Nick Barber

What is your research about?

My research focuses on states, constitutions, and constitutional principles. I have written two books on this topic, and a third one is in the works. This three-book project aspires to provide a theory of the state, of constitutions, and of public law, that will be of interest to scholars but also to those engaged with shaping constitutions.  

What do you argue for in these books? 

In my first book, The Constitutional State, I looked at the nature of the state, examining the ways in which it is formed by rules and, by virtue of those rules, able to form intentions and undertake actions.  Part of the argument of that book was that the state is a form of social group that is partly defined by its purpose: that is, that it exists to advance the wellbeing of its people.  

In my second book, The Principles of Constitutionalism, I picked up from where the first book stopped and examined the principles that should structure the institutions of the state. Building on the work done in the first volume, this book provides an account of six constitutional principles: state sovereignty; separation of powers; rule of law; civil society; democracy; and subsidiarity. These principles are presented as parts of a whole. As aspects of constitutionalism they share a common orientation, aiming to fashion an institutional structure that will enable the state to function successfully.  By identifying their shared point and the relationships between the principles, some of the disagreements over the content of these principles can be resolved. 

The final volume in the trilogy, which is some way off yet, will look at the relationship between the individual and the state, reflecting on the place of citizenship in the constitutional order, and the roles played by administrative and human rights law. 

What developments would you like to see in Jurisprudence?

There is a great value in diversity. I hope that people will continue to take different approaches, even radically different approaches, to the subjects matters we study.  Sometimes these different approaches are in tension, we are in disagreement, but more often they are potentially complementary ways of answering related questions.  

Interdisciplinary engagement is enormously important. In my own work, I draw on political science and social psychology.  Whilst venturing outside of our area is tricky, we have a great deal to learn from other disciplines which provide different perspectives on the issues we study. I'd also encourage the more philosophically-minded scholars of jurisprudence to engage with those studying black-letter law.  Each side has much to learn from the other.

This interview was conducted in May 2019 by Carolina Flores (St. Hugh's, MMathPhil, 2016) who is a philosopher working in epistemology and social philosophy. 

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