Constitutional thought in Delhi and Bangalore with Professor Christoph Möllers

(22.10.19) How can constitutional courts be shielded from political influence? And how can it be done without conjuring up other problems? – Is “liberalism” a catch-all phrase denoting a jumble of quite distinct ideas and doctrines? And if so, is there a way of reconstructing the liberal tradition in a way which is coherent and gives guidance for our times?

These questions were at the centre of two Leibniz Lectures organized by the German Research Foundation (DFG) in Delhi and Bangalore in October 2019. The answers were given by Prof. Christoph Möllers of Humboldt University Berlin, world-renowned constitutional scholar, philosopher of law, political theorist and holder of the prestigious Leibniz Prize.

In his first lecture on “Constitutional Review in Authoritarian Times” at the National Law University in Delhi (NLUD), Möllers discussed some mechanisms to counter court-packing and erosions of constitutional standards. Ultimately, however, he poured some cold water on the idea that institutional engineering alone can guarantee freedom from political pressure. The second Leibniz Lecture, “The Remains of Liberalism”, delivered at Bangalore International Centre, addressed a non-specialist audience and sketched a novel way of understanding what really matters in “liberalism”. Möllers suggested that it is the call for open procedures within which we can collectively work towards meaningful and material freedom for all, even if this may not mean full equality.

In addition to the lectures, Prof. Möllers and his colleague from the Law Faculty at HU Berlin, Dr. Alexander Tischbirek, interacted with students and faculty in a number of prestigious universities: O.P. Jindal Global University and Ashoka University in Sonipat, the National Law University in Delhi as well as Azim Premji University in Bangalore. “These young universities have impressed us a great deal,” Prof. Möllers said after his lectures. “We had wonderful discussions in Delhi and Bangalore, and I’m going home with many new ideas – and a whole stack of books to work through!”

For DFG India Office, the lectures and meetings provided important outreach activities, according to Dr. Vaibhav Agarwal, Deputy Director. “Many faculty expressed interest in our funding opportunities for Indo-German workshops. It is always nice when lectures such as those given by Prof. Möllers spark new Indo-German research activities!”