Universal Suffering and the Ultimate Task of Law
Louis E. Wolcher
University of Washington School of Law
Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice, Vol. 24, No. 2, 2006
Justice requires the force of law (Pascal). Law, in turn, passes itself off as a benign, legitimate, and rational instrument for securing people their rights, including their fundamental human rights. This Panglossian image of law is challenged by Walter Benjamin and Emmanuel Levinas, both of whom rightly point out law's partiality, its malleability, and most of all its violent methods. Taking their thought as its starting point, this essay attempts to go beyond the conception of law as violence. Employing an existentialistic conception of time, it concludes that legal violence is epiphenomenal: universal suffering, not violence, is the root of both law and justice. Although law's ultimate task is to respond to and divide this suffering, the very event of dividing it produces still more suffering. The essay draws out the tragic implications of these conclusions for anyone who yearns for justice and human rights on the basis of law.
Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: April 23, 2011
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