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Political Trials in Theory and History

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From the trial of Socrates to the post-9/11 military commissions, trials have always been useful instruments of politics. Yet there is still much that we do not understand about them. Why do governments use trials to pursue political objectives, and when? What differentiates political trials from ordinary ones? Contrary to conventional wisdom, not all political trials are show trials or contrive to set up scapegoats. This volume offers a novel account of political trials that is empirically rigorous and theoretically sophisticated, linking state-of-the-art research on telling cases to a broad argument about political trials as a socio-legal phenomenon. All the contributors analyse the logic of the political in the courtroom. From archival research to participant observation, and from linguistic anthropology to game theory, the volume offers a genuinely interdisciplinary set of approaches that substantially advance existing knowledge about what political trials are, how they work, and why they matter.

Offers an account of political trials that is both empirically rigorous and theoretically sophisticated

Advances an interdisciplinary approach to the study of political trials

Embraces diverse methodological approaches, from archival research to linguistic anthropology to game theory

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Meierhenrich Jens
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Jens Meierhenrich is Associate Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His books include The Legacies of Law: Long-Run Consequences of Legal Development in South Africa, 1652–2000 (Cambridge, 2008), which won the American Political Science Association's 2009 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award for the best book on politics, government, or international affairs, Lawfare: Gacaca Jurisdictions, 1994–2010 (Cambridge, forthcoming), and, as co-editor, The Oxford Handbook of Carl Schmitt (2016).

Devin O. Pendas is Associate Professor of History at Boston College, Massachusetts. He is the author of The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial, 1963–1965: History, Genocide, and the Limits of the Law (Cambridge, 2006) and the co-editor of Beyond the Racial State: Rethinking Nazi Germany (with Mark Roseman and Richard F. Wetzell, Cambridge, 2018).

1. Political trials in theory and history Jens Meierhenrich and Devin O. Pendas

2. The trial of Socrates as a political trial: explaining 399 BCE Josiah Ober
3. The trial and crucifixion of Jesus: a formal model Ron E. Hassner and Kenneth Sexauer
4. Jan Hus in the medieval ecclesiastical courts Thomas A. Fudge
5. The French Revolutionary trials Laurence Winnie
6. The Soviet Union, the Nuremberg Trials, and the politics of the postwar moment Francine Hirsch
7. 'Brown v. Board of Education': private civil litigation as a political trial Mark Tushnet
8. The Eichmann trial in law and memory Devin O. Pendas
9. In the theater of the rule of law: performing the Rivonia trial in South Africa, 1963–4 Jens Meierhenrich and Catherine M. Cole
10. China's Gang of Four trial: the law v. the laws of history Alexander C. Cook
11. Anger, honor, and truth: the political prosecution of Neopolitan organized crime Marco Jacquemet
12. 'This following orders thing is very relative': ascriptions and performances of responsibility in the Causa ESMA, 1983–7 Christiane Wilke
13. The Microsoft case as a political trial William H. Page and John E. Lopatka
14. The trials of Khodorkovsky in Russia Richard Sakwa

15. Nashiri in Gitmo: the wages of legitimacy in trials before the Guantanamo Military Commissions Lawrence Douglas.

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