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Law and Democracy in the Empire of Force

If you're living near Ann Arbor, you might be interested in this conference at the University of Michigan Law School.

The conference title, "Law and Democracy in the Empire of Force," comes from Simone Weil's essay on the Iliad, where "she uses it to refer not only to systems of military force violence, but to all the ways a culture invites its members to dehumanize others and themselves."

While it's not specifically a conference on law and religion, several people who speak and write frequently on law and religion will be there. For example, Jeff Powell, who teaches in the Law School and the Divinity School at Duke, will be speaking on "Law as A Tool: The Consequences for American Government," Howard Lesnick, from Penn Law School, will be giving a paper titled "If We differ Over a Moral Question, Call Me Wrong, but Don't Call Me a Relativist. " James Boyd White, whose work has been so influential on people like Mary Ann Glendon and others, including me, is giving a paper on "Law, Economics, and Torture." The brilliant and learned John T. Noonan Jr. is giving a paper on "The Age of Accusation." And I'm giving a paper entitled "Democracy and Prophecy: A Study in Prophecy, Rhetoric and Religion."

Other fabulous and distinguished speakers too! Look at the flyer!The conference is April 13-14; I admit I'm a bit spooked to be speaking on Friday 13, but . . . what can you do?

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I admire Mr. Noonan very much, but I'm just a bit curious as to which is the "age of accusation." I might guess classical Athens or late republican Rome, but that's probably only my cultural prejudices coming to the fore.

Good question. .. I don't know. I will let you know when I hear the paper!

My guess, and that's all it is, is that it is a reference to the Sen. Joseph McCarthy era.Perhaps a pool is in order? :)

the trouble is, with John Noonan, you have all of Western history to work with as a possible topic(read his book on Bribes to get a sense of his range). Any other guesses?

After looking at the flyer for the conference more carefully, I realize that I have to hedge my bet a bit (some may say desperately). Judge Noonan may have echoes of the McCarthy era in his paper and presentation, or he may even link that era of political fear to the present, but I think he's characterizing "age of accusation," in light of the conference's emphasis on "empire of force" as Simone Weil characterized that phrase, as primarily a present day phenomenon. As used in strict legal terms, an accusation is merely a charge of wrongdoing; it is far from proof of wrongdoing. Perhaps Judge Noonan will be making the argument that an accusation in our popular culture has often become tantamount to conviction, and, as such, that an accusation in and of itself is now a potent weapon for instilling fear and applying political pressure. I think I'll have to attend the conference out of curiosity to see if I am even in the ballpark. ;)

Please remember to post next month what Noonan does say. If it is about "accusation as a potent weapon," I see two ways in which accusations work:1) Years ago, a young friend was over-accused (over-charged) in a brawl with undercover policemen. I have often wondered whether accusations are part of the plea-bargain culture in criminal cases. Make many accusations, so the plea-bargain will more likely fit the crime. I don't know.2) Likewise in civil cases, the headlining of accusations might weaken the defendant's perception of maybe getting a fair trail. Considering that most civil cases (just as criminal ones) get some sort of settlement before trial, the accusations may be more tactical than honest. Again, I don't know. Thankfully, I have not been a party to any of this stuff, but accusations and bargaining seem to be a frequent route of the American judicial system.Joe McMahon

Cathy, the program sounds very interesting, Do let us know if the papers are going to be published . They sound too good to miss.