Hot right now
I hope you are a little—but not too— embarrassed by the cheap highbrow clickbait that is your world’s top 50 thinkers 2019 list (August/September), which I of course turned to straight away. When I was editor of the Philosophers’ Magazine we compiled a few similar lists ourselves, and they were pretty much the only articles published during my 13-year tenure that excited interest beyond our tiny readership.
The main win, though, was not more readers, but that for once philosophy was in the newspapers and discussed on the Today programme. Your list similarly put a spotlight on thinkers who are often ignored as individuals and maligned as a class.
If we do value intellectual rigour, however, it would have been more honest to have a list of 50 important contemporary thinkers without any pretence of having picked the top ones. You probably thought of that, but realised it was not sufficiently sexy. Maybe next time you could compromise with 50 thinkers who are hot right now!
Julian Baggini, philosopher and journalist
Demand a retrial
In declaring human rights litigation an illegitimate trespass into the political sphere, Jonathan Sumption (“The Duel,” August/ September) overestimates the ability of elected bodies both to defend minority rights and to hold to account the numberless agencies, codes and regulations by which we are now governed.
Happily, independent courts are well equipped for both tasks. Parliament acknowledged that fact, and its own limitations, when it enacted the Human Rights Act.
The HRA neither requires our courts to follow slavishly the European Court of Human Rights nor allows Acts of Parliament to be overruled. Since 2000, judges have made restrained but effective use of the HRA to prevent unnecessary incursions by executive bodies into the personal freedoms respected by all civilised nations.
David Anderson QC, House of Lords
I side with Jonathan Sumption. The Strasbourg court is international. Its job is to apply principles in 47 countries with different histories, legal systems and customs.
But it does this when considering the facts of a case from one country. The effect, as Lord Hoffmann said in his celebrated lecture “The Universality of Human Rights” (2009), is that the court “has been unable to resist the temptation to aggrandise its jurisdiction and to impose uniform rules” on the member states of the Council of Europe.