Legitimacy, Blind Spots and Paradoxes of Personality

Russell Miller

Washington and Lee University - School of Law


SELECT PROCEEDINGS OF THE EUROPEAN SOCIETY OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, p. 267, H. Fabri, R. Wolfrum & J. Gogolin, Hart Publishing, 2008
Washington & Lee Legal Studies Paper No. 2012-3

Verdi’s Romantic tragedy La Traviata tells the story of the doomed affair between Violetta Valery and Alfredo Germont. It is clear from the start that their romance is ill-fated; could anything but calamity await ‘a courtesan, dying of tuberculosis’ and a ‘young poet’? And, indeed, it all goes terribly wrong. Violetta forswears the lavish but indifferent conditions in which she is kept by the Baron Duophol, risking her secure position as the Baron’s mistress on Alfredo’s earnest expressions of love. But Alfredo’s father wrecks the young couple’s bliss. In a secret visit to Violetta, during which he demands that she end the affair because of the ruin it is bringing to the family’s reputation, the senior Germont explains that ‘the your whom my daughter loves dearly, and who lover her so much in return, was disgusted by all of this scandal, and has cancelled the marriage.’ Desolate and powerless, Violetta obliges Alfredo’s father and leaves Alfredo to return to the Baron.

No doubt, La Traviata has much to teach us about illegitimate love. But I find myself reflecting on the opera because it also is a useful window onto questions relevant to international law’s legitimacy. The tragedy of La Traviata, after all, is imposed on Alfredo and Violetta by unseen forces, by a character that never makes an appearance in the drama. Certainly Alfredo’s father is to be condemned for giving voice to the prevailing mores of the day, but ultimately it is the sharp edge of the social code of mid-nineteenth century France, enforced by Alfredo’s sister’s fiancé’, that dooms the affair. Herein lay the questions that fuel this essay. First, there is the question of the legitimacy of a social code that has been so thoroughly assimilated that it operates beyond the characters’ critical inquiry. Their blind spots and biases, it turns out, evade even the searching power of love! Second, there is the question of the legitimacy of the authority to enforce paradigm. In the opera this power is wholly spectral, inanimate and assumed; we are never given the chance confront Alfredo’s sister’s fiancé’ on stage. But who is he to wield such authority? How does his power displace the power of the other characters?

These interlocking concerns have equal force in international law and they demand our attention if we truly hope to maximize the field’s legitimacy: What ‘routine blind spots and biases’ cast a shadow over international law, and who do they empower to dictate international law’s unfolding narrative?

In this essay I argue that international law’s legitimacy is undermined by a powerful, unexamined bias against business interests. This has had the paradoxical effect of privileging non-governmental organizations as participants in international law, while marginalizing and excluding transnational corporations (TNCs). To establish these broad claims about international law, I rely on an example from the discrete sub-field of human rights law. Hope for international law’s enhanced legitimacy, I argue, first requires us to become aware of this blind spot. Doing so will allow us to pursue broader inclusivity, which is necessary to greater legitimacy. Moving beyond this critique, I offer a model for this more inclusive international law that draws on an adaptation of Habermas’s discourse theory of democracy as exemplified by the International Labor Organization’s tripartite corporatism.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 30

Keywords: Human Rights Law, International Law

JEL Classification: K10, K33

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Date posted: February 3, 2012  

Suggested Citation

Miller, Russell, Legitimacy, Blind Spots and Paradoxes of Personality (2008). SELECT PROCEEDINGS OF THE EUROPEAN SOCIETY OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, p. 267, H. Fabri, R. Wolfrum & J. Gogolin, Hart Publishing, 2008; Washington & Lee Legal Studies Paper No. 2012-3. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1997472

Contact Information

Russell Miller (Contact Author)
Washington and Lee University - School of Law ( email )
Lexington, VA 24450
United States

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