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A Marxism for International Law

Published on December 28, 2017        Author: 
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Note from the Editors:  We conclude 2017 with a roundtable discussion of the second edition of Professor B.S. Chimni’s International Law and World Order: A Critique of Contemporary Approaches.  Given numerous changes that rapidly transpired in the international system since 2016, the roundtable discussion will certainly spur continuing exchanges among scholars, academics, and practitioners on the evolving contours of the international legal system and the art, science, and profession of international law.

There are some books on my shelves I can remember opening for the first time. I remember holding them, flipping through pages, scribbling a note on the inside cover, using them as improvised paperweights, or lending them to a colleague or a student. I remember a lot of things about them. But I do not remember their contents.

Not all books are created equal. Some you only put on your shelves, but never, to use Conan Doyle’s famous metaphor, in your “brain’s attic”. You get them, you read them, and then, like the latest Nicolas Cage film, you essentially forget all about them. Beyond some general concept of what field or question they were supposed to cover, you can scarcely remember anything about their actual argument, the specific points they tried to make, the reasoning they constructed, the particular examples and illustrations they presented.

This is not, of course, in any way the fault of the author. No one ever sets out to write a forgettable book. Nor is it, though, really, the fault of the reader. No one can really be blamed for trying to keep their “brain attic” tidy. Managing one’s memory archives, let us face it, is a highly important component of good scholarly practice.  We have all been there: sooner or later you just reach that tipping point—call it overexposure or discursive saturation—after which everything you read starts to look familiar. That book or article you are now struggling to recall may be a product of many years of hard, honest work. But is it really your fault that what it had to say, in the end, was so unoriginal? Everyone knows how these things work: you open a book, read through the first pages, and a quiet sense of déjà vu slowly creeps in. Hasnt all this already been said before? Didnt somebody else argue the same point years ago? Sooner or later it all just turns into a blur.

But then again, not all books are created equal. There are some that you get to experience in a completely different manner—as distinct intellectual events, as game-changers that define the course of your intellectual biography. There may only be one or two such books in your library or more than twenty; it does not matter. You always remember a lot more about these books than any others. You remember them, above and beyond everything else, for the fact that they become for you a point of continuing reference. They are there, with you, at all times, wherever your thought goes, whatever you research or write about. They are there, with you, because they have taken pride of place in your “brain attic”. Because however much you may disagree with any one individual aspect of their argument or narrative design, for you they always remain a source of knowledge, a model for emulation, a never-ending lesson to learn from.

Over the last thirteen years, International Law and World Order (ILWO) has become one of such lessons and models for me. It brings me great satisfaction to see it come out in a new edition, to know that once more it is available in print and can be accessed by a new generation of international law students.

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On Theory-Bashing: Why It Happens and What It (Probably) Says About Us

Published on March 17, 2017        Author: 
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Introduction

This post is a response (of sorts) to an earlier post made last month by Andrea Bianchi, in which he discusses the widespread aversion and prejudice shared by most international lawyers against the idea of ‘theory’ and the disempowering effects this attitude has had on the contemporary discipline of international legal studies. Whether or not one agrees with the ‘most international lawyers’ part of the claim, the argument Professor Bianchi presents deserves attention and careful consideration. It raises a whole series of important points, not least about the fundamental naivety of the assumption that law as a craft requires no special theoretical awareness on the part of its practitioners. At the same time, however, it also leaves out a number of questions that in a context like this one would, ideally, expect to be given as much, if not more, critical attention.

In this post, I propose to explore some of these questions. The argument offered below is intended to complement and develop Professor Bianchi’s broader point, viz., that theory-bashing is a highly disconcerting tradition that has negative consequences not only for those international lawyers whose main field of work falls in the area of theoretical scholarship, but for the international legal profession as a whole.

Multiple meanings of ‘theory’

To begin with, let us note, firstly, that in modern academic practice the term ‘theory’ is typically used in three fundamentally different senses: Read the rest of this entry…