I've never been much for ceremonies and rituals, academic or otherwise, but last week I had the pleasure of witnessing the inaugural lecture and university vote of thanks for my older brother Tony Lang at St. Andrews University, and what a treat it was. Tony was promoted to the equivalent of full professor at St. Andrews this year, and as a part of that process he was invited to give a public lecture on his research, followed by a brief speech in which a colleague describes the importance of his research and his value to the university.
Tony created and directs the Centre for Global Constitutionalism at St. Andrews, and this has been the subject of his recent research. His lecture was entitled "Is There a Global Constitution?" The lecture began by noting a difference between a "constitution," or written document tied to a specific political entity, and "constitutionalism," which is more of a theoretical description of what constitutions should do: namely, they both allow people to exercise power through rules and laws that they create, but also ensure that people are limited by the institutions and laws they create.
Of course most nations have written constitutions (he noted that the UK was an interesting exception to this rule); the question of the lecture was whether or not we have any global constitution, or even a shared understanding of constitutionalism at the global level. Tony pointed out that we have a number of organizations which have features of a global constitution: the UN, NATO, the EU, for example. But all of these constitutions, he argued, are not good examples of global constitutionalism. They lack certain essential features of written constitutions, or do not reach to the global level.
In the conclusion to his lecture, Tony argued that we should push toward a global constitutionalism by attempting to seek shared understandings and agreements between nations in some key areas, such as the rule of law, the separation of powers, and human rights. He suggested that global constitutionalism can challenge domestic political institutions to continue to evolve in positive directions, and that it can build successfully upon existing global constitutions such as the UN, even if it ultimately must move beyond any currently existing organization.
Following the lecture, a colleague of Tony's stood and read a wonderful tribute to him and his research, describing him as her "ideal professor," as someone who was doing incredibly important research and yet also making valuable contributions to the education of his doctoral and undergraduate students at St. Andrews University. It was a proud and happy speech for this little brother to hear, as well as my father and oldest brother who had joined me for the trip to Scotland. (And in case you were wondering, we did indeed celebrate the next day with a round of golf on the Eden course at St. Andrews.)
So congratulations to Tony Lang for his promotion to full professor at St. Andrews University!