François Ost

Recounting the Law Delving into the Origins of the Judicial Imagination Publication date : January 1, 2004

In the popular imagination, the law is filled with formalistic procedures and riddled with chicanery and obscure jargon. It is generally assumed to work toward mercenary goals (with the eager complicity of lawyers), since it is frequently in the service of shady economic set-ups and institutional constructions whose true goals and foundations are hidden.
François Ost combats this vision and offers an alternative. His aim is to put the law in touch with the roots of culture, to plunge it in the world of the imagination, so that the law may once again contribute to the institution of society.
The resulting encounter between law and literature was inevitable, and the author reviews a series of narrative events, about the law, whose roots lie in myth and imagination. These include: the donation of the Tables of the Law, on Mount Sinai; the invention of justice in the Oresteia; the rebellion of conscience when confronted with the false reasons given by those in power, in Antigone; the recreation of the world by the new sovereign individual, proprietor and conqueror, in Robinson Crusoe; the paradoxes of liberty, when, as in the case of Faust, freedom alienates itself at the very moment that it is put into practice; and the downfall of the Law, as seen in the works of Kafka, where all that is left is a perverted version of the legal system.
Could culture possibly be what remains when Law, Justice and power have been forgotten and must be reinvented?
This ambitious work attempts to revive the Law’s forgotten cultural dimension. Once it is in touch with its cultural wellspring, the Law should be able to play a more significant social role, rising above such trifling tasks as clerking in court and patrolling borders.

A legal expert and philosopher, François Ost is the vice-rector of Saint Louis University Faculties, in Brussels, and also teaches in Geneva and at the New University of Louvain. He heads the European Academy of Legal Theory and is the president of the Foundation for Future Generations. He is the author of Le Temps du droit, published by Editions Odile Jacob in 1999.