Some people characterize law in China as a “socialist legality” or “authoritarian legality." This is an eccentric account of legality, an attenuated account of authoritarianism, or both. This article highlights two enduring ideas in this new legality, the claim that law is not supreme and the claim that it is not distinctive. A satisfying account of the rule of law ought to begin with the antithesis of these two claims. However, that position presents challenges for certain theories of legality in the liberal canon, especially theories that conceive of the rule of law in modal term. In light of that challenge, the article questions the claim that liberal legality is a coherent doctrine that stands apart from the wider virtues of the legal order. It explains how legality came to be understood as something that can be reconciled with authoritarianism, highlights the consequences of this misstep, and suggests a way forward.
This event is organized by the Hong Yen Chang Center for Chinese Legal Studies and co-sponsored by the China and the World Program.
About the Speaker
Dr. Ewan Smith is an Associate Professor of Public Law at University College London and a Hauser Global Fellow at New York University Law School. He is an Associate at the Oxford University China Centre, and was a Fellow of Christ Church, Oxford. Dr. Smith has been a Visiting Professor at Peking, Tsinghua and Renmin universities in China and at the National University of Singapore. Before returning to university, he spent ten years working for the UK Foreign Office, including four as First Secretary Political at the British Embassy Beijing.
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