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The Human Agenda: A word from the Editor-in-Chief

Updated: 6 days ago

A word from the Editor-in-Chief, Alexander (Sami) Kardos-Nyheim


The last edition of the Journal ended with these words, from Léon Bloy: ‘Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering, in order that they may have existence’.


This edition is ultimately about human suffering and how it has affected the domains of law, politics, and art. These three domains have been shaped to a significant extent by what Robert Burns might have called ‘Man’s inhumanity to Man’, and the urge to limit it and prevent its reoccurrence. Law, politics, and art are not just three fields that are external products of a society. They are projections of what is going on within us as human beings; of the instinct to understand the world, structure it, control it, express oneself upon it, appreciate its complexity and beauty, and to live a fuller life. Human rights abuses have brought tragedy to the world; but they have also prompted huge developments in the fields of law, politics, and art. Amidst the destruction—past and present—there is a human instinct to learn from mistakes and achieve a higher level of consciousness. This is one interpretation of Bloy’s words: that inhumanity forces us, in turn, to forge new levels of humanity.  


I started the Journal because I wanted to create a forum for balanced and calm thinking at a time of clash and chaos. Nowhere is this harder to achieve than with this subject matter. As illustrated by the actions of American soldiers against German officers during the liberation of Dachau in April 1945, it is difficult to remain calm and balanced when faced with human atrocities. Undoubtedly this edition reflects that difficulty. But this edition also constitutes an important collection of individuals from our three fields of focus who have wrestled with this challenge throughout their professional or personal life, and significantly contributed to the world.


I am pleased to present our first Special Edition, and our third published edition since I started the Journal three years ago. These have been three rich years in which we have grown a community of contributors spanning Nobel Laureates to Cypriot monks, Supreme Court Judges to national museum curators, artists to law students. We are also blessed with a wide community of engaged readers from around the world.


To that community, I present the risk that this Special Edition also carries. Focusing on a specific theme requires curation. That is precisely what I was trying to get away from when the Journal began. I wanted to allow for free thinking not constricted by categorisation or intrusive editorial intervention. On the other hand, to address a theme coherently, a level of structure is required—and we have ensured that our editors continue the Journal’s practice of light-touch revisions. To break up the structure and introduce space to think, we have woven in freestanding arts articles that do not fit into specific chapters, but which are relevant to the wider subject matter of this Special Edition. See these as an opportunity to draw breath between powerful and at times heavy articles.


‘The Sleep of Reason produces Monsters’, reproduced below, is the 43rd plate from an album of prints by Francisco de Goya entitled Los Caprichos (‘The Fantasies’). It can be found in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and is perhaps Goya’s best-known etching. The point, while overused, is clear: reason promises an escape from base human instincts. My fear, however, is that we are ‘over-reasoning’ in today’s political and legal discourse, which at times feels disembodied from the heart and the creative instinct—or whatever you call that which cannot be explained but makes us human.


What is less known about this particular plate of Goya’s is this added inscription, by the artist:


Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of all arts and the source of their wonders.


Just as reason should not abandon imagination, nor should imagination abandon reason. With only one of these, we are indeed liable to become monsters; with both, we become capable of something better. This is why we are The Cambridge Journal of Law, Politics, and Art.

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (Francisco Goya y Lucientes 1799, etching and aquatint, 30.48 x 20.32 cm). © Paul Rodman Mabury Trust Fund


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