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The economics of the gift – the positivity of justice

The mutual paranoia of Jacques Derrida and Niklas Luhmann

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Gunther Teubner

Niklas Luhmann and Jacques Derrida start with a common assumption in their analyses of the law and the economy: the foundational paradox of social institutions. After that autopoiesis and deconstruction move in opposite directions. Luhmann asks how de-paradoxification constructs the immanence of social institutions and builds a world of autopoietic social systems. Derrida’s thought aims at the transcendence of social institutions through their re-paradoxification. This chapter argues that there is a hidden supplementarity of autopoiesis and deconstruction which makes it worthwhile to relate the theories to each other. Derrida's distinction of writing/speech is blind to Luhmann’s distinction of consciousness/communication, but at the same time continuously provoked by it. Luhmann’s autopoiesis is permanently irritated by Derrida’s différance but at the same time unable to conceptualise it. This complementary blindness of their distinctions directrices is a source of mutual irritation which requires a reformulation of the social and of the possibility of justice.

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In the blind spot

The hybridisation of contracting

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Gunther Teubner

This chapter takes as its starting point the transformation of the contract in modern times – in other words, its hybridisation. As the binding force of the contract disappears in the ‘in-between’ of the contextures, what are the consequences of this fragmentation? Can we still discern some operational, structural or systemic ‘unity’ of the contract that can be a suitable substitute for the exchange between two people? Social differentiation splits the formerly unitary contract into three autonomous concatenations of events in the respective legal, economic and production contexts. This difference is always reproduced as an insurmountable hermeneutic dissonance.

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Exogenous self-binding

How social subsystems externalise their foundational paradoxes in the process of constitutionalisation

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Gunther Teubner

How a constitution deals with its foundational paradox is not restricted to the state constitution alone, but is also relevant to the constitutions of other social systems. The starting point of this chapter is Niklas Luhmann’s argument that the law externalises its original paradox towards politics, while politics externalises its own towards the law. Over and above this, the question is raised about whether the law also pursues a comparable de-paradoxisation vis-à-vis other social subsystems. Meanwhile, the same question is asked in the opposite direction about whether other social systems also behave like politics, externalising their paradoxes towards the law with the aid of a constitution, or whether they employ alternative de-paradoxisations. Both of these lead to the concluding question, regarding which subsequent problems are generated by those externalisations.

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After privatisation?

The many autonomies of private law

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Gunther Teubner

The last twenty years have seen an important shift in the pattern of public service provision throughout the countries of the OECD. There has been a transfer of responsibility from the public to the private sector across a range of services. But what will market mechanisms do to the public interest aspects of these services? This chapter puts forward two alternative claims: (1) The crucial problem is not how to compensate for the loss of the public interest in privatisation but how to move out of the reductive public/private dichotomy itself and make private law responsive to a plurality of diverse ‘private’ autonomies in civil society; (2) the adequate reaction to privatisation is not to impose public law standards on private law but to transform private law itself into the constitutional law of diverse private governance regimes, something which will ultimately lead to its far-reaching fragmentation and hybridisation.

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Global Bukowina

Legal pluralism in the world society

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Gunther Teubner

This chapter examines the idea of ‘living law’ proposed by the legal scholar Eugen Ehrlich, contrasting it with the Pax Americana of Bill Clinton. It argues that while Ehrlich’s idea proved to be wrong as regards the national law of Austria, it will yet turn out to be right, both empirically and normatively, as regards the newly emerging global law.

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The project of constitutional sociology

Irritating nation-state constitutionalism

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Gunther Teubner

Trends of constitutionalisation can be identified beyond the nation state. They follow two different directions, as this chapter shows. Outside the limits of the nation state, constitutions emerge in the institutions of international politics, and they emerge simultaneously outside the limits of politics in the ‘private’ sectors of global society. Transnationalisation confronts constitutional sociology with three different challenges: (1) to analyse empirically ongoing constitutionalisation processes beyond the nation state, (2) to develop a theory of transnational societal constitutionalism and (3) to formulate sociological preconditions for normative perspectives in politics and law.

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Self-subversive justice

Contingency or transcendence formula of law?

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Gunther Teubner

Dominated by social and legal philosophers, the present debate on justice oscillates between the poles of universality (Rawls, Habermas) and alterity (Levinas, Derrida). This chapter contrasts them with a third position, a sociological theory in which justice appears as the ‘contingency formula’ of law (Luhmann). Here, the question of justice is no longer primarily a problem for philosophy but for concrete social practices in the changing self-descriptions of law. This opens perspectives for historical analyses to investigate affinities of varieties of justice with changing social structures.

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The Law before its law

Franz Kafka on the (im)possibility of Law’s self-reflection

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Gunther Teubner

This chapter offers a novel interpretation of Franz Kafka’s celebrated parable ‘Before the Law’, inspired by developments in European legal theory, particularly the work of Jacques Derrida, Niklas Luhmann and Giorgio Agamben. It suggests a dual role-change in the confrontation of the parable’s protagonists – the ‘man from the country’ and the ‘law’. According to this interpretation it is not a specific individual who stands before the law’ but the legal discourse itself that is in desperate search of its law. The parable’s ‘law’ for its part is not a generalised and distant authority (power, morality, religion, etc.), but the valid and positive law of our times. The chapter asks the question: What happens within the mysterious relationship between ‘Law AND law’ which has always preoccupied legal theory when that relationship is subjected to the nightmarish logic in Kafka’s universe?’

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Dealing with paradoxes of law

Derrida, Luhmann, Wiethölter

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Gunther Teubner

This chapter turns to the idea of paradox in the law, particularly in the context of civil constitutions and hybrid networks. Beginning with an examination of the work of Rudolf Wiethölter, a proponent of conflict-of-laws theory, the chapter suggests a change in the mode of thought from conflict to paradox. Conflicts are contradictions between A and non-A, while paradoxes have the structure non-A because A. Constitutions are always paradoxical in their foundation, because they are formed in a self-referential mode and have a foundationless foundation, or a similar paradoxical formulation. This is true in a similar way for civil constitutions, although they are based on different mechanisms.

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The anonymous matrix

Human rights violations by ‘private’ transnational actors

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Gunther Teubner

Do fundamental rights obligate not only states, but also private transnational actors? That is the question addressed by this chapter. Since violations of fundamental rights stem from the totalising tendencies of partial rationalities, there is no longer any point in seeing the horizontal effect as if rights of private actors have to be weighed up against each other. On one side of the human-rights relation the fundamental-rights violator is no longer a private actor but the anonymous matrix of an autonomised communicative medium. On the other side, fundamental rights have to be divided into three dimensions: (1) institutional rights protecting the autonomy of social discourses against their subjugation by the totalising tendencies of the communicative matrix; (2) personal rights protecting the autonomy of communication, attributed not to institutions, but to the social artefacts called ‘persons’; (3) human rights as negative bounds on societal communication, where the integrity of individual’s body and mind is endangered.