New Books Network

Poul Kjaer

The Law of Political Economy

Transformation in the Function of Law

Cambridge University Press 2020

New Books in EconomicsNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in LawNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network July 31, 2020 Keith Krueger

Legal and political theories are not descriptions of brute facts.  Nor are they merely postulated ideals or aspirations.  Theories reflect and are reflected in...

Legal and political theories are not descriptions of brute facts.  Nor are they merely postulated ideals or aspirations.  Theories reflect and are reflected in our social relationships … Moral and political values thus cannot and should not be discussed in isolation from the institutions and social histories that shaped them.

– N.E. Simmonds cited in Raymond Wacks, Understanding Jurisprudence (2005)

Considering the law as a social phenomenon intrinsic to political economy is key to engaging the work in this new volume of scholarly articles edited by Professor Poul Kjaer – The Law of Political Economy: Transformation in the Function of Law (Cambridge University Press, 2020).  The book is relevant on many levels to the events unfolding around us including unresolved issues between the private and the public realms (e.g., think banking and government in relation to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008).  Current manifestations (post-book publication) include the ruling of the German Constitutional Court in May, which at core, appears to challenge the legitimacy of EU law for German financial interests.  However distant such regulatory and legal matters may, at first appear, the idea that theories ‘are reflected in our social relationships’ anchors a more general observation made in this book’s introductory chapter concerning theoretical architectures as differentiating ‘between a holistic or a differentiation-based worldview, that is, between an understanding of society as a whole, which is larger than the sum of its parts, or an understanding of society as a mere collection of differentiated parts.’

In this NBn episode, Professor Poul Kjaer distinguishes such concepts among others, and sets the context for those with an interest in learning about ‘the law and political economy’ as a field of study including an explanation of the differences between the European and American approaches to this field.  Some other points of elaboration include more detailed thoughts on his introductory chapter, his previous books dealing with governance and governing, corporatism’s many guises, intermediary institutions as key locations for social integration and dis-integration, the concept of crisis and how law regulates the economy and politics, with Georg Simmel, in a sense, underlying it all with the question: ‘how is society possible?’

Professor Kjaer explains key concepts and thinkers in this field as he provides a lay of the land as surveyed from the ‘Copenhagen School’.  He also shares his impressions with the book editing process, and some of the more foundational concepts and sources. The book brings ‘together an exceptional group of scholars’ providing a ‘novel conceptual framework for studying the role of law and legal instruments in political economy contexts, with a focus on historical transformations and central challenges in both European and global contexts’.  This volume’s many contributions cover legal subfields ‘ranging from competition and consumer protection law to labour and environmental law, giving a comprehensive overview of the central challenges of the law of political economy.’ It should be added that the 15 chapters are compellingly written, and the book is available in hardcover and Kindle.

Poul F. Kjaer is a professor at the Copenhagen Business School (CBS) in Denmark with a research focus on European and global governance, the law and political economy.


Keith Krueger lectures at the SHU-UTS Business School in Shanghai.