Mark S. Weiner

Archive for the ‘Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons’ Category

Law Made in Germany

In Conversations, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Europe, Germany, Video on January 14, 2013 at 11:04 pm

As promised some weeks ago, here is my interview with the German Minister of Justice, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger. In our conversation, I asked the minister about the export of German law overseas, internet privacy and European Union legal harmonization, German law school tuition, and the recent controversy surrounding circumcision in Germany. If you’re reading this blog in the three-column format and would like a larger version of the embedded YouTube video, click here.

For those who are interested in reading the booklet “Law Made in Germany,” click here.

What it Means to be Home—with Deanna Durbin

In Aesthetics, narrative, form, Constitutional law, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Europe, Law and film, Supreme Court on January 8, 2013 at 2:50 pm

After many weeks abroad, I’m back in the United States, and by coincidence this weekend I watched a movie that reminded me of just what it means to be home. The reminder came in the unexpected form of Deanna Durbin, the girl-next-door Hollywood star of the 1930s and 1940s. I didn’t anticipate that her last film, the romantic comedy For the Love of Mary (1948), would have so much to say about the culture of American constitutional law.


As readers of this blog and subscribers to my Facebook page know, in mid-November I flew to Europe to speak about The Rule of the Clan (which will be released in just two months by Farrar, Straus and Giroux), to teach some intensive seminars about the American constitution to European students, and most of all to begin research on my next book.

In the spirit of Jules Verne, the working title of Book #4 is Around the World in Eighty Laws. I’m hoping to reveal some of the beauty, complexity, and fragility of our world through a portrait of its diverse legal systems. I want to show the fundamentally different ways people understand the meaning and purpose of law. I’m also hoping that in the process I’ll be able to raise some basic, hard questions about our ability to get along with one another and with other nations as we respond to globalization.

My travels began at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and ended in Vienna. In between, with Eurail Pass in hand, I visited Maastricht, Tilburg, Luxembourg, Brussels, Würzburg, Hannover, and Salzburg, taking pictures and conducting interviews as I went—trying to channel the spirit of one of my heroes, David Attenborough. It was grand. I also found that I could easily continue an itinerant life indefinitely.

I’ll be posting reflections on my travels and excerpts from my interviews in the coming weeks, especially once I return to my desk in Connecticut.

My European travels naturally got me thinking about what it was I left behind. And that’s why I was so taken with For the Love of Mary. In its lightness of spirit—and in Durbin’s unpretentious style and clear soprano—it captures something essential about the legal self-understanding of my country. Read the rest of this entry »

Argentina: Populism, the State and Positive Rights

In Affirmative action, Antitrust, Argentina, Constitutional law, Conversations, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Economic regulation, Freedom of speech, Gender, Latin America, Race, Video on November 3, 2012 at 12:01 pm

My new post is entirely in video format. It’s a short conversation with an Argentinean scholar about constitutional law in his country, including some differences between law there and in the United States. Our conversation touches on affirmative action, gay marriage, voter identification, and economic regulation, among other important issues. My wife says it’s fascinating, and I hope you’ll agree.

To watch, just click on the thumbnail below, or to see it in larger format (which I’d recommend), click above on the title of this post and then click again on the video window:

Distraction from the Storm

In Aesthetics, narrative, form, Border regions, Constitutional law, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Environment, India, Law and film, Law and literature, Pakistan, Psychoanalysis, Supreme Court on October 31, 2012 at 8:59 pm

As hurricane Sandy bore down on the eastern seaboard, my wife and I thought that the best distraction from the howling wind and crack of breaking branches would be to curl up and watch movies. It didn’t take long for us to settle on Alfred Hitchcock.

And so after we made up our inflatable bed in the living room—the safest place, we figured, if one of the tall trees in the backyard crashed through the roof—and brought up our emergency kit from the basement—stove, check; fuel, check; tent, check; food and water, check—we unfurled the projector screen we normally use to display academic PowerPoint slides, made a bowl of buttered popcorn, and poured ourselves a beer.

All things considered, it seemed like the sort of thing that one would want to have been doing in the final moments before disaster.

Here’s a picture of our outpost in the storm:

The film on the screen is “North by Northwest”—there’s Carry Grant furtively walking through Penn Station.

Now that we’ve come through the storm safe and sound (a miracle), in this post I’d like to pull on a small thread in the film we saw last night, “Rear Window.” It’s a legal thread, and one that also happens to be entwined with an environmental theme.

There’s not much we can do for our friends in New York and New Jersey, who faired much worse than we did, but if they are able to read it, perhaps this distraction will be welcome. Read the rest of this entry »

“Disgraced” and the Law

In Aesthetics, narrative, form, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Islam, Law and literature on October 25, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Two weeks ago, as the first chill of fall was descending on New England, I caught the train to Manhattan and strolled happily to Lincoln Center. One reason I was happy is that along the way I was able to stuff my briefcase full of truffles at the first chocolate store I could find. But I also knew I was going to watch some excellent theater.

I have been thinking about the experience ever since.

The play was “Disgraced,” by Ayad Akhtar, and this new production was held in the Claire Tow Theater, an experimental stage whose well-appointed intimacy is ideally suited to exhibit the dramatic kinesis and collision of the play’s four characters. The actors seem so close that they might as well reach into your chest directly as they rip out your heart (which, by the end of a taut ninety minutes, believe me they do).

Perhaps I feel so passionately about the play because of the friends with whom I saw it. The group included a religiously devout Muslim military officer from a major nation in the Middle East. He had never before seen a play—this was his first experience of theater, ever. When I looked at him as the lights came up, I had a profound understanding of the meaning of the word “catharsis” and a renewed appreciation of the power of art. Read the rest of this entry »

The Rule of the Clan: “Seeking Common Ground”

In Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Rule of the Clan on October 24, 2012 at 11:32 am

I’m delighted to write that The Rule of the Clan has received a marvelous new jacket endorsement. It comes from Abdullah Saeed, the Sultan of Oman Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities. Prof. Saeed calls the book:

“A must read for anyone interested in understanding the complex relation between tribal identity, law, and custom, in seeking common ground between the Western and Islamic legal and political traditions, and in connecting the past to present in the service of legal reform.”

I deeply admire Prof. Saeed’s writings about Islamic thought, especially those that nurture modes of Qur’anic interpretation that are sensitive to the interplay between text and context. I also greatly respect not only his active engagement as a scholar with contemporary social and political questions but also the profound kindness and thoughtfulness of his manner whenever he does so. He’s a model to which aspire, and I’m so pleased by his kind words.

A New Video: Bedouin Law

In Anthropology, Bedouin, Conversations, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Islam, Middle East, Video on October 22, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Greetings to everyone after a somewhat longer absence than I had planned! The second pass proofs of The Rule of the Clan are now with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and a kind and sympathetic soul in New York is carefully creating the index. It’s good to be back.

I was so pleased with the reception of my first small documentary video that I decided to make another—and here it is. It’s about the law of the Bedouin, the independent Arab nomads of the Middle East and North Africa.

Although I have yet to acquire serious video-editing software and I’m operating entirely without a sound editor, the production values of this video are greatly improved thanks to a new camera, a Lumix DMC-GH2. I really appreciate everyone who gave me such great advice about the purchase, especially my former students and my friends at the Minnesota Historical Society. On the post-production front, I’m also now using a monitor that’s nearly as large as the heart of the good man who gave it to me, Deven Desai, who blogs at Concurring Opinions.

The video is called “A Law of Honor and Contract,” and it’s centered around a conversation I had in Manhattan with my friend Frank, one of the leading Western authorities on Bedouin law. One way to appreciate the depth of Frank’s expertise is to know that his answers to my questions were entirely off the cuff—no preparation, just unscripted brilliance. Read the rest of this entry »

Between India and France

In Affirmative action, Constitutional law, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, France, India, Race on October 1, 2012 at 10:52 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court has begun its new term (it does so the first Monday of each October), and it soon will hear oral arguments in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas. The Court’s decision in the case could be a turning-point in its jurisprudence of affirmative action, and perhaps a political turning-point for the nation. At issue is the legality of using race as a basis for preferring one candidate over another in college and university admissions.

A great deal has and will be written about the doctrinal questions at issue Fisher, particularly how the case differs from those the justices have considered in previous disputes about racial preferences. I’d like to offer a global, comparative view.

The issue in Fisher, in essence, is whether from a constitutional perspective the United States ought to resemble India or France. For years, the United States has pursued a middle course between the two nations with regard to race-based preferences. The current Court is now likely to hold that the United States ought to resemble France—which will be something of an irony given the Court’s conservative majority (conservatives in the United States not being known for their Francophilia). Read the rest of this entry »

Burma and the Rule of Law

In Burma, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Marxism, Rule of law, Southeast Asia on September 29, 2012 at 9:35 am

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending a talk about the rule of law by the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has good reason to have opinions about the subject. Suu Kyi spent nearly fifteen years under house arrest for her pro-democracy activities against the socialist government that ruled her country (and ran it into the ground) from 1962 to 2011. Labeled “a destructive element” by the regime, she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Suu Kyi was in town on the invitation of one the undergraduate colleges at Yale, and a fellow of the college was able to snag me a ticket toward the front of the hall where she spoke (it’s nice to have such friends!). From there, it was easy to see that Suu Kyi is both a charming and an electrifying presence—though only some of the wattage comes through in this video of the lecture:

Read the rest of this entry »

Of Mexico, Blasphemy, and the “Feel-Clash” of Legal Difference

In Aesthetics, narrative, form, Blasphemy, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Freedom of speech, Islam, Law and literature, Method, Mexico, Pakistan on September 26, 2012 at 7:09 pm

Last week I attended an exciting talk by the journalist David Lida, who for over twenty years has documented everyday life in Mexico, particularly Mexico City, in ways few other writers are able to do (because Lida has both great compassion and serious nerve). During the event, Lida read from the manuscript of a semi-autobiographical novel, and an episode he recounted nicely illuminates an issue I’ll be examining centrally on Worlds of Law.

In addition to his career as a writer, Lida has an unusual side job. He works as a “mitigation specialist” for attorneys representing Mexicans in the United States who are facing the death penalty. What this means, in essence, is that he unearths the back-story of people who have been accused or convicted of capital murder to help persuade courts to show them leniency—if a sentence of life without the possibility of parole be can called lenient. In practice, the job requires Lida to travel to humble, sometimes dangerous places and persuade strangers to reveal intimate details about other people’s lives: about their friends, parishioners, cousins, brothers, and sons. He then stitches those fading snapshots together into a narrative for American defense lawyers.

It is work that requires moral and physical bravery, a surplus of “negative capability,” and a skilled pen. Read the rest of this entry »