Finding International Law, Part II: Our Fragmenting Legal Community

50 Pages Posted: 18 May 2011

See all articles by Harlan Grant Cohen

Harlan Grant Cohen

Fordham Law School; University of Georgia School of Law; University of Georgia - Dean Rusk International Law Center

Date Written: May 16, 2011


Is there an “International Community?” This Article suggests that there is not, that the oft-discussed fragmentation of international law reveals that there are in fact multiple overlapping and competing international law communities, each with differing views on law and legitimacy.

This Article reaches this conclusion by taking a fresh look not only at the sources of fragmentation, but at the sources of international law itself. Building on earlier work rethinking international law’s sources and drawing insights from legal philosophy, compliance theory, and international relations, this Article takes a closer look at three areas that have challenged traditional interpretations of international law, (1) human rights, (2) global administrative law, and (3) the law applied by international tribunals. What it finds is that the challenges posed by each area run much deeper than doctrine, that in fact, in each area a new legal community has formed that no longer shares traditional international law’s understanding of legitimate lawmaking. These legal communities no longer recognize a single, unifying doctrine of sources.

Such a realization puts conflicts over international law in a new light. To the extent that debates between human rights and international humanitarian law or trade law and the environment represent debates over the standards for legitimate lawmaking rather than conflicts over interpretation, doctrinal fixes will never fully resolve them. Instead, they must be viewed as true conflicts of law; resolutions must mediate between the overlapping demands of different legal communities.

Keywords: international law, legal theory, human rights, administrative law, international tribunals

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Harlan Grant, Finding International Law, Part II: Our Fragmenting Legal Community (May 16, 2011). New York University Journal of International Law and Politics (JILP), Vol. 44, 2011, UGA Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-10, Available at SSRN:

Harlan Grant Cohen (Contact Author)

Fordham Law School ( email )

150 West 62 Street
New York, NY 10023
United States

University of Georgia School of Law ( email )

Hirsch Hall
Athens, GA 30602
United States
706-542-5166 (Phone)

University of Georgia - Dean Rusk International Law Center ( email )

100 Herty Drive
Athens, GA 30602-6018
United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics