On Wednesday, Sept. 4, Professor Daryl Levinson of New York University School of Law presented the annual James Goold Cutler Lecture to a packed room of William & Mary Law School students and faculty.
Levinson's lecture, entitled "Incapacitating the State," traced the development of the modern state as a technology originally intended to facilitate waging war, which later expanded to achieve various public goods. He described the "fundamental dilemma of state power": any state strong enough to deliver powerful goods can also deliver powerful harms, and considered some responses to this dilemma.
He noted that the "overarching goal is to harness the great benefits of state power while avoiding the equally great risks." This normally occurs through legal and political controls on state power, but Levinson offered another solution: getting rid of the harmful technology altogether and "incapacitating the state."
Levinson discussed attempts to balance limited state power with great public goods in the establishment of the American system. "These simultaneous state-building, state-controlling and state-incapacitating ambitions have competed and somewhat awkwardly coexisted since the founding in constitutional law and constitutional design," Levinson said.
He said that these issues endure today: against the backdrop of the contemporary national security state, incapacitation merits consideration. "Even in an age of ambitious state-building projects, the possibility of un-building the state is always also on the table," Levinson concluded.
Professor Levinson currently teaches at NYU and has held past faculty appointments at the University of Virginia and Harvard. He focuses primarily on constitutional law, but his scholarship has extended to such areas as group punishment and empire-building government. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In his introduction, Dean Davison M. Douglas praised Levinson's "remarkable ability to see old legal forms through a new lens," and his excellence as an educator.
The Cutler Lecture series is William & Mary Law School's preeminent lecture series on constitutional law, established by an endowment from James Goold Cutler, a mayor of Rochester, N.Y., and national figure in Republican politics. Although not a lawyer, Cutler had a keen interest in constitutional law and established the lectures in 1927 to promote interest and dialogue on the subject. The original series ran from 1928-44, and the lectures were revived in 1980-81. Each lecture is published in the William & Mary Law Review.