Unmasking Juridical Humanity

Transnational Legal Theory, 4(1), pp. 157-166, 2013

10 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2013

See all articles by Nimer Sultany

Nimer Sultany

University of London - School of Oriental and African Studies; Harvard University - Law School - Alumni

Date Written: July 31, 2013


Taking the British colonial occupation of Egypt as her case study, Samera Esmeir shows in her outstanding book "Juridical Humanity" how the law was implicated in producing the ‘human’ and constructing ‘humane’ practices. Through a genealogy of the colonial career of the construction of the ‘human’, Esmeir convincingly argues that the production of the ‘human’ was intertwined with violence, discipline and dis- possession. For that purpose Esmeir assembles an impressive range of historical data, which she analyses through the lens of sophisticated theoretical tools.

This essay offers one possible reading — my reading — of this rich book. Parts I and II summarise the book’s main arguments. Part I presents the descriptive background to the concept of ‘juridical humanity’. Part II shows how the book challenges both liberal and anti-colonial accounts of law since they both presuppose ‘juridical humanity’. Parts III and IV situate the book within critical traditions and critically examine some of its primary themes. In particular, Part III argues that the book can be read as a contribution to the scholarly strand that seeks "liberation of nature" rather than "liberation from nature", i.e. that which seeks empowerment rather than the imposition of an artificial order and the fabrication of "human nature". Part IV focuses on the book's notions of indeterminacy and coercion.

Whereas the book locates law's indeterminacy in the split between the factual and the ideal, the Legal Realists and Critical Legal Studies find indeterminacy more pervasive and hence is located in the ideals of humanity themselves. A legal left perspective cannot be satisfied by demanding openness to a plurality of conceptions of the "human", because openness may admit conceptions of the human that are no less coercive than juridical humanity, and are inconsistent with the goals of the liberation of nature. The need to demarcate the acceptable limits of openness and plurality is inescapable. Esmeir’s book provides us with a first remarkable step towards envisaging such a project by clarifying the conceptual field and illustrating the potential negative normative effects of juridical humanity.

Keywords: law, colonialism, Egypt, coercion, indeterminacy, liberalism, anti-colonialism

Suggested Citation

Sultany, Nimer and Sultany, Nimer, Unmasking Juridical Humanity (July 31, 2013). Transnational Legal Theory, 4(1), pp. 157-166, 2013, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2304187

Nimer Sultany (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Law School - Alumni ( email )

1563 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

University of London - School of Oriental and African Studies ( email )

Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square
London, WC1H 0XG
United Kingdom

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