Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Conversation on the Sources of International Law

An interesting dialogue is taking place over at EJIL over Jean d'Aspremont's book, Formalism and the Sources of International Law: A Theory of the Ascertainment of Legal RulesPhilip Allott posted today, and he says the book
evokes subliminally two recurring nightmares – one social, one intellectual. Socially, it reminds us of the failure of law to secure its proper place in international society. Intellectually, it reminds us of the part played by the modern university in the disempowering of the human mind.
Wow. His subsequent comments are lengthy but well worth the read. He begins by talking about the academic research & writing exercise, which produces an "industrial-scale intellectual effort" in sorting and analyzing competing views, all "while, the wicked world goes on its merry way to ruin." Allott asks that toughest of all question for the academic writer: 
Why would anyone choose to write creatively and intelligently about the philosophy of International Law? They are unlikely to be heard by those who exercise international public power – politicians, diplomats, civil servants, intergovernmental officials, international judges and arbitrators, legal practitioners – the international ruling class, a self-satisfied and self-regarding conspiracy, many of whose members have the crudest ideas about the nature of law, and many of whose members relentlessly abuse public power, national and international.
He answers the question in power terms and concludes that "more or less sophisticated ideas only escape haphazardly and fortuitously [from universities] into the outside world where, if they are not appropriated by public power or mass culture, they wither and die."

That is a depressing but true reflection of reality, I am afraid. In any event, read the whole thing to get his reaction to more of the substance of the book.

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