Young Kim

MSc in Political Theory

Class of 2008

Studying in the Department of Government helped provide me with intellectual questions which I would later pursue

Portrait photo of Young KimTell us about your journey since graduating from LSE.

Prior to coming to LSE, I was a practising lawyer in the United States (US). At LSE, I wanted to study a subject about which I developed an interest, namely, political theory. I was lucky to study the subject area with Professor John Gray and Professor Paul Kelly.

Since graduating from LSE, my career took a turn towards the academic. While continuing to practice law, I began to teach. My teaching interests included corporate and securities law, international law, and legal philosophy. I taught at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, on appointment as a Fulbright Senior Specialist at the University of Luxembourg Faculté des Droits et d’Economie, and at the University of Colorado School of Law.

I also began to write books. My research and writing interests include intersections of law, politics, and morality. My current book, The Question of Law (January, 2024), investigates the nature of law, and in doing so, develops a normative theory of law. It is the third book of a trilogy. The first book, Justice as Right Actions (2015), explores the nature of justice, and advances the eponymous theory of justice as right actions. The second book, Justice: Classical Foundations and Contemporary Debates (2018), looks to foundational theories of justice in assessing contemporary theories of justice. I’ve also begun to write some literary fiction along the way, At the Claremont (2023), and In the Midst of Things, which I am currently working on.

If you could tell your younger student self one piece of wisdom, what would it be and why?

Follow your intellectual interests. I also remind my younger self to accord others due respect and concern.

How has studying in the Department of Government helped you since graduation?

Studying in the Department of Government helped provide me with intellectual questions which I would later pursue, such as: What is justice? What is the nature of law? Further, my studies helped bend my career towards teaching in the academy.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

Legal: I had one matter before the United State Supreme Court involving the Fifth Amendment Takings Clause. I handled a seminal case in the State of Delaware Chancery Court. The Chancery Court is the site of major corporate law cases, and these cases often involve the duty of loyalty of the board of directors to a company. Separately, I represented the parent company in its reorganization of five tiers of subsidiaries. These 50 subsidiaries, some international, owned planes, trains, shoe companies, and other odds and ends. In the end, though, I think I valued very much the relationships I made along the way.

Teaching: I’ve enjoyed teaching bright, hardworking, inquisitive students. This is somewhat at odds with my self-image as a student.

Writing: I would love to write elegantly and gracefully as did Bertrand Russell. He wrote as one intelligent person would speak to another. Unfortunately, this was not to be in my case. Wittgenstein detested Russell’s non-technical writing. Of course, Wittgenstein shifted his own views of language as formal language systems (Tractatus) to language as dependent on context and use (Investigations). Personally, I think that words can pack an extra punch through usage.

You’ve just had your book published. What was the inspiration behind writing it and what gap did you see in the current literature that it addresses?

As do many practising lawyers, I often engage the question of what the law is applicable to a given set of circumstances. In this book, however, I pursue a somewhat different inquiry, namely, what is law.

In investigating the nature of law, I found that there was a gap between natural law theories, which start with the proposition that God is the giver of natural law and human beings are the recipients of natural law, with natural law comprising principles of practical rationality by which human action may be judged as reasonable or unreasonable; and, logical positivist theories, which hold that legal facts are grounded in and hold solely by virtue of social facts, to the exclusion of any moral facts. On a lesser note, I also found that there was confusion and a wide range of meanings attributed to the term “rule of law,” and to the question of international law.

I tried to address those gaps in my book, and in doing so, I also developed a normative theory of law, which may be stated as two principles in lexical priority, as follows:

First Principle: One should obey those laws of legal-rational political authority that do not otherwise violate societal norms and customs.

Second Principle: Governments should only enforce rules of human behavior of legitimate legal-rational political authority.

Further, while it has been argued that the task of justice is to develop a moral framework for political interaction, I argue for an inverse relationship between law and morality; that is, that law articulates attempts to make authoritative political pronouncements that regulate human behavior, and these pronouncements, embedded as they are in societal mores, sometimes overlap with moral and normative concerns.

Fundamentally, I believe that law should serve justice. The particular concept of justice that I have in mind is a relational one, justice as right actions, which is led by moral concerns. While arising from a political foundation, law is thus connected to morality at the top level, with justice providing the moral framework within which rules of law are articulated.

What is law? In my view, law comprises social and normative rules of behavior imposed by a political authority, and thus, the foundation of law is political, including the power to enforce rules. Accordingly, at the ground level, the question of law is primarily a question of obedience – whether and in what circumstances it is appropriate to obey the law. Since the question of obedience to the law is a normative question, it thus follows that the answer is dependent on the contingent content of a society’s conventions, and also the relevance and strength of morality in the legal system.

You can find a list of my books here.

What is your fondest memory from LSE?

Developing friends and relationships which continue to this day. Playing on an LSE squash team stands out to me as varsity sports in the US. differed at the time from those in the UK. Postgraduates were able to play on varsity teams in the UK. London is also a great tourist town and music town.