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EJIL Editors’ Choice of Books 2015: Jean d’Aspremont

Published on February 24, 2016        Author: 

For all of those scholars cultivating a generalist expertise of a topic, the contents of each year’s readings can vary dramatically. For them, looking back at such readings can prove very illuminating as it can lay bare huge fluctuations in the literary and scholarly sources that serve as inspiration. In contrast to the very doctrinal works I read and reported on last year, my readings of the last 12 months have been primarily devoted to theoretical materials meant to feed into my work on the structure of legal argumentation as well as the professionalization of international law. This may explain why none of the books I list here qualifies as international legal scholarship properly so-called. Yet, in the light of the insights I gained from them, I have come to consider these books as ‘must reads’ for any generalist international lawyer interested in looking beyond the mere mechanical deployment of the formal modes of legal reasoning imposed by the discipline. These also are books that are one click away for international lawyers in wealthy parts of the world as they are published by mainstream publishers and available in most online bookstores.

Before sketching out their content, an observation is warranted on the extent to which not only the selection of our readings but also reading itself is prejudiced by the works and the projects we have in the making. What we make of what we read is very much contingent on what we expect from such materials and even more on what we hope to find therein. In this sense, when we read for scholarly purposes, we turn ourselves into hungry hunters with some pre-reflective preferences or expectations about the type of meat we want to bring home – and, thus, the type of insights we want to present in our own scholarship. The risk is thus that our prey ends up being embellished or corrupted by those pre-reflective preferences or expectations. This is why our reading is, to a large extent, performative as it constitutes the insights we gather from the materials from which we draw inspiration. This very elementary observation explains why, for each of the books mentioned below, I take pains to say a few words about my pre-reflective preferences at the moment of reading – that is, the context in which the reading was done. It may explain why colleagues, in a different context and in relation to different scholarly projects, may have made something radically different of these texts. It should finally be highlighted that my listing of the following books does not entail any value judgment about the intrinsic merit of the theses defended therein, let alone their direct transposability to international legal debates. My choices for this year should more simply be read as refreshing calls to shed some common assumptions found in international legal scholarship. Read the rest of this entry…

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EJIL Editors’ Choice of Books 2015: Jan Klabbers

Published on February 24, 2016        Author: 

Possibly the most disturbing book I have read in a long time is a brief volume written by an Italian political theorist, Roberto Farneti, under the title Mimetic Politics: Dyadic Patterns in Gobal Politics (2015). It is disturbing not for the lack of quality but, rather, for its bleak outlook. Farneti, working in a tradition often traced back to Girard, suggests that global politics is often based on mimesis: states essentially imitate one another until things spiral out of control, at which point a sacrifice is needed in order to restore relatively normal or peaceful relations, and sacrifice typically takes the form of some kind of overt conflict. Perhaps the most well-known illustration is the Cold War madness of mutually assured destruction (although the sacrifice could be averted due to the falling apart of one of the protagonists), but trade wars may also make for ever so many fine examples, never mind the sort of escalation that so often characterizes the Israel–Palestine conflict.

This is disturbing to the international lawyer (this international lawyer, at any rate), in that if Farneti is right it follows that law has little role to play and especially that responsibility and accountability would seem to be based on seriously impractical premises. Disregarding strict liability, most liberal responsibility regimes (and international law is no exception) are premised on actors acting rationally – no matter how perverse their rationalism – and acting on the basis of intentions. Yet Farneti’s argument suggests that the main operative element in state behaviour in neither ratio nor intent but simply imitation. States cannot help but follow each other’s examples, and international relations are thus bound to result in war as the ultimate sacrifice or in litigation as the sublimation of sacrifice. This helps explain the success of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) dispute settlement body, but it may also help explain why trade wars keep on occurring: the disciplining efforts of the WTO are no match for the mimetic impulse. Read the rest of this entry…

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EJIL Editors’ Choice of Books 2015: Christian J. Tams

Published on February 23, 2016        Author: 

‘What matters now [in research on international law] is the study of the conditions under which international law is formed and has effects’, Greg Shaffer and Tom Ginsburg noted on the first page of their 2012 article on the ‘empirical turn in legal scholarship’. According to their test, the books I chose could probably be said to ‘matter’, even to ‘matter now’. In Power, Law and the End of Privateering, Jan Lemnitzer offers an exciting account of how a particular aspect of international law was formed, and Yuval Shany (Assessing the Effectiveness of International Courts) provides a framework for studying the effects of international judgments. Their two books are very different, but they both draw on social sciences research methods to elucidate prominent phenomena of international law – a treaty in Lemnitzer’s case, international courts in Shany’s. And they both are – or at least in my case were – eye-openers.

Lemnitzer’s book is that of a historian assessing an international treaty, the 1856 Declaration of Paris Respecting Maritime Law. Largely ignored by today’s mainstream literature, the Declaration marked a milestone in the development of maritime law: it outlawed privateering and, at the same time, strengthened the rights of neutrals, thus ushering in ‘a new era in the history of international maritime law’.  It also marked a milestone in the way international law was made, in that it ‘was the world’s first major example of international “legislation” by means of multilateral treaty’ [Stephen Neff, War and the Law of Nations: A General History (2005), at 188] – a treaty agreed by seven states, which by 1860 had attracted almost 50 ratifications. So perhaps one could say that, in addition to ‘a new era in the history of international maritime law’, the Paris Declaration also ushered in a new era of conscious international law-making through multilateral instruments. Read the rest of this entry…

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EJIL Editors’ Choice of Books 2015: Sarah Nouwen

Published on February 23, 2016        Author: 

Editors Introduction: At the end of 2014, the EJIL Board members were invited to reflect on the books that had had a significant impact on them during the year. Their contributions, posted on EJIL: Talk! (herehereherehereherehere, and here), were met with great interest and curiosity. As the end of 2015 approached, the EJIL Board members were once again invited to look back on their reading in 2015. In pieces to be published over the next two days, Sarah Nouwen, Christian Tams, Jan Klabbers and Jean d’Aspremont write about the books that they read or reread in 2015 and which they found inspiring, enjoyable or even ‘must reads’ for their own work or international law scholarship in general.

It is actually not that easy to come up with a list of five books that, according to the criteria set by our Book Review Editor, Isabel Feichtner, ‘have had a significant impact on you that year’ or, more precisely, ‘books not necessarily published in 2015 (and not necessarily law books), but read or reread that year, and which you found inspiring, enjoyable or considered “must reads” for your own work or international law scholarship in general’.

As Jean d’Aspremont observed last year, we usually read functionally for our work: a few pages here and there that are relevant to a piece that we happen to be writing. Seldom do we read a book cover to cover (Jan Klabbers providing a praiseworthy exception), and if we do, it is often for a book review (My only book review this year – of David Bosco, Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics (2014) – seems disqualified from this list as it has already been published elsewhere). However, even of the few dozens of other books that I did read cover to cover this year, few qualify for this list, if we interpret the criteria to mean that even the books that one finds ‘inspiring’ or ‘enjoyable’ should in some ways relate to one’s work or to international law scholarship in general. While Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More has been studied page by page and proved hugely inspiring in the kitchen, the European Journal of International Law may not be the best forum to explain why. The same goes for the half a dozen books on how to get a baby to sleep through the night – all of which have been tried and tested; none of which I would recommend.

That brings me to a final introductory caveat: it is difficult to select five books that I (re)read this year that I would strongly recommend – that is, that I would suggest to colleagues that they read these five books instead of other books or, indeed, that they spend their Sundays reading these books instead of going for a run, baking an apple pie or attending a political rally. The key problem is that I do not read enough, but the problem is exacerbated by publishers who publish too much. Indeed, it is far easier to come up with a list of recommendations of five books not to read. However, this project does not fit so well with the spirit of the holiday season and, in our profession, might even be a litigation risk (as this journal knows all too well).

Against this backdrop, here are five books that I read, and in one case reread, in 2015 and, in fact, do strongly recommend to my colleagues. Read the rest of this entry…

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