Fall 2023

Authority, Obedience and The Rule of Law

Listed in: First Year Seminar, as FYSE-109


Lawrence R. Douglas (Section 01)


All political systems must operate according to the "rule of law" if they are to be deemed legitimate. This statement has assumed the quality of a truism: we hear it repeated by the President of the United States, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and the President of the International Criminal Court. At the same time, though, that everyone seems to agree that the "rule of law" is a good thing, no one seems able to say for sure what the "rule of law" is. What, then, do we mean by the "rule of law"? What does it mean to speak of government limited by law? What are these limits, where do they come from, and how are they enforced? What role does the "rule of law" play in legitimating structures of governance? Does the "rule of law" imply any particular relationship between legality and morality? We will hazard answers to these questions through a close reading of works of theorists such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, H.L.A. Hart and Lon Fuller. In addition, we will examine the arguments of the theorists as they help us think through pressing legal challenges of our age, such as defining the limits of executive power in the "war against terror." Our seminar will be devoted to the close reading of a select number of texts. We will analyze the structure, meaning and adequacy of the arguments contained in these works through vigorous discussion and frequent writing assignments. Our aim is to gain a rich critical understanding of a concept that lies at the foundation of domestic and international socio-political systems, and to improve our abilities to discuss and write about complex ideas with sophistication, nuance and flair.

First Year Seminar. Fall semester. Professor Douglas.

How to handle overenrollment: Determined by the Dean's office

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: written work, readings, group work, in class quizzes or exams

FYSE 109 - LEC

Section 01
Tu 11:30 AM - 12:50 PM CLAR 100
Th 11:30 AM - 12:50 PM CLAR 100


2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2023