Over the contest hovers, as in all ages, a concept of society formulated and fostered by intellectuals. This is not a reflection of reality, but a goal and hope of good men.
P.E.Corbett, Law and Society in the Relations of States (1951)
The conviction in a linear teleology of progress is fundamental to modernity – and to liberal democracy, its exemplary political formation. The supposition is that history has a telos, and that telos is liberalism. Yet in this era of profound disorientation, against the backdrop of increasing attention to the rise of ‘illiberal’ democracies, history is, as Wendy Brown has commented, becoming ‘both weightier and less deterministic’. The idea that law has evolved to some higher state of reason from which pinnacle it can trump over politics and ideology has proved an imaginative cul-de-sac. Attention to history is important, not to reinforce an artificial progress narrative, but to engender consciousness of the fluidity of politico-legal discourse and its capacity to change (see Martin Loughlin, Sword and Scales (2000), at 225-6).
In To Reform the World, Guy Fiti Sinclair has written a book of astonishing reach and intricacy. Its scope brings to mind the words of Woody Allen, ‘Can we actually “know” the universe? My god, it’s hard enough finding your way around Chinatown’. Yet this is not a book purporting to provide a blueprint for global order. One of the most interesting and insightful contributions of the book, and something that sets it apart from other international legal work on global governance, is its resistance to normative conclusions. Sinclair has developed a work of critical history, mapping the ‘constitutional growth’ of international organizations, yet without presenting this development as in any way teleological. Instead, the effect of the book is to debunk quietly yet powerfully any idea of the inevitability of any particular theory of global governance.
A theory that is never expressly critiqued, yet clearly in the frame, is that of liberal constitutionalism in global governance. Sinclair’s critical engagement occurs not on the already saturated theoretical plane, nor as a doctrinal exercise demonstrating how public law discourse permeates the practice of treaty drafting, adoption, interpretation or reform. Instead, his focus is on the everyday discursive level – the ‘rationalities’ and ‘technologies’ of power – tracking the deployment of constitutional discourse in the everyday practice of international organizations, namely the International Labour Organization, UN peacekeeping and the World Bank. The picture that clearly emerges is of international constitutionalism as a scholarly movement – yet with an international bureaucratic wing. The book reveals how the international civil servant has deployed the metaphor of constitutional growth to carry the logic of liberal reform into international organizations through a range of public-law related discourses, doctrines and techniques of interpretation. Read the rest of this entry…