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The moral structure of legal systems - part 2: an insurance against tyranny?


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Contributor(s): Dr Kristen Rundle

Released on 4 June 2010.

Typically, the legal codes of despotic states lack transparency (you aren’t told what the laws are), lack consistency (one law will contradict another, making it impossible to obey both), often endorse retroactivity (you’re guilty today for an act that wasn’t illegal when you did it), and permit unannounced changes to the law.

For Dr Kristen Rundle, from the Department of Law, this isn’t just a case of poor legal housekeeping. In this short film she discusses how the systemic disorder typically exhibited by the legal systems of despotic and transitional states suggests that tyranny requires ‘forms of power that are not compatible with law.’ Drawing on debates of legal philosophy, she explains why chaos works in the tyrant’s favour while law – even with pernicious content – ties up his ability to wield absolute power.

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