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Anyone interested in better grasping the meaning of labour law, and positing it within a realist perspective, should be acquainted with Harry Arthurs’ knowledgeable, creative and astute body of work. The idea that the existence of choice does not necessarily entail the absence of duress, examined and disseminated by Robert Hale in the early 1920s, contributed to found the Realist school of law, which has since impregnated the culture of generations of labour (law) scholars. The Daunting Enterprise of the Law – Essays in Honour of Harry W. Arthurs is a tribute to Harry Arthurs’ characteristically comprehensive view of the factors deemed pertinent to legal analysis and, by ricochet, to the influence of this school in Canada.
Twenty-eight scholars celebrate Arthurs’ work in this collection of essays engaging with thoughtful questions about legal education, legal theory, as well as the transformation of labour law and political economy. They judiciously reveal Arthurs’ commitment to social justice and legal pluralism against universalism or, more particularly, against globalization and neoliberalism. Against this background, the book offers a satisfactory description of the key proposal to reconceptualize labour law as the “law of economic subordination and resistance”, while taking stock of the demise of traditional industrial relations systems. On the ideological level, as summarized by David Trubek, this reconceptualization should follow the development of a new political economy, with a view to achieving “growth with equity in both the North and South”.
It is with respect to this more or less explicit economic agenda that the book, strangely, appears to belong to another era. As if a balance had already been struck between economic growth and sustainability, as if the spirit of traditional consumerism went hand in hand with the bettering of citizens’ lives, as if some solutions to our contemporary problems could not be found within the socket of the liberal order—within the “dangerous dragon” itself. Harry Arthurs’ rich intellectual legacy is yet pointing in the direction of self-questioning curiosity and learned deliberation; for that matter, no one is misled in the final analysis. Paying tribute to a great thinker is surely another daunting enterprise.