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B. S. Chimni’s “Relatively Autonomous” International Law

Published on December 27, 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.

The first edition of B. S. Chimni’s International Law and World Order: A Critique of Contemporary Approaches appeared in 1993, only a couple of years after the Soviet Union’s collapse and at a time when critical and feminist approaches to international law had only just begun to make their presence felt. This was a period when only a small handful of prominent international legal theorists self-identified as Marxists—and when few jurists from the “Third World” aside from Georges Abi-Saab and Mohammed Bedjaoui were read consistently in the West. Published in New Delhi and armed with a preface from Richard Falk, International Law and World Order was no ordinary contribution to international legal scholarship. Chimni’s aim was nothing less than the reconstruction of international legal theory, a project he undertook by way of sustained examination of a number of competing perspectives, from that of Hans Morgenthau to that of Grigory Tunkin.

The second edition offers the most detailed and systematic analysis of international law from a Marxist standpoint that is currently available. Enormously ambitious in scale and reach, it updates, revises, and enlarges the first edition, sweeping across a range of substantive topics and discussing a variety of different approaches to international law and international legal theory. While the first edition had its roots in Chimni’s early engagement with the “New Haven School” (hence the title of the book, which alludes to both Falk’s work and the “world public order” models espoused by Myres McDougal, Harold Lasswell, and Michael Reisman), the second edition deals at length with feminist international legal scholarship and the work of David Kennedy and Martti Koskenniemi as part of a broader effort to outline a new Marxist theory of international law, one that integrates insights from socialist feminism and postcolonial studies while absorbing the lessons of the indeterminacy debates of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

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Review of Itamar Mann’s ‘Humanity at Sea’

Published on August 4, 2017        Author: 
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Itamar Mann’s Humanity at Sea is bold, engaging, and wide-ranging. Perhaps most importantly, it is not afraid to confront standard clichés about the conceptual underpinnings and normative architecture of international refugee law and international human rights law. In addition to specifically legal sources, it marshals a wide range of materials from a number of disciplines, particularly moral and political philosophy, in order to develop an original argument about the centrality of the refugee “encounter”—the physical and symbolic meeting between those seeking protection and those empowered to accept or reject them—to the nature of human rights generally.

On Mann’s account, human rights are non-positive norms of universal value or implication; they cannot be reduced to the rights and duties enumerated in conventional human rights instruments, whether domestic or international. Far from being ineffective or of merely marginal significance, they are one of the two “foundations” of international law, the other being sovereignty. Read the rest of this entry…