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Five Questions with Ran Hirschl

Richard Albert, Boston College Law School

“Five Questions with … ” is a brand new feature at I-CONnect. We will periodically invite a public law scholar to answer five questions about his or her research.

This edition features Ran Hirschl, currently co-president of the International Society of Public Law. His full bio follows below:

Ran Hirschl (PhD, Yale) is Professor of Political Science and Law at the University of Toronto, and as of 2016, holder of the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship in Comparative Constitutionalism, hosted by the University of Göttingen. In 2014, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC). Professor Hirschl is the author of Towards Juristocracy: The Origins and Consequences of the New Constitutionalism (Harvard University Press, 2004 & 2007), Constitutional Theocracy (Harvard University Press, 2010)—winner of the 2011 Mahoney Prize in Legal Theory; Comparative Matters: The Renaissance of Comparative Constitutional Law (Oxford University Press, 2014)—winner of the 2015 APSA C. Herman Pritchett award for the best book on law and courts, as well as over ninety articles and book chapters on comparative constitutionalism and judicial review published in major social science journals, law reviews, and edited collections. Professor Hirschl is the recipient of several prestigious research and scholarly awards in five different countries: Canada, Israel, the United States, Australia and Germany. He is an editorial board member of several leading journals, co-editor of a book series on comparative constitutional law and policy published by Cambridge University Press, and the co-president (2015-2018) of the International Society of Public Law. His work has been translated into various languages, discussed in numerous scholarly fora, cited in high court decisions, and addressed in media venues from the New York Times to the Jerusalem Post.

1. Tell us about something you are working on right now.

I am currently working on a new book on the spatial, political geography dimensions of constitutionalism, past and present. It ties up nicely with a second project I am engaged in on various reactions to so-called “global constitutionalism.” In addition, I am writing a couple of pieces on the methodological horizons of comparative constitutional inquiry, and a paper with Ayelet Shachar on the threat to statist constitutionalism posed by religion.

2. How and when do you write? Do you have a routine or do you write whenever and wherever you find the time?

Unlike Mark Tushnet or Rosalind Dixon, I prefer to write at home, during the wee hours, early morning or late night. The main determinant of when and how much is, to be frank, family obligations. My better half and life-long intellectual partner has recently assumed a directorship position with the Max Planck Society (Germany) which opens up a whole new world of intellectual and institutional possibilities for her, but also places serious demands on her time. Add to that a child in his formative high school years, and well … you get the picture. A second factor is travel. I do it frequently and enjoy it a great deal, but sometimes find it taxing in terms of keeping my eyes on the writing ball. My office time is devoted to meetings with students and professional correspondence in all its variety.

3. Whose scholarship jumps to the top of your reading list when she or he publishes something new? 

I follow closely the work of many comparativists, young and younger, in both political science and law. I cherish the intellectual honesty of Sandy Levinson and Vicki Jackson, the versatility of Tom Ginsburg, the daring of Mila Versteeg, and the humanistic depth of Joseph Weiler to name but a few scholars whose work I follow. I am frequently asked to review manuscripts and grant proposals, a fact that helps to keep up with a range of comparative work on constitutional law and politics. With Tom Ginsburg and Zach Elkins, I co-edit a book series on comparative constitutional law and policy. That allows us to review book proposals and to think critically about new ideas, and where the field may be heading.

4. Is there an article or book that influenced you as a student and that continues today to be an important reference point for you?

Books such as Martin Shapiro’s Courts or Sandy Levinson’s Constitutional Faith are classics that continue to guide my thinking about the constitutional domain and its socio-political context and functions. But I often find myself drawn to non-law literary gems that helped me survive the largely doctrinal first year law school classes, most notably Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Pledge, Rebecca Goldstein’s The Legacy of Raizel Kaidish, Yaakov Shabtai’s Past Continuous, and Georges Perec’s The Winter Journey, all of which I know nearly by heart.

5. What are some of the big questions ripe for inquiry in your area of research interest?

Economic inequality is obviously a major theme, but since it has been addressed by earlier posts, I shall not say more about it. It may be indicative of a broader problem with constitutionalism, especially in its prevalent liberal breed, namely that it helps take off the table core issues such as class, wealth and inheritance, meaningful democratic representation and other such matters. In addition, I am puzzled by the continuous self-centrism in the study of American constitutionalism, and surprisingly, the study of European constitutionalism as well, while many interesting questions of constitutional politics are better addressed by a genuinely comparative, problem-driven, not setting-driven outlook.

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Published on February 10, 2017
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