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The proposed course examines the relationship between law and the origins and implementation of the events known as the Holocaust. Students will consider the questions for law-making, judging, legal theory, and legal scholarship arising from Hitler’s rise to power, the legalization of the Nazi racial-biological worldview through eugenics and anti-Jewish legislation, the character of parallel anti-Jewish legal programs in Vichy France and elsewhere, the challenge to our conceptions of legal and moral responsibility that is presented by the idea of ‘administrative massacre’, and the question of how the Nazi legal era has been represented in mainstream jurisprudence.
By studying the sequential moments of legal and institutional pathology that provided the context for the persecution of the Jews – loss of meaningful constitutionalism or constitutional values, loss of legal rights, loss of citizenship, loss of the standards of the rule of law, loss of the status of the legal subject as a bearer of dignity, amongst others – students will have the opportunity to think deeply about the significance of these pathologies for our understanding of what law is, what we think law should be, and what conditions are required for law to mediate power rather than merely provide a vehicle for its expression.
No specialized background in history is required in order to undertake this course: those areas of particular knowledge necessary to successfully complete the course are to be found in the reading materials and will be clarified in the seminars. Students are advised that although this is not a course in International Criminal Law, International Human Rights Law, or comparative genocide, the subject matter is complementary to study in these areas, as well as to study in legal and political theory.
Intended learning outcomes
On completion this subject, students will have developed:
- An integrated understanding of the legal dimensions of the events known as the Holocaust and the continued construction of those events in our legal discourse;
- A critical perspective on the usefulness of the legal and philosophical constructs through which we might frame an inquiry into the connections between law and the Holocaust;
- The capacity to think critically about features of contemporary practices of institutional and legal design in light of the lessons learned from the Nazi era;
- The ability to identify and evaluate constitutional, judicial, legislative and other mechanisms for the protection of human rights for their capacity to realise the protections they purportedly offer;
- Advanced legal and critical skills necessary to identify instances of legal drafting, judging, and institutional design that raise concerns about excessive discretion and encroachment on human dignity; and
- Sensitivity to the role played by the continued construction of the events known as the Holocaust in our legal, moral, and political discourse.
Students undertaking the course will develop skills including the following:
- The ability to present carefully prepared arguments on and debate extremely complex and sensitive questions;
- The capacity to engage in self-directed and original research on a topic chosen in consultation with the instructor relating to the themes of the course;
- An expanded capacity for legal research involving interdisciplinary materials;
- The capacity for close reading and analysis of a range of research sources, from primary and secondary legal materials through to film, museum exhibits, and other less conventional legal research resources;
- An awareness of the importance of independent thought and reflection, as well as intercultural sensitivity and understanding, in the context of the sensitive character of the subject matter; and
- An awareness of the value of collaborative learning.
Last updated: 6 December 2019