Daniel Nientiedt, 2019-20 HOPE Center Fellow


One of the great things about the HOPE Center is that every year there is a new group of fellows who rediscover Durham all over again.

Case in point: the Kingfisher, a bar resembling an old speakeasy located in the basement of a building on East Chapel Hill Street that at least one old-timer here had never heard of.

But thanks to Daniel Nientiedt, a 2019-20 HOPE Center fellow, the Kingfisher is now a known commodity and a new favorite hangout, discovered by Daniel through a simple search on Yelp.

“There’s jazz every Tuesday night—and they make a great old-fashioned,” Daniel says.

Daniel is here at the HOPE Center working on legal positivism and in particular on Friedrich Hayek’s treatment of the subject.

As Daniel explains, legal positivism claims that whether a law is fair or just is separate from whether a law is in fact a law.

In other words, legal positivists would dispute the idea that an unjust law is no law at all—and therein lay the problem with legal positivism for Hayek.

“Hayek feared that legal positivism would allow people to justify bad laws,” Daniel says. “He steered a middle ground between legal positivism and natural-law thinking, which holds that the only valid laws are good laws.”

Daniel was drawn to the HOPE Center in part because the Center’s director, Bruce Caldwell, is the world’s leading authority on Hayek.

Daniel first met Bruce in 2013, at the University of Freiburg, where Daniel is a PhD student.

Three years later, when the History of Economics Society held its annual meeting in Durham, Daniel jumped at the chance to visit Duke. He spent ten days in the Rubenstein Library, where a microfilm copy of the Hayek Papers is kept as part of the Economists’ Papers Archive.

“Duke is a great reminder of how well a private university can work. There is an openness to interdisciplinary work at the Center that makes it a great place to do research,” Daniel says.

Daniel, who is a research associate at the Walter Eucken Institute, will return to Freiburg in February. He hopes to defend his dissertation shortly before then.