September 15, 2017

INTERNATIONAL LAW IS WHATEVER WE SAY IT IS:

The Parochialism of American Cosmopolitanism (Samuel Moyn, September 15, 2017, LawFare)

What immediately strikes outsiders to international law as it is understood in the United States--whether foreigners on a visit or Americans who come to our debates with other expertise and training--is how critically the field is affected by its local institutions and protocols. The stereotype is that the purpose of induction into international law is to provide some cosmopolitan lingua franca, for the sake of the gentle civilization of nations by universal norms and the altruistic caste of their stewards, who represent humanity more than any country. The trouble is that the stereotype is so far from reality.

It is an unfair and unrealistic stereotype, of course. International law is a body of rules for the relation of states inter se; it is no wonder that in each place, a different understanding of universality prevails. But it is still shocking how far the common image of the field is from what American international law is actually like. Many of our debates about international law seem to be little more than local debates about how to wield our country's power, refracted into an ostensibly non-local rhetoric. This applies even to the pushback by conservatives against the "cosmopolitan duty" imposed by encroaching international law, pushback which often fails to recognize how nationalist in their outlook even our cosmopolitans usually are, wittingly or unwittingly.

None of this is necessarily a matter of intention, let alone of malice. "Someone said to Socrates," Michel de Montaigne memorably related, "that a certain man had grown no better in his travels." Socrates replied: "I should think not. He took himself along with him.'"

We are the only means of enforcement.

Posted by at September 15, 2017 3:28 PM

  

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