary, and the United States. To read his full biography, click here.


Introducing 2013-14 CT Fellow George Anderson
(12 October 2013)

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