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Home Archive for category "EJIL Book Discussion"

Editor’s Book Choices 2014: Christian J. Tams

Published on December 30, 2014        Author: 

I have 3 picks:

* Douglas M. Johnston, The Historical Foundation of World Order: The Tower and the Arena (2008)

* Mark Mazower, Governing the World: The History of an Idea (2012)

* W. Michael Reisman and Christina Skinner, Fraudulent Evidence Before International Courts and Tribunals: The Dirty Stories of International Law (2014)

An eye-opening ‘anti-tweet’: Douglas M. Johnston, The Historical Foundation of World Order. The Tower and the Arena:

My first pick is Douglas M. Johnston’s Historical Foundation of World Order: The Tower and the Arena, a hugely ambitious attempt to trace the role of international law in the gradual emergence of world order. Published posthumously (the author having completed the manuscript just weeks before his death), the book was quickly hailed as a major achievement, and in 2009 won an ASIL Certificate of Merit. But notwithstanding the early praise, I am not sure the book has been widely read or even noticed. If academic search engines are to be trusted, references to it remain scarce: to give just one example, it is quoted exactly once in the 1200 pages of the Oxford Handbook on the History of International Law, published in late 2012. (Once!)

This neglect is a mistake. Johnston’s book is exciting, engaging and eye-opening; it was my favourite read of the year 2014. Its historical sweep is vast, taking the reader on a journey from early Mesopotamian cultures into the new millennium. The focus is not (or not just) on international law as a set of rights and obligations, but on ‘the larger concept of world order’, understood to combine ‘an evolving, rather technical, “system” of laws, institutions and procedures designed for the inter-state community, … [and] a universal heritage of shareable values and sentiments that have gradually built the political and ethical foundation for a more equitable world society’ (pp. xvii-xviii). With a self-set brief like this, no reader can expect a comprehensive account, and Johnston’s treatment is eclectic and personal. This opens his particular account to criticism, but makes it a much more engaging read. It is, as Mary Ellen O’Connell said at the 2009 ASIL meeting, ‘the anti-tweet’ of legal scholarship. Read the rest of this entry…

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Editor’s Book Choices 2014: Does International Law Respond to Grassroots Inequality?

Published on December 29, 2014        Author: 

Crisis and stagnation in the global economy is the new normal, so say The Financial Times, McKinsey & Co., Business Insider, and the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2013. It is twelve days before the end of 2014 as I write this, and today’s new crisis is how the Russian rouble is spiralling dramatically in a deep currency crisis forcing Russia to take defensive measures against capital flight. Other main drivers of the world’s economy are not necessarily on safe footing. The Eurozone and the United States are still on the road to economic recovery from the global financial crises; Japan remains mired in recession despite the grand claims of ‘Abenomics’ to stem the tide; and this year, China – the main engine of global economic growth in the past decade – for the first time posted its slowest GDP growth rate in five years. Since the world plunged into global financial crisis around 2008, the promise and allure of globalization and global economic growth has waxed and waned, multinational and transnational business profit expectations have muted, and – as the International Monetary Fund put it rather bleakly in October of this year – growth will never be as good before the global crisis: “pessimism about the future was as strong [during the Great Depression] as it is now”. The International Labour Organization (ILO) dubs 2014 the year for the “risk of a jobless recovery”. If globalization is supposedly dying, as Princeton University Social Science Professor Dani Rodrik declares, is its inseparable fabric – international law – also headed for demise? In a postmodern crisis-saturated world now so riven by “economic insecurity and the rise of nationalism”, can international law still meaningfully respond?

My pursuit of this question throughout this year led me to three provocative books outside of international law – two in political economy, one in contemporary literature. These works helped me, at least, in provoking a reframing of the economic and social configurations we accept – and to a certain extent, author and promote – in international law, especially in international economic law specializations in trade, finance, and investment. Long before French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twentieth Century became the rage in economic and political circles around the world in 2014, it was Nobel Prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality (W.W. Norton & Company, 2012) that made the powerful argument against the seeming inevitability of inequality, pointing out that so much of today’s debilitating income inequality – as seen in the example of the United States – is a product of the rents and inefficiencies created through the wrongful exercise of political power in legislative and regulatory processes. Read the rest of this entry…

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Editor’s Book Choices: Jean d’Aspremont

Published on December 24, 2014        Author: 

Looking back at one’s readings over the last 12 months is a rather humbling exercise. We, international legal scholars, are supposed to be reading all the time, at least during these moments miraculously rescued from teaching, management and administration. In practice, even in these precious reading and reflection periods we do not properly read. Too often we skim rather than read. Too often we zero in on some carefully selected chapters or sections of books and form our opinions on the basis of rather limited samples. Too often we navigate books according to our research agenda (after having picked them in a similar way). The main explanation for this perennial reading attitude is that we, international legal scholars, read functionally, i.e. with a specific argument or project in mind. Albeit conducive to short-term efficiency and productivity, this functionalist approach to reading is obviously regrettable. Indeed, it rarely allows us to let our thoughts dawdle in the imaginary space created by the thoughts of others. But this is not the saddest part of the story. Running from one deadline to the other, we, international legal scholars, may even come to forget what we have read and only remember the argument or the project that our readings served. This is why looking back at one’s past year’s reading can make one feel like a marathoner who, on the finishing line, relishes his achievement but who, out of breath, is completely oblivious about the landscape that unfolded during the race. It is against the backdrop of such functional reading patterns of present day academia and the correlative oblivion that I let my choice be guided by three memorable traits or mindsets which I ascribe to some of the authors whose books I read in 2014: modesty, courage and inquisitiveness. It is the memory of these distinct traits or mindsets that revives my recollection of three specific books which I read thoroughly during the last 12 months. The following choice is certainly not meant as a personal charts or quality ranking. These three books are simply three works which did not leave me indifferent. That a book creates a feeling or an emotion with its reader is, in my view, a good sign. It is maybe the best that a book can ever achieve and indifference is probably the most tragic fate for a book, let alone a scholarly book.

Modesty: James Crawford’s State Responsibility – The General Part was published in 2013 but it took me until mid-2014 to seriously read it. It reads like a “synthesis” of the author’s past accounts of the conceptual and functional variations of the law of responsibility. This historical exposition is shrewdly constructed as to vindicate the author’s own vision of the doctrine in the framework of the International Law Commission’s work on State Responsibility which is in turn presented as a “modern synthesis” in which all the visions of the old Masters have coalesced. Read the rest of this entry…

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Editor’s Book Choices: Emerging from our Frames and Narratives: Understanding the World through Altered Eyes

Published on December 23, 2014        Author: 

We are all captured and framed by our background, our nationality, history classes in school, religion, experiences, language and common narratives. Psychology has shown that those frames might be an obstacle to communication, mutual understanding and might even lead to conflict. It is no different for the international community. Different frames lead to different understandings of situations, different attributions of motives by others, different fairness perceptions. Kant defined enlightenment as a “man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity”. One aspect of this immaturity, one could argue, is the lack of self-consciousness about one´s own frames. Learning about other peoples´ frames relativizes one´s own (in my view something to strive for in itself) – and may lead to tolerance. My own frame is clearly western European and I have no doubt that this influences how I see the world and how I perceive international law. Challenging our own frame can be a personal as well as a professional enrichment.

My latest experiences of this kind of relativisation came through two books which I would like to share. Both books are closely connected to the developments in international relations we are currently facing. First, the events in the Arab world, including the events of 9/11: both events call for a thorough understanding of the Arab World and Islam and its frames, narratives and history. Second, the rise of China in economic terms but also the increasing assertiveness of the “Middle Kingdom”: in order to better understand the reactions of China to western moves in trade and especially security.

The first book I would like to introduce is Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamim Ansary (2010). It is an encompassing history of Islam and the Islamic world, starting with the birth of Mohammed. The book describes not only the religious development of Islam, helping to understand the different Islamic denominations and their conflicts between Shia and Sunni (including other branches such as Sufis) but also vividly describes the political and economic development of the Islamic world. History helps us to understand the disastrous developments in the Middle East nowadays including the attraction of Islamic State (IS) by its leaders´ self-proclaimed re-erection of a Caliphate (associated with the golden age in Islam). Read the rest of this entry…

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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…

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Christmas Reading? Christmas Gifts? Some Suggestions from the Editor-in-Chief

Published on December 19, 2014        Author: 

The following is not a ’10 Best Books Published in 2014’. Looking back at the books (excluding novels) I read (and in some cases re-read) this year I have picked those which created that ‘everyone should read this book’ urge that we all experience from time to time. The selection is of course entirely subjective, but rigorous in one sense: knowing how precious reading time is, involving serious opportunity costs, I put on the list only those titles where I felt that I would not run the risk that someone would write to me and say: you wasted my time.

The order of books on the list is arbitrary.

Moshe Halbertal, Maimonides: Life and Thought, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013

Of Maimonides it has been said endlessly that from [the great Biblical] Moses to Moses [Maimonides] no one has arisen as Moses. (Trust me, it sounds a lot better in pithy Hebrew – Momoshe ad Moshe Lo Kam KeMoshe). A son of Cordoba (1138) he spent the central part of his life in Cairo where he died in 1204 and was then buried in Tiberius. Renaissance Man (long before the Renaissance) he was and remains one of the greatest Jewish teachers, scholars, legal decisors, philosophers (in the Aristotelian tradition) and physicians. His codification of Jewish Law has remained normative till this day and his Guide to the Perplexed is part of the canon of medieval philosophy and is hugely rewarding to anyone today (all too few, alas) interested in virtue theory. The story of his life, an exile from Caliphate Andalusia and ending as physician to the Crown of Egypt, is not only riveting but offers a window to a world of, inter alia, Islamic glory, which is not often known beyond a small circle of scholars.  Read the rest of this entry…

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Editors’ Choice for New Year Readings and Gifts

Published on December 19, 2014        Author: 

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.  We begin with our Editor-in-Chief’s selection.

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A Response to the Discussants on the Evolutionary Interpretation of Treaties

Published on December 18, 2014        Author: 

I begin by saying that I am extremely grateful to the contributors to this book symposium for kindly having taken the time to read my book The Evolutionary Interpretation of Treaties, and to commit to writing their very stimulating views of it. Given the richness of the comments provided by my colleagues, it would I think be impertinent for me to do more, at this stage, than to try to set out the reflections that their comments have prompted with me.

In writing my book, one of the things I tried to do was to stress the striking interpretative potential with which the Vienna Convention rules are pregnant. It is worth remembering that when counsel for the United Kingdom in what Lord Hoffmann in Matthews [2003] UKHL 4 at [28] referred to as ‘the great case of Golder’ tried to reign in the European Court of Human Rights, they did so by exhorting the Court that it was bound by the rules set out in Articles 31–33 of the Vienna Convention. It is safe to say that the strategy backfired.

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Running in Circles: A Comment on Bjorge’s Evolutionary Interpretation of Treaties

Published on December 18, 2014        Author: 

It was a pleasure to read Eirik Bjorge’s The Evolutionary Interpretation of Treaties. The book is well written and exceptionally well researched. Eirik demonstrates nothing less than an encyclopedic knowledge of the relevant case law and scholarship, and has seemingly read every single bit of text that the International Law Commission and its rapporteurs have produced on the question of interpretation. Eirik’s book is beyond question the most comprehensive examination to date of the issue of evolutionary treaty interpretation, and it fills an important gap in the literature.

While the virtues of the book are many, I cannot help but feel that, had Eirik chosen a different methodological path, the book could have been significantly more illuminating with regard to the nature of the phenomenon of evolutionary interpretation. This is not because I take issue with the main thrust of Eirik’s argument, namely that evolutionary interpretation is perfectly compatible with the rules of interpretation set out in Articles 31-33 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Yes, it is – at least partly because the Vienna ‘rules’ are so broad and flexible that one can do (almost) whatever one wants with them.

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Is Evolutionary Interpretation Only A Matter of Finding the Parties’ Intentions?

Published on December 17, 2014        Author: 

The main thesis in Eirik Bjorge’s The Evolutionary Interpretation of Treaties is that evolutionary interpretation depends on the intention of the parties to a treaty and results from applying Articles 31 to 33 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (‘Vienna Convention’).

Few would probably dispute that treaty interpretation always involves the intention of the parties. However, the debate – to which this monograph unquestionably is a valuable contribution – continues on where that intention is to be found. Is the controlling element the text of a treaty, its object and purpose (in whatever manner that might be established), its origins or some other feature? It would appear that there continue to be many perspectives on what the concept of the intention of the parties means and where it can (or should) be found.

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