A ‘Nobel Prize’ in Law: At Last! On the Creation of the Tang Prize

It was announced today that one of Taiwan’s richest men, Mr. Samuel Yin, has created an Asian version of the Nobel Prize. With an amount of over one million euro, this ‘Tang Prize’ will be even more lucrative than the Nobel prize itself. As of next year, prizes will be awarded by the Tang Prize Foundation after selection by the reputed Taiwanese Academia Sinica.

The most interesting thing about this new prize is that it will be awarded in four awards categories that are seen as important fields for ‘humankind’s future social development’: sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, sinology and – the reason why I am writing about this – law. The inclusion of law as a separate category for this new prestigious prize (created to promote the most original and influential work) is a highly welcome development. In a famous 2002 paper, Thomas Ulen asked whether there will ever be a Nobel Prize in law. The Tang Prize seems to come close. This will in my view have a highly positive effect on encouraging (young) scholars to dedicate themselves to research in this area.

The fascinating question remains how broad the Academia Sinica will interpret the boundaries of the Tang law prize. It is well known that there is a continuing debate on what counts as originality in law. I assume that Grotius, Pufendorf, Von Savigny and Von Jhering would have qualified for the prize. If I were to name the most original and influential legal thinkers in the last 50 years, I would in any event mention John Rawls and Richard Posner. However, it may well be that – in view of the emphasis on social development – the selection committee will give preference to thinkers on the rule of law (but what does this include? Rawls’ work may have been far more influential than that of many human rights thinkers) . Here lies perhaps the greatest challenge for the selection committee (a challenge also faced by national organisations for scientific research): what counts as the best legal research? We will know on 18 June 2014, when the first laureate will be announced.

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