Comparative Law: How the World Views the U.S.

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How does the world view the U.S. legal and constitutional system? We might say: inaccurately, at least when it comes to facts. After all, thanks to U.S. visual media, many foreigners think the Miranda Rights are found verbatim in the U.S. Constitution.

The quality of the world’s views is a different matter altogether. In his book Liberty or Equality: The Challenge of Our Time, the late Austrian polymath Erik [Ritter von] Kuehnelt-Leddihn delighted in quoting the following interchange as illustrative of America’s turbulent engagement with transnational law. The conversation, between British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey and US Ambassador to Great Britain Walter Page, dealt specifically with Mexico:

GREY: Suppose you have to intervene, what then?

PAGE: Make ‘em vote and live by their decisions.

GREY: But suppose they will not so live?

PAGE: We’ll go in again and make ‘em vote again.

GREY: And keep this up for 200 years?

PAGE: Yes[.] The United States will be here two hundred years and it can continue to shoot men for that little space [of time] till they learn to vote and to rule themselves.

Was Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s a cynical European view of American do-gooding? Well, the U.S. did it in Mexico 100 years ago, and is still at it 100 years later in the Middle East. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

By the way, the University of Iowa College of Law Library has Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s Liberty or Equality: The Challenge of Our Time, which also provides a take on law, democracy, and equality that is radically different from the standard U.S. narrative.

In fact, the University of Iowa College of Law Library offers many resources for understanding how the rest of the world views the U.S. legal system. Treatises include foreign language items such as:

Or, with less intimidating but nonetheless intriguing titles:

In addition, the Law Library has approximately 250 comparative law-related journals. Even those in foreign languages have many English language articles describing foreign views of the US legal system. Seeing the US legal system from a foreign perspective ultimately helps U.S. lawyers better understand and change the U.S. legal system.

Author: Donald Ford, Foreign, Comparative, and International Law Librarian, donald-ford@uiowa.edu