photo of Paul.

Paul Linden-Retek: The role of story in political constructs

Born in Prague, Paul Linden-Retek moved with his mother to the United States as a child. Now his principal scholarly interests look back across the Atlantic, at the overlapping jurisdictions and shared sovereignty of the European Union.

Linden-Retek teaches in the law school's newly established undergraduate program in law, and jointly holds a research fellowship with the Baldy Center for Law & Social Policy. It’s in that role that he is drafting his current book, which explores post-national constitutionalism in the EU through the distinctive lens of narrative interpretation.

“I first came to understand the EU as a subject of inquiry out of my interest in international human rights law, but also through my own personal history,” Linden-Retek says. “What did the European project mean for international law, and what did it mean for the Czech Republic—its sense of newly won liberal democracy in a globalized world. I’m interested in how international norms become a source of deep commitment on the part of citizens – something that has long been a fraught question for international human rights. The crises the EU presently suffers point to the fragility of that project, and the difficulty of building out political solidarity beyond the nation-state.”

The framework of narrative, he says, opens a path for studying how nation-states and their citizens understand such evolving commitments and for newly appraising the role law plays in this process. “We should think of our lives and our polities as open-ended stories that are constantly renegotiated over time,” he says. “Our particular commitments are not merely our own – they always refer, however implicitly, to others, and we need the other to give meaning to those commitments. Law can help us to better perceive and do precisely that. In law, every case is a story, every principle has a genealogy. What I find novel in the EU as a juridical experiment is that it keeps alive a quite radical version of this idea that our polities are open-ended over time—that our institutions might expand the reach of political commitments beyond nationhood. As a source of emancipatory hope for global justice, the EU holds much critical potential—as presently difficult as its realization today seems. From the perspectives of international law and comparative constitutional law, it’s a project very much worth studying.”

In his role as a lecturer in law and society, Linden-Retek teaches the principles of law to University at Buffalo undergraduates. His courses include Public Law, a lecture class covering aspects of criminal, constitutional, and administrative law, with a special focus on current hot-button issues including citizenship and immigration and refugee law. He also teaches a seminar for first-year students, called Justice, which both introduces students to the field of moral and political theory, and equips them with the analytical and self-management tools to succeed in their college career.

In his teaching philosophy, Linden-Retek believes that “to study law robustly, effectively and creatively, one has to be in conversation with different academic disciplines and understand how legal ideas manifest themselves concretely in the world. That has been a motivating tenet in my research as well, which aims to bring legal studies into conversation with scholarship from across philosophy, sociology, comparative literature, history, political science, and economics.

“For undergraduates who may or may not become law students, the law is broader than a technical professional enterprise. They’re not after just doctrine, a body of rules and case law whose holdings they will memorize. It’s a living tradition of ideas, a dynamic set of institutions and forces, a dramatic record of histories and human ambitions. It’s a way of making sense of a complex world with the idea of justice at its heart. The law student might quickly begin to specialize in preparation for a career. But as part of their education, undergraduates can stay a bit longer in the broad reach of what law means in our society—and might yet mean. And they must begin, too, to decide what law will mean to them in their own lives. I want to support them in that.”

Linden-Retek holds a doctoral degree in political science, with university distinction, from Yale University and a J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was awarded the Jerome Sayles Hess Fund Prize for excellence in international law and served as student director of the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic. His undergraduate work, in political science and social thought, was at Harvard University.

His academic work has been published or is forthcoming in the International Journal of Constitutional Law; the Columbia Journal of European Law; the German Law JournalLaw, Culture, and the Humanities; Global Constitutionalism; the Croatian Yearbook of European Law and Policy; and the Yale Journal of International Law. His public writing has appeared in the Boston ReviewopenDemocracy and Social Europe.

Before joining UB Law, Linden-Retek was a Schell Center Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School and a lecturer in Yale’s political science department. In 2018-19, he was a post-doctoral Emile Noël Global Fellow at the Jean Monnet Center for International and Regional Economic Law & Justice, at New York University School of Law.  

In addition, he has brought his expertise into play as a legal adviser in the Human Rights Section of the Czech Republic’s Office of the Government; in the Legal Unit, International Civilian Office/EU Special Representative, in Kosovo; and the European Union Department of the Czech Republic’s Ministry of the Environment.