The ‘Liberation’ of Prof Leo

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  • December 12, 2008
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Associate Professor Dr. Professor Leo Desmond Pointon


The ‘Liberation’ of Prof Leo


The following is an expanded version of my remarks given at a luncheon by Multimedia University Law School staff for Associate Professor Dr. Leo Desmond Pointon on 21 November 2008.


By Dr. Myint Zan


An editorial published in the New York Times on 29 December 1971 was entitled ‘The Liberation of U Thant’. U Thant (from Burma) (22 January 1909-25 November 1974) was the third Secretary-General of the United Nations serving in that post for more than 10 years (from 3 November 1961 to 31 December 1971). After months of searching and haggling for a successor the United Nations Security Council, on 21 December 1971, decided on the compromise candidate of Kurt Waldheim (1918-2007) of Austria to be the fourth Secretary-General of the United Nations. Hence ten days before U Thant’s tenure was scheduled to end on 31 December 1971 the United Nations finally found a successor to U Thant. In a farewell address to the United Nations General Assembly a few days later Secretary-General U Thant stated that he ‘felt a great sense of relief bordering on liberation’ in laying down the burdens of office’. The New York Times in an article praising Secretary-General U Thant entitled its editorial as ‘The Liberation of U Thant’[1].


Nearly thirty-seven years later just as U Thant retired from the United Nations after serving a record ten years Associate Professor Dr. Leo Desmond Pointon retired from teaching at MMU after more than 11 years as an academic staff. I have taken the liberty to give this appreciation of Prof. Leo as ‘The Liberation of Prof Leo’. Taking some poetic license I think it would not be inappropriate to state that Prof. Leo must have felt at least a certain sense of relief in retiring from active teaching at MMU. And I would like to convey my congratulations and best wishes to Prof Leo’s on the achievement of his ‘liberation’.


I have known Prof. Leo for more than two years now and he has been a friendly senior colleague. I have had the chance to assist Prof Leo’s work in recent weeks and months and his presence from the Law School and the Faculty of Business and Law would be missed. I would like to thank for the memories and it makes me recall and would like to state here two comments which Prof Leo has made – in response to my previous statements.


To the first batch of MMU Law School graduates in academic year 2007-2008 I was assigned to teach the new subject of ‘Jurisprudence I’. The course outline was handed to me and I do not know exactly who prepared the course outline and when it was prepared. But in the course outline there was a mention of Analytical Theories of Rights: The theories of three major thinkers: Cohen, Hohfeld and Hale’


For ‘Hohfeld’ a quick search in Jurisprudence text books revealed that he was ‘Wesley Hohfeld’ (1879-1918) so I can prepare my teaching of his theories. But since the course outline apparently drawn up several years ago states only the name ‘Cohen’  and since I could discover at least two ‘Cohens’ who are jurisprudents I have to search both the Jurisprudence text books and the world wide web to know more about their theories and to decide on which ‘Cohen’s’ theories to teach.


The first ‘Cohen’ that I found is Felix Cohen (3 July 1907-19 October 1953) whose main contribution to jurisprudence was mainly in the area of American Indian law. And the ‘other’ Cohen is Gerald Cohen (born 1941) who can be described as a neo-Marxist philosopher. I thought I would chose Gerald Cohen since American Indian law would be even more less ‘distant’ than neo-Marxism for Malaysian students studying jurisprudence. Also, Lloyd’s Introduction to Jurisprudence, the 1400 page Jurisprudence text book which was mentioned as the text book in the Course Outline have a few pages of excerpts from Gerald Cohen’s work but not Felix Cohen’s work. So using an excerpt from the book by Gerald Cohen’s book Karl Marx’s Theory of History as excerpted in Lylod’s Introduction to Jurisprudence[2] I taught Gerald Cohen’s theories of law.


In the few hours (not more than two hours) that I spent teaching now two batches of students was Cohen’s analysis on his theories of the relations to ‘rights and powers’ and their similar or different permutations in relation to that of a slave and a ‘proletarian’.[3] When I mentioned about the proletarian being ‘spared’ from being killed according to Gerald Cohen’s interpretation of Marxism Prof Leo told me that a ‘proletarian’ ( in fact Prof Leo used the more direct ‘you’) can still mentally be ‘killed’ by the capitalist. This comment strikes me as both humorous and not altogether inappropriate (at least with a ‘little bit’ of poetic license) and kept me amused and I will occasionally recall and ‘cherish’ Prof Leo’s remark. While I am mentioning about ‘recalling’ I recall that Bertrand Russell (18 May 1872- 2 February 1970) had mentioned that while he was in a British jail for his pacifist views and actions during the first World War (1914-1918) his jail warden asked him what his religion was. Russell replied ‘agnostic’ and the warden asked him to spell it. After Russell spelled it for him the warden wrote it down, shook his head and said ‘We have many religions but I suppose we all worship the same God [sic]’. Russell said that remark kept him amused for weeks while he was in prison.[4]Likewise Prof Leo’s remark will be one which I would recall, cherish and at times keep me amused as while Prof Leo is now ‘liberated’ we are still ‘stuck’.


When I and Prof Leo occasionally discuss American politics I once commented a week or two before the2008 US Presidential elections to Prof Leo is that in my view America is politically more than a ‘center right country’. Prof Leo responded that it has never been ‘in the center’. In the aftermath of Barack Obama’s election to be the 44th President of the United States a few commentators have said that the country has (somewhat or somehow) ‘moved to the left’. I think, at best we can say that American politics has (somewhat) moved to the center but as stated by Prof. Leo, in my view it is not quite in the ‘center’. I would also recall this perceptive remark of Prof Leo.


I would like to again thank Prof Leo for his company as a senior colleague and especially for agreeing to be one of the memorial markers (Judge) of the altogether 30 memorials (about 270,000 words) submitted by Malaysian and international teams that participated in the 3rd Law Asia Moot Competition 2008 in August and October 2008 of which I wrote the Moot problem. [5] As the Chief Judge of the Memorials I was asked to ‘appoint’ two other Memorial judges and I thank Prof. Leo for agreeing to be one of them.


It was a pleasure and honor to be a (junior) colleague of Prof Leo and I would like to wish Prof Leo all the best of health and happiness in his retirement.

[1] The complete text of this editorial can be purchased  for the price of USD 3.50 (approximately 15 RM) from New York Times archives at www.


[2] M.D.A Freeman, Lloyd’s Introduction to Jurisprudence, pages 995-999 excerpts from G.A. Cohen’s Karl Marx’s Theory of History (1978).

[3] See Ibid at p. 996 where it was stated ‘… the proletarian has the power to withhold his labour power while the slave does not … [the proletarian] may be able to withhold his labour power from a given capitalist, including his current employer, without fear of death. … The proletarian is constrained to offer his labour power not to any particular capitalist, but to some capitalist or other. If he wishes to survive, he must present himself  on the labour market to the capitalist class, and he is forced to serve that class”.

[4] I cannot  give citations for this but I recall reading it, a few decades ago, from Russell’s Portraits from Memory

[5] The moot problem and the information pertaining the competition  can be found in (accessed 7 December 2008).


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