New Harms, New Institutions, and How an Ancient Field of Law can Help: The Law of Obligations in Our Times
Today’s law of obligations, present (in somewhat varied forms) in jurisidictions worldwide, originated to govern relations between members of a single society, Ancient Rome. But current harms - environmental, financial, and physical - occur across borders. Likewise, entities who cause these harms tend to be transnational, conglomerated institutions, not single persons. These shifts - in the nature of harms and the nature of harmers - might suggest the obsolescence of the law of obligations. Yet the theory and practice of legal obligation can be brought to bear on very recent circumstances and agents. Whether concerned with problems such as global warming or with the formation and authority of transnational actors such as the EU or multinational corporations, the law of obligations can, if deployed properly, still be used to handle quite effectively enduring issues related to harm and governance. I defend the potency of a traditional legal discipline and framework in relation to nontraditional circumstances.
Keywords: Law, Politics, Government, Harm, Injury, Obligation, European Union, Global Warming
Prof. Heidi Li Feldman
Professor of Law and Philosophy, Law Center, Georgetown University