chapter  1
22 Pages

JURISPRUDENCE, POLITICS, WAR AND THE MESSAGE – MESSAGES AT WAR: AUDEN’S ‘SEPTEMBER 1, 1939’

A poem written by WH Auden at the outbreak of war in 1939 resonates so clearly with moments of crisis down the ages that politicians and the public alike use it as a touchstone for crisis – and it re-appears notably in the days following 9/11. Though at first sight peripheral to the larger-scale political debate, the semiotic message transmitted by the poetic use raises many questions – what is the meaning of this ‘populist’ attraction of the poem (and particularly, as will be seen, of the line ‘we must love one another or die’); what other freight might it carry? To what extent might such a poem, given its ambition, present a meaningful ‘snapshot’ of the moment in the history of ideas? What – if anything – can the present moment learn from this – how far are the concerns and contradictions expressed in the poem redolent of concerns and contradictions in the wider discourse of politics and law and the narrow debates of theory?