A Fascinating Interview with Duncan Kennedy

by Kevin Jon Heller

Duncan, unlike David, is not primarily an international law scholar. But Kennedy’s work on critical legal studies has had a profound influence on most left-wing international law scholars — including me. So I wanted to post a link to a fascinating and wonderfully substantive interview with him conducted by Tor Krever, Carl Lisberger, and Max Utzschneider. I had no idea Kennedy worked for the CIA for two years before going to law school!

I spent two years at the CIA. The first I spent in the field, an agent of student politics, traveling all over the world. I was the overseas representative of the National Student Association. We organised conferences, produced manifestos, in alliance with the Western European student unions, and aided and cooperated with student organisations from developing countries in an effort to build a Western-oriented politics of a moderately left variety. The US organisation criticised the US government a lot, to establish credibility but also because the leaders believed the criticism. We also gathered information that went back to Washington about student politics, which was a side effect for some but maybe the main justification for others. The second year I spent inside the Langley headquarters, working for the internal staff that supervised the front organisations, collating the intelligence they gathered, and so forth. The operation was exposed at the end of my second year working for the CIA. Not everyone in the front organisation was a CIA agent. It was divided between the witting and the unwitting, and that is how the cover was eventually blown: the boundary turned out to be somewhat porous, especially when more and more of us liberal cold warriors were deciding that we, the US government, were no longer the good guys, or even good at all. I started out thinking the CIA was a good way to get out of the draft, which made me a lot less of a true believer than most of my colleagues. But by the end of my experience there, I had started to be radicalised. It was all about the war, but as the war came to seem an atrocity, many other long-term bad aspects of our foreign policy began to look like part of the pattern rather than like aberrations.

The interview is well worth a read. You can find a PDF of it here.


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