Reconciling the Irreconcilable: Progress Toward Sustainable Development

Progress in International Law, 2008

22 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2008 Last revised: 13 Nov 2012

See all articles by Rebecca M. Bratspies

Rebecca M. Bratspies

City University of New York - School of Law


Fin de siècle international public law focuses increasingly on the relationship between environmental degradation and economic development (sustainable or otherwise). Today there is a growing consensus that human activities are threatening the integrity of the earth's ecosystems, and that environmental degradation is among the most serious threats to global stability. As a result, no contemporary account of progress in international law can be complete without an assessment of the international community's stumbling progression toward sustainability.

This chapter measures that progression against a definition of progress Manley O. Hudson articulated in his 1932 volume Progress in International Organization. For Hudson, progress was the building of institutions which promise to serve the needs of future generations. This chapter, which is part of an edited collection entitled Progress in International Law that I co-edited with Russell A. Miller of Washington and Lee (nee Idaho), measures international moves toward sustainable development against three different conceptions of progress: rhetorical, conceptual, and material.

The overall project drew its inspiration from the lectures Manley O. Hudson delivered at the University of Idaho's inaugural session of the Borah Foundation for the Outlawry of War. The lectures were ultimately published under the title Progress in International Organization. Through these lectures, Hudson articulated a progress narrative for international law; one in which international legal organizations, led by the League of Nations, would assure peace and security to the peoples of the world.

Although the contemporary world embodies so little of his optimistic belief in the capacity of human institutions to prevent violence and injustice, Hudson's lectures did accurately predict many of the institutional developments in international law. Hudson correctly for told that the growth and development of international institutions would mean that an ever-increasing number of problems would be directed into these international channels.

Keywords: progress, sustainability, sustainable, GMO, international law, sustainable development, environmental protection, international environmental law

JEL Classification: K32, K33, N50, O13, Q17

Suggested Citation

Bratspies, Rebecca M., Reconciling the Irreconcilable: Progress Toward Sustainable Development. Progress in International Law, 2008 . Available at SSRN:

Rebecca M. Bratspies (Contact Author)

City University of New York - School of Law ( email )

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