Orthodox Generalists and Political Activists in International Legal Scholarship
INTERNATIONAL LAW IN A MULTIPOLAR WORLD, Matthew Happold, ed., 2010
15 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2010 Last revised: 2 Apr 2010
Date Written: February 15, 2010
While in general the academic climate in our field is exceptionally open and tolerant, the notion that legal scholars ought to focus on the law is not as easily accepted. Scholars working on international law are tempted by factors beyond the sum total of the positive law and cannot restrict themselves to it. At crucial junctures non-legal factors enter the argument of many writers on international law. It will be argued that the adoption of these tactics means that the likelihood of correctly cognising the law is reduced.
This paper will highlight and explain one particular aspect of this phenomenon in more depth. Today, international legal scholars can largely be classified either as ‘orthodox generalists’ or ‘political activists’ according to their approach to theoretically complex or politically sensitive questions. Scholars subconsciously adopt tactics in dealing with the influence of political pressure on their work. Consciously or subconsciously they react to these influences by adapting their perception and analysis of international law. This is not a peripheral matter: tactics such as these are decisive for the way international law is ‘handled’ on a day-to-day level.
It will be argued that if we are to catch up to the rest of legal scholarship and no longer to be regarded as apologists for foreign ministries or serve as propagators for our personal values writ large, we will have to find that self-discipline and restraint to do what we are here for - analyse the law in force - and leave the rest for others.
Keywords: international legal scholarship, use of force, self-defence, human rights, activism, orthodoxy, theory
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