"The books we love": Britain, Europe and the world
On the occasion of World Book Day 2018, BiE experts are talking about the books they love and have influenced their thinking when it comes to studying Britain, Europe and European human rights.
Geoffrey Nice QC
Trevelyan’s ‘Social history of England' and ‘A Shortened History of England’ both published in 1942 have been inspiring reads. They display how it might once have been possible to argue that England and Englishmen and women had particular qualities that justified girding the British Isles with restrictions against newcomers. That very display - published at the worst time of WWII - highlights for me how our islands have changed and cannot be recreated in an earlier form and how the present form is what we have to make special - even if we succumb to Brexit - incorporating all who are new or fairly new to our lands but who now have rights that must be recognised. Brilliant, elegant accounts of how we are where we now are, these books make clear that going back is no option.
Keith Ewing's and Conor Gearty's: Freedom under Thatcher: Civil Liberties in Modern Britain, Oxford University press 1990. This book is actually about the appalling lack of freedom in Thatcher’s Britain, and the routine abuse of civil liberties during that bleak period. To read its extremely well-researched case histories, and its powerful demolition of the authoritarian mindset which allowed and indeed justified such outrages against fundamental democratic norms and values, is to revisit a very dark time indeed, and to remind us of the supreme importance to this country of the European Convention on Human Rights. That many of the selfsame forces which held sway in the Thatcher era are now doing their utmost to remove its protections from us is a sobering thought indeed.
I read Nineteen Eighty Four for the first time a long time ago. It was at Law School, around the time I was being introduced to Greek constitutional and human rights doctrine, and it was fascinating to see how the western European experiences of totalitarianism, total surveillance and torture that had inspired the book resonated with the brutal, historic memories of loss of freedom and anti-democratic rule in Greece that had underpinned the creation of a liberal and progressive charter of constitutional rights there. Orwell's unique vision, and ability to immerse the reader into a dire post-apocalyptic future, have stayed with me since.
Studying in Paris for my doctorate a few years later, I was privileged to follow Mireille Delmas-Marty's groundbreaking lectures at the Collège de France (as the Chair of Comparative Legal Studies and the Internationalisation of Law) quickly transform into epoch-making scholarship (Les forces imaginantes du droit, tomes I-IV), which sought to penetrate the highly complex bipoles that much of modern Law, criminal law in particular, revolves around: liberty and security, the human and the inhuman, criminal law's dilemmas on life and death, the reality of risk and the uncertainty of responses to it, working together for a common future of liberal values or succumbing to the nationalist temptation of a society of fear?
The introduction to my old copy of Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty Four" (written in 1989) notes that Orwell's supposed warning had been largely wrong within its time-span. Delmas-Marty's teachings and writings throughout the years 2000, and the more recent crisis of moral values in Britain, Europe and beyond, with the resurfacing of right-wing ideologies of exclusion and isolationism and annihilating "the other", prove, unfortunately, that Orwell's warnings are more timely than ever.