Jeremy Waldron

Jeremy Waldron is University Professor at New York University. One Another’s Equals: The Basis of Human Equality came out in 2017.

Framing​ a constitution for a country undergoing political upheaval is a messy and dangerous business, and it is by no means guaranteed to succeed. We think of South Africa in the early 1990s as a heartening example. ‘A relatively conservative Afrikaner leader decided to negotiate before he had lost,’ the journalist Colin Eglin said, ‘and an imprisoned leader of a...

When American politicians are caught having illicit sex – like Eliot Spitzer, who resigned as governor of New York in 2008 after it was revealed that he was using a call-girl when he went to Washington, or Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina, who got into trouble when his aides discovered that he was really visiting a divorcée in Buenos Aires when he said he was hiking in the...

Reality Check: The One Per Cent Doctrine

Jeremy Waldron, 10 April 2008

‘If there’s a one per cent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaida build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response … It’s not about our analysis, or finding a preponderance of evidence. It’s about our response.’ The One Per Cent Doctrine: it’s a striking methodology and a liberating one, and many people think it’s the only way to respond to the threat of low-probability, high-impact events. With it, the endless evidence-gathering and analysis that characterises traditional intelligence policy gives way to clarity.

Boutique Faith: Against Free Speech

Jeremy Waldron, 20 July 2006

I have always liked hanging around courtrooms. In the Crown Court in Oxford in the late 1970s, I happened on the trial of a racist agitator, who had festooned the streets of Leamington Spa with posters depicting Britons of African ancestry as apes. He was charged under the Race Relations Act with inciting racial hatred. Leamington Spa at that time was home to Robert Relf, a leader of something called the ‘British Movement’, who had made a name for himself earlier in the 1970s by advertising his house for sale ‘to a white family only’. I don’t remember exactly what Relf’s involvement was in the case that I sat through. I do remember that the defendant was convicted by the jury and sentenced by a crusty old English judge to a short term of imprisonment.

Deservingness: Equality of Opportunity

Jeremy Waldron, 19 September 2002

To reconcile ‘equal chances’ and ‘most deserving’, my chance of succeeding must refer to the abstract probability of my succeeding established on the basis of complete ignorance of anyone’s abilities. (So someone who knew us only as numbers would say that Einstein and I have an equal chance of winning when we sit down at the start of the test for the physics prize.)

What about Bert? equality

Jeremy Waldron, 9 August 2001

In the 13th chapter of this formidable collection of Ronald Dworkin’s writings on equality, we are asked to consider a problem about health cover. The chapter is entitled ‘Playing God: Genes, Clones and Luck’, and the problem has to do with the availability of health insurance to those who are revealed, by genetic testing, to have a higher than ordinary risk of contracting...

A Mistrust of Thunder and Lightning: Hobbes

Jeremy Waldron, 20 January 2000

‘He that hath good thoughts, and cannot clearly express them, were as good to have thought nothing at all.’ The quotation is from a speech by Pericles in an English translation of The History of the Peloponnesian War that Thomas Hobbes published in 1629. The sentiment expressed is one that haunted him throughout his intellectual endeavours.‘

From The Blog
7 May 2011

The killing of Osama bin Laden is an instance of a much more general policy pursued by the United States and its allies – the targeted killing of named individuals in the war against terrorism and against various insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the midst of American celebration of the fact that al-Qaida has lost its charismatic leader, it is worth getting clear about targeted killing in general, i.e. about the legality and the desirability of a policy of this kind. Targeted killings are of two kinds. The first involves killing people who are actually engaged in carrying out terrorist acts – planting a bomb or preparing someone for a suicide bombing. The second involves the elimination of high-profile individuals whose names appear on a special list of active commanders and participants in terrorism or insurgency. These killings are part of a strategy of disruption and decapitation directed against terrorist organisations.

John Rawls is best known as the author of a large book of ‘grand theory’, A Theory of Justice, that changed the face and refreshed the spirit of political philosophy when it was published in 1971. He is also the author of about forty scholarly articles, beginning with a chapter on ethics from his Princeton dissertation in 1951 and culminating with a short piece on Hiroshima, published in Dissent on the 50th anniversary of the first use of nuclear weapons against civilian targets.‘

Whose Nuremberg Laws? race

Jeremy Waldron, 19 March 1998

Race is something which shouldn’t matter, but which has mattered and therefore has to matter. In a world uncontaminated by injustice, we could regard heritable differences in skin pigmentation, physiognomy, hair texture and body morphology as superficial traits. We could be, as they say, ‘colour blind’, treating those traits, as we treat the green in someone’s eyes, as features that point to nothing beyond themselves, above all nothing that would warrant different treatment or differences in respect. It is hard, however, to imagine such a world without seeming naive or disingenuous, for it would be a world in which it never occurs to anyone to discriminate on the basis of what we call ‘racial differences’, a world where that would be as unintelligible as one person discriminating against another because he was born on a Tuesday.‘

Politics can be Hell

Jeremy Waldron, 22 August 1996

Man, said Aristotle, is a political animal; it is his nature to live in a state. Men and women may live in political communities, modern liberals have retorted, but there’s nothing particularly political in the nature or character of most people. In every society there are some who have a taste for politics, some who want to be rulers or representatives; but they are a tiny minority. As for the rest, they desire nothing much more than to live in peace, tending their farms or their businesses, making a life for themselves and their children, enjoying their property free from fear and insecurity. A good society will do what is necessary to provide this assurance, which means among other things allowing whatever political animals there are among them to compete for and succeed one another in office without undue disturbance, but certainly does not mean encouraging any more people than necessary to participate actively in politics.

By the Roots

Jeremy Waldron, 9 February 1995

‘The day will come, and perhaps it is not far off, when John Locke will be universally placed among those writers who have perpetrated the most evil among men.’ If Locke has a competitor in this, it is David Hume, ‘the most culpable of these fatal writers who will not cease to damn the [18th] century in the eyes of posterity, the one who has used the most talent with the most composure to produce the most evil.’ Europe is in chaos because intellectuals like these have forgotten their place: ‘They detest without exception every distinction they themselves do not enjoy; they find fault in every authority; if they are allowed, they will attack everything, even God, because he is master. They should be hung like housebreakers.’

The Edges of Life

Jeremy Waldron, 12 May 1994

Do trees have rights? Radical conservationists who oppose the logging of redwoods in the American North-West, or the destruction of the tropical rain forests, sometimes claim that they do. The forests, they say, have been here much longer than we have, and have as much right to exist as the rapacious human species that is destroying them. Arguing that trees have rights is their way of insisting that there is something to be said on the trees’ behalf in environmental disputes, quite apart from what we say on behalf of the humans involved (who may or may not have an interest in letting the trees live).

Privatising the atmosphere

Jeremy Waldron, 4 November 1993

By instinct and by reputation, environmentalists tend to be socialists. They are hostile to private industry, they scorn the profit motive, and they are profoundly suspicious of any claim that societies work best when economic decisions are made in the medium of unregulated markets. By emphasising the dire consequences for the environment of unrestrained industry, they present themselves as champions of big government, large regulative agencies and strict legal controls.


Central Questions

3 February 2005

We were puzzled and depressed to read Thomas Nagel’s patronising review of Nicola Lacey’s biography of Herbert Hart. In particular, his sweeping claim that the author is ‘lost’ when it comes to philosophical issues is both ungenerous and unsupported. Nagel adduces two pieces of evidence, one of which is a glancing reference to the paradox of analysis, and the other some remarks...

11 September

4 October 2001

Marjorie Perloff wrote the following concerning the LRB roundtable on the events of 11 September (LRB, 4 October). ‘With a few exceptions, your roundtable is agreed on one central point: what happened in NY and Washington can be directly blamed on US policies and actions from the 1960s to the present.’ By my count only nine of your contributors come even remotely close to fitting Perloff’s...
John Sutherland made a number of excellent points about academic publishing in the US. He is wrong about only one thing. In American law schools, publication in peer-reviewed journals is not the basis on which scholarship is circulated, careers built or tenure granted. Law professors submit their articles to ‘law reviews’ which are run and edited by students. The submitted articles are...

Unlike a Scotch Egg: Hate Speech

Glen Newey, 5 December 2013

‘You are a totalitarian asshole.’ It’s probably not the sort of email that often drops into an All Souls professor’s inbox but, as Jeremy Waldron tells us, some people...

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Rock Bottom: legislation

Thomas Nagel, 14 October 1999

This short, assertive and engaging book has a chip on its shoulder, hence the title. In the academic culture of legal theory that Waldron partly inhabits, legislatures come in for a lot of...

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