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Editor’s Book Choices by Jan Klabbers

Published on December 23, 2014        Author: 

Editor’s Introduction: EJIL’s Book Review Editor, Isabel Feichtner, invited our Board members to reflect on the books that have had a significant impact on them this year. In the following days they will present their selections here on EJIL:Talk! They write about books, not necessarily published in 2014, but read or reread this year, and which they found inspiring, enjoyable or consider ‘must reads’ for their own work or international law scholarship in general. These editors’ choices are not intended to be a prize in disguise, but rather are personalized accounts of the reading experiences of our Board members.  Last week, we began with our Editor-in-Chief’s selection.

I read quite a few academic books, and tend to read them cover to cover. Partly this is facilitated by being on a lengthy sabbatical: at the moment I spend little time teaching and, blissfully, even less on faculty committees. And partly I read books, and read them cover to cover, because I feel that books can do things that other manifestations of the written word (the journal article, the blog, never mind the tweet) cannot accomplish: most arguments need some space to develop in full, and need to include some empirical support (in whatever form) in order to be convincing – otherwise they remain mere opinions, as indeed is perhaps too often the case even with journal articles, never mind tweets and blogs. As always, there are opportunity costs: I may read books, but I read relatively few academic articles, and usually merely skim the handful of blogs I tend to follow.

That is not to say that articles are by definition flawed. It was no doubt appropriate for Hersch Lauterpacht to write about the Grotian tradition in article form – 300 pages on the topic would have been tedious. By the same token, The Function of Law in the International Community could not be addressed within the confines of an article – 30 pages on the topic would have remained superficial. Thus, there is a time and a place for various manifestations of the written word – even, I suppose, however reluctantly, for the tweet.

My readings tend to be eclectic, even when I read simply for relaxation: from crime and espionage novels to Nobel prize material. Likewise, my academic readings are eclectic, and often somehow related to whatever topic has sparked my interest. Some factors are constant: I try to keep up with the law of treaties, which is fairly easy since no one writes books about the law of treaties other than, sometimes, in waves of fashion: in the 1990s people wrote on reservations, a decade ago on treaty conflict, and currently on treaty interpretation. I also try to follow whatever comes out on the law of international organizations, and in particular on the underlying history and theory of institutional law. From a distance and usually with some delay, I try and keep up with the external relations law of the EU (one of the best books I read in 2013 was on this topic: the excellent study by Mario Mendez). And then I have an interest in ethics, in particular in trying to find a way of applying what is known as virtue ethics to international affairs, so not surprisingly, much of what I read at the moment is in one way or another related to this.

So too my favourite readings of 2014. Part of the reason why I think virtue ethics is of relevance resides in the fact that global governance by and large escapes legal scrutiny, a situation that is confirmed by the paucity of writings on international law and global governance. With this in mind, the publication of Eyal Benvenisti’s Hague Academy lectures in book form under the title The Law of Global Governance came not a moment too soon.  Read the rest of this entry…

Filed under: EJIL Book Discussion

The Genre of Constitutionalization?

Published on August 10, 2010        Author: 

Professor Jan Klabbers is Professor of International Law at the University of Helsinki, and Director of the Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in Global Governance Research. His previous post introducing the book by Klabbers, Peters & Ulfstein The Constitutionalization of International Law   is available here

So far, the blogging concerning The Constitutionalization of International Law  The  has been fairly sedate. Of course, it is summertime; of course, there was a soccer tournament to focus on; of course, the ICJ’s opinion on Kosovo occupies the international legal community; and perhaps there is a certain idleness and lethargy to be associated with constitutionalism these days, as Jeff Dunoff and Joel Trachtman merrily suggest. But it may also be the case that the approach we espouse gives rise to some unease on the part of readers and therewith elicits few responses, for our approach is difficult to pigeonhole. The kind and generous comments published on EJIL: Talk! suggest as much: they display a certain puzzlement at what it is we aim to do, and some seem to have difficulties in identifying the genre we work in.

That is not surprising, as our genre is indeed uncommon. We do not aim to engage in descriptive sociology – ours is not an enterprise to establish that constitutionalism exists, in some real sense and as a matter of positive international law. Nor do we engage in idealist normative theory pur sang: we do not aim to suggest that constitutionalism is, as a way of organizing the globe, superior to alternatives. Likewise, ours is not a conceptual study in any strict sense of the term: we do not aim to establish the (or, more modestly, a) concept of global constitutional law. We do not aspire to make an argument de lege ferenda about constitutionalization.  And emphatically, we never set out to study the causes of constitutionalism, no matter how much Dunoff and Trachtman might have expected us to. Read the rest of this entry…

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Constitutionalization and International Law-making

Published on July 13, 2010        Author: 

Professor Jan Klabbers is Professor of International Organisations Law, Director of the Centre of Excellence in Global Governance Research and Deputy Director of the Erik Castren Institute of International Law and Human Rights at the the University of Helsinki.

The main question underlying the recent book byAnne Peters, Geir Ulfstein and I – The Constitutionalization of International Law  – is this: presuming that international law is indeed, as many contend, constitutionalizing, then what would international law come to look like? Given that there are a number of issues constitutional regimes usually address (political institutions of the community, membership, judicial organization, law-making, and procedures for the making of decisions), we wondered how these would, could or should be addressed in a constitutionalizing international legal order. Our aim was not to demonstrate that constitutionalization is actually going on – we simply presume it is, and leave the demonstration to others. Nor did we set out to sketch an ideal global constitutional order: this is a task perhaps best left to moral philosophers. Instead, we decided it might be interesting to take the claim of constitutionalization seriously and try to figure out what its consequences would be for international law.

The book’s first chapter is dedicated to ‘setting the scene’. It discusses globalization and a number of other current and related phenomena, such as the fragmentation of international law. One of the main points of the opening chapter is to establish that, in a world of well over six billion people, divided into 200 states and a handful of major religions, cultures, and ethical traditions (not to mention their widely divergent situations, giving rise to widely diverging interests), full agreement on all political topics is unlikely. In other words: the chapter recognizes that we live in a world of value pluralism, which entails that constitutionalism has to be pluralist as well: it has to respect and accommodate pluralism.

Second, a constitutional order needs to be a legitimate order. Now, legitimacy is a term which has been, and is, much abused, and while the chapter tracks the legitimacy debate to some extent, the main point for present purposes is simply this. Hypothetically, a constitutional order can be ran in many fashions – depending on one’s definition of constitutionalism, there may be no inherent contradiction between constitutionalism and enlightened dictatorship or rule by aristocracy, or even foreign rule or empire. Yet, these are not versions of constitutionalism we would subscribe to. Instead, the idea of a constitution carries overtones of political legitimacy: a constitutional order is a legitimate order, and a legitimate order is one where all relevant stakeholders are involved in governance, in one way or another. Read the rest of this entry…

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