Pavlos Eleftheriadis

How did you come to be an academic?

I realised I wanted to be an academic in my teens. I was fascinated by ideas and especially by social philosophy and social science, which I discovered in my father's bookcases. He had studied engineering in Munich. He also had very wide intellectual interests. The thought that I could possibly come to understand the course of human history was irresistible to me at the time. 

In secondary school in Athens, I was exposed there to Plato and Aristotle, with the help of some really inspiring teachers. Like many other young people of my generation in continental Europe in the 1980s, I also read a great deal of Marxist literature – Marx, Althousser, Poulantzas, Foucault, and Cornelius Castoriadis, who is the only one who makes any sense to me at the moment. All of this became part of intense debates at our home – both of my siblings became academics in engineering. I realise now, although I certainly did not at the time, that my family was very important in my choice of career. 

I then went to study law at the University of Athens. I discovered a different kind of literature there: the liberal classics, like Locke, Rousseau, Kant and of course Dworkin and Rawls - whose work was beginning to make waves at the time. My teachers in Athens were truly inspiring. I became totally determined to study legal philosophy. And so I did, which makes me very lucky indeed. 

What are you working on these days?

I am working on the fundamental assumptions of constitutional law but also of European Union law, which I consider it to be a kind of public international law or law of nations. My forthcoming book, A Union of Peoples: Europe as a Community of Principle (OUP, forthcoming ) offers a new internationalist theory of the European Union. I believe that internationalism is a much better defense of European integration than federalism.

What are some of the most important claims you have argued for? 

I argue that law is a moral project, informed by ordinary moral reasoning. In my book Legal Rights (OUP, 2008) I outline a particular kind of moral role that legal rights serve, one that has to do with equal moral standing of citizens and with political legitimacy - as opposed to social justice. My work is Kantian and Rawlsian in inspiration and is supported by their moral constructivism. 

I also seek to apply those insights to the study of law and to the interpretation of constitutional law and public international law. I do not consider this a particularly original contribution. Our most important political philosophers were all agreed on this, until Kelsen and Schmitt came along. In a way, I want jurisprudence to go back to its roots in the Enlightenment and the classical tradition of Plato, Aristotle and Cicero. I think it is finally happening in contemporary jurisprudence.

What do you find most exciting about your research?

I think I understand how we reason with law a bit better than when I started. I would not say it is always 'exciting', in the way perhaps that an action film or a run or a bike ride in the countryside can be exciting. It is, however, deeply satisfying to believe (perhaps to falsely believe) that one has made progress in very important and difficult ideas, such as the idea of law or the idea of a constitution. Ideas make the world go ‘round, in my view, so understanding them well is a marvelous thing. 

What are some big trends in Jurisprudence these days and how do you feel about them?

The biggest trend I observe - but I am of course highly partial to this - is the demise of legal positivism. I see the emergence of serious discussion of law as a moral idea in both public and private law. The idea that law is some kind of fact that is somehow 'caused' by political power is gradually being abandoned. We now have to offer plausible accounts of what kind of value the law has. This is the project of wonderful relatively recent books by Dworkin, Weinrib, Ripstein and Simmonds. 

What would you like to see change in academia?

I would like to see more young people think for themselves and stop worrying about what their supervisors will say. Academia should not be seen as some kind of bureaucracy. If you want a secure career, where somebody promotes you to a post, I suggest you join a law firm. It pays better too. Academics should be totally free to kill the ideas of their friends and those of their supervisors. I am afraid that widespread insecurity at universities in the United Kingdom is creating a climate of gentle complacency. We need more rebellions. 

What are some of your non-academic interests and pursuits?

I am involved in politics and environmental activism. I am active in Greek politics and I have stood for Parliament there. As we speak I am campaigning for the European Parliament elections in Greece. I suppose that the Brexit vote in 2016 made me far more aware of my duty to speak up for Europe and for our values. I want to see Greece emerge from its financial crisis more progressive, more open and more sure of its place in the world. It is important to me to highlight that we were one of the most liberal nations of the 19th century and one of the first parliamentary democracies in modern Europe. We had parliamentary elections with universal suffrage (among males) in 1844, well before many other European countries. I want to celebrate this democratic tradition. I also practice as a barrister in London, which gives me a different perspective on the way law engages with social and economic life. I often take on human rights or environmental cases pro bono.

If you had to pick a desert island book (academic or not), music album, or film, which one would it be?

I would pick Proust, Remembrance of Things Past. I read the first five volumes when I did my compulsory military service in a remote Greek island - literally imprisoned there and feeling miserable. I read the final volume soon after I was released. It is a profound but also lighthearted study of human nature and human frailty, endlessly entertaining. It is a work of true genius.  It also kept me sane in difficult circumstances, so I know it would be excellent company on a desert island (which will also have the advantage of not having military recruits on it). 

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

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