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Law in a Time of Crisis Reviews

Law in a Time of Crisis by Jonathan Sumption

Law in a Time of Crisis

Jonathan Sumption

3.29 out of 5

3 reviews

Imprint: Profile Books Ltd
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Publication date: 11 Mar 2021
ISBN: 9781788167116

Brexit, the possible break-up of the UK, pandemics, this is a country in crisis. In crises the law sets the boundaries of what the government can and should do. But in a country without a written constitution such as the UK, the precise limits between legal obligation and convention can be hazy.

3 stars out of 5
14 Mar 2021

"A lively collection of essays by the outspoken ex-judge"

Sumption is strong on evidence and logic, but is perhaps weaker on politics. He easily picks apart the fashion for apologising for the sins of the past, which he describes as “morally worthless”, but is there anybody who believes that the apologies are sincere? They’re surely a gesture designed to give a modern political message.

Reviews

3 stars out of 5
David Runciman
3 Mar 2021

"It is as a historian that he is at his most urbane and appealing"

This collection of essays, based on speeches Sumption has given over more than a decade, tries to pull the different sides of his intellectual persona together. Though law is their unifying theme, he begins with reflections on history and ends with a blistering attack on the government’s draconian response to Covid-19. It is as a historian that he is at his most urbane and appealing. A believer in the power of history to broaden our minds and constrain our hubris – he says that the world would be in better shape today if Woodrow Wilson, US president 100 years ago, had been a historian rather than a political scientist... This sense of historical perspective gives him a detached vantage point for discussing some current political controversies. He writes about Scottish independence and the fate of the union with a nice sense of irony and remarkably little agitation, given what might be at stake. He is drawn to the fact that the UK, unlike most European states, had “unemotional origins”. It was built on economic advantage and political compromise, not religious zeal or high principle. The problem with promoting the union today is knowing how to defend something that has so little emotional heft behind it. Sumption is no fan of Scottish nationalism, which he considers a recent contrivance. But he knows that history does not always belong to the reasonable. Sometimes it goes the way of the people who make the most noise.

4 stars out of 5
Daniel Finkelstein
27 Feb 2021

"time spent on Law in a Time of Crisis is time spent in the company of a brilliant mind considering interesting things."

His essays on Brexit are a brilliant explanation of public sentiment and why it expressed itself in the way it did. His insistence that “we cannot have liberty without democracy, or democracy without politics, or politics without politicians” is as good a summary of that vital point as I have read. Particularly as he begins it with the words: “Whatever we may think of our politicians.”