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Rule of law bedrock of every stable society: Tang Prize winner

2018/06/21 13:09:36

Joseph Raz

London, June 21 (CNA) Rule of law provides a bedrock of stability indispensable to every society, said Joseph Raz, a leading legal, moral and political philosopher who was named winner of the third Tang Prize in rule of law Thursday.

People are born into societies that have their own ways of doing things, cultures and norms and they learn how to behave, how to adjust and how to take advantage of the opportunities available in those societies to creatively develop a way of life for themselves, Raz said.

Societies come in all forms because they have their own cultures, cuisines, fashions, social interactions and so on, but every one requires the rule of law to establish a stable environment in which people can feel confident of charting a way for themselves, he said.

In an interview with CNA in the United Kingdom, Raz described rule of law as "bedrock stability" vital to all societies for their cultures to be of service to the people who live there.

The fantastic thing about the law is that it's "absolutely universal," said Raz.

Raz, 79, spent most of his career as a professor of philosophy of law at Balliol College at the University of Oxford in the U.K. from 1985-2006.

He is now the Thomas M. Macioce professor of law at Columbia Law School in the United States and a research professor of law at King's College London in the U.K.

As stated in the Tang Prize Selection Committee's citation, Raz argues that, among the many virtues a legal system should possess, the most important one is to "realize individual autonomy."

By analogy, rule of law fits with things that are important to the daily lives of individuals, Raz said.

People understand the society they are born into "not intellectually," Raz said. "It's in our skin. We know how to behave. We understand how other people think and react to different situations."

When a government comes into power and wants to change or adjust the law, it's very important that it remembers people have been adapting to that law and taking opportunities from it as it existed before that government came to power, Raz said.

It's very important that a government maintains basic stability and basic predicability of the law so that people remain able to chart their own course in that society, he added.

Raz said it was "a tremendous honor" to receive the Tang Prize in rule of law.

"It's doubly amazing and pleasing because it is such a total surprise. And quite a bit intimidating to join such distinguished company," he said.

The Tang Prize was founded in 2012 by Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin (尹衍樑), presenting awards in sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, Sinology and rule of law.

Raz said it is of special merit that the Tang Prize foundation chooses to give awards in fields that are absolutely crucial to the future of humanity and to encourage interdisciplinary study.

Rule of law is an interdisciplinary study because it calls on a combination of law and politics, morality and social studies, as well as on similar topics like economics, and it also allows for the combination of scholarship and practice, Raz said.

The Tang Prize in rule of law was first awarded in 2014 to Albie Sachs, a former justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. In 2016, Louise Arbour, a Canadian lawyer who has served as United Nations high commissioner for human rights, received the second prize.

Raz expressed modesty in comparing his achievements to that of the two previous laureates, saying he has followed "a slow, lowly goal" compared with them, "who have done so much to shape the realities of legalization in respect to rule of law in practice."

"I have been mostly observing, reading, commenting, trying to talk to people, but having little involvement in actual legal practice and political activity," said Raz. "It's very pleasing to be recognized and to be made to follow in the steps of other very impressive recipients."

The selection of Raz shows that the Tang Prize in rule of law recognizes individuals for their contributions not only in realizing the rule of law in contemporary societies through their work, as with the previous laureates, but also in terms of the advancement of legal theory.

(By Tai Ya-chen and Shih Hsiu-chuan)
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