Of Wonder and Changing the World: Philip Allott's Legal Utopianism

German Yearbook of International Law 60 (2017)

30 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2017 Last revised: 23 Sep 2018

See all articles by Jens Theilen

Jens Theilen

Helmut-Schmidt-University Hamburg

Date Written: October 30, 2017


Utopian perspectives on law are rare – both within legal theory, which generally eschews utopianism as frivolous and unrealistic, and within utopian studies, which have largely neglected to analyse the role that law plays in utopia or on the path towards it. Philip Allott’s work, and his latest monograph 'Eutopia' in particular, constitutes a notable exception which is positioned at the intersection between law and utopianism, and this paper aims to explore that intersection with a view to identifying the conceptualisation of law that it implies. To tease out the utopian elements in Allott, I suggest reading 'Eutopia' in light of Ernst Bloch's 'The Principle of Hope'. Three related utopian themes can thus be identified: the orientation towards the future based on dreams, imagination, and educated hope; the defamiliarisation from the present to open up possibilities of change; and the situation of utopian thought in relation to present reality, dynamically construed, with an emphasis on the need for action by human beings to propel society towards a utopian future. I argue that this framework leads to a utopian account of law which is critical of the law as it stands, dynamically oriented towards an open future, and in the hands of human beings who have the power to shape and transform its content. The conclusion considers the implications of this analysis for the genre of text to which 'Eutopia' belongs: if the point is to transform law and society by way of human action, then it constitutes a utopian manifesto that aims to instigate a sense of responsibility among its readers, and thus achieve the world as it could be.

Keywords: Philip Allott, Eutopia, Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope, Not-Yet, utopianism, law as an instrument of domination, law as an instrument of liberation, responsibility

JEL Classification: K10, K33

Suggested Citation

Theilen, Jens, Of Wonder and Changing the World: Philip Allott's Legal Utopianism (October 30, 2017). German Yearbook of International Law 60 (2017), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3061966

Jens Theilen (Contact Author)

Helmut-Schmidt-University Hamburg ( email )

Hostenhofweg 85
Hamburg, 22043

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