All education is by necessity ideological. Whether an attempt is made to make it more neutral–or more subtly guiding–or whether it is done in a louder and more straightforward manner, all transfers of knowledge also entail transfers of values, and in a certain sense the reproduction of praxis. It’s in the history of the word itself: to educate comes from the Latin verb ducere, and the prefix ex-, which adjoined to a word starting with a consonant becomes e-, and it means to lead out of something; presumably out of ignorance, and the similarities to Plato’s myth of the cavern should not be ignored in this matter.
So now that I’m nearly done with my law studies, this being the fifth and last year, it is perhaps interesting to consider what sort of ideological thrust the teaching of law in Spain, or at least in my faculty, is imbued with. In order to do this, and at the risk of boring the reader, I’ll have to go over the single most telling aspect. I’m referring to the choice of what to teach, when to teach it, and for how long, i.e., the sylabus.
Years are divided into two terms, with most subjects being taught for a single term and some subjects being taught for the whole year. I will simply list the five years and the subjects, and later I will go into more detail on those which have been of particular interest from the viewpoint of ideological content.
First year. Year subjects: constitutional law 1. First term: theory of law, Roman law, history of law, political economy and public funding 1. Second term: civil law 1 (person), political economy and public funding 2, introduction to procedural law.
Second year. Year subjects: penal law 1 (general), international public law. First term: civil law 2 (obligations and contracts general part), constitutional law 2. Second term: civil law 3 (obligations and contracts special part), public autonomic law, institutions of community law.
Third year. Year subjects: administrative law 1. First term: labour and social security law 1, tax and fiscal law 1, mercantile law 1, penal law 2 (special). Second term: labour and social security law 2, tax and fiscal law 2, mercantile law 2, civil law 4 (real rights), procedural law 1 (penal).
Fourth year. Year subjects: international private law. First term: administrative law 2, civil law 5 (family and succession), ecclesiastical law of the state, tax and fiscal law 3. Second term: administrative law 3, mercantile law 3, regional civil law.
Fifth year. First term: philosophy of law.
In addition to these core subjects, one must take 8–11 options, which are subjects taught within the department, and always refer to specialised topics such as law of damages, international human rights law, international commerce, law of cooperatives, etc. I won’t get into these as they constitute far less of an important ideological vehicle, in my experience, and I could only speak of the ones which I have taken. Likewise, one must take a number of credits which can be done outside or inside the department, as formally taught subjects, short courses, or other accredited activities. Again, beyond the scope of this article.
Probably in order to appreciate how our system works in fullness I would have to compare it to some other systems, so if anyone wants to comment on how this differs, or does not differ, from the way law is taught at their place, they would be very welcome. This disclaimer aside, I think we can take a few startingpoints: the goal of the system is to form a generalist, someone who can handle any area of law with the appropriate practice; the orientation is highly technical, theory-based and academic, rather than practical; and the system attempts to portray itself as objective and apolitical, transmitting only those truths which were discovered by researchers, and in no way taking sides on some sort of ideological enterprise. The suggestion that doctrine should inform law, de lege ferenda, is one of the few places where this paradigm somewhat breaks.
The 3 subjects with an obvious ideological content are theory of law and history of law (taught right at the start of the degree) and philosophy of law (taught right at the end of it).
Theory of law, which came to substitute a previously existing subject, which in the old plan went by the name of natural law, has the obvious and necessary goal of acculturating the student into a specific conception of what law is, what it is for, and what it should be. In this respect, the outlook is thoroughly positivist–naturalism is considered as little more than a quaint discredited doctrine and realism gets not time at all–and the telos of law is regarded as maintaining social peace, its highest value to safeguard juridical security, which is to say, to be predictable to the social agents which act in the traffic. It’s in this subject where we’re taught that an appeal to justice is always the sign that there are no good juridical–which is to say, inherently technical–grounds for the claim being invoked.
As to history of law, again it offers, through a positivist prism, the idea that law is arbitrary, contingent, fluid and dynamic. A little emphasis is placed on the rather enlightened–and universally disobeyed–laws which the Spanish empire set down to protect the native Americans, as well as on the Spanish innovations in legal thinking which inaugurated the whole area of international public law (School of Salamanca and the doctrine of spurius titles if anyone is interested).
The rest of the first year subjects are not worth many remarks. The political economy subjects are extremely simplified treatments of orthodox or neo-keynesian principles. Since the vast majority of law students in Spain come from the humanities stream of secondary education a mathematical rigorous treatment would not be highly appreciated. Roman law is a vestige, a way to introduce the Roman institutions which are the basis of our civil law, but some attempts towards ideological indoctrination are done in it, mostly to try to instill a sense of independence of the jurist from state power, and yet another reiteration of the idea that law is fundamentally technical and separate from ethics, morality, etc.
The series of constitutional law are extremely ideological. I’ve been taught constitutional law by 4 different professors: not a single one of them was other than right-wing. The constitution is understood as an instrument to limit state power, its function of regulating the way the state works set as secondary. A deep distrust of direct democracy is present throughout, as well as, oddly, a position that the executive power must be preeminent in practice even if subordinate in theory, and must be capable of holding power in a stable fashion with the least possible parliamentary hindrances.
The series of civil law is in some respects the core of the degree. Except for the fifth year, which is extremely low on workload and designed to be used to specialise with options and do practicals, there’s no other year where there is no civil law. It’s divided in a fairly traditional manner (persons, obligations, things). Our civil code, written towards the end of the 19th century in an extremely liberal context, is often praised, although not unreservedly.
International public law is taught in a fair amount of detail. The assumption of the subject is that law is monist, there is only one juridical system, international in nature, which rules over the national systems, and by its granting of sovereignty, the national juridical systems come into play. So the idea of the supremacy of international law is at all times upheld, even if its problematic execution is also referred to in class (always as a shortcoming of the world).
Institutions of community law is likewise taught in a fair amount of detail, and the position that institutional (i.e., EU) instruments are supreme over national law (even constitutional national law) is regarded as self-evident and undeniably correct.
Penal law is taught in a rather interesting way. The first part, the general part, discusses the German creation which is known as general theory of crime. This analytical tool is universally deployed under our system to be able to make fine distinctions and determine when a certain crime has or has not been committed, when it concurs with other crimes at the same time, etc. The general part of penal law is extremely doctrine-laiden–in contrast to the positivism common in other subjects–to the point that I think it’s probably perfectly possible to get an excellent grade without ever having read an article of the penal code. The special part, on the contrary, analyses the particular acts which violate the penal code, and is tightly stuck to it.
The administrative law series confronts us with the existence of a very special juridical person: the public administration, a sort of personification of the state. While it acknowledges the superior position of the administration in regards private individuals, and it recognises it certain extremely broad privilege, a certain undertone of criticism of these powers is also present.
Concluding, the type of ideological indoctrination which is thus far given–before the plan changes again, which will happen soon–to Spanish students at law, is thoroughly generalist, highly technical and theory-laiden, careful to observe and respect the supremacy of international and institutional law, sceptical of the role of the state in private life, yet at the same time willing to grant the state a superior position, and always acknowledging the necessity of its pressence and stability in order to ensure predictability and reliability in the juridical traffic.