Reclaiming the public : Hannah Arendt and the political constitution of the United Kingdom.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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My thesis seeks to reconcile British public law with an entity strangely alien to it, the people themselves. In other words, this is an attempt to re-discover the ‘public’ element of public law. Hannah Arendt, the primary theoretical focus of my work, challenged the people to recognize themselves as part of the problem of ‘modernity’; the problem, that is to say, of political apathy and thus the emergence of forms of government repugnant to the human condition; to consciously reinvent themselves as politically engaged citizens; and to thus reconstitute traditional structures of authority, sovereignty and law. This is an onerous task, most salient in times of revolution, and so it is to the tumultuous climate of 17th century England that I look for evidence of these ideas (albeit briefly) emerging in the English (and, laterally, British) context, before considering the reasons for their failure to establish a firm foothold on the constitutional terrain, and the lessons this might have for the public, and public lawyers, today. For Arendt law was the means by which we ‘belonged’ to a community, and the means by which we ‘promised’ to maintain a public space within that community in order to participate and confer authority to government. It is this underdeveloped aspect of her work which I will first explore, and then put to work in the context of the British constitution.
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