This is the second part of the inaugural lecture of Roger O’Keefe, Professor of Public International Law at University College London (Part I is available here). In the lecture he teases out some recurrent international legal problems through the story of the life and opinions of D. H. G. H.-G. Salamander, lesser highly qualified publicist and minor poet.
All characters depicted in this tale are fictional, sort of. Any resemblance to academics, judges or journals living or dead is intended in a jesting and friendly spirit. All legal actions should be directed in the usual way to Professor Joseph Weiler.
But it was not all beauty, truth, and miscellaneous high-mindedness. The international legal system, while its own reality, was predicated on the external reality—the real reality, as it were—of the practice of states. It was ultimately positivist, and as an international legal positivist D. H. G. H.-G. Salamander was necessarily a down-and-dirty empiricist. And what down-and-dirty data, what incident and idiosyncrasy with which to work! All human life was there! The agony and the ecstasy, the tragedy and farce, the stuff and nonsense of international affairs past and present, visibilium omnium et invisibilium! The human world, the bringer of plurabilities, its song be sung, its rill be run! Like the sea, it teemed with life. So too knew it death, the destroyer of worlds, Assyrian, wolf, and fold all kneeling before it and trembling. The divine comedy! The encyclopaedia satanica! He sang the corpus eclectic. Out of this Dionysian frenzy, out of the fury and the mire of human veins, it was not only the distinctive service but also a large part of the fun of the international lawyer to discern and to elaborate with Anzilottian clarity a normative logic.
As for whether at heart he was an international legal apologist or critic, Salamander took the view that he could rightly no more praise or condemn international law for justice or injustice than he could a language for a kind or hurtful word. There was no use indicting laws. They were no shoddier than what they peddled. Law, to quote again the immortal Austrian, was simply ‘a specific social technique for the achievement of ends determined by politics’ [Hans Kelsen, The Law of the United Nations. A Critical Analysis of Its Fundamental Problems, with Supplement (New York: Frederick A Praeger, 1950), xiii]. International law, as someone else would write somewhere, was no more than a vehicle for human values, a language of human self-ordering, a particular praxis of human willing. If the rules were warped, the blame lay with the crooked timber.
Yet for all her tender ministrations, Eunomia remained a demanding mistress. She also remained a demanding read, or at least her namesake did, although no-one—the London cabbie, the troika (or trinity) of sage, prophet, and poet, and least of all D. H. G. H.-G. Salamander—minded too much.
Yes, she was a demanding mistress alright. So much to write, so little time, to borrow from Wonka. The job involved so much drudgery. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow crept in this petty pace from day to day. Yet here were his friends pumping out publications as if by colonic irrigation! The pugnacious Georgian, the feisty Serb, the neotenous Nigerian, the bouffanted Belgian … Goddammit, did that well-coiffed Walloon never sleep? The productivity of these characters was demoralising! Just when he thought it was safe to go back in the water, out leapt another book, article, chapter or blog-post by one of these men possessed! Read the rest of this entry…